If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, check out Rick Stein’s Vietnam segment available on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. He does the highlights in Vietnam in the north (Hanoi, Ha Long Bay) and south (Saigon and Mekong Delta) so it’s a nice introduction to or perhaps as review of traveling in the country.
Who is Rick Stein? He’s a British chef and author of works like Rick Stein's Complete Seafood, one of my go-to reference works whenever I need step-by-step guidance on dealing with ingredients from the sea. Stein is not Anthony Bourdain in biting wit and sarcasm and definitely not addicted to the bizarre like Andrew Zimmern. Stein is gentle in his approach to Vietnam and tries to bridge the turbulent Vietnam War years to the modern Vietnam today, which is calmer and more modern times. That’s what his BBC audience is interested in. There may be yawner moments if the Vietnam War doesn’t touch you, but Stein also has snippets of food preparation, processing, and everyday life that is quite interesting. I was about to discount the show at the opening footage of the war and rice paddies but Stein pulled me in quickly.
On YouTube, you’ll find the show in 6 clips (the last one is kind of a throw away). I’ve provided a drill-down below so you can jump in when you want. Many thanks to bloggers Graham Holiday of Noodlepie and Cathy Danh of Gastronomyblog (she debuts in part3) for pointing me to this Vietnam segment of Stein’s Far East Odyssey.
Part 1: Mekong River, fishing farms (Vietnamese aquaculture) on the river
Overview of Vietnam with a focus on the mighty Mekong. Stein pronounces Mekong as “Meekong” which I block out. “Maykong” please. He visits fisheries on the Mekong river. He cooks a fish dish based in his kitchen. He relates the Vietnam War to Vietnam today with old film footage, and references to Vietnam War movies The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. The first segment clip is at the beginning of this post.
Vietnam Part 2: Can Tho, Saigon
Stein discusses whether or not he wants to eat dog and other exotic meats. He visits the city of Can Tho outside of Saigon, does pho, and tours the Majestic Hotel of author Graham Greene’s beguiling Vietnam. He says how impressed that it’s much more modern than expected, and a sense of optimism. Focuses on pho noodle soup – perfect Southeast Asian food. His demo on making pho is rather lacking with pan-roasting the ginger and shallots (yellow onion is what most cooks use abroad). Love the British pronunciation of pho as “furr.” He adds WAY too much nuoc mam to his bowl and his interpreter tells him so! Go Viet girls.
Vietnam Part 3: Ben Thanh Market, Saigon, Viet expat Cathy Danh
The show continues with more wartime references. Stein visits Ben Thanh Market with Gastronomyblog's Cathy Danh who gives Stein an overseas Vietnamese perspective. Cathy was living in Saigon at the time. She’s now Stateside again! Cathy relates the importance of culture and food extremely well. She compares real Saigon with Little Saigon on California, and it dovetails with a similar discussion we had on this site earlier this year. Stein cooks a duck in orange juice based on a recipe by Cathy’s grandma.
Vietnam Part 4: Hanoi, Vietnam War-time food, Cha Ca La Vong restaurant, street food (bun cha grilled pork with rice noodles, banh cuon rice rolls
Stein talks to a northern Vietnamese war hero about what they ate during the Vietnam War. He also discusses the importance of dried fish to Vietnamese cooking, and how it’s made and preserved. Very cool. A Graham Greene cocktail with crème de cassis gets Stein through the morning. He also injects multi-faceted Noel Coward into the segment to further weave in western literary references Vietnam. Stein authentically eats his Cha Ca La Vong fish and noodles dish with briny shrimp sauce (mam tom). For the ‘local’experience, he and his friend sit on the small baby plastic stools to eat banh cuon rice rolls.
Vietnam Part 5: Hanoi, Cat Ba in Ha Long Bay
Stein discusses how culture and language are woven into Vietnamese foodways. I like hearing the Vietnamese guide speak about Vietnam. Her English is nearly flawless. In Ha Long Bay, they go to a clam farm, where the Viet folks call the bivalve oysters. Stein pronounces Vietnamese people as being resourceful and clever. The clam dish that Stein makes at home is more Chinese than Vietnamese but it looks delicious. Love the beer squirting onto the camera lens. The Vietnam segment ends pretty much here. Vietnam Part 6 segues into Bangkok.
After watching, what are your thoughts? Likes, dislikes? New insights?