​SSEAYP ambassadors fall heads over heels for Vietnamese street food

SSEAYP ambassadors fall heads over heels for Vietnamese street food
Indonesian youth ambassador Danny Ramadhan (left) shows his Vietnamese host family his country’s layout while enjoying crab soup served with century eggs. Photo: Tuoi Tre

During their three-day homestay event with Vietnamese locals starting on December 3, the Ship for Southeast Asian and Japanese Youth Program (SSEAYP) ambassadors were led through an amalgam of Vietnamese street delicacies.

First founded in 1974, SSEAYP is a joint effort between the ten ASEAN nations, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, and Japan to foster friendship and cultural exchange between the nations’ youths.

The program involves ferrying youth ambassadors to each of the participating countries over 52 days to experience their distinct cultures and traditions first-hand through interactions with locals and various events.

The 2018 SSEAYP ran from October 23 through December 13, with Vietnam at its final stop. The ship left Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday for the return trip to Japan.

During their homestay event in Ho Chi Minh City from December 3 through 5, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper spent time guiding the young ambassadors as they sifted through all Vietnam has to offer.

Many ambassadors admitted that though they would miss the exotic, bustling atmosphere – yet warm and catering nature – of Vietnam and its people upon departure, it is the famous street food that fostered their strongest bonds to the country.

Vietnam street food 101

“I feel so lucky and appreciative to live like a Vietnamese local – even just for three days!” Danny Ramadhan, an Indonesia youth ambassador, proclaimed.

Walking through a local market with his host family while enjoying a cup of sugarcane juice, Ramadhan seemed intrigued at each fruit stall he came across, with question upon question pouring from his mouth.

Danny Ramadhan (right) tries out dishes at a snail and shellfish eatery. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Danny Ramadhan (right) tries out dishes at a snail and shellfish eatery in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

With such vehement curiosity, no wonder Ramadhan was able to get his hands on just about all the wide variety of street foods Vietnam has to offer. His favorite? Stewed beef intestine.

“I cannot begin to imagine how cow intestines could make for such a delicious dish!” Ramadhan said.

“I would have tried balut [fetal duck egg] but I was struck by terror,” he added, referring to the dish known as hot vit lon in Vietnamese.

As this was his first trip to Vietnam, Ramadhan was astonished at the urban lifestyle.

Scenes of buildings and high-rises that are tens of stories tall towering over the noisy streets were a thrill to the Indonesian youth ambassador.

“How can the Vietnamese drive so fast in such narrow streets? It strikes me as odd to hear them honk and not get anywhere,” Ramadhan said.

But it is the close-knit families of Vietnam he found most baffling.

“They [Vietnamese families] have so many relatives – a stark contrast to Indonesia where each household only consists of a few immediate members,” he stressed.

“We come to SSEYAP to get to know each other and to further develop ourselves as global citizens. I’ve really been enjoying myself a great deal,” Ramadhan commented on his voyage.

Danny Ramadhan (right) watches as his host family haggles for cooking ingredients at a market. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Danny Ramadhan (right) watches as his host family buys food at a market. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The experience of love and pride

Like the outgoing Ramadhan, Japanese youth ambassador Junya Yashikawa and his Cambodian peer Suy Vathna, both 29, also tried out a lot of Vietnamese foods, notably grilled goat meat.

“This is my first time to Vietnam, and it is simply perfect!” Yashikawa said.

“I get to visit many sites, and try a lot of variations of Vietnamese soup noodles. It’s such a shame I overlooked those dishes in Japan,” he said.

For Vathna, the warm reception he received from local Vietnamese is the country’s biggest draw.

“Though this is the fourth time I’ve been in Vietnam, the ambience is just so… different,” Vathna asserted.

“Thanks to SSEAYP, I’ve been able to experience many Vietnamese customs. I realize that they are not so different from my home country. Perhaps it is because we are neighbors?” Vathna questioned.

When asked about which gifts the ambassadors wanted to present to their host families, Yashikawa said he planned to give a Daruma doll, which is considered a vessel of good luck in Japan.

SSEAYP’s Indonesian Ongky Abdi Nwari (left) and Vietnamese Nguyen Hoang An (right) pose for a photo with their host family. Photo: Tuoi Tre
SSEAYP’s Indonesian Ongky Abdi Nwari (left) and Vietnamese Nguyen Hoang An (right) pose for a photo with their host family. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Vathna, on the other hand, planned to offer a box engraved with the image of Angkor Wat – Cambodia’s largest historical site – and a reference book containing the information of 28 Cambodian delegates as well as the country’s wonders.

Meanwhile, Indonesian youth ambassador Ongky Abdi Nwari shared that his present would be the Indonesian emblem Garuda signet, which also represents the five merits its citizens strive for.

He gave his host family Indonesian coffee and local brocade as well.

Ongky Abdi Nwari, another Indonesian SSEAYP delegate, described his 71-year-old host in Vietnam as a senior who “has more energy than most of the youth ambassadors.”

“As I trod around Ho Chi Minh City with my host family, I came to see that it is not that much different from Jakarta, albeit a little more artistic in taste. I believe I have been to every landmark in this city over the last two days,” Nwari enthusiastically shared.

For Nguyen Hoang An, a youth ambassador from Vietnam, the experience in his homeland was initially a bit awkward.

“Though I could not go back to my family despite the close proximity, I did enjoy my stay with the host family to the fullest,” An said.

“I feel proud of my fellow Vietnamese for putting together such a warm reception event for international friends. I can’t help but love my country even more after my SSEAYP experience.”

Junya Yashikawa (left most) and Suy Vathna (second left) share a happy hour session with their host family. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Junya Yashikawa (left most) and Suy Vathna (second left) share a happy hour session with their host family. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Host family a ‘tradition’ over ten years

Since 2005, Duong Thi Phuong Thao, 27, and her family have hosted several generations of SSEAYP youth ambassadors during their visit to Ho Chi Minh City.

The annual youth exchange program always leaves Thao and her mother Truong Thi Nga with profound memories.

“Once, after the SSEAYP trip, a then Japanese youth ambassador named Malko returned to Vietnam for business for one and a half years. We invited her to stay at our house. She’s basically become a member of our family!” said Nga.

“We always get visited by SSEAYP youth ambassadors when they come back to Vietnam. Sometimes we even meet their parents,” she said.

“In return, whenever we go to their countries, they never fail to treat us as honored guests.”

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