Archive for the 'Phu Quoc' Category

Vegetation Profile: Khoai Mỡ


Dioscorea alata, called water yam, winged yam, and purple yam, was first cultivated somewhere in Southeast Asia. Although it is not grown in the same quantities as the African yams it has the largest distribution world-wide of any cultivated yam, being grown in Asia, the Pacific islands, Africa, and the West Indies (Mignouna 2003). In the United States it has become an invasive species in some Southern states.

In the Philippines it is known as ube (or ubi) and is used as an ingredient in many sweet desserts. In India, it is known as ratalu or violet yam or the Moraga Surprise. In Hawaii it is known as uhi. Uhi was brought to Hawaii by the early Polynesian settlers and became a major crop in the 1800s when the tubers were sold to visiting ships as an easily stored food supply for their voyages (White 2003).

Known as khoai mỡ in Vietnam, this yam is used in both sweet and savory dishes. My encounters with khoai mỡ have been pretty limited thus far. I once ordered a cup of che tap cam at Che 278 in District 4 that featured a layer of sweetened khoai mỡ puree. However, now that I know what this purple vegetable is, I’ll be on the lookout for it on menus around town.

According to my mom, the most common preparation of khoai mỡ is in a shrimpy soup called canh khoai mỡ. Coincidentally, The Astronomer recently noticed the owners of one of his favorite bun cha joints slurping down a strange purple broth for their dinner. When he asked what it was, they ladled out an extra bowl for him and invited him to sit down. The soup turned out to be canh khoai mỡ, which he described as “plain.” My mom, on the other hand, couldn’t stop raving about the soup’s deliciousness when I spoke to her. So, I can’t wait to try the yam soup for myself!



While in Phu Quoc, I procured some Vietnamese tamarind candies called me. It was an impulsive junk food purchase, but that’s what vacations are for. I bought a quarter kilogram for 5,000 VND and pretty much finished them the same day because they’re mighty addictive.

The me‘s exterior is covered in coarse sugar crystals and dried chili flakes. The center contains a glossy seed that easily separates from the edible flesh.

The candy initially registers as sweet, but quickly transitions to spicy. The only way to stop my mouth from burning is to pop in another candy to bring my taste buds back to sweet. I guess that’s how I finish them up so quickly!

If you’re a fan of Mexican tamarind candies like Pelon Pelo Rico, this is definitely up your alley.

Scenes: Duong Dong Market


Open-air and indoor markets are the heart of the Vietnamese community. Due to the minimal use of refrigeration in the country, residents go to the market nearly everyday to buy fresh produce, tofu, pork, seafood and noodles. Every time I travel to a new city, I always make a point to visit the markets for fruits and people watching.

Duong Dong Market in Phu Quoc is unpaved and packed with vendors on both sides of the narrow and dusty thoroughfare. Produce vendors dominate the scene, but there are a healthy number of non-produce goods as well.


The vendor in the foreground is selling ingredients for che, the vendor in the center is selling fried up slices of banh tet (a cylindrical version of banh chung), and the vendor in the background is selling jackfruit.


Even though these preserved mustard greens (cai chua) are inches away from the grimy street, they still look pretty darn tasty to me. My grandma makes her own preserved mustard greens, but not in bulk like these! I think this sour vegetable tastes best kho‘d with fried tofu and chili flakes.


Cha gio, greens, bun, nuoc cham… there’s only one thing this woman could be selling—bun cha gio! At 5,000 VND a bowl, The Astronomer just had to have one.


This little piggy went to the market, but he didn’t really have a say in the matter. The Astronomer and I were surprised by how close the vendors worked next to all of these bloody carcases. Even though it makes me a little uncomfortable seeing a dead pig’s head, I think that the meat counters at grocery stores in America should display them because our society is too far removed from our food source.


Ingredients for some refreshing che—grass jelly and coconut jelly (I think!).


And lastly, a woman serving up banh mi nem nuong or barbecued meat ball sandwiches.

