When it’s come to traditional Vietnamese food, there’s much to talk about. Paying a visit to a restaurant or wandering along the street, you’re to find abundant things interesting to add in your food tour in Vietnam.
Take a closer look into Vietnamese cuisine and you can learn that the significant recipes and best Vietnamese dishes are on the way to spread Vietnamese’s way of life. Do not let the opportunity go to waste if fate has brought you to Vietnam. Try the best treat to find out how to fall in love with traditional Vietnamese food!
Traditional Vietnamese food: Rustic yet unique
It’s not hyperbole to say that Vietnamese culture has been energetically reflected in traditional Vietnamese food. Culture, as its literal meaning, does not merely involve material worth but it’s much about sentimental values. Thus, best Vietnamese dishes say a lot about Vietnamese people and other characteristics of the country.
Vietnamese dishes are actually matchless combinations of fresh ingredients, rich flavours, and traditional recipes that have been passed down for generations. They’re simply made but you have to find a way to get it just right.
The S-shaped country also offers the diversity of dishes in different parts of the country which are commonly divided as the North, the Central and the South. Dishes feature the best of each region in terms of ingredients, how to cook, and how to eat. Just check it out how traditional Vietnamese food varies from region to region right now.
• The North: Dishes in the North do not have so much depth in flavour. People prefer adding extra tastes with “nuoc mam” (fish sauce) or “mam tom” (shrimp paste). The best representative of the North is dishes from the capital city of Hanoi where tourists must find whatever they can to taste “bun cha”, “bun dau”, “banh cuon Thanh Tri”, etc.
• The Central: Down to the Central where heat and wind overwhelm, you can wake up your taste buds with deeply hot and salty food. This is where food is elaborate both in the way of cooking and presentation. The finest dishes are inspired by Hue royal cuisine which originates from the time when the Nguyen Dynasty relocated to Hue. Now the Royal food such as “nem cong”, “cha phuong”, “com sen cung dinh” are not just for the imperial family; if you are interested in it, try it!
• The South: The South witnesses an interesting encounter of traditional food from China, Cambodia and Thailand, making it a hot pot of distinct flavours and styles. What should be mentioned first is “mam” (salted fish) with its one-of-a-kind smell, in addition to a wide range of tidbits from the Mekong Delta where people simply find it fun to start a meal with a dish of field mouse, cobra or even bat…
Best traditional food in Vietnam
Your trip to Vietnam would be incomplete if you don’t list these best Vietnamese dishes to your Food Walking Tour. Here are our picks for you to satisfy your hunger and feast upon local bests.
On top of the list is Pho – Vietnamese rice noodle soup – a household name to any foodies. Considered as the essence of Vietnamese cuisine, Pho is exactly what you need to update your Instagram post when touring this country. Traditionally, thin-sliced beef is served with rice noodles and herbs of shelf, basil and coriander. That’s it for a bowl of mouth-watering ingredients!
Eat Pho now to see how creative Vietnamese are! They have chicken rice noodles, roll rice noodles, fried rice noodles, sautéed rice noodles so that you can eat the whole day of Pho with greediness. Even Pho in the North and Pho in the South of Vietnam cause a lot of surprises when you order the same Pho on the menu. One thing’s for sure, they’re all fantastic!
2. Bun cha
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It can be considered the feature dish of Ha Noi street food, and you can find no end of Bun cha stall on Ha Noi streets. Bun cha is normally served with grilled fatty pork, rice noodle, herbs, and a side dish of dipping sauce. Many comment that a fine set of Bun cha depends much on the dipping sauce that should have all kinds of taste, sour, hot, salty and sweet.
When in Ha Noi, eat Bun Cha with Hanoi-style! Hanoian often eat Bun cha in the afternoon, sitting on old chairs right on the pavement. Pick up some rice noodle with chopsticks, dip into a bowl of sauce full of grilled pork, and then add extra raw lettuce, sprouts or purple basil. Do you want a bite?
3. Com tam
You’re missing out one of the best parts of traditional Vietnamese food if you don’t try Com tam (broken rice). The fact that rice presents in most of Vietnamese’s daily meals does not make a dish of Com tam less tasty.
