With Love to Vietnam – part 1

I’ve talked about Vietnamese cuisine before, but that barely touched the surface. I feel that in the west, finding an authentic Vietnamese restaurant or even a fast food place is very hard. In some cases, Vietnamese take outs serve food that’s more like Western interpretations of Chinese cuisine.

There’s a lot of confusion about what Vietnamese food really is, because it is often put in the same category with Chinese food. No guys, Vietnamese food is not Chinese food. There are similarities, but they’re definitely not the same. Admittedly, I’m not an expert on any country’s cuisine, but I can assure you that Vietnamese food is unique.

Its essential flavours come from salt, pepper, garlic, chilli, lemon and fish sauce, which are used to go with a wide range of meat and fish. The vegetables are either boiled and dipped into various sauces, or they are stir-fried and sauteed to go with rice. Salads, like lettuce and raw bean sprouts, are healthy and light sides to a lot of dishes, often dipped into sauces, even though they are flavourful already. A mixed salad contains a lot of fresh herbs like coriander, mint, and Asian basil, but of course this list could just go on.

Anyway, authentic Vietnamese (street) food is my whole childhood. All my favourites are here, and if food is your only reason for travelling to Vietnam, I’d totally understand.

  • Pho Bo (Beef rice noodle soup) or Pho Ga (Chicken rice noodle soup)

    This is one of the most common dishes you’ll find not just on Vietnam’s streets but also in Vietnamese restaurants all over the world. The classics are the chicken and/or beef, but you might be more adventurous and try the seafood version. Depending on the region you go to, pho is different everywhere. The one I know and love is based on chicken or beef broth taking its flavour from charred onion, and charred raw spices like cinnamon stick, nutmeg, a slice of ginger, coriander seeds, and star anise. Beware, I’m from a northern family, so the south will have its own version which is usually sweeter.

  • Bun Mang Vit (Bamboo and duck vermicelli noodle soup)

    Vietnamese kitchen has some very strong smelling ingredients and dishes. Duck is fragrant on its own but combine it with even stronger bamboo… I’m not going to lie it’s not for everybody, but I’d recommend it to any brave traveller!

  • Chao (Rice congee)

    This is the Vietnamese version of chicken soup… only in the sense that when people are sick, rice congee seems to be the ultimate answer to your ailments. It’s easy to digest and can be topped up various ways. Have it plain, or with pulled chicken breasts, pork ribs, stir fried chicken liver, pig intestines (I recommend it), clams, or even fish (not my favourite), there are all sorts of ways to have this, it’s incredible.

  • Coconut Milk Ice Lolly

    Fact: Vietnam is hot-hot-hot. My best advice to cool down? Coconut milk ice lolly with coconut shavings. There’s no brand I could recommend, I’ve only had it on a popsicle – but for that sort of heat, there’s nothing else that’s better than some coconut ice lolly.

  • Black bean bubble tea (Che do den)

    Đi học về được mẹ nấu cho một bát chè ngon tuyệt 🍵 #melanhat #chedoden

    A post shared by Bùi Thảo Nhi (@buithao_nhi) on Jul 26, 2016 at 8:45pm PDT

    This is something that I am always cautious about because I don’t like bubble tea. The gelatinous bits are just not for me, however, there’s one that I don’t just tolerate, I love! Black bean cooked in sugary water until soft, served watery with ice and coconut cream. Hmmm… dessert is served! I should actually mention that there are numerous bubble teas in Vietnam and they’re all worth a try (some will have beans in them) but I like what I like, so my recommendation is the black bean one.

  • Nuoc Mia (Sugarcane drink)

    Another cooling implement! You probably don’t want to know about how healthy or unhealthy this is, but having a cup surely won’t ruin your life. It’s a golden honey liquid pressed from sugar canes (duh!), served with lots of ice for the hot hot weather. It’s cool, really! The ones you get on the street have this pressing machine where they just put a cane in and voila! You got yourself a sugar cane drink. I never tried the canned versions, so maybe somebody can give me some pointers and comparisons?

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