My first meal in Vietnam consisted of banh mi and
a tall glass of ca phe sue dah (Vietnamese iced coffee)
A really delicious dish of bun cha (rice noodles, grilled pork,
minced pork patties and vegetables dipped in cold broth)
Lamb in tamarind sauce served up at the
fanciest restaurant I ate at in Vietnam
Decades ago when I was still a student in England, I ate my first Vietnamese meal at a pho noodle place in London's Chinatown. Instead of coming across as exotic, that bowl of beef pho struck me as the closest thing I could find in England to a Penang dish I like very much called goo bak koay teow, whose name literally translates from Hokkien into English as "beef flat rice noodles". Put another way, it served as the closest substitute I could find to a favorite dish from my home state.
After moving to the US, I came across more Vietnamese restaurants and was introduced to a wider range of Vietnamese food, some of which were unfamiliar tasting to me, many of which I grew to like. And considering the number of Vietnamese who immigrated to the US versus Malaysia and Hong Kong, it makes sense that until my recent trip to Vietnam, I hadn't tasted Vietnamese food in Asia as good as that which I could find in restaurants in Philadelphia's Vietnamese restaurant-filled Chinatown.
So while Hanoi has restaurants that serve up non-Vietnamese food, I pretty much stuck to eating the local cuisine on my recent Vietnam vacation -- until the final day when I decided to go for a meal at Didier Corlou's West meets Asia (particularly French meets Vietnam) La Verticale.
Almost needless to say, La Verticale was the priciest and fanciest of the eateries I ate at in Vietnam (and even then, the food part of my bill amounted to just 150,000 Dong (i.e., less than US$6.50), with the Gin and tonic I decided to also have being priced at 110,000 Dong (i.e., less than US$5.50)). But while the lamb in tamarind sauce I ate in lovely surroundings there was pretty good, I have to say that it wasn't the best -- or even second, third or fourth best -- dish I had on my trip.
While I can't rank them exactly vis a vis one another, the following were definitely better than what I ate for lunch on the final day of my Vietnam visit: the spare ribs with "New Day" sauce at the budget-priced New Day Restaurant; the prawns cooked with vodka(!) on board the V'Spirit Ha Long Bay cruise I went on; the fried catfish with mango at the lovely Garden Restaurant; and the large portion of bun cha I was served at the for KOTO Hanoi social enterprise restaurant (and pretty easily managed to finish because it was so very delicious!).
And while I wouldn't visit Vietnam just to eat (the way I would with, say, Japan!), it's also true enough that -- unlike was the case with TomEatsJenCooks' Tom -- I felt pretty satisfied with what I did eat there, starting from my first meal in the country (which cost around 60,000 Dong (i.e., around US$3) at the branch of Highland Coffee located right next to the Military History (AKA Army) Museum) all the way to my final meal (consisting of another banh mi -- only this time with a pate filling -- and Vietnamese beer rather than super strong coffee!).