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Funnily enough, one of the best things I’ve eaten in Bangkok isn’t Thai at all — it’s Chinese, from a Michelin-rated restaurant in Bangkok’s Chinatown called Nai-Ek Roll Noodles.

As you’d expect from a place that’s cheap and Michelin-approved, it’s quite busy.  But the line moves fast, so within ten minutes or so, I was in.

Nai-Ek Roll Noodles

The menu is fairly extensive, but “Roll Noodles” is right there in the name.  I got a bowl of noodle soup that came with minced pork, sliced pork, and crispy pork belly, along with some organs — stomach, liver, kidney, and tongue (plus, they don’t mention it in the menu, but there were also intestines in there; it was quite the cornucopia of pig innards).

Nai-Ek Roll Noodles

It was really, really good.  The soup had a bit of a kick, with a nice peppery flavour.  And the noodles were kind of like a Chinese version of penne pasta.

Nai-Ek Roll Noodles

Plus, the pork belly managed to stay crispy even in the soup, and all of the various organs were prepared perfectly — no off flavours here at all.

Though a lot of the food I’ve been eating in Bangkok has been a bit underwhelming, there’s definitely been some good stuff, too.  Such as: this amazing chicken satay I had from a place called Jay Eng.

Jay Eng in Bangkok, Thailand

Everything about it was just right: it was super tender, the marinade was really tasty, and it had a nice smoky flavour from the grill.  And that peanut sauce?  Bananas.  It was like a nuclear bomb of flavour.  Perfection.

Jay Eng in Bangkok, Thailand

I’d say it’s the best chicken satay I’ve ever had, but then I had some pretty amazing ones in Singapore a couple of years ago; I’d have to try them side-by-side to know which was better.

Obviously I wasn’t going to leave Vietnam without having pho.  I’m not a crazy person.

I didn’t know this before getting here, but there are actually two types of pho: there’s the beef version, called pho bo.  That’s the one that we’re more familiar with back home.  There’s also a chicken version called pho ga.

I tried both, of course.  Again, I’m not a crazy person.

First up is pho ga, the chicken version, which I had at a restaurant called Pho Lam Nam Ngu in Hanoi.

Pho in VietnamTopped with green onion and some sliced chicken, and served with a very generous amount of slightly mushy noodles, this was quite tasty.

It’s essentially the platonic ideal of a bowl of chicken soup; it had an exceptionally clean, simple (and delicious) flavour.  It’s tasty on its own, but once you jazz it up with a spritz of lime and a bit of the chili sauce they’ve got on the table, it really starts to sing.

Pho in Vietnam

I wish the noodles had been a bit firmer, but all in all this was a satisfying bowl of noodle soup.

The second restaurant was called Pho Gia Truyen.  It’s super popular.  The first time I showed up, the place was an absolute mad house; I came back the next day right when it opened, and there was still a line, but it was a bit more reasonable.

Pho in Vietnam

It’s packed for a reason.  The soup had such an intensely satisfying beefy flavour — with just enough spicing to compliment it but not get in the way — that I didn’t even bother putting any chili sauce or any of the other condiments on the table.  I didn’t want to mess with it.  It was perfection.

Pho in Vietnam

It was topped with a surprisingly generous amount of thinly-sliced beef; that beef was bananas.  It was super tender, with a shockingly rich flavour.  This was obviously some top-shelf stuff, because it tasted good.

Pho in Vietnam

The noodles were pretty great, too.  It’s easily the best bowl of pho that I’ve ever had.

Pho in Vietnam

I think I might have actually ruined pho for myself, because I’m never going to be able to find anything this good back home.  Oh well.

…And maybe the greatest sandwich I’ve ever had, period?  It’s right up there, that’s for sure.

Banh mi, for the unaware, is a Vietnamese sandwich served on a version of a baguette.  I’ve had a few since arriving in Vietnam.  They’re typically served in roadside stalls like this one.

Banh mi in Vietnam

Or this one.

Banh mi in Vietnam

That last one featured a banh mi that was filled with grilled meat patties.  It was quite tasty, but the patties were a bit too dry.

Banh mi in Vietnam

One of the better ones that I’ve had (up until the mind-blowing best ever that I’ll get to in a moment) is from a place called Banh My Lan Ong in Hanoi.

Banh mi in Vietnam

They’re famous for their freshly-made pate (you can even buy it in little plastic tubs from the restaurant), and rightfully so.  That pate is absolutely amazing; a little bit chunkier than the norm, with a very mild liver flavour that’s balanced perfectly by the pate’s unique spicing (it has quite a strong cinnamon flavour).

