The Food of Vientiane

Although we were only in Vientiane for a few days, we wanted to make sure that we tried as many local Laotian dishes as we could. The food of Laos is influenced greatly by its neighboring countries as well as the French who occupied it. With that said, there are a few dishes that are unique to Laos. With Vientiane sitting on the Mekong River, fish from the river can be found on most of the local menus.

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Fried Noodles with Beef
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Mekong Fish in Coconut Sauce Served with Sticky Rice
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Nothing Like a Good Cup of Coffee

One of the first meals that we ate in Vientiane was Laab, which is considered to be national dish of Laos. We had the choice of chicken, pork, duck, or fried fish, but chose to have it with pork. Laab, which means “good fortune” in the Lao language, is a mix of meat, banana flowers, fish sauce, lime juice, chili, and herbs. We also ate fish from the Mekong River that was in a coconut sauce. Another common item that we ate several times was sticky rice. We had a couple of different versions of sticky rice, some more flavorful than others. Fried noodles with beef, chicken, or pork is a local favorite throughout the region and we enjoyed having it as well.

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Pork Laab
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Sticky Rice
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Spicy Noodles with Seafood

We also ate a local chicken soup that was cooked and served with the bones in for even more flavor. Spicy noodles is common throughout the region and we chose to have it with seafood. The wide noodles were different than most of the other noodles that we ate during our time in Southeast Asia. We also had some crab dim sum that was light and refreshing. There are plenty of options for street food and coffee and beer are definitely popular as well. On our last day, we stopped in at an Indian/Pakistani restaurant where we had vegetable and chicken samosas.

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Street Food
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Chicken Soup
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Crab Dim Sum

No matter where you travel, it is important to taste the local cuisine as it is a window into the culture. The food in Vientiane, Laos was certainly true of that as well. The food was very flavorful and had just the right amount of spice for our tastes. We would certainly recommend trying the Laab, Mekong Fish, and Sticky Rice if you have the opportunity to visit Laos.

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Vegetable and Chicken Samosas
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National Lao Beer

 

The Food of Hanoi, Vietnam

During our trip to Vietnam, we enjoyed a variety of wonderful meals with different types of food. There were plenty of seafood, pork, and beef dishes, including Bún Chả and Phở. We also had the opportunity to take a local cooking class, which was one of our favorite memories of our time in Hanoi. In addition to eating at several restaurants in Hanoi, we also took several day trips that allowed us to taste food from the countryside as well.

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Fried Spring Rolls
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Grilled Mekong Catfish
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Beef, Eggs, and Bok Choy
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Bún Chả

Bún Chả is a traditional Vietnamese dish that originated in Hanoi and is made with grilled pork and noodles with a dipping sauce. It is usually served with condiment bowls of minced garlic and sliced hot peppers that can be added to your individual taste. Fried spring rolls are also commonly served with Bún chả. We definitely enjoyed eating Bún Chả and even visited the Bun Cha Ta restaurant twice during our stay in Hanoi. Bún Chả was also one of the items that we learned to make during our cooking class and we’ll definitely be making it for ourselves at home.

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Phở
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Spicy Peppers
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Spring Rolls and Dipping Sauce
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Steamed Shrimp

Phở is a Vietnamese soup that is usually made of beef, broth, herbs and noodles, but it can be made with chicken or pork as well. Unlike Bún Chả where you don’t drink the broth, Phở is a soup and you eat the meat and noodles with chopsticks and use a spoon to eat the broth. Once again you can add hot peppers to your Phở in order to make it spicier, but add them slowly as they are very spicy. Our hotel recommended that Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su, which is in the old quarter near way were staying and based on the lines, it is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike.

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Egg Coffee
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Fried Fish and Vegetables
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This was Just for the Two of Us
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Goat Stew

Egg Coffee is another traditional Vietnamese item and something that we had a couple of times and also made during our cooking class. It is coffee that is made with egg yokes and condensed milk, which makes it rich and sweet. We also ate seafood at a restaurant on the shore of Hoan Kiem Lake as well as during our overnight cruise on Halong Bay. During our tour to Ninh Binh, we were treated to a meal with fried spring rolls and a stew made with goat, potatoes, and carrots. Goat was a traditional dish for the Ninh Binh Province. During our tour of Perfume Pagoda, we were treated to an overwhelming array of local dishes that included beef, pork, chicken, and vegetables.

