Whenever I visit Vietnam, I start out light with just one slightly full suitcase and invariably, come home with an extra bag crammed with items that I figure are hard to find abroad. (Or maybe I was just impulse buying?!) On this last trip, I was able to ask my sister Tasha to fill one of her extra suitcases (she's a well schooled, prepared traveler) with my junk. She flew home after Saigon whereas I went on to other Asian countries.
Though I've been home for weeks, it wasn't till last week that my sister handed over my Saigon souvenir stash. Along with a bunch of the latest cookbooks, there were items like these:
From top left to right:
- Black peppercorns from Phu Quoc island are a little sweet compared to the Tellicherry peppercorns. The Phu Quoc island peppercorns are slightly reddish in color and quite lovely. Keep them in your freezer. White ones are available too. Buy ones that are legit, not merely bleached black peppercorns, which are cheaper but not as good as the real thing. Ask to taste one when you buy.
- Banh trang re are lacy, net-like wrappers that you can use for deep-fried cha gio rolls. They soak up a ton of oil but are very crisp. There's no need to soak them first. I got a 6-pack and refrigerate them for up to 6 months.
- Giant chopsticks used for fluffing up rice. These were found at the Phu Nhuan wet market and you'd mistaken them for spatulas. They're about 1 1/4 inches wide at the top. The handmade pair cost 7,000 VN dong, or about 55 cents! I splurged and got a pair for my mom, who is a hard woman to shop for but she was delighted by the gift.
- Banh trang bo bia dau xanh are a new item to me. I believe they're like Chinese spring roll wrappers or lumpia wrappers. They're made with wheat flour and tapioca flour and according to the packaging do not require water to get them rolling. They're for "rolling the fried meat roll" per the packaging. In Vietnamese it says that they're for cha gio xop (fried imperial rolls); xop means porous, so that doesn't quite make sense to me. Anyone familiar with these wrappers?
- Dried bamboo shoot is what those funky brown things are. The vendor at Cho Lon market told me to buy the premium kind (about $8 USD a kilo) because they're not stinky and don't require days of soaking. Now I have 2 kilos (4.4 pounds) of mang kho in my pantry. That's lots of bamboo. (Tips for cooking dried bamboo shoot.)
A few bottles of Cholimex hot sauce got broken in the luggage and Tasha had to throw them out. Too bad you can't bring fish sauce back. If they sold high quality nuoc mam in the duty free shops at the airport, I'd snap them up!
When you're traveling, what kinds of food souvenirs do you look for?
To securely package things up, I always bring a supply of plastic zip-top bags and bubble wrap. Any tips from you?