Banh mi in Vietnam

But the bread itself was a bit overly crunchy; one of the great things about a banh mi baguette is the very light, crackly exterior and the fluffy interior.  This one was aggressively crunchy — it’s the type of bread that’ll tear up the inside of your mouth if you don’t eat it carefully.

Banh mi in Vietnam

The greatest banh mi of all time, oddly enough, was a random discovery.  I was just walking around in Hanoi and saw a very impressive line for a place called Banh My Pho Hue; if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you know that I absolutely cannot resist a line for food.  And even if that had never paid off for me, it still would have been worth it a billion times over for allowing me to discover this place, because oh man.  Oh man, this sandwich.

Banh mi in Vietnam

It’s so simple: a slathering of butter, a heaping spread of pate, a little bit of pork floss, a few slices of cold cuts, and a few slices of plain cucumber.  There’s none of the pickled veggies or herbs that you find in a lot of other banh mi, and you don’t miss it.

You can add on a little bit of the zingy chili sauce they have on the side (and you should definitely do this), but other than that it’s a pretty basic sandwich.

Banh mi in Vietnam

The bread is ridiculous; it’s satisfyingly crispy on the outside, and fluffy as a cloud on the inside. You can eat this sandwich as aggressively as you want — you’re not going to cut your mouth.  And yet that outer crisp is still very much there, it’s just amazingly delicate.

Banh mi in Vietnam

The pate, like at Banh My Lan Ong, is a bit chunky, and absolutely amazing.  It’s easily the star of the show, and is complimented perfectly by the creamy butter, the cold cuts, the pork floss, and the fresh crunchiness of the cucumber.

It’s a simple sandwich, but all of the components are so delicious and work together so well that it’s a revelation.  If I were to list the top five sandwiches that I’ve ever eaten, it’d be on there for sure.

When I sat down to eat fish noodle soup (a Vietnamese dish called bun ca) at around eleven in the morning, I started to wonder: is this a mistake?  Maybe eating a potentially very pungent fishy soup for breakfast isn’t a great idea?

Bun Ca Sam Cay Si in Hanoi, Vietnam

Well, it turns out it absolutely was a great idea, because the bun ca that they served at a placed called Bun Ca Sam Cay Si in Hanoi was phenomenal.

Bun Ca Sam Cay Si in Hanoi, Vietnam

The broth, in particular, was something special: it was mildly seafoody, with a zingy, almost sour flavour that was given some added depth thanks to the fresh herbs, particularly dill.

The chewy noodles and crispy veggies worked great together, and there was a very generous amount of fried fish chunks.

Bun Ca Sam Cay Si in Hanoi, Vietnam

They must have fried the hell out of those things, because they somehow managed to retain their crunchy exterior right down to the last piece.  And yet the inside was tender and flaky.  I don’t know how they did it, but it was pretty amazing.

Pho may be the thousand pound gorilla of Vietnamese noodle soups — it’s the one that pretty much every single person on the planet has heard of — but it’s certainly not the only one.

Take, for example, bun bo hue. I just had a bowl of it at Bun Bo Hue Nam Giao, and it made a strong case that there should be room in your life for more than one noodle soup from Vietnam.

It’s got a zingy, ever-so-slightly sour broth that’s really satisfying; it’s much more of a face-punch of flavour than the comparatively subtle pho.

Bun Bo Hue Nam Giao in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

It comes with various sausagey mystery meats that are all quite tasty, and a couple of plates worth of veggies and hot peppers to customize your bowl.

I should note that those peppers are inferno hot; I added most of them to the soup, which was probably a mistake. The peppers themselves were fiery little spice-bombs, and they quickly infused the broth with their intense heat. I have a fairly high tolerance for spicy foods, but even I found this to be a bit much.  I was getting pretty sweaty by the time I finished the bowl.

I just had my first couple of meals in Ho Chi Minh.   For lunch, I stumbled across a tiny little restaurant that specializes in broken rice.  It was a pretty basic version of this dish: it’s a fairly substantial pile of rice (made with, as the name suggests, broken grains of rice) topped with grilled pork, greens and some crispy bits (I have no idea what these were but they were super tasty).  It also came with a really satisfying bowl of vegetable-packed soup.

Vietnam food

The price?  30,000 dong, or about $1.66 Canadian.  That is obscenely cheap for such a satisfying, delicious lunch.