Vegetation Profile: Pomegranate


The Pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 5–8 m tall. The pomegranate is native to the region from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and has been cultivated and naturalized over the whole Mediterranean region and the Caucasus since ancient times. It is widely cultivated throughout Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, India, the drier parts of southeast Asia, Malaya, the East Indies, and tropical Africa. Introduced into Latin America and California by Spanish settlers in 1769, pomegranate is now cultivated mainly in the drier parts of California and Arizona for its fruits exploited commercially as juice products gaining in popularity since 2001.

While The Astronomer was eating grilled meatball sandwiches at the market in Phu Quoc, I picked up a pomegranate from a produce stand to enjoy later on the beach.

What’s most notable about the pomegranates in Phu Quoc are the color of the seeds. Unlike the deep red seeds found in pomegranates stateside, the ones in Phu Quoc are pale, pink and sometimes even clear. Another major difference is the taste. The pomegranates I’ve had in the past were pleasant, but very tart, while these were incredibly sweet and juicy (i.e. no sour face).

Phu Quoc pomegranates > American pomegranates

Eating in Phú Quốc

The Astronomer and I just got back from the most kick-ass vacation ever! Phu Quoc Island off the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia is paradise on earth. Seriously. Clear turquoise waters, abundant sunshine, sandy beaches, and seafood a plenty. Heavenly.

We arrived last Friday morning and flew home Monday afternoon. In between, we sunned on the beach, snorkeled, read, relaxed, and ate extremely well.

After checking in at our hotel and dropping off our luggage, we walked into town in search of lunch. The Astronomer was starving and impulsively chose Thuy Duong at 25 Nguyen Trai Street. The place was infested with flies, which killed my appetite, but The Astronomer ordered a bowl of hu tieu dai muc (top row, left) anyway. When the bowl arrived, it looked SO good that I had to order myself one. The noodle dish was comprised of a pork-based broth, a transparent and chewy noodle (hu tieu dai), bean sprouts, fresh scallions, and lightly cooked squid (muc). Everything tasted so fresh and the squid blew our minds. I think the squid in Phu Quoc has forever ruined squid elsewhere for me.

After lunch, we headed to the market to look around and score some more eats. I bought lots of fruit, while The Astronomer procured cookies (banh kep) and a barbecued meatball sandwich (banh mi nem nuong – top row, center). The sandwich was good, but his heart remains true to the banh mi thit nuong in District 4.

Dinnertime brought more delicious squid! We stayed close to home and ate at our resort—Kim Nam Phuong. We ordered squid sauteed with garlic and ginger (top row, right) and a plate of pan fried noodles with squid and shrimp (middle row, left). The dishes were stellar all around. I love how seafood is completely satisfying and not too filling.

For breakfast the next morning, I ate fruit and cereal, while The Astronomer ordered a pineapple crepe (middle row, center) from the resort. We ate our selections beach side, ah… The Astronomer thought the crepe was a bit dough-y, but a great way to start the day nevertheless. After breakfast, we decided to upgrade our lodging and moved to the Tropicana Resort.

After we set up our new digs and lounged around in the sun, we headed to the Troicana’s sweet beach front dining deck for lunch. The Astronomer ordered fish with chilies and lemongrass (middle row, right), while I ordered a squid salad (bottom row, left). The fish was a bit spicy for The Astronomer, while I found my salad average. The Tropicana may have nicer bungalows, but the chefs at the Kim Nam Phuong are superior.

The following day, The Astronomer and I went on an all-day snorkeling excursion along the southern islands of Phu Quoc. The sites were postcard perfect and the food on board was expertly prepared. The best dish was the squid sauteed with pineapples and tomatoes (bottom row, center). This was hands down the most wonderful squid I have ever tasted. Who would have thought squid could melt in one’s mouth? I really don’t think I could ever order calamari at an Italian restaurant ever again. Another great dish was the fried fish (bottom row, right), which was covered with red chili flakes.

Now that I’m back in Saigon, I will be dreaming about the fruits of the sea in Phu Quoc until I return.