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The popularity of Vietnamese food is quickly spreading across the world, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s one of the best things about visiting Vietnam, the food, and its price! Hunger-triggering smells of coriander wafting from the street stalls, whilst steam billows out from hot cookers, is enough to get anyone’s mouth watering.


Vietnamese food reflects their lifestyles and culture. Through periods of war and conflicts, many Vietnamese lived in poverty. Therefore, the ingredients of their most known cuisine are often economical, yet result in the most delicious aromas, and flavourful dishes.


According to Vietnamese philosophy, there are 5 essential elements in many Vietnamese dishes; a combination of bitter flavours, salty, sweet, spicy, and sour, create a harmony. It is said that each flavour represents an internal organ of the body, and therefore, brings balance, not only to the dish, but also to the body and mind (yin and yang).


If you’ve never tried Vietnamese food before, you NEED to! Here are the best dishes to try when you’re visiting.



Phở


Vietnam’s most famous and national dish that no one pronounces correctly. Phở (pronounced “fuh” - like “duh”), is a noodle and broth based dish which typically is made with onion, ginger, star anis, fish sauce, and meat. If you’re in the South, you’ll find beansprouts are often added.


Meaty phở commonly available are phở bò (beef), phở gà (chicken), and phở vịt - speciality of Cao Bằng! The cities of Lạng Sơn and Đồng Đăng are extremely famous for their phở vịt! Another speciality of Cao Bằng is phở chua, which is a cold, tangy, sour noodle dish which you may prefer in the hotter months!



Bánh mì


Influenced from the times when the French occupied Vietnamese land, the locals created the most delicious sandwich with baguettes - bánh mì. Savoury flavours are wrapped around airy bread with crispy crust. Ingredients often include meats like Vietnamese ham, or pork, together with pickled carrot and radish, and herbs like coriander or chilli.


Often eaten as a snack or for breakfast, you need to be up early to get the best, hot ones! It’s worth waking up for!



Bánh cuốn


This is my most favourite Vietnamese dish. Originating from the north, bánh cuốn is, typically, a breakfast dish of steamed rice rolls filled with minced pork, minced wood ear mushroom, and minced shallots, served with spring onions and nước chấm - a mixed sauce of fish sauce, lime, sugar, and water. The ingredients are simple but I could eat it everyday. Forever.



Nem

(spring rolls)

Vietnamese spring rolls come in a few different types depending on the originating region. The most popular originates from North Vietnamese. Their spring rolls, nem ra are rice paper filled with a mixture of meat (usually pork), vegetables and herbs, which is deep fried and served with lettuce and dipped in a sweet tangy sauce made of fish sauce, lime, sugar, garlic and peanuts!

The western world eat them as appetisers, but they’re actually a popular dish in Vietnam that is eaten with rice.



Lẩu

(hot pot)

Lẩu in Sapa (The fries were there for a 7 year old!)


Classed as ‘young people’s food’, the popularity of hot pot (lẩu) is growing fast in Vietnam. As it’s not a street food staple due to the nature of how hot pot is served, you’ll find this available in restaurants or food courts.


Hot pot is basically a vat of boiling water placed on a hob in the centre of the table. The water continues to boil or simmer as fresh, uncooked/marinated meats and vegetables are served and placed individually into the water by the diners. The foods are boiled until you deem it is cooked, and then you eat!


Bánh Cao Chằng


With northern origins, the Tay and Nung minorities make this ‘cake’ (bánh is the name for cake!) during the middle of harvest seasons.

This dish may look simple but it is timely and tricky to make. Rice flour must be chosen carefully to ensure for correct texture. Once obtained, it is soaked overnight in warm water, then washed, and then ground into a paste with a stone mortar. Nowadays, many use machines to grind the rice, but my great Aunty still prefers her gigantic mortar and mallet!


The paste is then made into the final product with a series of mixing, boiling, stirring, setting and steaming! Once cooled, fried marinated minced pork shoulder, fried onions, spring onion tops off the dish. Dip it into soy sauce and enjoy!!

In order to find this gem, you’ll have to head up way north to areas like Cao Bằng or Hà Giang. Or, if you make friends with my Aunty in Ho Chi Minh City!


Xôi

(Sticky rice)


Glutinous sticky rice is a great “on-the-go”, easy-to-eat snack. It can be served in a variety of ways; wrapped in banana leaves, topped with meat, wrapped around meat, mixed with veg! A great ‘hot’ food if you’re feeling the chill in the winter.


My great Aunty made this one with lentils and it was SO delicious!


Hủ tiếu


Hủ tiếu is a breakfast noodle dish that has been popular in Ho Chi Minh City ever since the 1960’s. The Southerners have a sweet tooth, so the broth of this noodle soup is a lot sweeter than the broth found in pho from the north.


Interestingly, the dish originates from Teochew in China who migrated to Vietnam via Cambodia - my dad is Teochew!


We stumbled across this dish on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, in a restaurant that specialises in this dish. Tiệm mì Huỳnh Nghĩa Hiệp has been owned and run by two generations, they have definitely nailed the recipe. If you happen to be passing this district, try it!


Hoi An Specialities


Hoi An is one of the most beautiful cities in Vietnam. Located with a river flowing through, and architecture still standing from Japanese, Chinese and French influences, there’s beauty on every corner. It’s also the cleanest city, with state-hired street cleaners to pick up after one of the most touristy places in the country.


And if you’re not interested in any of that, the food will entice you for sure!


Cao lầu



If you've just arrived in Hoi An, and you want to start eating right now, start with this! It’s so good! The noodles in this dish are soaked in lye water (food-grade alkaline water), and served with marinated char siu pork, crispy pork skin, greens and a splash of broth. The bowls are small so feel free to order another!



Cơm gà



Hoi An’s chicken dish is a delicious local speciality. Cơm gà is made by boiling chicken, and using the broth to cook the rice so that the rice is full of flavour. Turmeric is often added which adds colour to the plate. The chicken is shredded and served on top of the rice with herbs. The best place to eat this is at Cơm gà Nga, a short walk from the river. It’s only 50,000 dong (£2/less than $2!).



Mì Quảng



This noodle dish will have you ordering another bowl! The staple ingredients of rice noodles, meat, shrimp, vegetables, and herbs are served in a bowl with a spoonful of broth to create a sweet and tangy flavour. The broth is made of meat and/or bone, fish sauce, shallots and garlic. I’m salivating.


 

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