I would never call myself a heavy drinker, but I would call myself a revealer of universal truths. The fact is, anyone who has every gone out to a bar before, knows about the drunk munchies. You know, it’s that insatiable craving for food you get at the end of the night. Most of the time, it will be so late that only a few establishments are still open. In the United States (at least on the East Coast), this limits your choices to pizza and french fries, among a few other greasy delicacies. I've recently had an epiphany; Banh mi in Vietnam is the perfect drunk munchies food.
Technically, Banh mi (which is usually spelled as the accented “Bánh mì”) just means “bread” in Vietnamese. However, it has also become the ubiquitous term for the fast-food sandwiches served on street corners. Basically, a street vendor takes a baguette and stuffs it with vegetables, and then either adds a fried egg or meat.
So why is Banh mi the perfect drunk munchies food? Why am I so enamored with this Vietnamese specialty? Here are five reasons:
It usually costs no more than 75 cents to buy a Banh mi sandwich from a street vendor, and remember those fifteen cent beers I told you about? An entire night of drinking, plus a sandwich (or two) at the end of the night, will still cost you less than a single beer at a bar in the United States. It’s cheap and I’m cheap, so there you go.
It’s Got Carbs
When you’re more than a bit tipsy, you want something you can really sink your teeth into. There’s nothing more satisfying than eating a baguette with your friends on your way back to the hostel.
It’s Also Healthy
Banh mi is waaay healthier than pizza and french fries. It’s not particularly greasy, and is stuffed full of vegetables and egg. Obviously, nothing can compare to the taste of pizza; however, you can easily have two or three Bahn mi and not feel regretfully bloated the next morning.
It’s Fast Food
Banh mi vendors can prepare a sandwich faster than most pizzerias can reheat a slice of pizza. When you’re craving a quick bite, the last thing you want to do is wait. Within a few seconds of ordering your meal, it’s ready.
Banh mi is kind of hard mess up. In your pseudo-buzzed state, you’ll usually end up ordering a second or third sandwich, just because it tastes so darn good! Forget about it just being a drunk munchies food; I often eat Banh mi for breakfast.
So there you have it: five stellar reasons why Banh mi is the perfect drunk munchies food. Stay hungry, my friends.
Argentina has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 51!
First of all, if you read the post's title to the tune of a certain Cream song, "mission accomplished." If (most likely) you did not, then no harm done.
Admission, I don't travel just to eat good food. I travel to eat good different food. Sure, it would be very easy (and perhaps stereotypical) for me to eat Western food for all of my meals. Lots of travelers stick to foods they already know and love. They frequent hamburger and pizza joints, perhaps supplementing their diet with the occasional Pad Thai or Pho. It is no secret that there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of successful American and European restaurants in Southeast Asia.
So what gives? Doesn't everyone want to eat Vietnamese food in Vietnam? Mostly "yes", but there is a caveat.
People tend to like what they are already accustomed to; I, for one, totally understand this mentality. There's a reason they call it "comfort food." Although it sounds easy to expand your palate, there is always a bit of a gamble when you try new food. Maybe it tastes bad. Maybe it will make you sick. Maybe the restaurant or food stall isn't sanitary. There have been many times I just wanted to buy a pizza, because I didn't feel like going through the effort of trying something new. Pizza is familiar to me, whereas some strange noodle dish may end up being "The Devil on a Plate."
Ok, so I've given some reasons for not stepping outside of your comfort zone. But isn't travel about doing just that? I recently wrote a post called Deconstructing Comfort, where I extolled the merits of expanding one's comfort zone. The more foods you try, the more things you will be open to eating. Since beginning my travel, I've eaten scorpion, cricket, frog, and ostrich. You know what? I would never have tried those foods in the United States. But I cannot lie, they were all pretty good! At this point, I'd probably not say no to dog meat (I think I just lost a few dozen readers), or many of the other funky things they eat in Vietnam.
