This post could as easily be called, “An Ode to Vietnamese Food”, as my love for Vietnam’s cuisine knows few bounds.
Admittedly, I’m not that well-versed in Vietnamese cuisine. While I spent a month in Vietnam indulging in every speciality I could find I a. have never lived with a Vietnamese family and b. I speak about three words of Vietnamese. (Hence why this recap won’t be as extensive as my French food coverage.) So if I make any mistakes in the following info please feel free to correct me!
But still, I LOVED Vietnamese food. And thank god I only weighed myself like twice in Asia because Vietnamese food was so hard to resist.
And it wasn’t just the phở and the coffee, although those were my daily staples; everything in Vietnam was delicious. From the grilled pork ribs to the bowls of “broken” rice, to the $2 roadside plates of chicken, rice and vegetables.
Oh, phở. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Phở is Vietnam’s most famous dish. It’s a rice noodles in broth, topped with either chicken or beef (I prefer beef). Variations include phở bò viên (beef meatballs), phở chín (thin, fully cooked slices of beef) and phở tái (thin slices of rare beef that cook with the soup). Phở tái was my favorite.
However you order your phở, it’s all about customization– you can garnish with chili peppers, onions, bean sprouts, Mexican coriander, Thai basil, lime, chili sauce and hoisin sauce. It took me a few weeks to really learn how to garnish and season phở- if phở ever tastes bland it’s probably because you haven’t added enough to it yet!
And plus, it’s a bargain meal at 30-50 thousand dong (about $1.50-2.50).
The condiments, which always come free with the meal. Essential!
Noodle soup in general
A bowl of bún riêu cua on the Mekong Delta.
One of my favorite soups was the bún riêu cua pictured above. Bún riêu cua is a crab-based soup with black pudding and tofu that is very popular in the Mekong Delta. Personally as a crab fan I feel it could taste a bit “crabbier” but it’s still a good choice.
Cơm tấm (Broken Rice)
In Vietnam I noticed many menus that featured “broken rice.” I had to investigate- what on earth is broken rice? And why is it so delicious?
Broken rice is a Vietnamese dish made from rice with fractured rice grains, and it is very popular in southern Vietnam.
Broken rice is usually served with grilled pork ribs, which may be why I love it so much. It is also often served with bì, thinly shredded pork mixed with thinly shredded pork skin- it’s kind of like dental floss made with bacon. Yum!
Iced tea in Vietnam is complimentary, unsweetened and comes when you sit down. And as it is an herbal tea you should never put milk in it. (Something I learned from my English travel buddy!)
A scrumptious Bánh mì in Nha Trang.
Bánh mì is fusion food at it’s finest- a French base (baguette with pâté) with Vietnamese flair (roasted pork belly, carrot, cilantro, hot peppers).
Bánh mì is kind of like the taco of Vietnam: filling, inexpensive, tasty and sold on the street.
The making of a Bánh mì at a street cart in Nha Trang.
Photo credit: New York Times
Cà phê sữa đá – Iced Coffee with Milk
Black, thick, roasted in clarified butter… Vietnamese coffee is celestial. Along with Italy and Ecuador, it’s some of the best coffee on earth.
And Vietnamese coffee is inexpensive- around 20,000 dong a cup ($1). Which may be why I imbibed it at least two to three times a day.
Here’s how to drink it!
The coffee is served to you still filtering with the sweetened condensed milk at the bottom.
Once the coffee finishes filtering (around five minutes) remove the lid and stir the coffee and condensed milk together.
Coffee is also served without ice, especially in cooler regions like the Central Highlands.
Hot pot was one of my favorite meals in Vietnam.
The broth is brought out simmering with mushrooms, scallions tofu and an assortment of meat. You chat over beers are the pot cooks, and once it’s ready you fish out the contents with chopsticks and place them in your individual bowl, which is already filled with rice noodles.
Then, as always in Vietnam you season and garnish your own portion.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls (Gỏi cuốn)
It’s incredible I don’t have a photo of Vietnamese spring rolls are they were my daily snack! They are gummy rice paper wrappers filled with crunchy vegetables, rice noodles and pork or shrimp. Then you dip them in peanut sauce, resulting in a salty, chewy, crunchy, fresh sensory experience.
Also I think I’m addicted to peanut sauce.
Beef Boiled in Vinegar (Bò nhúng dắm)
Beef boiled in vinegar is fairly self-explanatory- beef and vegetables boiled in vinegar and then wrapped in thin rice paper, garnished with cucumber and cilantro and dipped into sauce.
I loved the bitter yet sweet flavor of the beef as well as the tang of the sauce and the fresh crunch of the vegetables.
Okay, I actually never tried any French pastries in Vietnam. But they were there.
In Southeast Asia, life is lived outside. And Vietnam is no exception- much of the eating and drinking occurs on the sidewalks. So disregard the guidebook- pull up a plastic chair and eat up- Vietnamese street food is some of the cheapest and best food in the country.
Women making street food in Dalat.
Fried dough street food in the Mekong Delta. Not bad.
Food from a roadside cart on the side of the highway.
Fried quail’s eggs cooked in little clay ramekins. Dalat.
As in the rest of Southeast Asia, night markets are an essential component of local food culture; friends head to the night market and spend hours drinking, laughing and tasting the delicious offerings. See my Mekong Delta post for more info!
The dried squid vendor? A surprisingly common site in Vietnam.
Dirt-cheap freshwater crab. Best thing of my life.
Sugarcane Juice (Nước Miá)
In Vietnam you’ll see lots of vendors pushing sugarcane through machines to extract its sweet, delicious juice. Surprisingly, sugarcane juice isn’t overly sugary, and has a floral, subtly sweet taste.
In Southern Vietnam there are two main beers: Saigon Red and Saigon Green. The only difference between the beer is the alcohol content; Saigon Red is 4.9% and Saigon Green is 4.3%. And there is a slight different in taste- personally I think Saigon Red is better.
And they both usually cost 10,000 dong, or 50 cents. (Seriously.) At fancier bars they will cost up to 40,000 dong, or $2.
Vietnam also has fresh beer which must be drunk within 24 hours- here’s Travelfish’s guide on where to find it in Saigon.
The one seriously annoying thing about beer in Southeast Asia is that due to the heat it becomes lukewarm quickly- which is why you have to drink it fast!
As in most of Asia, dining out at restaurants is a communal affair. You order an assortment of dishes and then share it among the diners.
From the super inexpensive meal above in the Central Highlands (I will never forget that eggplant or omelet) to the $30 swanky Saigon restaurant meal below (with the best fried tofu of my life), dining out in Vietnam is always done “family style.”
Which I think says a lot about the difference between Western and Eastern sociology. (Western- individualistic, one dish for one person and Eastern- communal, several dishes shared among many.) But I digress.
Believe it or not, I never liked Vietnamese food before I went to Vietnam (I swear it doesn’t transfer well to other places!) but now I’m salivating over my next trip to Vietnam.
And there’s so much more I haven’t even tried…
Who even knows what this is?
Are you a fan of Vietnamese food?
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