Food in Vietnam: An Overview
Food is one of the main reasons that people visit Vietnam.
The food was absolutely amazing, and I’d never be able to cover it in one post. But I feel like I do need to write a bit about it now whilst it’s still fresh in my mind. So, without further ado, here’s an overview of my culinary experience in Vietnam!
When traveling to Asia, one typically can expect to forego their usual western comforts. In Vietnam, however, I tasted some of the best bread and coffee of my life! The reason for this is that Vietnam was colonised by the French many years ago. Although independent now, many of the French culinary delights live on. I lived in Hanoi for two months, and it was very hot. My routine included regular blended ice coffee with coconut milk and condensed milk. All of this for around $2 maximum. Need I say more?
Throughout the country there is an abundance of bakeries.
On my first pay day I discovered a little hole in the wall joint and figured I’d go in to investigate. I ended up buying a loaf of country-style white bread with toasted sesame seeds on top. The things that that bread did to my heart and soul cannot be explained through words! Needless to say, I didn’t wait another month before returning….
Banh Mi is a very normal snack/lunch-type of meal that one can pick up at many street vendors dotted around any main town or city. It’s basically a filled fresh baguette-roll with meat/veg/fried egg/all of the above! These are made fresh to order and will cost around VND 15000 (less than $1).
Another one of my favourites is Banh Xeo, a dish that you assemble yourself. It consists of little rice paper wraps, beef/shrimp/veg, a very light and crispy rice fritter, fresh green mango and cucumber, greens, and fish sauce to dip. You assemble these yourself and can find them at any street-side little stall. I have very fond memories of sitting by a lake and munching on these on warm evenings with friends.
Towards the end of my stay in Hanoi, a close local friend invited me to his home for dinner with his family. It was the first time they had a Western guest over for a meal. His mother created a vegetarian feast and it was an experience that will remain with me forever. I felt so honoured to be a special guest in the household and was really privileged to have my tough dietary requirements accounted for!
Pictured from the feast is sticky jackfruit rice, omelette, steamed greens, vegetable spring rolls, and a tomato tofu dish.
Vietnamese cuisine often contains meat, yes, but the secret is that it is not the hero of the dish.
Beef/chicken/pork will be very thinly sliced as an equal addition to various types of veg in traditional dishes. For example, in Pho; a water-based noodle soup full of green leafy veg, sprouts, and broth. Although many Westerners frown upon countries such as Vietnam and China for the types of meat they consume, I’m almost 100% confident that if you looked at the average meat consumption per person per year, you’d find the rates to be far lower in these eastern countries.
Being vegetarian, some might think it is difficult to eat in Vietnam. For the most-part, I was pleasantly surprised! There were generally vegetarian options for any meal, which was consistently delicious. I also managed to avoid peanuts during my 3 months in the country which is miraculous in and of itself. I was lucky to have some friends who could translate for me when necessary.
Lightly pan-fried soft tofu, garlic rice, vegetable noodles, and coconut and frog curry. This meal fed us for days thereafter!
The final favourite I will mention here is, surprisingly, rice!
I have often rediscovered staples when visiting new countries. For example, when I lived in Italy for two months a couple of years ago, I developed a palate for really enjoying the taste of pasta itself. These days I like to lightly toss my pasta in a sauce, rather than smothering it. Similarly, in Vietnam, many meals are served with sticky rice. Eating it so often, I found myself starting to crave my carbohydrates in rice, and I could often get a small accompaniment of steamed tofu or vegetable on the side to make up a very satisfying meal!
Overall, Vietnamese cuisine is light, fresh, and absolutely delicious. I found that all food, ranging from fresh salads to spring rolls to soups, was well-balanced in terms of salt, sweet, tang, and containing fresh/cooked elements. Food is largely social and because it is relatively cheap to eat out, at any given time masses of people can be found at long tables in restaurants, enjoying delicious meals over a couple of glasses of local beer, Bia Hoi. Visit Vietnam and embark on an incredible culinary journey – you won’t be disappointed!
Fresh papaya salad and spring rolls