Travelogue: Doughnut Lady
It's very surreal, arriving in Vietnam for the first time, in the middle of the night. After a 22 hour flight, I went through the motions in a dream-like state: baggage claim, taxi, hotel, mandatory examination of the exotic contents of our mini-bar, sleep. It hadn't really set in that we finally arrived in Vietnam until Kurt flipped on the light the next morning, chipper as hell, and said, "You have to wake up. I walked outside and some lady started frying me doughnuts on the sidewalk, and when I ate them, she laughed at me, and then she washed my hands!"
Doughnuts, you say? I hopped out of bed, and walked out the door into sweltering Saigon, where pedestrians bobbed around in a sea of whooshing scooter traffic, and people all around were crouched on the sidewalk, eating noodle breakfasts ladled into bowls by a mobile restaurant of sorts - just one lady, lugging around a couple of soup pots. Another lady crouched near the steps of our hotel, hovering over a small fryer making doughnuts. We called them doughnuts, but I'm not sure if that's really accurate. They're more like deep fried wontons made of rice flour, brown and crispy on the outside, with a soft, doughy center and slightly sweet. Whatever they were ... delicious!
And so began my Vietnamese doughnut obsession. Every morning in Saigon began on the sidewalk outside our hotel. 10,000 Dong (47 cents), got us two glutenous rice flour pastries, made fresh on the spot by a kind-eyed, grandmotherly doughnut peddler. Between the five of us, we probably ordered about 20 doughnuts in 3 days.
Doughnut lady was pretty stoked about our business. She seemed especially keen on Kurt, who was usually the first to greet her in the morning. When he told her we were moving on, she stood for a hug and we think she tried to go in for a kiss on the cheek, but Kurt had already turned to get into the cab. Aw! The notion of leaving the old lady hanging was such a goocher to Kurt, that he promised himself we'd return for one more doughnut before catching our flight home in Saigon. Unfortunately, a reunion just wasn't in the cards. It would be hard to forget her sweet face, the first face to welcome us.
By the way, our doughnut spree didn't end in Saigon. I would have never guessed that Vietnam had the doughnut scene cornered, but we found doughnut carts in practically every town we visited. All were made with local flavors: sweet bean, banana, tamarind, coconut. They were shaped like rings, rolled into balls, pressed into dumplings, or tossed in flour and fried like fritters. My favorites were the doughnut holes, rolled in sugar, stacked like ziggurats inside woven baskets, and sold on street corners.