Food is a crucial part of any nation’s history and lifestyle. A country’s cuisine incorporates its flavors, its culture, and the produce that grows there. The Vietnamese people have cultivated their cuisine over hundreds of years. Today, Vietnamese dishes like pho are well-known in various parts of the world. However, Vietnamese has a lot of other mouthwatering dishes to offer that you can try next time you visit the country.
What Is Vietnamese Cuisine?
Vietnamese cuisine is food made in Vietnam, by the spices, vegetables, and flavors native to the country ONLY.
Vietnamese cuisine has roots in Chinese cuisine. The Chinese introduced dishes like wheat noodles, wontons, and moon cakes to Vietnam. Over time, the Vietnamese put their twist, and flavors to the dishes. French cuisine has also had a lot of influence on the country’s cuisine. One example of this is the French baguette being introduced to Vietnam. The people stuffed the baguettes with a meat and vegetable filling, to create a popular street food called “bánh mì”. These are now called Vietnamese baguettes.
The dishes are gluten-free, as most of them are made with rice flour, instead of wheat flour. Vietnamese food is healthy because it doesn’t include a lot of oil, sugar, or dairy products. Instead, it is made of a lot of herbs, vegetables, and meat. While chicken and beef are common additions to the dishes, they weren’t popular until a century ago. This is why even those people who are on diets for weight loss can easily consume Vietnamese foods without having any fear of gaining on the extra weight.
While Vietnamese share a variety of common features, the taste of the food varies from region to region. Food all over the country is made of mild flavors. The dishes exhibit freshness and balance that make them all the more mouthwatering. It’s a bit sad for those who like really spicy food items. However, you can always ask the chef to get the spice levels a bit high.
Vietnamese Foods You Must Try While in Vietnam
Pho is a noodle soup that has been a popular street food in Vietnam. It is the national dish of the country too and that makes it one of the best Vietnamese dishes. It consists of noodles, broth, meat, and vegetables. The broth is made from a combination of meat and bones and is simmered with spices like cinnamon, star anise, and coriander. Herbs and vegetables like coriander, onions, and ginger are also added. The ginger and onion are charred for a stronger flavor.
The boiling broth is added on top of thin, raw slices of beef. This cooks them medium-rare. Rice noodles, bean sprouts, and sliced chilies are added on top. The pho made in northern, and southern Vietnam differ by the type of noodles, meat, and herbs used. We recommend that you try out both before making any opinion because some people don’t like a particular one but love the other.
Pho originated sometime at the beginning of the 20th century. It was introduced to the whole world by refugees of the Vietnam War. The villages of Vân Cù and Dao Cù in Đông Xuân commune, Nam Trực District, Nam Định Province, are credited as being the original homes of the soup.
Even today, the best pho is sold by street stalls carried by men over their shoulders. These men wear distinguishing hats called “mu pho”. While there are large restaurants that serve pho, the dish should be enjoyed at street stalls for the original experience. We recommend you go towards stalls that have a crowd of locals, instead of tourists. They will have a better idea of the taste.
Suggested Reading – What Is French Bouillabaisse Soup?
Com Tam is translated to “broken rice” in English. It refers to rice that is broken during milling and drying. Tam means “broken grains”, and Com means “cooked rice”. The rice is served with meat, scallions, fried eggs, and omelets. A dipping sauce of fermented fish sauce is also available. Garlic chives are offered as a palate cleanser. Many might think that broken rice doesn’t taste so well but if you try out Com Tam, your opinion will change.
Com Tam was first made by poor farmers who cooked rice that wasn’t good enough to sell. This was a common practice in the Mekong Delta. When Vietnam was urbanized, Com Tam gained popularity among the locals as well. The dish was altered to appeal to foreign visitors to the country. Indian and African flavors were introduced with time. Vendors also started serving Com Tam with spoons and forks, when all the other Vietnamese dishes are eaten using chopsticks.
A plate of Com Tam costs about 56 p at street stalls. If you visit a restaurant, the price may increase. However, the authentic experience of Com Tam is only when you get it from a street food vendor.
Cha ca Va Long
Cha ca Va Long is simply grilled fish. It is made by marinating and grilling “hemibagrus”, which is a type of catfish. The marinade is made of turmeric, fish sauce, shrimp paste, ginger, and chilies. Turmeric can be substituted for saffron.
After the fish is marinated, it is grilled lightly. The fish is served with vermicelli rice noodles, a marinade sauce, and herbs like dill, scallions, and basil. Peanuts are also added for flavor and crunchiness.
The dish is a recipe by the Doan Family which used to make fish for their neighbors. Their fish was so loved that their neighbors helped them open a restaurant. The restaurant was named Cha ca Va Long, which gave the dish its iconic name. The place became a hideout for anti-colonial rebels at first, however, it soon gained fame with aristocrats too. The dish has since been a steady favorite among both foreigners and locals and is truly one of the best dishes to try in Vietnam.
This restaurant is still open in Vietnam and serves Cha ca Va Long only. However, if you can’t go there, Cha ca Va Long is available in restaurants and cafes throughout the country. It isn’t available in street stalls though, and that makes people consider it a delicacy.
Banh Xeo is often referred to as Vietnamese crepe. It is a pancake made of turmeric, rice flour, and water. Bahn means cake, while Xeo refers to sizzle. The pancake is named after the sizzling sound it makes when the batter is poured into a pan. It is stuffed with diced green onions, strips of meat, prawns, bean sprouts, and mung beans.
Vietnamese people aren’t the only ones to enjoy the dish. Banh Xeo is also popular in Thailand, where it is called “Khanom bueang Yuan”. It is also a big part of Cambodian cuisine.
Banh da cu
Banh da cu translates to crab noodle soup, which is a famous dish from Hai Phong. The most prominent feature of the noodle soup is the color of its noodles. The noodles are made of rice and are a reddish-brown color.
The crabs are supposed to be caught from rivers and other freshwater sources. They are then cleaned and crushed using a mortar and pestle. The shell is removed and the crab is boiled. The dish is served with rice, scallions, crab cakes, and beef wrapped in piper lolot leaves. Shrimps can also be added.
Cha Gio is the name of bite-sized spring rolls that are loved in Vietnam. Meat, vegetables, and herbs are wrapped in rice paper and deep-fried until they are crispy. Vegetables like carrots are also a good addition to the dish, however, the moisture from these vegetables can turn the roll soggy.
These are available in street stalls all over Vietnam. The best indication of their popularity is the fact that they are served as appetizers even in America. Cha Gio is one of the Vietnamese foods you must try while in Vietnam.
Street Food is a huge part of Vietnamese cuisine, and this makes Vietnamese cuisine even more popular. Amazing flavors and hearty dishes are available at small prices. While we’ve mentioned a lot of the best Vietnamese dishes, there are so many other good options as well which you may find in Vietnam. If you’re looking for the best places to have Vietnamese foods, ask the locals. They know all the best spots.