Were to even start? Vietnamese food is a dream. We had known about how great Pho noodle soup was before coming here from the Vietnamese restaurants in Berlin. However, Vietnamese cuisine is much more complicated than that. Due to the amazing variety and balance in its flavors, it shot up straight near the top of the list of our all-time favorite cuisines.
The diversity comes from regional differences reflecting Vietnam’s many landscapes and climate zones. Northern cuisine is influenced by Chinese cooking and serves many different types of noodles soups and hearty steamed dishes. In the central regions, where chilies and pepper are grown, the dishes are more spicy and flavorful. In Hue, the former imperial capital, the royal cooks got very creative to impress the emperor and his entourage. Thus the city is known for the most complex and engaging dishes in all of Vietnam. The ancient port town Hoi An has a special water source that gives great texture to the local noodles. Moreover, it’s long history as a cosmopolitan trading post had it soak up and blend many foreign influences together in its cooking. Southern food is sweeter and eaten with a lot of fresh herbs, since fruits and greens abound in the tropical climate. Seafood is popular everywhere near the coast.
So in short, Vietnam is a great country for food lovers! The best dishes can be found in little restaurants that only specialise in one dish or with street vendors.
Google Maps is an OK source of information on tourist restaurants in Vietnam. Still, in order to find great local tastes you have to ask the locals for their favourite places. For good English advice on local food in Hoi An and Hanoi check out the cool food blog willflyforfood.net. For an introduction on the mind boggling variety of noodles dishes search for Vietnamese food on theCultureTrip.com and pick your favourite list.
Everything in Vietnamese cuisine is about balance. You eat fatty pork belly with fresh herbs and salad, sour pickles with sweet and spicy sauce. Many dishes are flavoured with fish sauce, a bit of sugar, fried onion or peanuts. There are different sauces for everything. Thus eating is an everyday adventure.
Here are our favourite Vietnamese foods for this trip. It was kind of hard to pick, because we in all seriousness have not eaten anything that we did not like while in Vietnam.
Best ingredient: Lemongrass
We got it first as a straw for a very fancy cocktail. Lemongrass makes everything taste like vacation. You can make tea from it, rub it on chicken, cook soup, steam fish – it goes with everything!!
Best food group: Seafood
Vietnam’s army of fishermen reels in fresh seafood every day. Best places to eat seafood are the islands and Ho Chi Minh City. Sea snails are also immensely popular.
Best breakfast: sticky rice (xoi)
We found this hearty dish on the street corner just opposite from our AirBnB in Hanoi. The ladies who served it, worked like a well-oiled machine from 7 to 10 am, serving the hungry crowd on their little sidewalk corner from huge tubs of yellow and white rice. The compact little dish just hit the right balance between sticky and fatty, and was deliciously topped with fried onion, as well as grated dried green bean paste, that had the texture of Parmesan. It all was very intriguing to eat.
Best street snack: Banh Mi
The French brought their baguette and the Vietnamese made it so much better. Banh mi can be filled with anything: meat cuts, chilly sauces, fresh herbs, scrambled egg, paté, mysterious sauces, pickles, fresh vegetables, salad, fish, pickled algae, mayonnaise… . While it might look like a boring old sandwich, you have to remember that Vietnamese food is all about sophisticated balance. So the sauces and textures of all the ingredients combined can be truly spectacular.
Best noodles: My Quang
My Quang is a noodle dish served in Hoi An and the province of Quảng Nam with squishy noodles in turmeric broth topped with pork belly, dried shrimp, banana flower, herbs, salad, peanuts, and fried crackers. The whole mix creates a delightful chaos of textures in your mouth. Read a more reverent description here. I quite agree with that author. 😉
Hoi An is especially famous for its noodles. Their most famous dish cau lau is made with water from a special well with high alkaline content. The noodles are soaked in this water to make them chewier. Another great local dish is Hoi An white rose dumplings.
Vietnam has an endless number of tasty noodles soups or soupy noodle dishes such as bun cha in Hanoi, bun bo Hue, bun rieu, pho bo, … .Still my quang takes the price, because of the unique noodle texture and balanced flavours.
Best packaged snack: dried jackfruit chips
Jackfruit is a huge unshapely, thorny fruit. When ripe its yellow flesh is pleasantly chewy and sweet. Unripe it has a string texture and a neutral flavour. In Europe it is often sold in cans and eaten as vegan pulled pork. The chips are made from ripe fruit and are deliciously sweet and crispy.
Best fruit: mango
Finally we got some awesome mangoes in Vietnam. They grow year round in the fertile Mekong delta. In fact there so many of them that the Vietnamese like to eat these delicious fruits green and with chili salt because they find sweet mangoes boring. Really!? On second thought, I guess it is a bit like apples back home. Luckily not everybody shares this opinion and the business-minded Vietnamese know that tourists are bonkers for mango, so you can find mango smoothie on most menus.
Vietnamese fruit vendors stack up their many, many products in neat little baskets. So fruits stand are always nice to look at.
Most awesome drink: fresh coconut (closely followed by soursop smoothie)
Drinking out of a fresh tender coconut is amazing. You can not be more relaxed than when you sip coconut water on the beach. It is good to keep a spoon at hand so you can scoop out some of the delicious coconut flesh.
The other honorable mention is soursop smoothie. Soursop is a big white, creamy fruit that tastes a bit like pear and makes an awesome smoothie.