If I can have the gall to solo backpack through Asia, I can sure as hell eat local dishes, even ones that I previously considered strange. Although I'm not running off to eat insects and "pet" animals every day, it is certainly an interesting experience doing so. Surprise, surprise, trying new food expands your palate. If you don't like something, you never have to eat it again. But if you do discover a new favorite dish, you will thank yourself forever!
Come on, crickets are on me tonight!
The food that convinced me to take a cooking class was "LokLak," a French inspired Khmer dish. This recipe comes straight from the cookbook I was given by Coconut restaurant. There are quite a few ingredients; however, when done right, it is a phenomenal dish! I've had both beef and chicken LokLak, and I slightly prefer the chicken variation. However, this is all subjective, so use whatever kind of meat you prefer. Makes six servings.
Beef Tenderloin or Chicken (1000 grams)
Cooking Oil (6 Tbs)
Soy Sauce (4 Tbs)
Oyster Sauce (6 Tbs)
Salt (1-1/3 Tbs)
Chicken Powder (2 Tbs)
Sugar (6 Tbs)
Ketchup (6 Tbs)
Pepper Powder (1-1/3 Tbs)
Chili Sauce (6 Tbs)
Lime Juice (3 Tbs)
1 Egg (optional)
1) First, prepare the beef/chicken and sauce. Clean the beef/chicken and cut into cubes. Then add soy sauce, oyster sauce, ketchup, chili sauce, 1/3 of a tablespoon of salt (not all of it!), 1 tablespoon of chicken powder (not all of it!), 3 tablespoons of sugar (not all of it!), and 1/3 of a tablespoon of pepper powder (not all of it!). Mix it all together with the beef/chicken, and stir for 5 minutes.
2) Fry it with the oil and chopped garlic in a pan.
3) Make the LolLak sauce. Mix the lime juice, and remaining salt, pepper powder, sugar, and chicken powder together.
4) Prepare vegetables and steamed rice (read step #5).
5) Serve it like in the picture above: Beef/chicken and sauce on one plate, garnished with vegetables. Steamed rice on another. LokLak sauce in a small, separate dish. I'd highly recommend frying an egg and putting it on top. It's aesthetically pleasing, and tastes delicious!
So there you have it, a great recipe for LokLak! Enjoy.
India has been added to the "Nationalities I've Met" page, bringing the total to 41!
I recently had a really wonderful meal at a restaurant in Battambang, by the name of "Coconut." So wonderful, in fact, that I decided to pay for a cooking class.
For those of you who don't know, many restaurants throughout Southeast Asia offer cooking classes, in addition to food. I had turned down several offers for cooking classes in Thailand. After all, why should I pay for something I can learn for free on on the Internet? The food was so good at this Cambodian restaurant, however, that my curiosity got the best of me. I promptly signed up for the 3:30 PM class.
When I arrived for my lesson, the chef informed me that he had just opened the restaurant ten days ago, and that I was his first student! We walked (in the pouring rain) to the local market, where he gave me a rundown on all the different kinds of fruits and vegetables. The list was mountainous; I'd never seen so much produce in my life!
After a few choice purchases, we headed back to the restaurant to commence the class. He showed me how to cook a full three-course meal: two main dishes, a side, and dessert. For the next two hours, we chopped, diced, crushed, and blended dozens of ingredients. Having never been much of a cook myself, it was a fun, informative session.
Finally, it was time to eat the fruits of my labor. Sprawled before me on the table was Fish Amok, Beef LokLak, Fried Spring Rolls, and Coconut LyLy. It was one of the best meals I have ever had. Finally, the owner handed me a cookbook, and I was on my merry way. The price for a three-hour lesson, gigantic dinner, and cookbook? $10.
I hope to share a recipe or two with you someday. These are authentic, delicious Khmer dishes. Never underestimate whims; they lead to the most interesting days!
