Perhaps you have an adventurous palate and are blessed with the fearless and curious spirit that drives you to taste everything that’s on a plate, a skewer, or a banana leaf. Or maybe you have the picky nature of a toddler when it comes to food. What moves people to eat other than quelling hunger pangs varies—curiosity, a genuine enthusiasm for certain cuisines, or simply for the joy of eating. People tend to stick with the food they love, for comforting and familiar fare. Though once in a while, it’s nice to break out from the routine and live a little, try something new for a change. But one thing’s for sure: If one has to eat something unfamiliar, it better damn well taste good,
There are some things that should be tried once in a lifetime, and we’re talking about Vietnamese food. Characterized by bright colors and clean flavors, it has a way of making itself known and unforgettable even to the most persnickety palate. With recognizable ingredients appealing to western tastes, it’s no surprise that Vietnamese cuisine is becoming famous worldwide.
Here are the top 10 Vietnamese foods that you should definitely try.
This is probably one of the most familiar Vietnamese foods out there. In Vietnam, it seems like every street corner has a place that serves the tasty dish, and the fact that it’s tasty and cheap makes it even better. Pho can be eaten for lunch, dinner, a heavy snack, or even as most Vietnamese are wont to do, as breakfast, with a cup of black coffee—it’s that versatile.
Pho is a noodle dish consisting or fresh rice noodles in a salty broth, some chicken or beef and a healthy dash of herbs. The term pho refers to the noodles, but the Vietnamese judge their pho by its broth. The broth can make or break the pho, so stall owners take special care with the way the broth is cooked, and they guard the recipe closely.
To best enjoy this dish, rip up the herbs before submerging into the broth. Squeeze in a bit of lime. Sip the broth first, then eat the noodles using chopsticks.
2. Cao lau
A bowl of Cao lau is a bowl of contrasts in texture and flavor, with soft, crunchy, sweet and spicy elements combining to give a burst of delightful flavors each time you take a bite. The most authentic Cao lau can be found on the streets of Hoi An, and the dish is made using water drawn from the Ba Le well. What’s so special about the well? Some say that it has been built in the 10th century and that the water is medicinal. Others claim that the well has a mystical connection to fairies.
Whether the stories are true or not, one thing’s for sure, Cao lau is delicious. It’s made with uniquely textured noodles made from water from the Ba Le well, pounded rice, and ash that comes from a certain tree. The noodles are served in a smoky broth, topped with thinly sliced salty pork, and garnished with sprouts, basil, coriander and crunchy croutons made out of the same ingredients as the noodles.
To add to its mystique, not too many people know how to make cau lao noodles, and the families who know how to make it prefer to not speak about the recipe at all. This is one of the few dishes that escaped globalization. If ever you’re in Vietnam, be sure to pass by Hoi An to taste this sumptuous dish.
3. Bahn Bao
Bahn Bao are steamed pork buns, and these go so well with Pho, but eaten on its own, it makes a good snack. Though it’s not traditionally Vietnamese cuisine, many Bahm Bao vendors line the streets of Ho Chi Minh City and other parts of Vietnam.
You know you’ve got a good bun if it’s stuffed full of ground pork, and buried within the meat is a hardboiled quail egg. There are cheaper versions, but you’ll find that there’s less meat inside the bun.
4. Bahn Mi
Many French influences can still be found in Vietnam, and that includes the food. Bahn Mi is a sandwich made from a baguette, stuffed with a meat of your choice, vegetables and a variety of sauces.
Choice fillings are meat balls, grilled pork, chicken and sunny side up eggs.
5. Goi cuon
For healthy Vietnamese food, you can’t go wrong with Goi cuon. These are fresh spring rolls packed with greens, meat or seafood and a bunch of coriander, then rolled and dunked in fish sauce. It’s easy to eat three of four of these in one sitting and still feel as if you haven’t overindulged.
Is it soup? Is it dessert? The answer is, it’s both. Vietnam is famous for its dessert soups called Che, both a refreshing and a delightful end to a meal. Che can also be eaten as a snack as many school-aged children prefer to eat this after a day of learning. It has a consistency that is a cross between pudding and soup.
Variations of Che are:
- milky Che, with taro, banana, plantains, corn, a splash of coconut milk and tapioca pearls
- seaweed, lotus seeds and dates in coconut milk
- dough balls in ginger syrup
- lychees and jackfruit
- sticky rice with corn
Che should be eaten immediately while it’s still cold.
7. Ban xeo
This is a crispy crepe redolent with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and fresh herbs. The crepe is made of rice flour, turmeric powder and coconut milk. Each region in Vietnam has slight variations, with those made in the southern region larger and having more vegetables and mung beans.
A good Ban xeo has a thin and crisp crepe. To eat it, slice it into pieces and dunk into the special sauce that comes with it.
8. Hoa qua dam
When you’re in the tropics, a scoop of ice cream to beat the heat seems like a good idea. But for a healthier alternative, you might want to try Hoa qua dam, a blend of fresh tropical fruit in a cup with shaved ice, coconut milk, and condensed milk mixed in to sweeten it. In Hanoi, To Tich street is filled with Hoa qua dam stalls that the street is sometimes called Hoa qua dam street. It’s now a popular hangout of Hanoi teenagers and foreigners.
You’ll know if you’ve got a good glass of Hoa qua dam if there’s a lot of fruit mixed in, such as watermelon, custard apple, mango, avocado, golden melon, jackfruit and longan. The mix of fruits will also depend on the season.
9. Ga nuong
Got a hankering for chicken? Skip the fast food version and go for Ga nuong, or grilled chicken done the Vietnamese way. The chicken is marinated in honey then grilled over large flames, resulting to a crispy skin with a nice char on it, and soft meat.
Eat this with rice, or you can even buy some baguettes if you want to eat this with bread.
10. Bot chien
This is Saigon’s favorite street food and is immensely popular with the afterschool crowd. Bot chien is pan fried chunks of rice flour dough stirred with eggs and scallions. Just three ingredients, but it’s very filling and cheap.
You can add more flavor with some chili sauce or rice vinegar. A bit of soy sauce is good too.
There you have it, the top ten Vietnamese dishes that you should definitely try. Keep in mind that the recipes could change from region to region. What you get in Saigon might taste different from the dish that you’ll get in Hanoi. But for sure, it’s gonna be fresh, it’s gonna be cheap, and it will surely be delicious, all the things you ever hoped to find when embarking in a gastronomic adventure. So live a little. Have some Vietnamese food today.