One of the things that makes Vietnam a popular travel destination is its food. You might find people that didn’t really like the country; who liked the North but not the South; who cut the trip shorter because they couldn’t stand the mess and who have decided to stay as long as possible because they fell in love with the country. Either way, there is normally one thing everybody agrees on: the food is worth the trip.
In my month spent in Vietnam I found just one thing I didn’t like, all the rest was absolutely delicious.
I’m not a foodie! Most of the time I don’t even know exactly what I’m eating; I never remember the name of plates I like and when I crave them, finding them again can be really hard.
I like to try new things but I’m not brave in terms of experimenting: I do not eat worms, spiders or other kind of insect and I don’t eat brains, liver or other interior. I would never try a balut (the duck embryo, popular in the Philippines) and I can’t stand slimy things. I did try some ‘easier’ things like crocodile or frogs, but this was just because they didn’t look like crocodile or frog. I might miss out in part of the adventure, but I prefer this way.
When travelling, often happen that I obsess over one dish and I eat it until I really need a break from it; like the Green Curry in Thailand. In Vietnam there were so many dishes to fall in love with, that I didn’t manage to get tired of any of them: I wanted all of them, all the time!
One of the best thing for me about Vietnamese food is the fact that’s not too hot: most of the time chilli is on the side so you can add as much as you like. Another thing that I absolutely love are the fresh herbs. When in Italy, I would put fresh basil everywhere; in Vietnam they do the same and they mainly use mint, Thai basil and coriander. They also use pretty often lemongrass and lime which give to the dishes that freshness with a tinge of sour to which I can’t resist. Even the most boring piece of meat, when stir fried with a bit of lemongrass, become incredible.
Another extra point for Vietnam is the bread! After months in Southeast Asia, where bread is hard to find, I could have literally devour any piece of bread that I found on my way. In Vietnam, due to the French influence during the colonization, they use the baguette type, not the fake toast bread – J’adore!
So, if you go to Vietnam, you can’t leave without trying those dishes.
I know, everybody know Pho, everybody rave about how good is it, it’s the most popular Vietnamese dish and you can now find it all over the world. Like many very well known things, there is a reason for its popularity: it’s good, very good!
For the few people in the world that don’t know it yet, the easy explanation is that Pho is a soup with noodles and meat, which can be chicken or beef. What makes it so special is the broth which is enriched by spices like ginger, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, clove and more – It’s so tasty! After pouring it in your bowl, you can add as much lime and chilli and lime as you like and, in the South of Vietnam, you garnish it with Thai basil, coriander leaves and bean sprouts. I personally put a lot of Thai Basil and lime. Meat wise you can choose if you prefer beef (Pho Bo) or chicken (Pho Ga). When you get the beef one you can also choose if you prefer raw flank, cooked chunk, cooked brisk or some other beef cut. My favorite is the raw flank: the meat doesn’t actually stay raw, it cooks once you pour the broth in but it stay tender and delicious. I wish you could smell it; it feel up the air in a special and welcoming way, it’s not a strong smell but it’s impossible to resist.
2. Banh Me
This is another all time favorite and popular Vietnamese dish. It’s basically a sandwich, but it’s much more than that. The bread is real bread, with a light and crunchy crust, the soft inside and served warm. It can have different filling, but the original has a thin layer of pork liver pate, some pork belly, cucumber, carrots, fresh coriander leaves and completed with some soy or spicy sauce. Bread was introduced in Vietnam during the French colonization and in this dish you can really taste the traditional flavor from both countries.
As I said before you can find different fillings: chicken, bbq beef, vietnamese sausages and sometimes even cheese. The one with vietnamese sausages is one of the best: the sausages are very aromatic and cooked on the grill and with the addition of fresh vegetables, it become amazing.
3. Cao Lau
This is a typical dish from Hoi An made with Udon style noodles, pork and greens. To make it special is the fact that is made with the water from an ancient Cham well, located just outside Hoi An ancient city. It’s not a soup but there is a bit of broth on the bottom, the noodles are almost caramelized, the pork is tender, the fresh greens lighten the flavor and the crispy skin on the top give the extra crunch. It a really good combination of flavor and texture. I struggle a little with eating pork in Asia because I usually find it a bit too strong and fat, but this plate was perfectly balanced and the pork tender and aromatic.
4. Bun Cha
This is a northern speciality and is a dish that you have to compose yourself. The components of Bun Cha come on separate plates but, to have the perfect bite, you have to take a bit of each. On one bowl you have the main element of the dish which is the grilled, crispy pork with some carrots, garlic and a light sauce. Then you have a second plate, with rice noodles, and a third one with fresh herbs. Even in this case the well seasoned pork lose some of the fat while cooking and become nice and crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside Get some of the noodle and the fresh greens, a bite of pork and dip the whole thing in the sauce for the best combination of flavors. In Hanoi it’s a very common breakfast or lunch and you will find many street vendors grilling the meat on the side of the road.
5. Cuon Diep
Cuon Diep is the perfect snack or starter for your meal. It’s a roll made with a big mustard leave rolled around rice noodles, prawns and pork. It also come with a peanut sauce in which you can dip your roll to make it even more delicious. I think you can also find a vegetarian version of it, filled with rice noodles and tofu. Sometimes it has just pork and other times just prawns, but the one with both prawns and pork is the best. It’s eaten cold and because of the crunchy and watery mustard leave, it feels very fresh and healty, making it the perfect snack on a hot day. Don’t be fooled though; it normally comes on a set of 3 and, because of the rice noodles, is really filling!
6. Banh Xeo
The Banh Xeo is basically a thin pancake made with rice flour, pork, shrimp and bean sprouts; cooked at very high heat until become a bit crunchy. I actually tried two versions: one was very thin and crunchy and another was a bit thicker, still crunchy on the outside but a bit fluffy in the middle. This is another dish that you compose yourself rolling the pancake inside a big mustard leave, adding as much fresh herbs as you like and dipping the whole thing in a sweet and sour sauce. Simple, but very tasty.
7. Vietnamese Coffee
Vietnam is reach of coffee plantations where you can find either robusta or arabica coffee beans; but the coffee culture was introduced by the French during the colonial time. French were using the dripping filter, which is composed by 2 cups separated by a filter. On the top you put the grinded coffee and you add the boiling water that drip to the bottom cup through the filter giving you the tasty and aromatic coffee. In Vietnam, like in other parts of Asia, is not easy to find fresh dairy, that’s why you have your white coffee with condensed milk instead of the fresh one. The result is sweeter but absolutely delicious! You can have it hot or on ice, either way you will not be disappointed!
Those are my absolute favorite Vietnamese dishes, what about yours?