Halong Bay: The Food

Robin Boyle International Travel & Photos, South East Asian, Travel

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This post is a continuation from Halong Bay: The Sights.

Life on board our Halong Bay cruise was comfortable and relaxing. Our boat would probably rate medium on the ‘luxury’ scale: it wasn’t luxurious by any means, but it was well above adequate.

We would spend much time on the top deck, watching the scenery and the procession of boats and vendors, enjoying a drink or three, and being well-looked after by the crew.


We would only have three meals on the boat: lunch and dinner the first day and breakfast on the second. The dining and bar area was welcoming. However, behind the scenes a highly skilled chef and food sculptor was working.

We ate extremely well. Food is clearly an important component of these cruises, with the crew having a clear focus on producing meals based on local delicacies. The anticipated candlelit dinner on the deck didn’t eventuate because of the weather conditions. However, it did happen in the dining room where the central feature was the ‘flower’ arrangements!

Our lunch and dinner would cover a large range of Vietnamese dishes. However, we were also intrigued by the extraordinary carvings from vegetables and fruit. We would have a demonstration from the chef the next morning.

While the dishes served emphasised seafood, delicious salads also stood out.

Vietnamese-Style Salad

Salads are a major feature of Vietnamese cuisine and we made four different salads during our gourmet tour. They all exhibited remarkable freshness from the leafy greens and zingy dressing. However, another feature was that they contained some ‘exotic’ ingredients, such as banana flower and green mango, that many of us would have difficulty sourcing in Australia. In the big cities, they tend to be available at the large markets or Asian grocers.

Recipes for Vietnamese salads abound; just check the Internet or your cookbooks. However, if a recipe looks too complex, or you can’t find all you need, or you are in a rush and just hanging out for a Vietnamese-style salad, the recipe that follows will provide a convenient, close approximation.

The salad can be prepared using just one large bowl, with ingredients added to the bowl as they are prepared. Start by macerating or ’pickling’ the vegetables, then prepare the other ingredients. Shredding or julienning can be done using a mandolin, vegetable peeler, or whatever works. All salad greens need to be thoroughly washed and dried, with as little water as possible remaining on them. All other ingredients need to be washed, cleaned, etc. The recipe might look daunting or difficult, but it isn’t and it gives a very satisfying and moreish result. (Also see the next posts on Hoi An about preparation of ingredients.)

Ingredients for two to four people

Macerated or ‘pickled’ vegetables:

  • 1/3 medium white onion, sliced into half-moons
  • 1 small carrot mandolined or shredded
  • 1 small Lebanese cucumber (or equivalent in other cucumber) shredded (excess seeds discarded)
  • (optional) 3 medium radishes, washed, dried, shredded or julienned
  • 2 tbsps white wine vinegar

Salad greens:

  • ¼ medium-sized iceberg lettuce (or equivalent in butter or oak leaf), washed and thoroughly dried

Plus a selection from:

  • one cup water cress, leaves picked off the stem
  • two cups baby spinach leaves
  • 2 cups bean shoots
  • 100 g Inoki mushrooms

Green herbs:

  • 10 to 15 mint leaves, sliced across
  • 5 to 10 Vietnamese mint leaves, sliced across
  • ¼ cup Coriander, leaves picked
  • 1 long red chili, sliced across
  • (optional) 5 Asian or other basil leaves, sliced across
  • (optional) several perilla leaves, sliced across

(Optional) Meat or seafood:

  • 1 cup cooked pork, chicken, beef, … pulled/shredded or equivalent in cooked prawns, sliced


  • 1 medium clove garlic, crushed under a dash of salt
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar or equivalent
  • 1 tsp quality fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp lime juice


  • 2 medium green mangoes, peeled and julienned, or
  • 1 medium Granny Smith or other tart apple, unpeeled, julienned or shredded or grated

Seasoning and Garnish:

  • salt and pepper as required
  • (optional) roasted peanuts, chopped roughly

In a large salad bowl, prepare the ‘pickled vegetables’ by combining onion, carrot, cucumber, (radish) and vinegar and allow to macerate, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the other ingredients.

Prepare the salad greens and the herbs and set aside. Prepare the meat or seafood.

Just before assembling the dish, add the dressing ingredients to the pickled vegetables and stir through.

Prepare the mango or apple and immediately add to the pickled vegetable and dressing mixture, stirring to coat to stop browning.

Add the salad greens, herbs then meat or seafood. Toss well. Season with salt and pepper as required. (Alternatively, leave the meat or seafood to the last stage and add to the top of the salad.)

Serve immediately. Serves two to four.

Equipment: Large salad bowl.

Degree of difficulty: 2/5 (not difficult). Preparation time, 20 minutes.

We would continue to learn much more about the food of Vietnam as we travelled southward.

Click here for the next post in our Vietnam journey: Hue – The Sights and Food.