Vietnamese food deviates from its Indochinese neighbours, compared to, say, Thailand, which offers up copious coconut-creamed based curries and deep-fried snacks doused in sticky sauces. Ultimately, you leave Thailand with sweet chilli running through your veins and oil seeping out of your already sweat-clogged pours.
Vietnam offers up such dishes as marinated barbecued pork or beef, crispy pancakes filled with fresh prawns wrapped up in rice paper and, of course, which epitomises Vietnamese food, the simple yet distinguished noodle-soup, Pho. These are all completed with crunchy, thirst-quenching lettuce leaves, the citrus overtones of cilantro and mouth-cleansing mint leaves, it leaves your body and your palette feeling refreshed and is a relief for rice-bellied backpackers.
Of course, there is the flip (more bloating) side to Vietnamese food which is its French ancestry, likewise to Cambodia and Laos, baguettes (although of a chewier kind to the French) are in abundance, but here they’re filled with an explosion of Asian flavours, or are a superb side-dish to mop up tangy meat juices. Furthermore, coffee shops and bakeries deliver French patisseries no better than France itself and, tender strips of meat served with a nob of melting butter isn’t uncommon, adding further support to the French saying ‘cooking with butter is better’.
The food is regional, and in my opinion, there are dishes in each region that cannot be missed. Here are my personal food highlights, some with photographic evidence, others not (I’d stupidly forgotten my camera those evenings) so my descriptions and your imagination must suffice. I’m not sure whether all these dishes are affiliated with the regions that I ate them in, but where I did have these, I feel you should too.
The prices stated here refer to the exchange rate during my time of travel when 32,000 Vietnamese Dong were equal to one British pound.
Ho Chi Minh City
Pham Ngu Lao district
There are a modest number of street stalls on Biu Vien here are the two dishes to look out for:
Com tâm (30,00 VND) : Sweetly marinated bits of tender pork on a bed of rice served with a sweet and sour fish sauce which had tart pickles floating atop. Enjoyed soaking my meal in this stuff whilst washing it down with refreshing, cold green tea.
Vegetarian Pho (25, ooo VND): I do not know the real Vietnamese term for this dish. This steaming bowl jazzed up a packet of instant egg noodles as they sat in an earthy coloured broth of tofu and mushrooms, which had, soaked within, vegetarian spring-rolls and plenty of spice.
Bánh khọt: If getting a bus to Thap Ba Hot Springs you will have to endure a long sweaty walk from bus-stop to spa, but do not fear, you will pass several of these stalls en route. These are tiny rice-flour pancakes made in miniature clay pots, filled with squid and prawn and served with salad and mint and a spicy, sweet dipping sauce.
Bo Ne (25,000 VND): In Nah Trang town centre one street back from the beach front and down a back alley, I ate this delicious sizzling dish of thinly stripped beef on a layer of fresh tomato sauce, onions and French herbs. A fried egg sizzled on the side with the yolk running into the beef, whilst a dollop of butter slowly melted into the mix, all served in a hot iron cow-shaped plate. This was served with a warm baguette and a crunchy papaya and carrot salad.
I didn’t have my camera at this point in time, but here is a very similar photo I’ve found on Flikr:
At the Old Quarter’s Food Market:
Ban Xeo (Country Pancakes) (10,000 VND a piece): These are crispy pancakes and Xeo refers to the sound when the batter hits the pan (similar to the spitting sound heard when served a plate of Bo Ne). These are stuffed with prawns and beansprouts and served with lettuce, cress and mint leaves. There is a particular way to eat these like the locals, and here’s a visual depiction to show you how:
Sticky Rice Dumpling (10,000) : Not too sure what this was, but I saw it, liked the look of it and ate it…It had the texture of a Crème Caramel, it was the savoury take on another French dessert, the Il Flottante, yet, I was informed, it was made from sticky rice and had been cooked in a banana leaf. This green hued wobbly block was stuffed with pork and vegetables, was served swimming in sweet chilli oil and sprinkled with deep-fried crispy nuggets. I’m not sure if my description sounds tasteful, but I can assure you it was.
If you know the name of this dish, please let me know!
Taken from a Street-side cafe in Hoi-An…
Cao lầu (25,000 VND): firm and chewy noodles with greens, beansprouts, basil, cilantro, mint, chilli and lime in a small amount of thin soy-tasting broth, mixed in with pork and crunchy croutons. This, I can confidently say, IS a Hoi-An speciality so don’t leave without trying!
World- wide Hanoi is known for Pho, huge vats of the stuff squeeze onto the corner of most road-sides. To find out more about Pho click here.
Bún Ốc: Down one of the many alley ways in the Old Quarter, there is a lengthy street-food market. I sat at a table with no other tourists and was served this soup of crushed tomatoes, vermicelli noodles and snails. At first I disliked how the snails were floating in this soup, independent of their shells, but soon enough my tastebuds took over as they were hit with the heat and the herbs to prove that looks are deceiving.
Town Centre next to St Joseph’s Cathedral
Deep-fried Pastries: These cornish-pasty shaped deep-fried delicacies were stuffed with pork mince, served with a thin sweet-sour sauce for dipping, crunchy green mango and of course, mint, cilantro and lettuce.