Travel: Good morning, Vietnam
Noodles, stew, rice: in Vietnam, your first meal of the day is a feast that will take you through to sunset.
Saturday 15 May 1999
But you will find that in Vietnam, breakfast is not a snatched affair eaten with one hand while getting the kids ready for school or flicking through the paper. It is at least as important as any other meal, and often not much different.
Why should noodles, rice or stew be eaten only in the afternoon or evening? Or, for that matter, rice pancakes filled with meat and beansprouts?
If you're going out to work all day in the fields - or take on an exhausting day's sightseeing - doesn't a hearty soup of sweet potatoes, carrots and meat make sense? And the bread dunks very well.
Breakfast in Vietnam is often a communal affair, eaten on the pavement, or in the market, the participants sitting around a cauldron. Look around and see where the locals are eating, but don't ask too many questions. You know those colourful jars you see at the snake market...? And isn't there one less dog around here this morning?
In most tourist areas, though, you'll find some sort of English menu. Most make good reading. "Nood chicken soup", perhaps? Or "Cooked chick by pour down with boiling fat" (just in case you wanted the recipe)? If you're fed up with chicken, you can always go for "Soicy and sour eel soup in hot pot", or "Combination noodle with many ingredients" (though nobody seemed to know what these were).
And then there's always the yoghurt - but check first it isn't frozen: one memorable breakfast was attempted (I won't say eaten) in a small cafe where I made a bad job of chipping away at the solid contents of a small carton.
Every time I succeeded in hacking a piece off, it would fly across the table and hit an insect on the wall (of which there were many).
Getting nowhere, I left, somewhat embarrassed by the additions I had made to the decor.
Yet despite the less-than-appetising menus, in the main tourist areas the food is often delicious and, in some cases, an absolute feast.
I have to admit to sticking mainly to "safe" food (ie boiled, or cooked at high temperatures) and I remained well throughout my trip.
It was well after a breakfast at Heathrow's National Express cafe, waiting for the bus home, that I became mysteriously afflicted, and suffered for the next four days. Maybe I should have stuck to the noodles.
To the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, the main airlines are Air France and Aeroflot. The latter is likely to be the cheapest, with discount fares through agents such as IMS Travel (0171-224 4678) of around pounds 500 return
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