Pho bo – Vietnam’s national dish is eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and a must. Deep bowls of steaming aromatic beef broth contain thin slices of beef, tender rice noodles, and plenty of herbs. Make sure to also try pho ga, which is served with chicken instead of beef. Slurping allowed!
Saigon Subs – Crusty French-style baguettes are filled with pate, pickled vegetables, and chilies. Delicious as a quick snack or a light lunch!
Goi Cuon – A heavenly filling of pork, shrimp, rice vermicelli, mint, bean sprouts, and lettuce is wrapped in thin rice paper discs that have been softened in hot water. Bite by bite the rolls are dipped into sauce. Rice paper (banh trang) is traditionally handmade and left to dry in the sun on bamboo mats.
Sizzling Saigon Crepes (banh xeo) – Flavorful crepes are filled with grilled pork or shrimp, lettuce, and herbs, and dipped in sauce. A very popular snack served by street vendors all over Saigon. A similar dish is popular in Hue, where it is called “Happy Crepes”.
Che – Often translated as “pudding”, che is more like a combination of a sweet stew and a “drink”. Tapioca, corn, beans, and sticky rice are simmered with coconut milk in huge pots, and flavored with palm sugar and pandanus leaves. Che is either served cold with crushed ice in a tall glass, or it can also be served warm in a bowl. Either way, che is pure comfort food!
All About Vietnamese Food
Food plays a major role in Vietnamese culture and everyday life. Both the preparation and consumption of meals is serious business, and often connected to a long tradition of recipes that have been handed down through the generations. The Vietnamese love to snack, and one will never have to look far for a delicious meal when traveling.
Vietnamese food constitutes a distinct cuisine in its own right, with the liberal use of fish sauce (nuoc mam), the preference for fresh herbs, and the unique wrapping of small pieces of meat or vegetables in lettuce or rice paper as its hallmarks. The chief influence of Vietnamese cuisine comes from China, which among other things, is evident in the use of chop sticks. Spices from India have found their way into Vietnamese dishes via its neighboring countries Laos and Cambodia, while the Europeans brought tomatoes, peanuts, coffee, baguettes, yogurt, and butter.
The main staples of Vietnamese cuisine are rice (also used for making noodles), coconut, ginger, garlic, chilies, and copious amounts of fish sauce and fresh herbs. A large variety of fruits and vegetables are grown in Vietnam, from exotic durians to strawberries, and they are used to great effect in sweet and savory dishes. Vietnamese cooks employ a number of different cooking methods, including stir-frying, steaming, stewing (in clay pots), and grilling. Fish, beef, pork, and poultry are eaten with great gusto, as are other sources of protein, such as dogs, frogs, field rats, snakes, baby birds, and monkeys, to name just a few.
Unlike in Western cooking where a harmonious blending is favored to create a single taste (such as in sauces), Vietnamese cuisine adheres to the principles of yin and yang as well as the notion of five flavors (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy). Dishes are prepared with distinct layers of flavors and textures that are often contrasted, and great attention is paid to the “heating” and “cooling” properties of ingredients. Meals are composed according to these principles, resulting in a diet that is balanced and beneficial for the body.
Typical meals always include communal style dishes from which each diner scoops a small portion into his individual bowl. Soups and rice or noodles form the base of most meals, and are enhanced by fresh herbs (eaten like salads in Western countries), meat, vegetables, and various condiments. These are usually dipping sauces made with nuoc mam and chilies, but salt and freshly ground pepper accompanied by a slice of lime are also common. Sweets and desserts are very popular and are often served in the form of tapioca pearls, corn, beans, or sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and flavored with ginger.
Regional cuisines differ according to the climate and local products. The abundance of rice, fresh fruits and vegetables as well as coconuts and sugarcane is reflected in the dishes of Southern Vietnam, which are often spicier and tend to emphasize sweet and sour flavors. The influence of French cooking is most evident in the South where baguettes filled with pate are a popular street snack. Further north, Hue has always been regarded as the country’s center for haute cuisine. It is said that the Emperor Tu Duc was particularly partial to gourmet dining as he demanded to be served 50 elaborately prepared and decorated dishes for every meal. Today, the tradition of royal cooking lives on in Hue where traditional restaurants still tantalize the palate with fancy dishes prepared in miniature style and by hand. The cooler climate in the central region also results in heavier dishes that feature thicker noodles and spicier broths. The harsher climate of Northern Vietnam has given rise to some of the country’s most famous dishes, pho (a vibrantly flavored beef broth served with rice noodles, herbs, and either thin slices of beef or chicken), bun cha (grilled pork patties served over rice vermicelli, herbs, and a nuoc mam-based sauce), and cha ca (grilled fish accompanied by rice vermicelli, liberal amounts of dill and other herbs, lettuce, peanuts, and the ubiquitous dipping sauce).