Praise be to those who bring the hearty wholesomeness of the breakfast skillet to every hour of the day. What is the most iconic cooking utensil in Vietnamese cuisine? Some might say the wok, which indeed is responsible for many smoky stir-fried dishes in the country, though it’s historically an import from Chinese cooking techniques. Another contender for the spot is the honeycomb-like ingenuity of the bánh khọt mold, an invention that gave birth to the range of tiny but delicious bánh căn and bánh khọt along the Vietnamese coastal line. If it were up to me, my money would without a doubt be on the cow-shaped skillet on which bò né is usually served. Whimsical, practical, albeit not very versatile — this idiosyncratic piece of crockery is synonymous with a good time in my book. A sense of giddy anticipation before the plate arrive. The joy of watching the freshly cracked egg palpitate in front of you as it’s slowly cooked by the residual heat of the cast iron cow. From just bò né, this whimsical skillet has paved the way for skillets everywhere to be accepted on the Vietnamese dining table and is now congruous with beef dishes all over the country. It’s now reasonable, hip even, to eat straight out of a pan in eateries all over Saigon. That’s what we are expecting coming to Khoai Bistro, but we finish our meal with so much more than that. Recommended to us and accompanied by high praise from a colleague, Khoai Bistro looks rather shabby from the outside. A messy, bike-strewn shopfront; a claustrophobic dining area; and an aloof parking attendant that prefers mobile game to his actual job — the lunch crowd has surely done a number on the orderliness of Khoai Bistro. Still, all the tables on the first floor are teeming with voracious customers hacking away at steaks, ribs and skillets full of goodies while outside, a constant stream of food delivery bikes flow back and forth. These are all good harbingers of a scrumptious meal ahead. We order a special “chảo,” Khoai Bistro’s signature breakfast skillet that’s highly acclaimed; a portion of small BBQ pork ribs; and a carbonara that’s on the house, thanks to a Wednesday-only combo. The special skillet (VND55,000) is well-recognized by online reviews and word of mouth for being chock-full of delicious components for a reasonable price. I have to admit that VND55,000 is quite a lot of spend for breakfast as I can get a bánh mì thịt from elsewhere for a third of the price tag. But at Khoai Bistro, the skillet is available all day, a fact that’s I’m grateful for, because it more than lives up to its reputation.
If accepted, the 2,000-square-kilometer area filled with volcanic caves, waterfalls, mountains and important archeological sites will receive increased conservation resources and support.
Krong No stretches across Krong No, Cu Jut, Dak Mil, Dak Song, Dak Glong and Gia Nghia towns in central Vietnam and was first identified by modern residents in 2007. It was recently nominated for the UNESCO Global Geopark distinction alongside 10 other sites around the world by the Global Geoparks Network, a UNESCO-affiliated non-profit concerned with conservation and sustainable development.
“UNESCO Global Geoparks are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development,” explains the United Nations organization.
In addition to the stunning natural visuals, Krong No is notable for a 2018 archeology excavation that yielded a bounty of neolithic bones and artifacts. Some of the fossils date back to peoples that inhabited the region over 10,000 years ago.
It will be announced in 2020 if Krong No is accepted as a UNESCO Global Geopark, and if so, it will receive increased funds for research and development. Currently, the area is not open to large-scale tourism, and anyone interested in visiting must employ a local guide.
Vietnam is currently home to two other UNESCO Global Geoparks: Non Nuoc Cao Bang and Dong Van Plateau. Authorities in Quang Ngai, Phu Yen, Dak Nong, Gia Lai and Bac Kan have all expressed interest in establishing their own Global Geoparks.
[Photo via Dak Nong Geopark]