Everyone says Vietnam is fabulous for food – and by goodness, everyone is right. It is. Here’s my pick of the dishes you must try.
This is possibly Vietnam’s national dish – it’s also one that’s guaranteed to make you feel better when you’re not feeling quite so flash. It’s traditionally a brekky dish, but seriously, who follows rules like that? Essentially pho (pronounced “fur”) is a light, yet flavour packed stock into which finely sliced beef (bo) or chicken (ga) is added, along with rice noodles and spring onions.
You’ll then get a plate of herbs for you to add according to your taste: Vietnamese mint or basil, lemon, chilli, bean sprouts, sauce. In Hoi An, they often serve this with slices of green papaya as well. The soup also has more cinnamon in it than you get in Hanoi. Also, more filling. Same same, but different.
Try it at Pho 10 in Hanoi or Pho Xua in Hoi An.
Pho 10 – 10 Lý Quốc Sư, Old Quarter, Hanoi
Pho Xua – 35 Phan Châu Trinh, Hoi An
Bun Bo Nam Bo
Oh my, this was good. Marinated beef is quickly stir-fried and served with fried onions on bun noodles (vermicelli), and lettuce. It’s served with peanuts, shallots, maybe some more herbs, and a sauce made simply from fish sauce, lemon and chilli. You stir it all together and add your own lemon and chilli to taste. Yum.
We tried it at 67 Hang Dieu in the Old Quarter.
This is such a fabulously cooling combination that I’ll be giving it a go at home. In a way I suppose it’s a little like a deconstructed pork hamburger – with noodles (bun) instead of bun. Get it? Barbecued or grilled pork patties are served with cold vermicelli noodles, a plate of greens and a bowl of broth that’s based on vinegar, sugar and fish sauce. Everything is eaten together and everything is dipped into the broth.
In Hoi An it was served slightly differently at Pho Xua. There the grilled pork pieces were served in the broth. And the broth is different too – sweeter and more stock like.
Anyways, both versions were good.
We tried it at New Day – 72 Ma May St Hanoi in the Old Quarter; and Pho Xua – 35 Phan Châu Trinh, Hoi An
Fried Spring Rolls
Ok, no two are the same. At New Day we shared a plate of spring rolls with our beers – I was then given more with my bun cha…these were different from the first. I soon gave up trying to work out which was which and just gave myself up to the general crunchy yumminess…except, of course, the one I’m blaming for my tummy upset. But that was airport food – and everyone knows that doesn’t count.
We tried them – everywhere.
Fresh spring rolls. Seriously healthy, seriously moreish, and seriously easy to make – in fact we had a go at making them at Red Bridge. Anyways, it’s simply cold noodles, heaps of greens, maybe some green banana (especially in Hoi An and further south), and prawns or minced pork, or perhaps some cooked chicken. It’s all rolled up into rice paper and you dunk it in a peanutty sauce. Easy peasy.
Technically, banh mi means the bread, but less technically it refers to a Vietnamese sandwich in a baguette roll. The roll has to be light and crispy, and it’s filled with pate, greens, and meat (commonly, pork), and, sometimes, even omelette. In a way, it’s a little like a french salad roll – with extras.
Bahn xeo, loosely translated, means sizzling cake – for the noise when the batter hits the fry pan. These pancakes, made from rice flour batter, are filled with prawn, pork, chicken, beansprouts, green banana, whatever. They are then wrapped in rice paper and dunked in dipping sauce. Some places will serve them as a communal pancakes, where you rip off a portion, wrap and dunk. We also made these at Red Bridge.
We tried these at Rice Drum (in Ancient Town, Hoi An) and Orivy, just around the corner from where we were staying at Maison Vy. You’ll find it at 576/1 Cửa Đại
Egg Coffee A Hanoi classic, I told you all about this here. A cup will set you back less than $2. While on the subject, although I’m not a big coffee drinker, apparently the weasel coffee should be tried. Made from coffee beans previously digested and “harvested” from a weasel like creature, one of these gave hubby a caffeine fizz for quite some time. Cau Lau
The noodles are thicker than the ones that are used for pho, and the broth is different – flavoured with star anise, mint, and …something else. It tastes much sweeter. The website hoianfoodtour.com explains what makes the dish so special:
The dish cannot be replicated outside of the town because the water used in the dish must be drawn from a well in the nearby Ba Le well which is dug by the Cham people, which is at the end of an alley opposite 35 Phan Chau Trinh Street. The lye solution used to prepare the noodles comes from trees grown on Cham Island. This water is then mixed with ashes from certain trees, to give it its particular yellow tinge and slightly firm texture. The noodles will therefore be soft, enduring and flavored with special sweet-smelling additives.
If you want to know more about that, here’s the link. Anyways, it’s topped with pork that’s been marinated, fried and then roasted; bean sprouts, puffy, porky little croutons of crackling, and grilled tice flour crackers.
I only had it the once – at Rice Drum in Hoi An Ancient Town. It was good, but apparently it’s better at Pho Xua – 35 Phan Châu Trinh, Hoi An
Nom Hua Chuoi
Banana Flower Salad. Just how pretty does that sound? Basically it’s shredded banana flower, veggies, chilli and lime. It’s a great meat free dish, but at Morning Glory in Hoi An Ancient Town, they also do it with duck. Exceptionally good.
Don’t let this list limit you. We had some fabulous claypots – the best being a chicken and ginger one at Memory Cafe on our final night – some good lemongrass stir-fried dishes, and plenty more besides. Just out of this list were:
Cha Ca is a sautéed fish and noodle dish that’s on most lists. Our travelling companions tried this the night before we got into town and were still suffering a tad a couple of days later. So we gave it a miss.
Bahn Bao Vac – White Rose Dunplings.
Another Hoi An classic, I desperately wanted to be blown away by these – but wasn’t. They were good, but not great. The best version we had was as Ha An Memory Café on our last night in town. The weird thing is, these are supplied to all the local restaurants by the one family, yet taste a tad different everywhere. They’re arranged on a platter and sprinkled with shallots, and served with a dipping sauce made from shrimp broth, chillies, lemon and sugar. They do, however, have a very pretty name. Com Ga – Chicken Rice.
I think I was expecting something like Hainanese chicken rice. Again, it was good, but a tad underwhelming. The best one is at Green Mango in Ancient Town, Hoi An. Most others serve it as a pile of shredded chicken on a pile of tumeric rice…ok, I’m under-selling it.
Have you been to Vietnam? Anything else you’d add to the list?
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