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Steamed Crab in the Shells
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Beef Stir Fry
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Squid with Celery and Leeks
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Cooked Banana with Chocolate and Coconut

Obviously there are plenty of restaurants featuring western food, but we only ate at restaurants featuring local cuisine. Our chopstick skills definitely improved during our time in Vietnam as well since they were often the only utensils offered. We certainly enjoyed trying as much of the famous street food of Hanoi and the surrounding area as possible. We are definitely looking forward to recreating as many of the meals as we can in the upcoming months.

The Food of Budapest, Hungary

It certainly shouldn’t be surprising that you can find just about any type of cuisine that you would like in a city the size of Budapest. Especially in the tourist areas, you can find restaurants featuring traditional Hungarian dishes, but you are just as likely to find Italian, Asian, Mediterranean, and even Mexican restaurants. It is also not surprising that you can find plenty of American fast food restaurants throughout the city. When it comes to Hungarian food, it is definitely meat and starch (potato/rice) forward and vegetables are almost an afterthought. One of the things that did surprise us were the number of restaurants specializing in burgers that we found everywhere. Not fast food restaurants, but just restaurants that offered many varieties of burgers on their menus.

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Goulash Soup
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Beef Tenderloin with Letcho and Fried Potatoes
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Chicken Paprikash
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Boar Cheeks with Napkin Dumplings

Goulash soup was probably the most common item that could be found on almost any Hungarian menu, but it is truly a soup and not what most of us think of when we hear the word goulash. You will also find meat stews listed and sometimes it will even be listed as goulash stew. Another common menu item is Chicken Paprikash, which is chicken and cottage cheese noodles covered in a paprika sour cream sauce. Cottage cheese noodles are pretty similar to spätzle. You will find many menu items that feature “letcho”, which is a pepper and tomato stew that can be combined with different proteins or eaten on its own. Another common item that you find as an appetizer is duck liver pate with the local flatbread, very similar to naan.

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Goulash Stew
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Duck Liver Pate
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Lamb Soup with Duck Liver Dumplings
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Leg of Goose with Red Cabbage

Needless to say, there are plenty of other choices for Hungarian dishes including boar cheeks with dumplings and lamb soup with duck liver dumplings. There are also Hungarian deserts such as an almond cake, but one of the most famous is probably the chimney cake. We got our chimney cake from a food truck where it was cooked over burning embers. It is then coated with your choice of flavors and we decided on a simple cinnamon sugar. Since burgers were so prevalent, we did decide to get a burger one day and since we like spicy food, we ordered a spicy burger. It turned out to be so spicy that we were barely able to eat it.

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Spicy Burger
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Chimney Cake
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Traditional Almond Cake
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Grilled Calamari

With six days in Budapest, we didn’t limit ourselves to just Hungarian food, but also ate some seafood and Italian food as well. In the main tourist areas, you will sometimes find that the restaurants offer a “tourist menu”, which is usually a three course meal focusing on Hungarian dishes. It is probably focused on those tourists that come from the cruise ships that stop in Budapest where the people only have a single day in the city. We found some of the best restaurants tended to be in the Jewish Quarter and we even ate an excellent meal at an Israeli fusion restaurant called Mazel Tov that was recommended to us by several people.

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Spaghetti Arrabbiata
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Fried Calamari
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Cooking Chimney Cakes
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Mussels in White Wine Sauce

When visiting Budapest, you will certainly have plenty of options of restaurants to choose from. We definitely enjoyed the different meals that we ate and it would be difficult to choose a favorite, but you should certainly try some of the paprika based dishes. All of the restaurants usually had English as well as Hungarian descriptions as well as German sometimes. Many of the tourist restaurants also include picture menus, but we didn’t find those to be necessary. Fortunately we did a lot of walking during our time in Budapest, otherwise all of the heavy meals might have taken their toll on our wastes.

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Pastrami Sandwich at the Israeli Fusion Restaurant
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Buffet on the Dinner Cruise Ship
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Fresh Olives
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Spoon Restaurant on the Danube River