Food Craving #57: Strawberries in Vietnam

As a kid, my favorite TV snack wasn’t popcorn, peanut butter and apples, fruit roll-ups or any of the other typical “white people” snacks.

Exhibit 1: white people's go-to snack

Exhibit 1: white people’s go-to snack

It was a big bowl of canned lychees over ice. Anytime I had a whole bowl to myself meant I had done something right.

A mother's love. Nothing says, "I love you" quite like a bowl of lychees on ice.

A mother’s love. Nothing says, ‘I love you’ quite like a bowl of lychees on ice.

This was way back in the day, before Whole Foods, when the most “ethnic” thing you could get in the “International” aisle of the local supermarket was taco shells and soy sauce.

Every once in a while, my mom would splurge and get some wildly overpriced exotic fruit from the Asian store like durian or jackfruit, but it was usually frozen and my parents would ration out little bites like shipwrecked survivors with the last package of crackers. Growing up in the US and without any food memories from Vietnam, I really didn’t appreciate what the fuss was all about.

But now that I’m in Asia, I’m spoiled for choice. Sometimes, I’ll walk past some fruit that I won’t even recognize.

One of these items MAY be ginger, but I wouldn't bet any money on it...

One of these items MAY be ginger, but I wouldn’t bet any real money on it…

Add to the mix all the weird English names like rambutan, mangosteen, sapodilla and all the various “apples” like star apple, custard apple and water apple, none of which really look or taste like “apple”.

But it’s true that we always want what we can’t have. In the States, I’d drool over really ripe mangos and all the other “exotic” fruits. But since I’ve been in Asia, I crave all the delicious fruit that can’t be grown in this tropical climate – stone fruit like cherries, peaches and plums, really crunchy apples and do not even get me started on raspberries and blueberries. Of course, there are stores that sell them here, but at outrageous prices. My local supermarket carries cherries, but a tiny carton of maybe 12 individual cherries costs USD5.

Which was why I was so surprised to see roadside shops selling bags of strawberries for USD4.50 a kilo. (Fun facts: Strawberries have been referred to in literature as “heart berries” or “fruit nipples”, and are the only fruit to have their seeds [about 200 of them] on the outside!) I bought a whole bag and sat there guiltlessly eating them by myself, just like when I was a kid with my bowl of iced lychees. I even emailed some of my friends back in Cambodia to brag about how cheap the strawberries were here.

Daddy needs a new bag of strawberries!

Daddy needs a new bag of strawberries!

While they weren’t as sweet as the ones back in the States, they were good enough. Vietnam has a highland region, anchored by the city of Dalat. A trip there feels disconcertingly like you’ve stepped into Europe somewhere, with the cool temperatures, loads of pine trees and colorful row houses. But that same temperate climate means that Dalat is the only place in Vietnam that can produce things like strawberries, cauliflower, asparagus and roses.

A week later, I noticed the price had dropped. And it kept dropping bit by bit as the season wore on until I was able to buy a 3-kg box for just about USD7. And then I spied them. Something that looked almost like blackberries. I had to rub my eyes and give myself a bit of a pinch. They were actually mulberries, the leaves of which feed the silk worms which in turn produce silk threads. The Vietnamese typically turn the mulberries into a mediciney tasting wine, but I loaded up my bike with a second 3-kg box of mulberries and was on my merry way.

The holy grail of fruit

The holy grail of fruit

Back home, I dusted off the stove (which is usually only ornamental) and googled stewed berry recipes for my 6 kgs of berries (that’s like 13 lbs for my American friends!) And then I got my Martha Stewart on.

By hour three of cleaning and stewing, I was seriously questioning my sanity...

By hour three of cleaning and stewing, I was seriously questioning my sanity…

Since then, my freezer has been filled with containers of delicious strawberries and mulberries, just waiting to top some ice cream or a nice sponge cake with a bit of yogurt.

While my all-time favorite strawberry dessert was some mochi with red beans I had in Tokyo…

Perfection in every way

Perfection in every way

I had a preview of the Park Hyatt Saigon’s strawberry tiramisu, a delectable twist on the original. This version has no coffee, but is instead infused with strawberries to soak the biscuits. Traditional tiramisu ingredients like mascarpone cheese and cocoa powder are used but this version has another surprise — a light dusting of cinnamon which according to the Smell and Taste Foundation, is the scent (cinnamon buns, to be exact) that produces the greatest turn-on in men. Go figure!

Strawberry Tiramisu @ Park Hyatt Saigon

Strawberry Tiramisu @ Park Hyatt Saigon

The bad news is that this gorgeous desert is only available at the Opera Restaurant for one day out of the year, on Valentine’s Day, as part of the San Valentino set dinner along with pan seared Pacific Ocean scallop, pumpkin ravioli with melted butter and Parmigiano, dill roasted Norwegian salmon and slow cooked lamb saddle.

