Vietnam is a food-lover’s dream. It offers variety, each region has its won specialty and some of its best food can be found on the street. My ten-day trip there left me with many happy food memories.
It is a rich, clear broth filled with meat – mostly pork but also beef, chicken and seafood – and noodles. To flavour, there are spring onions, herbs and spices.
My first taste of Pho was, surprisingly enough, at our last destination, Hoi An. At the Corner Homestay – a three storey bungalow, we had the option of choosing breakfast. I asked for pho (“with beef? Of course!”), while my travel companion Chandani preferred to create her own Banh Mi sandwich. There were fresh fruits because the Vietnamese clearly believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The pho was one of those comforting, homely dishes that are warm and fill you p with their homemade noodles and tender pieces of beef.
On our last night, we went to the tourist-popular Ben Thành market. There, I finished a bowl of seafood pho, filled with fresh shrimp and crab and packing a spicy punch.
A popular rice dish is Com Ga – a simple enough chicken rice dish. The rice is cooked in chicken stock and topped with fried then shredded chicken, mint and herbs. My favourite version was the one from Huong Vy Cafe (in Saigon’s District 1) – it came served in a hollowed coconut husk and had spring onions and carrots for extra crunch.
WHITE ROSE (Banh Bao Vac)
Local only to Hoi An (read more, here), it is a shrimp dumpling (locals call it a cake). The steamed dumplings are all white and have many folds (petals), hence the name. They contain shrimp ground with onion, pepper, salt and with a topping of crunchy garlic.
In Hoi An, it is common to find street carts filled with vats of hot oil and decorated with hanging plantains. This is where they sell freshly toasted, sesame-encrusted banana pancakes. these are made by slitting a banana into two halves, covering it with pancake batter and deep frying it till golden. It’s a satisfying, if slightly sweet, breakfast on the go.
VIETNAMESE SPRING ROLL (Goi Cuon)
The country’s most famous dish, these spring rolls have translucent rice paper packed with fresh greens, meat, – minced pork, shrimp or crab, and vermicelli. It is served with a bowl of lettuce and mint and peanut sauce.
This Vietnamese staple is a crispy rice flour pancake or crepe with pork, shrimp or bean sprouts. I followed Anthony Bourdain’s footsteps to find this delicacy in Saigon. The restaurant, Ban Xeo 46A, is a simple, unassuming space filled with plastic stools, an open kitchen and lots of locals (it’s hidden in a small lane and difficult to find, look for the pink church and take the lane opposite it). It is a good place to get a feel of how the locals eat. The Ban Xeo I ordered had shrimp, onions, bean sprouts and mung beans. To eat, I followed the locals, breaking up the crepe, rolling it in lettuce leaves and dunking it in the sauce. It is a mouthful and has too many veggies, to my taste.
VIETNAMESE PIZZA (Bánh Tráng Nướng)
This street snack is typical to the hill station of Da Lat and is the most popualr dish in the city. It is a mix of a masala dosa and a roll. Rice paper is laid out on a grill, topped with chopped spring onions, dried shrimp, egg, cheese and fish sauce (till the egg is cooked). This is then rolled up and served with a fiery chilli sauce.
If you come from a beef-starved country like India (we eat buffalo, and these days, water buffalo), you learn to appreciet good beef on trips abroad. My beef sojourn started with a beef burger at the Burger King outside Ho Chi Minh, and I ate one beef dish everywhere else we went.
- Many eating joints, even the street side ones, give you wet wipes along with your meal. These aren’t always free so always ask before using them.
- Carry water everywhere. No place will serves free water so it is cheapest and best to buy it from street vendors or a Circle K general store.
- Vegetarians should beware as most food contains fish sauce or dried shrimp which won’t be advertised. Check before eating.