First off, I need to state that I know close to nothing about Vietnamese cuisine, and due to traveller’s cold (hot weather and ACs on full whack) I missed out on so many delicous treats! I had plans!
So all I can give is my impression on Vietnamese cuisine, and I fully intend to return to Vietnam to eat my way up north!
Vietnamese cuisine in general is fairly low-fat. With only the occasional fried item (nem!) thrown on the plate, there are plenty of clear broths, boiled noodles, plates of fresh greens and fragant herbs. Which makes it healthy and light, but packed with zingy freshness.
Food is colorful, white noodles, green herbs, red vegetables, yellow garnish and black seasoning. Along with five colors come five tastes, balancing each other perfectly to create a dish to please all senses.
Due to the geographic shape of Vietnam (being stretched from north to south), the different climates result in different styles of cooking.The south offers great soil for fresh vegetables and herbs all year round, and is a bit more influenced by Cambodian and therefore Thai cuisine, seen in the use of coconut milk and the more carefree use of sugar (more on that topic coming up soon!).
But thanks to globalization and faster transport means, all kinds of regional dishes can be enjoyed in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. A favorite hailing from Hanoi (north) is Bún chả, an assemble-yourself dish made famous by ex-president Obama himself. Although the original cozy restaurant is located in the capital, lots of Saigon restaurants now offer the Obama combo as well: Bún chả and Nem, Vietnamese fried spring rolls.
Also got some Phở, of course, to see if I have been getting the real thing. After visiting Yunnan (China) I realize that it is very similar to their trademark dish 米线 // Mi Xian. Makes sense because Yunnan borders Vietnam. Except those noodles are round and Vietnamese rice noodles tend to be flat. Research reveals that it is a Chinese influenced dish. Of course…all noodles come from the motherland of noodles! Think hand-pulled beef noodle soup, just with the South East Asian substitute of rice noodles instead of wheat noodles. My plans contained a variety of noodle soups but plans flew out the window so I can only keep on dreaming about a steaming bowl of noodle soup.
Speaking of dreams, I once had a dream of going to a place to get Bánh mì – the ultimate Vietnamese sandwich – but woke up before I tasted it (in my dream). I have never had Bánh mì in my life.
Naturally, this is the one food item I go out of my way to try in order to make my dream come true (literally). Most of them are made with some kind of pork, usually spam. I don’t particularly like processed meat, but there are plenty of other options, like this grilled pork meatball sandwich with pickles and fresh herbs, topped with a sweet and spicy sticky sauce. The bread, of course, is a short French baguette, wheat based and thus not at all native to Vietnam. There is a also a Cambodian counterpart to Bánh mì thanks to the shared French colonial history – how politics shape food! Paired with a fresh smoothie, a perfect and cheap (under $1) meal in the park, with free entertainment of watching the local kids play sports and old men play chess. Perfect!
What I love about Vietnam is the availability of affordable and tasty street food! Food stalls with snacks at every corner, I love it! And if you want to sit down, no problem at all! Actually, the cover picture is another great assemble-yourself dish called Bò nướng lá lốt, grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves, to be assembled into rolls using rice paper and again, fresh veggies and herbs. Well-seasoned and delicious.
There are also plenty of choices to satisfy a sweet tooth, the fruit available is usually already sickly sweet, as well as the go to snack/dessert: a sweet cold drink. Coconuts and jackfruit with coconut milk is also definitely a South East Asian kind of thing. But I also love the fact that tea is always readily served, mostly trà nhài // Jasmine tea or just Trà xanh // green tea. It is like everything else in Vietnam: light and delightful.
Not so light, on the other hand, is this banana cake called Bánh chuối nướng. Usually enjoyed for Tet (Vietnamese New Year), it is moist and dense thanks to condensed milk and sweet bananas. Filling and satisfying.
Thank you Mari for hanging out and being two sick travellers – here is her video about HCMC.
April 12th – 17th, 2017