Vietnamese cuisine is unique. It is a cuisine that will not only leave a mark on your heart, but also one in your nostrils, and that’s because everything is just so fragrant.
The use of aromatic herbs, chillies and fresh vegetables, doused in sweet and sour sensations in almost every dish, will be sure to set your taste buds alight. In a country where the food on the market stalls can be just as good as an upmarket restaurant’s, the culinary world is your oyster, but here are 7 dishes to get you started.
1. Cha Ca Thăng Long
This dish is perfect for fish lovers who enjoy bold flavours and a variety of textures in their food. To create this aromatic dish, fish is marinated in turmeric and dill before being grilled and then fried. It is traditionally served with an abundance of herbs, crushed roasted peanuts and a healthy portion of rice noodles. It is such a revered dish in Hanoi, that in fact, there are restaurants dedicated to serving only this dish and nothing else.
Where to try it: Chả Cá Lã Vọng, Hanoi, where the dish originated.
Image Credit: Alpha
2. Banh bao vac (white rose)
White Rose is a tasty little morsel that originated in the small kitchen of one inventive family living in Hanoi, who still own the original recipe to this day. As you might expect, these dumplings are lovingly crafted to look like roses. Traditionally they contain a delicious helping of either spiced pork or shrimp and once cooked, are then dipped in a sauce of shrimp broth, chilies, lemon and sugar. These aren’t your typical dumplings found all over Vietnam though, as the water used to make the dough is sourced from the local old Ba Le well, and purified before being used, making them one of a kind.
Where to try it: Streets of Hoi An
Image Credit: Stacie Chan
3. Bánh Mì
This is one of Vietnam’s most successful exports, having made its way to street food cafes and restaurants all over the world. Everyone loves a good sandwich and that’s probably why it’s found fame, but, this is a special sandwich, one where the common French baguette is fused with the hot, spicy, sweet and sour flavours of Vietnam. To start, the baguette is slathered with a unique mayonnaise, then stuffed with fresh meats, pickled carrots, cucumber, coriander and hot chillies, and all of this is topped off with a light dressing of soy. After just one bite of a traditional Bánh Mì, you’ll never step foot in Subway again.
Where: Madam Khanh or Banh Mi Phuong, Hoi An
Image Credit: CycloneBill
4. Pho Bo
Pho is the national dish of Vietnam, so wherever you go in the country, several variations of this much loved delight will exist, but one of the most popular is Pho Bo. It’s a meal that can be enjoyed in the comfort of a fancy restaurant, or on the street corners all over Vietnam. Wherever you choose to sample this traditional dish, your taste buds are guaranteed to be tantalised by the abundant fragrances and the simplicity of it. Rice noodles, beef, herbs and vegetables all float in a translucent beef stock and it’s as easy as that. Pho is an international superstar, and with pho restaurants popping up all over the globe, make sure you get a taste of the original.
Where to try it: Pho Hoa, Saigon
Image Credit: Jonathan Lin
5. Cao lầu
This aromatic dish is one to be enjoyed all year round. Bean sprouts, chillies, coriander, basil and mint all give delicious flavour to tender pork, salad and thick, chewy noodles. Add a sprinkle of deep fried croutons for some crunch and a squeeze of lime to round off the dish. This Hoi An classic is full of contrasting flavours and can be an acquired taste, so try it a few times before you make up your mind.
Where to try it: This dish in its original form can only be found in Hoi An
Image Credit: Alpha
6. Bánh Rán
This Vietnamese desert is the perfect sweet treat to round off a meal. The mung bean filling is infused with a touch of jasmine essence, which is then coated with glutinous rice flour and shaped into a ball. These spherical treats are then coated in sesame seeds. If you’re in the south of Vietnam, that’s desert finished and ready to go, but in the north, these are then covered in sweet, sticky, sugary syrup. If you were born with a sweet tooth, then these are perfect, but don’t eat too many, as they are incredibly rich.
Where to try it: On the streets throughout Vietnam
7. Gỏi cuốn
Most people will have tried spring rolls at some point in their life, but brace yourself, because these are one of a kind. Gỏi cuốn are eaten cold and are uncooked on the outside, meaning they aren’t crispy nor are they oily, like other spring rolls. The rice paper is usually stuffed with ingredients such as sliced pork and prawns, along with herbs and vegetables, but substituting the meat for egg and tofu is also a popular alternative for vegetarians. They are the perfect appetizer to begin a meal and come with a selection of delightful Vietnamese sauces.
Where to try it: These can be enjoyed in any restaurant, but the best can be found on the market stalls of Saigon.
Image Credit: Stu Spivack