Vietnam food

For dinner I went to a place called Bun Thit Nuong Chi Tuyen.  Their specialty is a dish I’ve had countless times back home that features a mix of rice noodles, pork, veggies, and herbs, with a spring roll on the side.  You top the whole thing with a sweet fish sauce (there was also a container of fiery red chilies at the table that I’ve never seen back home; it really kicked things up and was a pretty amazing addition).

Vietnam food

This is my go-to dish at Vietnamese restaurants, and this was the best version of it that I’ve had by far.  The noodles had a really great chewy texture, and the balance of flavours was incredible.  Back home, sometimes the herbs are a bit overwhelming, or the proportion of vegetables is off, but here everything was just right.

Vietnam food

And don’t even get me started on the spring roll, which was absolutely perfect.

And you know what else was perfect?  The price.  47,000 dong, which works out to $2.60 Canadian.  It’s suddenly becoming very clear to me why this place is so popular with younger travelers.  You can make very little money last a long time here.

And a bonus at the noodle joint: this almost improbably adorable puppy, who was sleeping on a chair just outside of the restaurant.

Vietnam food

Sometimes you don’t need anything fancy or gourmet; sometimes you just want a bunch of cheese, noodles, and tender pork.

And that’s exactly what you’ll get at Sun Kee Cheese Noodle: pure, unadulterated comfort food.

Sun Kee Cheese Noodle in Hong Kong

I mean, just look at that.  It’s just a big old glop of creamy, cheesy sauce on top of a mound of noodles and unctuous pork cheek.

I think you get a better idea of what’s going on here after the noodles have been mixed with the sauce.

Sun Kee Cheese Noodle in Hong Kong

It’s so good.  The noodles themselves are nothing special — I’m pretty sure they’re just instant noodles — but that sauce is rich and creamy, with a satisfyingly sharp cheesy flavour.  The tender slices of pork are a perfect accompaniment.

It’s kinda like mac and cheese, only with noodles instead of macaroni, and with big pieces of tasty pork.

Sun Kee Cheese Noodle in Hong Kong

Hidden away at the back of a sketchy little mall, the place pretty much defines the term “hole in the wall.”  But when the food is this good, I’ll eat it in a broom closet.  Just gimme that bowl of cheesy, creamy noodles.  I don’t care where I eat it.

There’s a dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong called Tim Ho Wan that both has a Michelin star, and is delightfully affordable.  So as you’d expect, it’s insanely crowded.  I mean, look at that madness in the photo above.

It doesn’t help that the restaurant is way smaller than you’d expect (dim sum joints tend to be absolutely enormous, but not here).  They do, however, cram as many people as they possibly can into a fairly small space.  Pretty much everyone has to share a table, which is quite common at Hong Kong restaurants.

Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong

It’s totally worth it, though.  Everything I tried here was the best version of the dish that I’ve had.

Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong

These baked buns with BBQ pork?  So good: sweet, with a lightly crispy shell, and a generous filling of perfectly cooked pork.

Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong

These had a similar filling, but were deep-fried and amazing, with a perfect balance of crispy and chewy.

Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong

And these shrimp dumplings?  Holy crap.  The shrimp was cooked to absolute perfection, and the wrapper was just right — not too thick, not too thin.  I honestly don’t think it’s possible to make these things any better.

Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong

It wasn’t all fun and games, though.  These rice rolls filled with pig’s liver were shockingly unpleasant.  And I really like liver!  But the flavour here was all metallic bitterness; that pig must have lived a hard life, and it didn’t taste like it was seasoned with anything.  It was an odd misstep in an otherwise superlative meal.

One of the things Hong Kong is known for is its various roasted meats — goose in particular.  I checked out a couple of goose joints that happen to have a Michelin star.  Yeah, they take their goose pretty seriously here.

The first one, Kam’s Roast Goose, was easily the most popular of the two.  It draws some pretty intense crowds, with a 40 minute wait on this particular evening.

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong Kong

The goose here was seriously tender with a really great flavour, though the skin wasn’t nearly as crispy as you’d hope.  It was quite good, but probably not worth the crazy wait.  The Michelin star seems like overkill.

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong Kong

The second place was called Yat Lok Restaurant; it definitely wasn’t as slick as Kam’s, but I think it was the better of the two.

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong Kong

The goose was equally tender and flavourful, and the skin had that amazing level of crispiness that you’re hoping for (though getting it in noodle soup — while delicious — probably wasn’t the best idea, because it quickly sogged up that great crispy skin).

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong Kong