If you are already familiar with Vietnamese food, then you’ll know what fantastic variety there is among the soups, stir-fries, rolls and salads that can be found on any menu. If it’s new to you, then prepare for a major distraction from sightseeing as you explore and discover the many delights of Vietnamese cuisine.
As with all other Southeast Asian nations, the staples of the Vietnamese diet are rice and noodles, but the seemingly endless list of dishes that accompany these basic foodstuffs means you need never get bored eating here. Plus there’s always freshly baked baguettes available in the cities, a legacy left over from French occupation.
There’s a noticeable influence from China in the use of rice bowls and chopsticks, the ingredients such as soy sauce and bean sprouts, and the types of preparation such as stir-fries. Interestingly, there’s also a French legacy in the form of baguettes and coffee, which can be found throughout the country.
Vietnamese cuisine uses a wide variety of herbs and spices to produce a vast range of subtle flavours.
Items like lemongrass, garlic and coriander feature in all kinds of dishes, and while chillies are often placed on the table to add to food, few dishes include them as a main ingredient, so Vietnamese food is not as spicy as Thai food.
One key element that Vietnamese cuisine does share with Thai cuisine, however, is the copious use of fish sauce in many of the staple dishes.
Vietnamese Food Preparation
For breakfast and lunch, most working Vietnamese will settle for a single dish – perhaps a bowl of noodles or rice with a topping, but in the evening they like to eat in groups and will typically share half a dozen dishes from communal bowls on the table. These might include stir-fries, soups, roast or grilled dishes and plenty of fresh vegetables; most restaurants keep a big bowl of such vegetables and herbs for customers to add to any dish they like.
Where to Eat in Vietnam
There are lots of fancy restaurants in Vietnam’s big cities that foreign visitors are unable to resist, with their combination of elegant décor, attentive service and mouth-watering menu.
The fact that prices are generally much cheaper than restaurants in Europe or the USA is another reason to indulge. However, it’s important to realise that local people do not choose a place to eat because of its décor; they choose because of the taste of the food. This means that many of the country’s gastronomic discoveries are waiting to be made at simple street kitchens, where the owner perhaps makes only one dish, but makes it very well. So keep your eyes open for a street stall that is packed with locals, point at the dish you fancy, then settle down to discover the delights of Vietnamese cuisine.
Must-Try Dishes in Vietnam
The one dish that you must try is also the national dish – pho (pronounced ‘fur’). Usually eaten for breakfast, it consists of noodles in a tasty broth and slithers of meat (usually beef). It’s the broth that makes this dish special and every cook that makes pho guards the secret of their broth carefully. A couple of other dishes that most Western visitors enjoy are ca kho to, or caramelised fish baked in a clay pot, and chao tom – prawn meat wrapped around a stick of sugarcane.