My search for the perfect strawberry dessert was actually part of some salacious research into Vietnamese twists on food aphrodisiacs. Catch my article in Oi Vietnam by clicking on the image below.

Oi Mood Food

Photo credit: Strawberry tiramisu

What’s your all-time favorite food crave and what ridiculous lengths have you gone to to get your fix?


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16 thoughts on “Food Craving #57: Strawberries in Vietnam

  1. Helen

    Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. When I go to Florida in the summer, I eat them everyday. We had some beautiful strawberries on our recent trip to Mallorca. We also ate the most delicious pears there. To get mulberries, I have to go to Vang Vieng.

    1. James Post author

      With Laos having cool weather, I’m surprised they wouldn’t have more mulberries and other temperate fruit there and for sure, available in the capital! Up till now, I’ve only been back to the US in December, which isn’t a very good fruit month!
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    1. James Post author

      Great choice, Angela! I think cheese, glorious cheese, ranks high up on any traveler’s wish list. I’m torn. Cheese is available in Vietnam. It’s not exorbitant, but pricey. I always face the dilemma of whether to spend $3 to have a few bites and make me crave it even more, or just pretend like I can’t remember what cheese tastes like and then eat entire WHEELS of it when I get back to Western countries!
      James recently posted..Food Craving #57: Strawberries in VietnamMy Profile

  2. Dyanne@TravelnLass

    Yummers post and pics. I don’t s’pose you want me to spoil all this tasty drool by announcing…

    Yesterday I ate a handful of CRICKETS! They were actually quite tasty, freshly roasted – at the cricket farm outside of Dalat.

    And yup, we have all the different fruits you could want here in Dalat – including fuzzy PEACHES off the tree outside my door here at L’Auberge Ami.
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..Let’s Go See What Laos Is All AboutMy Profile

    1. James Post author

      Cricket farm? Are they raised for human or pet food? (I see them sold at pet stores as bird food!) I think I’ve had cricket once… wasn’t impressed. I’d rather stick with Doritos!

      What?!?! You have a peach tree? I think I have seen peaches here, but they’re kind of hard. But still! I haven’t seen them for sale down here in HCMC but I’ll definitely ask next time to see what the season is!

      I heard there’s a butterfly farm somewhere near Dalat. I totally want to go to that! And have a GREAT time in Laos!
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  3. James Post author

    Yeah, lychees are awesome. When they’re in season, I’ll buy a whole big bunch still on the branch and eat them like popcorn. I think the last time, I bought so many, I couldn’t even finish them before they went bad. Sigh. It’s a tough life!
    James recently posted..Travel Photo Roulette Awards ShowMy Profile

  4. Lan-Khanh

    Remember the canned fruit cocktail over ice Mom used to serve for dessert? When I got the red cherry, that made my day. In Saigon, the fruit cocktail along with other canned goods was sold as surplus when the American soldiers were there. I guess Mom still thought when we came to the U.S. that Americans ate this for dessert. I don’t think I’ve eaten canned fruit cocktail since I left home. 🙂

  5. David

    Try one day to break out of the HCMC cocoon and venture north, not during the dull, cold months up here, roughly from mid-November to late March. For three weeks now the vendors of wild mulberries plying the streets with their wares. Season came early this year and is predicted to end early. Right now one can also buy those nastily sour pigmy apricots that yield a sensational syrup if properly disciplined by marinating them in sugar. They are the fruit of trees that escaped the Tết flower market but faithfully bloomed through that season.

    1. James Post author

      How do you use the mulberries without spending hours clipping that tiny little stem at the top? It’s hard and not appetizing to eat. But yes, I can definitely go for some cold weather fruit! I’m putting Hanoi back on my destination list!

  6. Ira

    Yeah, you’d always crave for the food that you can’t have!! While living in the US I would dreamed of eating mangoes, bananas (our bananas are way delicious compared to the ones you get from the groceries in the US), coconut juice and all the other tropical fruits. Now, that I’m back in PI I am dying to get my hands on blue berries, apples, grapes, cherries and even cherry tomatoes!! Though surprisingly its hummus and baby carrots I missed the most. What I would do to have these food right now…’sigh’

    I really enjoyed reading your blog! 🙂

    P.S. try the Japanese strawberries, IMO it’s the best!!

    1. James Post author

      PI doesn’t grow cherry tomatoes? They have them here in Vietnam! I had to laugh out loud at your baby carrots. Don’t they taste almost the same as regular carrots, just cuter? And I’m not sure I know what Japanese strawberries are, but they sound delicious. And expensive!


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