Monday, September 23, 2013

Cheap & Local in Mui Ne

As you can see, the roads here are full of dirt and dust. Thank goodness for the glass case.
Living in a resort area is hardly uncomfortable, but when it comes to getting meals nearby I’m faced with paying resort area prices. However, whenever I’m in Mui Ne there’s a place I often go that sells to a local crowd. It’s a five-minute drive from my place and never terribly busy, which always surprises me. It’s as simple a setup as you’ll find anywhere, though the owners have recently added a mechanics shop to their place. Mechanics shops and restaurants don’t usually mix well, but I have no problem with it here.

I think that wet spot to the right of the cart is water, not motorbike oil.
As you can see from the photos above, the family sells their homemade dishes from a wheeled glass display case, which they roll into their house for safekeeping during the night and roll back toward the road when they’re open for business. And they’re open for breakfast, which is either bánh mì (sandwiches) and xôi mạnh (sticky rice), as well as lunch, which is always cơm bình dân (common rice dishes).

The bánh mì goes for a mere 15,000 dong ($0.70), even if you get a mix of just about everything you can put into a sandwich. You can’t see it all that well in the photo below, but my bánh mì came with grilled pork, mixed sautéed veggies, fried eggs, cucumber, and a squirt of sauce. It also doesn’t show how one of the two women there used her chopsticks to feed her baby, then to feed herself, then to pick up a strip of grilled pork for my sandwich. Thankfully, the end she picked up had a chunk of bone in it, and it got cut off by a clean (I think) pair of scissors.

Is there such a thing as bánh mì bụi?
Considering that only one or two people make these dishes every day, I’d say their efforts are pretty impressive. They usually sell thin vegetable omelettes, grilled pork, fatty pork, fatty pork with hardboiled eggs, sautéed mixed vegetables, sautéed water spinach, grilled fish, fried fish, and sometimes shrimp. My takeaway meals often consist of rice, mixed veggies, a large slice of omelette, and two strips of grilled pork, or one strip of grilled pork and one small grilled fish, and includes a complementary vegetable soup and a packet of fish sauce with red chilies. It’s not as much as it sounds, but it’s more than enough for lunch. The total cost is the same every time: 20,000 dong ($0.95).

I'll take this over resort restaurant meals any day...
Passersby on motorbikes often stare at me as I stand at the display case, and those standing in line to order, or at one of the two metal tables where you can sit down and eat, often ask me how I can order in Vietnamese. When they ask if I have a Vietnamese wife and I say no, some ask in all seriousness if I have a Vietnamese mother. Which is a compliment out of all proportion with my Vietnamese abilities. In Saigon or Hanoi this would happen less frequently, but since most Westerners here (80% or more are Russians) don’t speak a single word of Vietnamese, I suppose I stand out a little more. All in all, it makes life here a little more interesting.

I’m also told that I should avoid eating in places like this, despite the deal it seems to offer and the fact that it tastes good and seems relatively healthy. People tell me that food on the street is cheap precisely because it uses poor ingredients, especially those that bypass whatever regulators exist in Vietnam (and there aren’t many). It’s hard to know what to do about this situation in Vietnam, as there are so many street food vendors, but there have also been numerous reports about high concentrations of toxic chemicals (used as preservatives and whitening agents) being found in the vast majority of rice noodles. Coffee on the street, I’m told, is often mixed with quinine (and all kinds of other things) to make it bitterer. Sad news for Vietnam, but not something the country can’t overcome with more care and diligence.

I threw this photo in even though it came from another local restaurant. You can often get mixed fruit (to go, in this case) for very little money. This order – two bananas, half a dragon fruit, a thick slice of mango, and two hunks of watermelon) cost me 23,000 dong ($1.09), which is about the same price I've been asked to pay for a bunch of bananas (and the seller wouldn't bargain, which is rather rare).

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  1. Trying this comment thing again---quinine??? Well, I suppose it will keep the Malaria off. Still the street food looks amazing--we have a street sandwich here too that I will have to photograph and write about at some point. Keep eating!

  2. Jeff: Don't know if quinine in coffee keeps malaria away. Probably the quinine is mixed with something, too. I'm sure Turkish street sandwiches compare well with Vietnamese ones. Looking forward to drooling over them when you put them on your blog baby.

  3. Thanks for sharing! i like this post! ^.^