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Vietnam: Devine and Delectable

Delicious Vietnamese Dishes

If you are looking for an experience to indulge all of your senses, look no further than Vietnam. Feast your palate on varied regional dishes, as you feast your eyes on the breathtaking landscapes of this beautiful country. As you navigate your way through the rich culture and traditions that disseminate each region, enjoy a culinary journey that will delight and fascinate at every turn. Regional cuisine varies by location and season, but freshness is always of greatest import. Shopping at the market is a daily activity to ensure that only the freshest ingredients are used.

Rice and rice noodles prevail throughout Vietnam in every size and shape, partnered with succulent and flavorful meats, vegetables of all kinds, and an array of other accompaniments. Try Vietnam’s signature pho bo, a rich steamy broth with rice noodles, tender slices of beef, vegetables, and herbs. Inexpensive, delicious, and satisfying, pho can be found all over, and eaten at any time of day. Or, enjoy a plate of com tam (“broken rice”), served with pork, barbecued meat, or fried egg, with pickled vegetables. Fish sauce, a strong-smelling sauce used for dipping and seasoning, is the condiment of choice in Vietnam, and an experience all on its own for any visitor—different, but well worth it. Although ingredients are simple, the final result is always a complex fusion of tastes and textures that leaves one asking for more.

Allow the unique cuisine of each region to tell you a story about the people. In coastal cities like Nha Trang and Phan Thiet, the freshest fish, squid, and crustaceans can be found in every form immaginable—fried, broiled, baked, or swimming in savory bowls of broth with noodles and vegetables. Follow your meal with a relaxing dip in the warm, crystal-blue waters, or take a nap on the white-sand beaches that border the sea. In Nha Trang, intersperse your culinary experience with a boat trip to any of the islands dotting the surrounding waters, and visit the fish farms which provide your fare.

The central Vietnamese cities of Da Nang, Hue, and Hoi An also offer a wide-range of delicious foods, and an equally rich historic legacy. Visit the ancient My Son ruins of the Cham people, tucked away in a forested valley. Head a little bit north and take a hike through the Marble Mountains, which are peppered with caves and culminate in spectacular views of the sea. Hoi An’s historic status as a busy trading port is evident in one of it’s signature dishes, cao lau, which fuses flavors and textures from China, with it’s crispy won-ton crackers and pork, authentic Vietnamese broth and herbs, and Japanese-style thick rice noodles. Enjoy a tour through the many historic monuments of the imperial city, Hue, and finish it with a bowl of Bun Bo Hue. This soup boasts thick rice noodles, a hearty broth, and is topped with a heap of juicy beef and pork. This city also offers a host of vegetarian options, reflecting the area’s prominently Buddhist roots.

Finally, make your way to North Vietnam, experiencing the breath-taking Ha Long Bay, and the culinary offerings of Hanoi, the capital. The adventurous taster will be challenged with dishes featuring snake and fried crickets. For those with less daring tastebuds, cha ca is a scrumptious favorite of Hanoi occupants; tender fish is made mouth-watering when seared with garlic, ginger, turmeric, and dill. If you’ve been longing for broth-less soup try Bun Bo Nam Bo. The tenderness of rice noodles and thinly-sliced beef is off-set by crunchy bean sprouts and chopped peanuts, and enhanced with fresh herbs, fish sauce, and chili pepper. Vegetarian travellers will be delighted by the dau phu sot ca chua, which is fried tofu smothered in rich fresh tomatoes and spring onions, topped with herbs.

Each region provides exciting sights and tastes, and the attentive traveller will find a story contained in each dish. While the cities offer historic sights and a wide variety of foods, the rural, mountain, and coastal regions provide an array of delicious local dishes, and marvelous, untouched landscapes. This priceless gem is developing rapidly— don’t wait to explore it!

From "Pho" to "Canh bun" – the foods best slurped, crunched and enjoyed from a plastic stool. CNN

1. Pho

PhoWhat list of Vietnamese cuisine would be complete without Pho? It’s almost impossible to walk a block in Vietnam’s major cities without bumping into a crowd of hungry patrons slurping noodles at a makeshift Pho stand.

This simple staple consisting of a salty broth, fresh rice noodles, a sprinkling of herbs and chicken or beef, features predominately in the local diet -- and understandably so. It’s cheap, tasty, and widely available at all hours.

2. Cha Ca

Cha caHanoians consider Cha Ca to be so exceptional that there is a street in the capital dedicated to these fried morsels of fish.

This namesake alley is home to Cha Ca La Vong, which serves sizzling chunks of fish seasoned with garlic, ginger, turmeric and dill on a hot pan tableside.

3. Banh Xeo

Banh xeoA good Banh Xeo is a crispy crepe bulging with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, plus the garnish of fresh herbs that are characteristic of most authentic Vietnamese dishes.

To enjoy one like a local, cut it into manageable slices, roll it up in rice paper or lettuce leaves and dunk it in whatever special sauce the chef has mixed up for you.

4. Cao Lau

Cao lauThis pork noodle dish from Hoi An is a bit like the various cultures that visited the trading port at its prime. The thicker noodles are similar to Japanese udon, the crispy won-ton crackers and pork are a Chinese touch, while the broth and herbs are clearly Vietnamese.

Authentic Cao Lau is made only with water drawn from the local Ba Le well.

5. Banh cuon

Banh cuonThese rolled up rice flour pancakes are best when served piping hot, still soft and delicate. Although seemingly slender and empty they have a savory filling of minced pork and mushrooms.
Zest is also added by dunking the slippery parcels in a fishy dipping sauce.

6. Cha Gio

Cha gioVietnam’s bite-sized crunchy spring rolls might not enjoy the same popularity as their healthier fresh equivalent, but they deserve a special mention.

The crispy shell with a soft veggie and meat filling dunked in a tangy sauce gets the gastronomic juices flowing before a main course. In the north these parcels go by the name “Nem” while southerners call them “Cha Gio”.

7. Goi Cuon

Goi cuonThese light and healthy fresh spring rolls are a wholesome choice when you’ve been indulging in too much of the fried food in Vietnam.

The translucent parcels are first packed with salad greens, a slither of meat or seafood and a layer of coriander, before being neatly rolled and dunked in Vietnam’s favorite condiment – fish sauce.

8. Bun Bo Hue

Bun boCentral Vietnam’s take on noodles caters to carnivores with its meaty broth and piles of beef and pork. The thick slippery rice noodles also make for a heartier meal than noodles found in the north and south.

9. Banh Khot

Banh khotThis dainty variation of a Vietnamese pancake has all the same tasty ingredients but is a fraction of the size. Each piece of Banh Khot can be scoffed in one ambitious but satisfying mouthful.

The crunchy outside is made using coconut milk and the filling usually consists of shrimp, mung beans, and spring onions with a dusting of dried shrimp flakes on top.

10. Ga Tan

Ga tanGot the sniffles? Opt for Ga Tan, a broth that’s Vietnam’s answer to the proverbial cup of chicken noodle soup. Sure it’s not quite how your mother used to make it, with its greenish tinge from the herbs and hunks of chicken parts, but it’s worth a try if you’re needing a Vietnamese tonic.



(The views expressed in this page are for illustration purpose and solely those of the writers.)