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Throw yourself into the wonderful lesser known world of street snacks in Vietnam

Monday, December 20, 2021, 10:55 GMT+7
Throw yourself into the wonderful lesser known world of street snacks in Vietnam
Ingredients for 'banh trang tron' (Vietnamese rice paper salad) are seen at a stall in Thu Duc City under Ho Chi Minh City, December 15, 2021. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

Editor's note: This story is written by Ray Kuschert, an Australian who has lived in Ho Chi Minh City for eight years, after he found that snack foods in Vietnam revealed a lesser-known world people should discover. 

For some expats and travelers, the sights of some street food can bring total confusion, and a little fear when trying to find something to eat. Outside of the popular food items found globally, Vietnam is awash with snack food that is enjoyed by school children and families all over the country. But to foreigners, the sights of some of these bring trepidation and fear because little is known about the wonderful snacks enjoyed by people all over the country. 

Some of my fondest moments in Vietnam include my time in Da Lat. Sitting on the steps of the central market on a cold winter's evening, eating banh trang nuong, warms the heart and your fingers.

A street vendor sells 'banh trang nuong' with other grilled snacks at Lam Vien Square in the Central Highland City of Da Lat. Picture is taken in December 2020. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

A street vendor sells 'banh trang nuong' with other grilled snacks at Lam Vien Square in the Central Highlands city of Da Lat. The picture was taken in December 2020. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

Banh trang nuong is akin to a small pizza but is also very different. On a base of rice paper, a wet mixture of fried shallots, chopped spring onions, an egg and a little chili paste are all put on the round rice paper sheet and mixed together over a hot BBQ. As the mixture firms, a piece of cream cheese and local meat are added, slowly melting to the top of the now firm mixture. To complete the food, mayonnaise and chili sauce are dropped over the hot cooked pizza-shaped snack to add to the flavor.

'On a base of rice paper, a wet mixture of fried shallots, chopped spring onion, an egg and a little chili paste, are all put on the round rice paper sheet and mixed together over a hot BBQ'. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

'On a base of rice paper, a wet mixture of fried shallots, chopped spring onions, an egg and a little chili paste are all put on the round rice paper sheet and mixed together over a hot BBQ.' Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

Staff is making 'banh trang nuong' at a stall in Thu Duc City in Ho Chi Minh City on December 14, 2021. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

Staff are making 'banh trang nuong' at a stall in Thu Duc City under Ho Chi Minh City on December 14, 2021. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

To make it a proper finger food, the cook will fold it in half and offer it to you with a paper cover to protect your fingers from the heat. Eating this anywhere in Vietnam is just amazing, not just in Da Lat. It can be found in most large cities, in tourist areas as well as any popular markets. It is a must-try food anywhere, but especially in Da Lat. 

Da Lat-style 'banh trang nuong' is served at a stall in Thu Duc City under Ho Chi Minh City, December 14, 2021. Video: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

To a long-time resident of Vietnam, the back streets and markets are places of exploration and surprise at every corner. Among my favorites to explore are the small shops and street vendors that sell banh trang tron. This is such a simply made food that you can prepare it at home but experiencing the different styles from a vendor makes this snack a real experience. 

The ingredients on banh trang tron are just amazing. They include rice paper, tiny dry shrimp, satay, dried onions, spring onions, quail eggs (trung cut), dry beef (or chicken), peanuts, shrimp salt, kumquat juice and other local flavors. Some local oil is added to give the dish a unique texture and soften the rice paper just a little to make it easier to eat.

'Banh trang tron' is served at a stall in Thu Duc City in Ho Chi Minh City on December 15, 2021. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

'Banh trang tron' is served at a stall in Thu Duc City under Ho Chi Minh City, December 15, 2021. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

I just love watching it come together. The seller will take the selected ingredients from the trolley and place them in a stainless-steel bowl. The mixture is tossed around, giving the dry rice paper some moisture from the juices and oils. Then, it is all tipped into a bag and handed to you with chopsticks so you can stroll around the market whilst eating. I love sitting in the park and sharing it with my partner as people enjoy the shade of the trees from the warm sun.

