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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.

After my shockingly great Korean McDonald’s experience — and considering how good all of the food in Japan is — I had high hopes for a similar experience here.

Yeah, no.  This was a pretty standard McDonald’s experience, sadly.  Not the best, and not the worst.

First up is the Mature Gracoro Beef Stew Burger, which is a crispy fried croquette with cheese and chili on top.  Oh, and the croquette is filled with macaroni and shrimp.

McDonald's in Japan

There’s a lot going on here — between the chili, the cheese, the mayonnaisey sauce, the shrimp, the soft macaroni, the crispy exterior of the croquette, and the creamy interior, it’s a very random hodge-podge of tastes and textures.  It’s not bad, but it never quite coheres.

McDonald's in Japan

I also tried the Teriyaki McBurger, which was very similar to the Bulgogi Burger that I tried in South Korea.  In fact, I think the pork patty is identical — but when I had it in Korea, it was fresh and tasty.  This one had clearly been sitting out for a while, and had a much dryer texture and a vaguely leftovery flavour.  The teriyaki sauce was about what you’d expect, and it wasn’t quite strong enough to wipe out that patty’s iffy flavour.

McDonald's in Japan

Finally, there’s the Sankaku pie — a triangular chocolate pie with a puff pastry exterior.  This wasn’t bad.  The chocolate filling was nice and gooey, but the pastry shell was a bit tough and chewy.

One of the specialties in Busan is a soup called dwaeji gukbap — pork and rice soup.  There’s a whole stretch of road in the Seomyeon area of town that features nothing but one restaurant after another that specializes in the dish, so yeah, it’s a big deal here.

I picked one pretty much at random (I did have a recommendation, but the signs were all in Korean, so I had no idea which was which), and went in to get my soup on.

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South Korea

They love including pictures in their menus here, which is a boon for clueless travelers like me, because I can just point to what I want to eat.

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South Korea

The soup is an elaborate affair, coming with several bowls of condiments (and the requisite kimchi, of course).  It’s a bit bland at first, but once you start adding the various pastes, vinegars, and add-ons, the soup really comes alive.

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South Korea

It’s incredibly hearty, too, with a ridiculous amount of very tender, thinly-sliced pork, and a heaping amount of rice.  It’s a really satisfying lunch.

There’s not a whole lot that you can absolutely, positively count on in this world, but here’s one thing:  when a restaurant has this on display in their front window, I’m gonna be going inside that restaurant.

Oink in Edinburgh, Scotland

If there’s a more glorious sight in the world, I’d like to see it.

Oink, as you might imagine, specializes in pork sandwiches.  One of the more interesting things about it are the add-ons to the sandwich; to go with the pork, you can either choose from a sage and onion topping, or haggis.  I went with haggis, because I’m in Scotland, so obviously.

You also get your choice of sauce; I had mine topped with mustard mayo.

Oink in Edinburgh, Scotland

It’s a pretty great sandwich — the pork is very simply spiced, allowing its natural flavours to shine through, and it’s nice and tender while still maintaining some texture (some sandwiches like this have a tendency to be one-note mushy).  The haggis and the mayo do a great job of complimenting the pork, but still allowing it to be the star of the show.   It’s quite good.

HOWEVER.  They get minus infinity points for having all that glorious crispy skin on display and then not including any in the sandwich. I guess you have to ask for it?  That’s ridiculous.  You’re ridiculous, Oink.  Where’s my crispy skin??

Though I would have liked to go eat at St. John — a restaurant that’s pretty famous for helping to popularize nose-to-tail eating in London (and the world) — it’s a bit out of my price range. You know what is in my price range? A restaurant called Hereford Road that was opened by a chef who worked at St. John.

Hey, when you’re on a budget, you take what you can get.

Liver at Hereford Road in London, England

They have a set menu at lunch where you can get an appetizer, a main, and a dessert for £15.50.

It’s a pretty amazing deal, though aside from the dessert, nothing was particularly great. There was a starter of liver on toast and a main of bubble and squeak (which is kind of like a meatless hash) which comes topped with thickly-cut pieces of pork belly. Everything was a little bit too greasy; I don’t know if you can really tell from the photos, but there was oil leaking out on the plate on both of those dishes. And while the pork belly tasted okay, the skin was so tough I couldn’t cut through it even with a steak knife.

Rice pudding at Hereford Road in London, England

The rice pudding for dessert, on the other hand, was pretty magnificent. I don’t think I’ve ever had rice pudding that didn’t come out of a can or a cup, so my standards probably aren’t super high, but it had a deliciously rich custardy flavour, and the rice had the perfect texture — soft, but not too soft.

