Cooking is also about balance, knowing when to put lemongrass, ginger, coriander, garlic or other spices into the dishes. South East Asian countries are known for their spices, and Vietnam is one of the front-runners for fine-tasting cuisine. Traditional Vietnamese cuisine is admired for its balance between herbs, meat and spices.
Climate variations lead to taste variations. Northern Vietnam with its cooler climate produces less-spicy dishes, while central Vietnam is notable for its spicier food. The south of the country has warmer weather and more fertile soil, growing more vegetables and fruit, resulting in vibrant, flavorful, tasty dishes.
While you’re in the land of spices, it might be a good idea to tie up your shoe-laces, or rev up the motorbike, to wander round the busy streets of Vietnam’s cities, as we guide you to the best dishes in Vietnam. Be prepared, as you might stumble onto one of the best gastronomic experiences ever.
Summer rolls, fresh rolls, salad rolls, or spring rolls are some other names for gỏi cuốn, one of the ubiquitous dishes in Vietnam, almost always available everywhere, from street-food stalls to fancy restaurants. These are fresh, non-deep-fried translucent rice-paper rolls, often served with peanut sauce and freshly ground chili.
Gỏi cuốn is prepared by firstly moistening rice paper, known as bánh tráng, and next filling it with rice vermicelli noodles, coriander, and various combinations of minced crab, pork, or shrimp, and leaves and herbs like lettuce and basil.
Phở is also one of the most common dishes in Vietnam. Some restaurants, such as Pho So 1 in Hanoi, and street vendors, literally sell it 24/7, making it one of easiest foods to find in Vietnam.
Inside a bowl of phở are soft white rice noodles served in meat and vegetable broth, with slices of beef or chicken and fresh spring onions. The dish may look simple, but the challenging part is finding the broth that best suits your taste.
Every vendor has his or her own recipe and cooking-style. You can start your phở pilgrimage walking around Old Quarter in Hanoi.
This is a Hanoi specialty consisting of mouth-watering barbecued pork, vermicelli rice noodles, and herbs, with diluted fish sauce, with sugar, lemon juice, vinegar stock, crushed garlic, and chili.
The usual way of eating bún chả is to add a little bit of rice vermicelli to pork soup, adding garlic, herbs and chili as required. The taste of seasoned grilled pork with easy-to-chew rice vermicelli will restore your energy, after an exploration of the Old Quarter in Hanoi.
One of the most personalized foods in Vietnam is bánh mì, literally meaning bread. A single serving consists of a French-style baguette firstly sliced in half (watch how the local vendors use scissors rather than a knife) then filled with your personal choice of topping. Bánh mì vendors can be found almost anywhere in Ho Chi Minh.
Take your Ho Chi Minh experiences to another level by trying a different filling for bánh mì each time – meat, shredded and cured pork skin mayonnaise, Vietnamese radish or carrot pickles, cucumbers, sprigs of cilantro, freshly made omelet and more.
Bún Bò Huế
The dishes in Central Vietnam are notably spicier than in other regions of the country. With liberal use of spices, succulent meat, and time used in boiling the broth, resulting in a fragrant, fresh and citrusy taste, bún bò Huế might be one of the most distinctive dishes in Hue.
Enjoy the local market-activities, look around for fresh vegetables and unique stuff at Dong Ba market, and afterwards take a seat at a restaurant or at a street vendor’s, to order bún bò Huế, that Hue style of hot and spicy beef, with rice vermicelli soup.
Ask for extra sliced beef on top if you like, or add green and sweet onion to enhance the taste.
Hop on your rented bike, or just follow your tour guide around, to find the best staple snack in Saigon, bánh xèo. These are nearly transparent rice flour pancakes, in some places using the same kind of rice paper typically used to make gỏi cuốn, to wrap up slivers of pork, onion, mushrooms, and bean sprouts, fried in coconut oil.
Bánh xèo is a good late-night snack to keep you company as you snap pictures of Saigon’s street lights, or just a day-time treat after exploration of the Chu Chi Tunnels. Don’t forget to dip it in nước chấm if available, a unique taste of sweet, sour, and salty, made from sweet fermented peanut butter sauce.
It might be a long day exploring the city of Ho Chi Minh, learning about history at The War Remnants Museum, and queuing behind local streams of motorbikes, so choosing the best breakfast becomes a real big deal.
Ốp la, a Vietnamese-style fried egg sandwich, is a local favorite for breakfast. It a fuses a Vietnamese style of serving, with spices and a hearty topping of meat, with a western style of cooking, in a little personal pan. It will provide a warm welcome to an awesome new day.
One of the reasons you might find cao lầu a little bit colorful is that it originated from a region in Central Vietnam that is adamant about maintaining variety of color and of course spiciness.
Find cao lầu on the way back to your hotel after a long walk in Hoi An. The thick and chewy yellow turmeric noodles are served along with succulent shrimp in shrimp-beef based broth, with cabbage, bean sprouts, herbs and tossed sesame freckled rice crackers.
In the land of noodles, there’s also bún riêu. This consists of thin rice noodles, served in long-boiled crab-and-tomato-based broth, topped with prawn paste, herb leaves, tamarind/lime, chunks of tomatoes and golden-colored fried tofu. The broth has a natural sweet and slightly seafood taste, from the crab paste and tomatoes.
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