WHERE TO EAT IN VIETNAM?
In my last post (you can find it HERE) I described Vietnamese cuisine with it's most popular dishes, exotic fruits and delicacies that can be tried only in Vietnam. The topic of food is endless and beside of question "what to eat?", there is also: "where to eat?". Things that seem obvious, like the way of storing and preparing the food, work hygiene, etc., are not necessarily the way we are used to in Vietnam. The word "sterile" seems to have a different meaning there. The Vietnamese do most of their daily activities outdoors, including preparing food, so they are not concerned about the conditions in their diners. It is normal for them to have reusable chop sticks, raw meat laid on the sun, the block of ice lays on the floor on the way to coffee shop and the leftovers from the table are being thrown to the ground to be cleaned by...rats. It's just simple life for them. Only a person used to different standards can have a digestive problems, this is why it is advised to vaccinate before the travel (although it is not compulsory) and to be careful with what and where you eat. Nevertheless, it is not always possible to prevent yourself from getting sick, what I have experienced on my skin on the eleventh day of my journey, when I already had thought I'm "untouchable" in that matter. All in all, I don't want to discourage you, just make sure you have some knowledge before you go and try Vietnamese cuisine yourself! Please read the below and then decide whether you would be able to try local street food, or rather stay safe and dine only in European-like restaurants?
Is it safe to eat out on the streets in Vietnam? There is no good answer to this question, because anyone who has tried it could say that it depends on many aspects. Of course, it is possible to get food poisoning and this is why it is generally argued not to eat there. However, for many people, including myself, this is where you can find the most intriguing tastes and also where the best prices are. I advise to use your common sense. If you can see with the first glance that the food stall has never been cleaned before, the cook crushes the ice in his teeth or flick the ashes of his cigarette straight into your bowl, I would definitely leave. On the other hand, if everything seems fine and there's a queue of locals waiting for the food, go ahead and try it! These are an extreme examples, though not necessarily untrue ;) To be honest, I've had a bad experience only once, when I went to the diner and the pho soup smelled like a dead cat! I was not eating in stands placed in tourists districts, where there were many people and many scooters, because I wouldn't like to know how much exhaust landed in this food.
The best dishes, which are usually pho soup or noodles, can be found in home-made diners, where locals cook for their families, friends, neighbors and guests. Sometimes it is hard to even notice that you can buy food there. The owners place two or three tables with tiny plastic chairs in front of their porch, where they serve food, to then go back to their daily routines, like for example knitting.
The outdoor diners are very popular in Vietnam, especially where the fish and seafood is served. These places don't care about decor and also use mini plastic chairs and metal tables for their guests. The reason for that is actually the hot and humid weather and it is easy to keep the furnishings clean and dry. Fish and seafood or other animals are displayed in front of the diners in aquariums and cages, which is not a pleasant thing to see. The customers can choose what they would like to order and they are ensured their meat will be fresh.
A market is a place where you can buy food but also where you can order a meal. It is common for morning market to turn into food festival in the evening. The most interesting one I have been to was the food market in Can Tho, where you could try fried sausages and prawns on sticks, minced crab meat balls, roasted duck rump or veggies rolled into rice pancakes.
There is also a fruit and vegetable market where you can buy fresh and exotic veggies or fruit. However, the meat and fish market is reserved for people with strong stomachs only, because due to the fact that there are no fridges, the Vietnamese don't sell meat like we buy in supermarkets. They sell alive or nearly alive animals, which they kill after they are sold to ensure the customer gets the freshest product available. So be prepared for unpleasant views and smells!