Vietnamese cuisine is hugely different from that of its immediate neighbours. The food of Vietnam differs as you move through the geographical regions, but some overlying themes remain throughout; balance of flavours, simplicity, and a slight French influence.
When I say balance of flavours, I am referring to the art of balancing salty, hot, sour, and sweet flavours in each and every dish. This creates a type of cuisine which is not overly powerful on the palate. Best of all, this means that the food of Vietnam is generally not overly hot and spicy. Don’t get me wrong, I do like a bit of spice in my food, but I did struggle with the intense hot chili found in the cuisines of Thailand and Cambodia. Not only does this make Vietnam a great destination for those who dislike spice, it also makes it an easy place to travel with children.
The simplicity of Vietnamese cuisine refers to the tendency to pick one or two key ingredients that are featured in each dish. Dishes are generally not elaborate and complicated, allowing the flavours of the key ingredient to really shine.
The French influence in Vietnam is something that really makes the cuisine stand out from it’s neighbours. Street sellers set up their Bahn Mi stands. This is a type of sandwich using freshly baked baguettes, but filled with more traditional Vietnamese fare.
The following list is only an overview of some of the weird and wonderful things you can sample in Vietnam. It is not an exhaustive list. I am well aware that I am only skimming the surface of Vietnamese cuisine. If you have sampled something truly amazing in Vietnam, let me know in the comments!
Pho is a staple in Vietnam and is one of the most common street foods you will see. Pho is a noodle soup consisting of a clear broth, rice noodles, a few herbs, and meat. Pho is served at all times throughout the day, and Dan quickly adopted Pho as his breakfast food of choice.
Bun Bo Hue
This beef noodle soup originated in the imperial city of Hue and is known for its balance of sweet, sour and salt, and the featured flavour of lemon grass. Bun Bo Hue has some similarities to Pho, however the noodles are generally thicker, the broth is more complex, and more ingredients are used, giving it a more complex flavour.
Bahn Mi is one of the most obvious ways to experience the integration of the French culture with the Vietnamese one. The Bahn Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich wrapped in a single serve baguette. Bahn Mi is typically found in street food carts ad Vietnamese bakeries. While the bread appears to be very French, the filling inside is typically Vietnamese. Common fillings include shredded pork. pate, pork belly, chili sauce and mayonnaise.
Caphe Sua Da
Vietnam is a producer of coffee, and does it with a unique twist. Coffee here is not served with milk, but instead with sweetened condensed milk. You can get your coffee unsweetened, but this is the way to enjoy it like the locals.
Snake wine is thought to be a sort of cure all potion in Vietnam, and the macabre brew certainly is eye catching. The snake, preferably a venomous one is steeped for many months in rice wine. The snake venom infuses the wine, and is rendered inactive by the ethanol of the wine. You can also find wine with both a snake and a scorpion, and smaller bottles with a scorpion only.
If you want to bring some some snake wine please purchase wisely, as some of the snakes used in production are threatened species.