I'll be completely honest, I rarely cook back in the United States. Every time the idea pops into my head, I think about how it would be much easier to just buy some pizza instead. While I doubt my habits will change all that much when I return to the US, I do now have the confidence that I could make a killer Pad Thai if I'd like. It takes about 10-15 minutes, and is totally worth the time.
My guesthouse owner, Jane, showed us how to cook Pad Thai. I won't mention specific measurements of ingredients, because nobody measures here. You can experiment with different flavors and amounts; it's extremely difficult to mess this recipe up.
Chopped peanuts (optional)
1) Let the rice noodles soak in water for a few minutes. You can begin chopping the vegetables in the meantime.
2) In a large pan, fry some oil. Add chopped onions, garlic, cabbage, basil, and radish. Fry for a bit. You can substitute/add other vegetables if you’d like.
3) Add one egg per serving (i.e. if three people are eating, use three eggs). Let it (them) fry, but don’t mix it into the vegetables yet.
4) Add a little water into the pan (to prevent burning), then mix the egg and vegetables together.
5) Add the pre-soaked rice noodles and oyster sauce. Stir continuously, allowing the noodles to cook. You can substitute other sauces for the oyster sauce if you’d like.
6) Finally, add in some chili powder, and mix it into the Pad Thai. Use more if you want it spicier, and less if you want it milder.
7) Turn off the flame. Put Pad Thai onto plates. Garnish with chopped peanuts and more chilies if you’d like.
This recipe was for delicious vegetarian Pad Thai. If you'd like, you can cook it with almost anything: Chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, tofu, etc.
If you make this dish, feel free to post pictures of your creation!
Thai food is renowned for being cheap, plentiful, and (best of all) delicious. Well, I can certainly back up all three of those claims, as they happen to be true!
If you were to order a plate of Pad Thai from an American Thai restaurant, you'd be paying anywhere from $5-10 for a plate, maybe even more! On Khao San road, the "backpacker's ghetto" of Bangkok, prices range from $1-2, depending on what you'd like in it. Chicken or shrimp tends to cost a few cents extra, as do side dishes. Just the other day, I ordered a big plate of Pad Thai and three spring rolls, cooked right in front of me, for roughly $1.85! I had enough food for dinner that night, plus enough leftover for breakfast the next morning. Thailand is a perfect destination for budget travelers; you can eat three square meals a day for the price of one.
Now don't get me wrong; I looove Pad Thai. But you don't need to eat it every meal of every day. There are so many dishes around here, you could feasibly eat something new at every meal. I often eat meals at a local restaurant down the street, and usually just pick something random off the menu. There is so much variety here. Want a breakfast of pancakes with honey, mango, and banana? Sure. Lunch of fried chicken and rice with basil? Check. For dinner, a dish that you've never heard of? You bet!
If you head down to Khao San road, you'll have even more choices. Competition is rampant because of the sheer quantity of backpackers. It's certainly home to some of the more exotic dishes, such as deep friend insects. Why, just the other day, I challenged myself to eat a scorpion. Sounds disgusting, until you have a couple of Chang beers in you!
If you hear about the prices and think "you get what you pay for," you're wrong. My first meal in Thailand was a nondescript bag of chicken and rice, and wow! It was like an explosion had gone off in my mouth. It took eating Thai food for me to realize how bland some American food can be. Thai people have spice use down to a science; every bite is a majestic symphony of flavor. Is that enough hyperbole for you?
Another great thing about the food is how fresh everything is. You can rest assured that your fruits, vegetables, and meat were recently picked and slaughtered. I have yet to see a freezer anywhere, and plants, fish, and chickens are abundant.
On a side note it's moderately easy to practice a vegetarian lifestyle here. Back in the States, I keep a mostly vegetarian diet, but opted to lose it for my trip. There is actually a large amount of chicken and seafood here, so keep that in mind if you ever want to travel to Thailand. However, there are certainly enough meat-free dishes here if you do want/need to eat a restricted diet.
Come on out and have a bite! We can share some scorpions or something.
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.