The nose-itching smell of chilli in a stirfry, the satisfying crunch of herbs in a fresh spring roll, the charred taste of barbecued meat on a stick – these words alone should be enough to give a foodie weak knees. For many, experiencing different kinds of local food is one of the main reasons for travel.
Many will agree that Vietnam is one of the world’s best ‘foodie’ destinations – there is such a large range of flavours to savour in this diverse country. Shaun’s Dad and his partner recently travelled the length of Vietnam, sampling local meals along the way. This post highlights some of their favourites. Get your taste buds ready!
Flavours of Vietnam
We started in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, in the north of the country. The old quarter is the best place to stay – it’s busy and lots of fun. As our first introduction to Vietnam and its food, we made some fast favourites:
Banh Xio, a type of crispy pancake. You can roll it in rice paper with lots of fresh herbs, or roll just the pancake with the herbs.
Coffee to start the day was most important. Nguyen Huu Haun Street is full of people sitting outside drinking coffee – for them, Vietnamese iced coffee is the drink of choice. We found the café Coffee Zone made nice hot espresso and also great Vietnamese egg coffee. Egg you say! Yep – an espresso shot with basically a sweet egg nog. Sweet because of the condensed milk – it’s interesting but a must to try.
Banh Mi is one of the leftovers of the French influence in Vietnam. It’s a crispy baguette filled with fresh herbs, pate, pork, and chilli for a bit of heat. This was a real go-to for an anytime delicious munch. We tried banh mi all over the place; a couple of goodies were Banh Mi 25 at 36 Hang Ca Street in Hanoi – a tiny tiny cart with plastic kids’ chairs on the footpath. Another good place for banh mi was Banh Mi Phuong, 2B Phan Chau Trinh Street in the town of Hoi An.
Pho. How could you go past pho? The classic noodle broth with whatever meat you desire and full of fresh herbs and chilli. You find it all through Vietnam, with slightly different tastes from north to south; it’s great for breakfast and a snack anytime. We liked Pho Gia Truyen, 49 Bat Dan Street in Hanoi. The broth is in a huge pot boiling over a furnace from hell, so we felt it was better for our stomachs than the ones with the broth only just keeping warm!
In Hanoi, we tried other delicious street food including spring rolls (fried or fresh), steamed sweet potato and chicken. The rule for us was to watch it getting made and to point to the fresh one that has just been done, not the ones sitting in tray. Your guts will tell you which one is better!
More seafood was devoured when we went to Bai Tu Long Bay, northeast of Hanoi. Some of our favourites included Cha Ca fried fish, baby clams and prawn dumplings. We did a boat cruise so we didn’t have time for a good explore there, but the food on the boat was great with a lot of local dishes.
Next up on our trip was walking in the Sapa Hills, northwest of Hanoi near the border with China. We walked with a local guide and stayed with local people. We ate some excellent food all prepared on open fires, some of them with only one frying pan. Everything tasted fantastic. We had morning glory (like watercress or spinach) normally fried with garlic and tofu in a chilli sauce. Scrambled egg with herbs was also common, and chicken and pork were the main meats on offer. And of course, all were washed down with plenty of ‘happy water’ (rice wine)!
Moving south in Vietnam, we stopped at Hue – about halfway down the country. We tried some more delightful dishes here.
Nem Lui Hue, lemongrass stalks with barbecued pork on them, were delicious! They came with rice paper, herbs, and a fantastic peanut sauce for dipping. We just had eat them more than once at Hanh Restaurant, 11 Pho Duc Chinh in Hue.
Banh Beo are small round steamed rice cakes that are filled with dried shrimp.
Banh nam are also steamed but they are in a banana leaf and flat – they come filled with either shrimp or pork. The go-to dipping sauce nuoc mam pha, comes with most dishes.
Once arriving in Hoi An, south of Hue, we did a cooking class with Mrs Vy which was very interactive and loads of fun. We sampled Pho, Banh Mi, papaya salad, rose flower dumplings, stuffed cassava in vine leaves, pig offal hotpot, duck embryo, silkworm noodles and frog. Some flavours were definitely better than others!
We also got to try making some of the dishes including banh xio and by the end of the class we were so full we could hardly move. We also went to two of her restaurants which we highly recommend – Morning Glory and Mermaid. Hoi An is a lovely, small, relaxed town that you can just wander around, admire the lanterns, and eat.
Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We joined some friends and one of them had booked us on a Scooter Food Tour by Xo Tours. What a fantastic experience travelling on the back of scooters around this crazy city. Each of our drivers were female students trying to practice their English in the chaos of Ho Chi Minh City’s traffic! We travelled all around the city stopping at different places trying so much different food and all washed down with the Vietnam’s second favourite beverage – beer!
Are your taste buds buzzing yet? We know ours are! Wherever you travel in Vietnam, we are sure that you won’t be disappointed – the people, the country and the food are just fantastic.
By Doug Pearce & Jackie O’Donoghue
What’s your favourite street food? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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