September 3, 2015 § Leave a comment
If you’re thinking of visiting any part of Vietnam, the first thing you need to know about is that food is an integral part of their culture and livelihood. Anyone who has traveled to Vietnam will tell you that it is one of the major attractions. You can’t go to Vietnam and not have a taste of their cuisine.
More often than not, the street is its stage – street food stalls can be found anywhere from the main roads to the alleyways. Small plastic stools and a table taking up the sidewalk is a common scene.
So what is Vietnamese food? It has a distinct flavor yet it is almost universally accepted palate-wise. The taste comes from fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, and fresh herbs such as mint, cilantro, and lemongrass – think spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet when combined. Influenced much by the Chinese and French, Vietnamese love their noodles and bread. Theirs is a cuisine that is light and refreshing, which is probably why it is easy on the palate. Their taste for fresh ingredients and simple methods has actually placed their cuisine on the map of the foodies.
On my recent visit to Hanoi, I rediscovered favorites and got introduced to new staples. So without further ado, here are a few staples and must-haves when in Vietnam, in my opinion.
Pho – THE staple of Vietnam, available all day and night long.
The national food is a steaming, fragrant broth of rice noodle with chicken or beef topped with bean sprouts, mint, and a few more herbs. Squeeze a wedge of lime into it and the freshness of this simple noodle soup raises the bar for all noodle soups. It’s impossible to walk a block without bumping into a hungry crowd slurping noodles in a makeshift pho stand on a sidewalk.
Banh Mi – The French has stamped its mark on Vietnam through its baguette and has since been given a Vietnamese spin.
This Vietnamese sandwich (more commonly called Banh Mi) is a heavenly concoction of crusty baguette filled with pork, pâté, butter, and an array of local ingredients (cilantro, cucumber, jalapeño and pickled carrots and daikon). Indeed a product of cultural and culinary blend that managed to put Vietnamese cuisine on the map.
Bun Cha – If Pho is Vietnam’s most famous dish Bun Cha (ubiquitous in the North) is what everyone prefers over lunch in Hanoi.
It’s charcoal grilled patties and sliced pork belly served with a basket of herbs, cold vermicelli noodles, a bowl of nuoc cham (fish sauce, sugar, and rice vinegar mixture).
Nem Cua Be – Bun Cha lovers normally order a side dish of this spring roll filled with small amounts of crab meat, minced pork, garlic, herbs, mushrooms, and glass noodles, then deep-fried to juicy/crisp perfection.
Dipped in the same Bun Cha sauce, this spring roll has become a favorite. Ah, Nem Cua Be! I’m dreaming of you now.
Goi Cuon – Fresh spring rolls, light and healthier version of Vietnam’s many spring rolls.
It is definitely a wholesome choice especially if indulging too much on the fried ones. Dip it in peanut sauce and your taste buds will be jumping for joy.
Nem Nuong Xa – Grilled minced meat on lemongrass skewers.
I’ve always loved these and have long been one of the familiar Vietnamese dishes on my side of the world. It’s meat patties wrapped around lemongrass stalks/skewers then grilled. Simple yet so satisfying.
Ngo Chien Bo – It’s sweet corn kernels fried in butter. Introduced to us by the locals we befriended at the beer corner.
The one served to us had salty dried fish added to it. Crunchy, buttery, sweet and salty goodness… so definitely addictive, this little kernel of heaven.
Bo Bia Ngot – a dessert so intriguing though it didn’t call out to us at first sight until some kids on a night out convinced us to buy some.
It’s a rolled up crêpe made up of shredded coconut, sesame seeds, and light sugary candy pieces (sometimes just sugar). Made to order at a food stall. Another simple concoction that delivered a sensation of complex textures and flavor.
And because I have caffeine running through my veins, all meals end with coffee,