After 8 months here I finally found some Vietnamese friends who have taken me on as their ‘foreign friend project’. Meaning – they are helping me to see and experience the Vietnamese culture from a local perspective. It’s easy to experience the touristy side of Saigon, however I have found it hard to really integrate into the daily life here. I’ve desperately wanted to integrate in and talk to the locals, eat crazy street food, understand some of the cultural oddities that I encounter every day; but that’s hard to do when you don’t know the language. You don’t need to know Vietnamese to be able to simply get around, but you do need to know it to have and understand real day to day cultural experiences.
That’s where my friends Lee and Tuyet come in. By chance I met them at a coffee café. There was a power cut in my neighborhood and it forced me out to a coffee shop. Lee, an American Vietnam Vet, and Tuyet, his wife from Dalat Vietnam are a lovely couple; I can’t stress this enough. Tuyet lost her sight when she was 7 years old. That alone fascinated me as I find Saigon a terribly difficult city to navigate with sight – I can’t imagine how she does it!
Ever since the day we met and exchanged pleasantries and phone numbers, they’ve been on a mission to show me the amazing food of Vietnam. They started this adventure by taking me to a local market and showing me how to cook up a Vietnamese seafood feast. They also introduced me to durian – the king of fruits.
This week, we went out to a night market on a rainy night and I tried more things that I never would have dreamed of being edible!
First we had yummy clams followed by baby snails in a coconut sauce. The coconut sauce was amazing; unexpectedly sweet. I was surprised though that the snails came out in their little homes – their shells. Tuyet demonstrated how I was to get the snails out of their home – by sucking…hard! Sure enough – with some effort – out they came and they tasted pretty good!
Finally – after our fresh grilled fish – yum – we walked to a smoothie place. I let them order for me and they decided upon a durian/avocado smoothie. Hmmm – these are two things that I would never order in a smoothie alone – let alone mixed together! But I was game to try it. We sat out at a little table on the sidewalk and they brought us 3 smoothies – the durian smell was suddenly present in front of me; not very appetizing. I made a big sigh and though…ok – you gotta try it. I’ve decided that I’m one of those rare people that doesn’t have a strong reaction to durian. Most people love it or hate it…I don’t love or hate it. I find it to be a strange taste, but nothing that gives me the gag reflex. Then again durian burps aren’t very fun.
I survived the night and was stuffed afterwards! I look forward to our next adventure!