The main ingredient, broken rice, is a cheaper grade of rice produced by damage in milling. Broken rice is typically combined with grilled pork ribs, greens and pickled vegetables. If you want more, just ask for any extra portion from a variety of side dishes like “cha” (egg with meat), “bi” (thinly shredded pork skin), “trung op la” (omelette). For a little more yummy, the green onion oil and crunchy pieces of fat are often added, but if you are not a fan of green onion, just let the owner know beforehand.
4. Bun bo Hue
Known as the signature dish of Vietnamese cuisine in the Central, Bun bo Hue or spicy beef noodle soup in Hue is another secret you’d love to uncover in your food tour. The unique broth comes from simmered beef bones and pork bones.
A bowl of Bun bo Hue would not be perfect if there is no chilli, and it is the spicy flavour that differentiates Bun bo made in Hue or by Hue people from the same dish prepared anywhere else. To enjoy the best of Bun bo Hue, add sliced banana blossom, lettuce, mint, basil and don’t forget to ask for a cup of iced tea just in case you feel hot.
5. Cao lau
While Bun bo Hue represents the quintessence of Hue cuisine, Hoi An Old Town takes pride in Cao lau. Cao lau sets itself apart from other Vietnamese noodles such as Pho or Bun thanks to the rice noodles with special texture and colour, commonly served with a small amount of broth.
People say that eating Cao lau is an art. Diners will be served in a restaurant that is decorated with colourful lanterns. They do not simply try a dish to fill up their stomach, but instead, absorb the elegant atmosphere all around. Whether you opt for a Cao lau bowl of shredded, sliced char-siu style pork or shrimp, mix it with herbs and crispy squares to enjoy.
6. Banh xeo
Banh xeo or “sizzling pancake” is another must-try dish of Vietnamese traditional food. The savoury fried pancake is made up of rice flour, water and turmeric powder. The yellow crispy crust is full of pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, spring onion and many more inside.
Don’t think of using a knife or fork to tear the pancake! Get ready to use chopsticks or your hands can do it even better. Take a piece of Banh xeo, wrap it in lettuce and mustard leaves and dip in the sauce before each bite. You can feel the amazing taste of crunchy crust, appetizing fillings, sweet and sour sauce of fish sauce, sugar, garlic, lime juice and chilli.
Xoi, made from glutinous rice and other ingredients, is an unskippable dish that makes Vietnamese cuisine striking. Unlike many delicacies, Xoi represents the plain yet important part of Vietnamese cuisine. You can see a child grabbing some Xoi for on-the-go breakfast while Xoi also appears on significant occasions in Vietnam such as marriage or grand opening.
The list of Xoi seems to never end with countless variants from sweet to savory that surely satisfy all tastes. Savory Xoi are called “Xoi man” and the most popular ones are “Xoi ga” (with chicken) and “Xoi thap cam” (subgum Xoi usually made up of chicken, Chinese sausage and boil quail egg).
Those who wish to enjoy Xoi as a light snack would find good to have a bite of sweet Xoi with so many colors representing the main ingredients. Don’t know which Xoi to eat, just pick your favorite color: Black from Xoi dau den (made with black urad beans), Green from Xoi dau xanh (made with mung beans), Orange from Xoi gac ( made with seeds of the gac fruit), Purple from Xoi la cam (made with the magenta plant), Yellow from Xoi sau rieng (made with durian).
8. Chuoi nep nuong
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Many have never heard of Chuoi nep nuong or fewer tour guides would recommend this street food, however, it was voted as the most favorite street food at World Street Food Congress organized in Singapore. Simply put, it is grilled banana sticky rice served with a sweetened creamy coconut sauce and roasted peanut.
You can easily find vendors selling Chuoi nep nuong on the streets where you will enjoy one of the best Vietnamese street food ever while listening to interesting stories from the vendors. This banana treat is just all you need to shift your taste. You try it, you feel it!
Vietnamese table manners: Do and Don’t
If you want to dig deeper into Vietnamese culture, learn some more table manners to truly immerse in local food style. In fact, different parts of the country have their own table manners and etiquette that the native Vietnamese also find it hard to adapt to. Here are some basic rules that might be useful when you have a meal with locals.
√ Ask the elderly to eat first
√ Make good use of your napkin
√ Use chopsticks more often
√ Take and give dishes with both hands
√ Wait until other people finish
× Don’t talk when chewing
× Don’t chew loudly
× Don’t point chopsticks to others
× Don’t stare at your phone so often
× Don’t stick chopsticks upright in a bowl
© Maika Tours
Written by Trinh Tran
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