Over the past few years Vietnamese cuisine has become more and more popular around the world, with many trying Vietnamese food whether they know they are or not. Rice, noodles, fresh vegetables and herbs all play a major role in Vietnamese cuisine, making it among the healthiest food in the world. A trip to Vietnam can be as much of a culinary tour as it is historic and cultural. What should the visiting foodie in Vietnam be trying during their visit?
The Bahn family is typically the most well spread food in Vietnam and refers to a number of steamed rice cake dishes. Bahn Cuon is made by ladling rice flour batter into a steamer, in a matter of seconds, the gossamer thin sheet is ready to be filled with minced mushrooms and pork. Each little rice dumpling is topped with deep-fried shallots and is preferred to be dipped in fish sauce.
Pho is one of the many (MANY!) noodle soups in Vietnam, but easily the most popular and well known among foreigners. The name Pho refers to the rice noodles used within and not technically the soup itself. The noodles are typically served in a broth, usually beef, and topped with beef or chicken parts, bean sprouts, lime wedges, basil, mint, cilantro and onions. Locals typically jazz up the soup with fish or chilli sauce for more flavour. Regardless, it is cheap, tasty and visitors will find it everywhere. It is a particularly popular breakfast food in Hanoi.
Goi Cuon, or ‘salad rolls,’ are generally one of the many Vietnamese foods that people eat not realizing that they are Vietnamese in origin. Both the fried and non-fried varieties ( or Cha Gio) are often passed off in Chinese restaurants back in the west. The translucent, un-fried Goi Cuon are packed with greens that diners can usually see through the clear wrappings. Sometimes the greens are joined with fresh herbs and meats like shrimp or pork, but are always dunked in fish sauce. Every region has their own unique Goi Cuon, so diners are likely to try a few incarnations on their journeys.
Bahn Mi, Vietnam’s awesome version of a sandwich, can be found all over the world these days. Its creation dates back to French imperialism when they forced their crusty baguettes upon Vietnam. Since those days, Vietnam has integrated them into making a sandwich all their own. The Bahn Mi’s in Vietnam are stuffed with pork belly, fish cakes, meatballs as well as pickled carrots, daikon and insanely spicy chilis.
Ca Kho To
Clay pots are essentially Asia’s version of the Dutch oven. The clay helps retain heat and moisture that aids in caramelizing and softening meat, thus Ca Kho To’s translation of ‘caramelized fish in a clay pot’. In this dish, sugar is added over the fish during the course of its long braising that helps it develop a unique sweet and savoury gooeyness and is often sought after as a Vietnamese comfort food.
Banh Chung / Bahn Tet
No matter what name it is called in Vietnam, Bahn Chung and Bahn Tet are essentially the same thing. This dish is banana leaf-wrapped parcels containing sticky rice cakes that are packed with fatty pork and mung beans. Visitors are likely to see them all over during festivals and especially during the lunar new year celebration of Tet where they are eaten and left at ancestral alters.
Chao is Vietnam’s version of rice porridge. It is thick, creamy, hearty and is likely able to cure whatever happens to be ailing you, from the flu to a morning hangover. Traditionally it is topped with any variety of meats. Sometimes it is pig entrails, other times it is slices of chicken, beef, pork or fish.
Com Tam, or ‘broken rice,’ was a dish made out of necessity when farmers couldn’t sell the broken grains of rice that occasionally got damaged during harvest. The farmers had to eat the rejected rice themselves. Today, broken rice is not only cheaper than the whole variety, but it has actually become pretty popular. People like the softer texture and visitors will likely find it topped with a number of things like crispy pork skin, grilled pork chop, pork loaf and egg, sometimes all of the above all together.
Cha Ca Hanoi
Cha Ca Hanoi, like its name suggest is region specific to northern Vietnam. This special Hanoi dish is a soup made from flakey white fish marinated in turmeric and galangal served with generous amounts of dill. The dill is treated more like a vegetable that a garnish in a lot of northern Vietnamese cooking. However, when visitors travel south, they’re not likely to see much, if any, dill in the cooking.
For dessert, the most popular option is Che. The term is generally used to refer to any sweet pudding or even dessert soups, so visitors are likely to try a lot of different kinds of Che’s while around Vietnam. Che’s are usually covered in jellied or dried fruit toppings such as longans, rambutans, mangoes, jackfruit chips, or less sweet items like mung and black beans.