Vietnamese food is oddly diverse as its many influences have arrived over the course of many centuries from multiple different regions. Neighbouring countries have had the biggest impact, and yet there are still flavours and traditions from almost every part of the world that have found their way into Vietnamese culture. Both the preparation and actual eating of meals is a serious business in this country, and the staple dishes of the country are recipes that have been handed down through generations. Get to know the staple dishes of Vietnam, and you’ll never be without a dish to try in a restaurant.
Rice vermicelli (you’ll notice it being called "bún" on menus) is a staple all over Vietnam. You can’t really visit Vietnam without at least trying bún chả. This dish comes with grilled pork sausage patties, a basket of herbs, bean sprouts, pickled veggies, and, nước chấm sauce. If you like the sauce, try pouring it over everything instead of dipping items into it—the flavour of the dish will change. Note that bún chả is just one of many hundreds of soups that include vermicelli, and if you can try more than just bún chả, then you should, as many of them are similarly popular and equally delicious.
Bánh cuốn is essentially Vietnam’s take on the French crepe. It’s made of rice flour and water and is a proud representation of Hanoian and Vietnamese cuisine. This steamed crepe is usually a part of a savoury meal, where the inside of the crepe is stuffed with ground pork, wood-ear and seasoning. Unlike other dishes on this list, bánh cuốn is often prepared by street chefs, so keep an eye for the cart where the steams are the highest and the line is the longest—you’ll get a great treat without the formality of sitting down to a meal. More often than not bánh cuốn will be served with nuoc mam, which is a mixture of fish sauce, sugar and lime juice.
This universally famous food is best enjoyed in Hanoi, where it was “invented” in the early 20th century. Pho- or rice noodle soup- is omnipresent in Hanoi, appearing anywhere from street vendors to high end restaurants. The dishes popularity has even crossed country borders and remains a popular dish in countries around the world, though Pho is officially Vietnam’s national dish and is enjoyed by locals for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Choose from chicken or beef to add to your steaming deep bowl of broth where the thinly sliced pieces of protein will cook in the hot broth along with the additions of your choice (think herbs, bean sprouts, onions and more).
Gỏi cuốn literally means "salad rolls" and should be distinguished from the fried rolls, which are also sometimes called spring rolls (or chả giò). If you’d like to avoid the fried version of this treat, be sure to specify when you order than you would like goi cuon and NOT cha gio. These translucent cigar-shaped rolls are packed with greens, sometimes shrimp and/or pork, and herbs, and they are always fresh. Try dunking an end into the ever present nước chấm sauce for an extra shot of flavour. Almost every region in Vietnam has its own distinct spring roll, but no matter where you are, the wrapping and rolling process is essentially the same.
Time for dessert! If your sweet tooth needs satisfying, then try che. It is often translated as "pudding" and it is more like a combination of a sweet stew and a "drink" than a traditional dessert dish. To create che, tapioca, corn, beans, and sticky rice are simmered with coconut milk in huge pots. Once that step is complete, the che is flavoured with palm sugar and pandanus leaves. Choose whether you’d like your che served cold with crushed ice in a tall glass, or served warm in a bowl.
With so many delicious options available at all times, it may be hard to come home from Vietnam. The warm pho and steaming bánh cuốn is hard to forget once you’ve had the real deal in Vietnam and you may even find yourself pining for bun cha. The food is clearly an important part of day-to-day life in Vietnam, and when you travel through the country on your holiday, it’s bound to make a lasting impact on you too. Protect the memories and full stomachs from the trip with travel health insurance from Cover-More.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Ducson Nguyen