A street vendor wear plastic gloves while giving a mix to her 'banh trang tron' at a stall in Thu Duc City in Ho Chi Minh City on December 15, 2021. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

A street vendor wears plastic gloves while making her 'banh trang tron' at a stall in Thu Duc City under Ho Chi Minh City, December 15, 2021. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

There are options when eating this snack. I personally choose the spicy version and enjoy it with a beer or three but you can also get it without the strong chili flavor if you choose. Anyone can eat banh trang tron. It really is the perfect mid-afternoon snack to get you through to dinner, or the perfect finger food to enjoy with a few beers with your friends at the local bar.

A street stall sells a variety of snacks from Vietnamese rice paper, including 'banh trang tron', in Thu Duc City under Ho Chi Minh City, December 15, 2021. Video: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

My first holiday to Vietnam, almost a decade ago, gave me my first experience of the small makeshift street carts/bicycles that are seen everywhere in Vietnam. One snack food that took me over five years to try was bo bia ngot. It’s a super simple, super sweet packet of carbohydrates to give you energy after a long day at school or exploring the country. 

Bo bia ngot is a spring roll-shaped sweet food. With a thin sweet outer wrapper, coconut, condensed milk and sesame seeds are mixed together and wrapped into a roll big enough for a 6-year-old’s hand. The soft sweet food costs less than 5 or 10 cents per roll so I love to buy 10 or 15 and share them with the local children that always gather where the sweet food is on offer. It’s a great snack and always a great experience sharing with excited kids.

A video features 'bo bia ngot' in Hanoi which Ashley Griffith, an English man who is living in Vietnam, posted on his TikTok channel @ashlongvn. Video courtesy of Ashley Griffith

A friend once told me “You are really Vietnamese when you eat hot vit lon," so I tried it. The first time I was in fear of not keeping it down, but it quickly became a weekly, healthy and tasty snack or as part of a meal. 

Known by many English speakers as balut, hot vit lon is a duck egg that has a fertilized and developing duck fetus inside. When cooked and opened, the texture resembles an egg with the white and yellow but has the added dark colors of the parts of the duck that has just started to form. It sounds awful, I know, but it really is delicious and healthy.

'Hot vit lon xao me' is served at a street stall in Thu Duc City in Ho Chi Minh City on December 15, 2021. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre

'Hot vit lon xao me' is served at a street stall in Thu Duc City under Ho Chi Minh City, December 15, 2021. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre

My favorite hot vit lon is with tamarind sauce (hot vit lon xao me). The egg is boiled so everything inside is well cooked. It is opened, and the solid oval egg is dropped into a pan and heated in a mixture of the sauce and some spices. It is placed on a plate and some peanuts and spring onions are sprinkled over the top to complete the presentation. 

'The solid oval eggs are dropped into a pan and heated in a mixture of the sauce and some spices'. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

'The solid oval eggs are dropped into a pan and heated in a mixture of the sauce and some spices.' Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

Eating it is a treat, after the challenge of forgetting what it is. The egg is separated into a hard section, soft section and a mushy section. Simply use a spoon to take pieces from each of the sections and scoop it up with some sauce. The favor is addictive. Once you start, you can’t stop. I will often eat three or four eggs because one is just not enough. Hot vit lon xao me is a must-try for the adventurous. You will be addicted. 

'Hot vit lon xao me' is placed on a plate and some peanuts and herbs are sprinkled over the top to complete the presentation. Video: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News 

What I learned about snack food in Vietnam is to try it. I lost the fear of the unknown and embraced a sense of adventure to try anything at least once. And that embracing of the local culture has given me more than I could have imagined. As I travel the country, I always keep a lookout for a school or local market. And I check out the nearby street sellers who are selling local snacks to school kids and shoppers.

It’s always a pleasure, and always an adventure, trying snack food in Vietnam. 

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