The oldest restaurant in Berlin is called Zur Letzten Instanz, and it’s been around since 1621 (so, not quite as old as the bakery I visited in Austria, but still pretty darn old).

Pretty much everyone seems to be in agreement that when you come here, you have to order the grilled pork knuckle (also known as a roasted ham hock — basically a huge chunk of pork, bone and all, from just above the pig’s foot).  I require very little encouragement to order a huge chunk of pork, so obviously that’s what I got.

Sweet, sweet pork

The first thing you notice is the uniformly crispy skin (ultra crispy, in fact).  It’s amazing.

Actually, the whole thing is pretty amazing.  I mean, it’s a big hunk of tender pork encased in potato-chip-crispy skin.  If this doesn’t look and sound delicious to you, then you and me are very different people.

Pork!

It comes on a bed of cabbage cooked in malt syrup, which is a perfect accompaniment to the pork; the sweetness of the cabbage helps to cut the richness of the meat.  It’s pretty great.

Tasty Treat Number One: I had a pork dish called schweinsbraten at Gasthaus zur Alten Press, and if that sounds extremely Austrian: yeah.  The whole restaurant was extremely Austrian.

Restaurant

When you’re in a place like that, you have to wonder how much of the design/decor is earnest, and how much is just them playing up the stereotypes to appeal to tourists.

(Not that they get many tourists in Graz — even my Airbnb host was a little puzzled as to why I was there, so I explained that I was visiting for the Arnold Schwarzenegger museum, and he feigned interest, like “oh, I was thinking about going there…”  You’re clearly not interested, Airbnb guy.  We don’t need to play this game; I know I’m a weirdo.)

Either way, the food was delicious; it was a great example of a really simple, comforting meal, with fork-tender pork, semmelknödel (which tastes kind of like an Austrian version of the stuffing you might eat on Thanksgiving), and cabbage, all topped with a rich gravy.

Bakery

Tasty Treat Number Two: Hofbäckerei Edegger-Tax has been around for almost 500 years — since 1569. Coming from Canada, where there was a pretty huge deal made about our recent 150th birthday, going to a bakery that’s more than three times older than that feels a bit strange.

The lady behind the counter spoke perfect English (which is delightfully common here), so I asked her what she recommended, and she suggested the Mozartkugel.

Delicious

This consists of a marzipan centre, surrounded by what basically tasted like thick chocolate buttercream frosting, a cakey pastry, and more marzipan, with the whole thing covered in a generous coating of good quality dark chocolate.

Marzipan is one of those ingredients that can magically make pretty much anything more delicious, so I enjoyed this quite a bit.

There’s a place back in Toronto called Porchetta and Co. that serves what was, up until now, the best porchetta that I’ve ever had. I had kind of assumed that it was porchetta perfection; I honestly didn’t think it could be topped.

It has been topped. Sorry, Porchetta and Co.: your porchetta sandwich is officially garbage.

I wasn’t even planning to eat at Baccanale; I was actually on my way to another restaurant, but then — wait, what’s this? Oh, that looks good.

Tasty lookin' porchetta

Andrew Zimmern signs off every episode of Bizarre Foods with “if it looks good, eat it.”

I try to live my life by those words.

So yes, I ate the porchetta sandwich, and its deliciousness shot through me like a lightning bolt.

So good

The porchetta was everything. Every element of it was almost upsettingly good. It was porky, salty, herby, fatty, crispy, tender goodness.

Here’s another picture, closer to the middle of the sandwich that gives you a better idea of what the porchetta distribution looked like. The pork was an amazingly well-balanced mix of thinly-sliced lean pieces and thickly-cut fatty pieces. It was tender and amazing, with just enough fat to keep things interesting, but not enough to overwhelm.

THE BEST

And the crackling. Oh, the crackling. There was enough of it that every bite had some, and it was so intensely flavoured and perfectly crispy — but not overly crunchy — that it defied logic and reason.

The flavour almost bordered on too intense — too herby and salty — but it never was. It was perfect.

I mean, the whole damn thing was perfect. I’m being ridiculously effusive here, but how could I not? It was all so good.

The bread was pretty great too: hot and crispy on the outside (they put it in a panini press to order) and fluffy on the inside, with just enough heft to hold up to all that amazing pork.

The only downside? I used to love Porchetta and Co., but it’s ruined now. Absolutely ruined.