When one first thinks of visiting Vietnam, the vibrant cuisine only comes to mind after the initial thoughts of the rich heritage and endless beaches, but the unique and fresh dishes alone, are enough to travel for.
Vietnamese cooking often contains the same fundamental tastes, but don’t mistake that for dullness. They’ve mastered the art of versatility and the combination of their staple ingredients give way to spicy noodle dishes, savoury broths and distinct street food, all topped off with aromatic herbs.
Cooking is usually heavy on soy sauce, pork and seafood. Greenery consists of fresh lemongrass, ginger, mint, lime and Thai basil (thanks to influences from the region). Rice is a necessary commodity, being used as a main dish, but also to make foods such as noodles, spring roll wrappers and more.
What’s lacking is the use of dairy and heavy oils, that are commonly seen in similar cuisines. But whatever the combination of ingredients, the dishes are known for being fresh and healthy and there’s no better way to see that than in their bustling street markets.
If you’re looking to experience Vietnamese street food, look no further than Hanoi.
Hanoi is famous for introducing the favourite dish of pho, to the rest of the world, although here it’s commonly eaten for breakfast or lunch. Pho is a rich noodle soup with slices of beef and fresh herbs and arguably the most popular Vietnamese food.
However, if you’re in the area, don’t miss out on goi cuon. These fresh spring rolls are rolled in rice paper with vermicelli, greens and slices of pork or seafood and served with a savoury fish sauce. No worries for lovers of heavier food – fried versions are also available.
Move east to Halong and you’ll see influences of its bay locality reflected in their prized dishes. Seafood is essential, but sea snails are a must-have. Scooped from the city’s back door, the snails are fried with a mixture of fish sauce, peppers, ginger and lemongrass. However enticing, it’s often advised to drink plenty of liquids to ward off stomach ache.
Wherever else you travel in Vietnam, keep an eye out for other savoury dishes dotting the markets. Xoi, a dish made up of glutinous rice and a variety of complements, can sub in for dessert or even as a meal on its own. Keep it savoury and you’re good for breakfast with the locals.
Noodle fans find a haven in bun cha, a vermicelli noodle dish with grilled pork, lots of salad vegetables, distinctive herbs and a complex dipping sauce.
Ban xeo (literally, sizzling cake) is a pastry known for the loud sizzling noise made when the rice batter first hits a hot wok. This savoury pancake has hints of turmeric and is stuffed with fresh pork, seafood and herbs and commonly green onion and bean sprouts.
Don’t want to fall into a food-induced stupor after all that? Sit down with a café da, or Vietnamese coffee. Thankfully iced (it is hot, after all), the filter coffee is mixed with sweetened condensed milk instead of blander creams.
Like all good cuisines, there’s more dishes than time to name them. Luckily with the fresh and vibrant cooking in Vietnam, it’s easy to go forth and eat well. Happy eating!
P. S. Curious Kat’s Club is going to Vietnam this December. Join us, curious adventurer ✈ ✈ ✈
Lauren Keefer & Jordan Taylor