I first tried Vietnamese food as a small child in the amazing indoor market in Toulon, near my grandparents’ house in the South of France. There were a large number of Vietnamese refugees in that part of the world in the early 80’s and my brother and I used love visiting the elderly man who sat cross legged on the counter of his market stall, to watch him deftly folding fillings into rice paper wrappers, the pyramid of finished spring rolls growing quickly at his side. We usually bought a box of the crunchy fried rouleaux de printemps to reheat at home as well as some of the uncooked summer rolls with the prawns showing pinkly through the soft rice paper wrapper, to munch whilst exploring the market.
Vietnamese food came to London when I was a teenager and we would occasionally visit the only Vietnamese restaurant we knew of, falling in love with Bun, the rice noodle salad with fistfuls of fresh herbs, a sweet, salty chilli dressing, and addictive chargrilled meat or fish marinated in lemongrass. Nowadays, London has lots of Vietnamese restaurants and Kingsland Road in Shoreditch is Vietnam-town, with a string of cafes, restaurants and grocers servicing the lucky people of East London.
As West Londoners, we’ve made the pilgrimage to Shoreditch for our Vietnamese fix from time to time, but it’s a long way to go for a plate of spring rolls, so imagine my excitement when I discovered that one of the East London restaurants was opening a branch not ten minutes walk from our house. The children were off school last week, so off we went to try out our new neighbourhood Vietnamese restaurant, Mien Tay. Vietnamese restaurant menus in London can be disappointing, with too many dishes that are clearly toned down for Western tastes or lifted straight off Chinese takeaway menus. Happily, the menu at Mien Tay is full of Vietnamese favourites like Bun and Pho, and plenty of frog and eel dishes to keep even the most adventurous eater happy. Ned was very keen to try both frogs’ legs and using chopsticks and did a pretty good job with both. I have lots of worries about taking our children travelling, but luckily food isn’t one of them.
Vietnam’s currently a ‘maybe’ on our itinerary, but I’m hoping to move it up into the ‘definite’ category. After a lifetime of eating Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam, I think it’s about time I tried the real thing.
This post is part of Wanderfood Wednesday. For more travel food stories, head here.