Specialties of Vietnamese Cuisine

An unforgettable north-to-south food journey

Local cuisine represents a region’s individuality, contributing to a countrys’ cultural diversity. To really experience a trip to Vietnam, you must savor the popular dishes of the North and South. 

North Vietnam

Rice Noodles with Grilled Pork Patties (Bún Chả)

Even as Eurasian restaurants are sprouting up these days, the streets’ smoky bún chả shops still occupy Hanoians’ hearts. Eating bún chả means enjoying a long-standing tradition. The dish is made of simple local ingredients and is one of Vietnam’s most famous specialties. Medium-rare grilled patties and an amber-shade dipping sauce form the soul of this dish. 

Goat Meat

Goat farming has existed in Ninh Bình province for a very long time. A rough terrain is cut by mountains from many sides. On the slopes grow a variety of  plants that goat breeders use to their advantage. The livestock munches on it while running freely, toning their bodies, and resulting in low-fat meat. People in Ninh Bình produce more than 20 different dishes, including grilled whole goat, herbal stewed goat’s leg, grilled five-spice goat, and a medicinal goat soup.

Central Vietnam

Baby Basket Clams and Rice (Cơm Hến)

Huế is famous for its rustic but attractive dishes. Along with Huế spicy beef noodles, clams and rice are also worth trying in the historic former capital. Both are at the heart of Huế’s local cuisine. The best baby basket clams come from the segment of the Hương River flowing through Hến Islet. The cook boils the clams, and then stir-fries the clam meat with the broth, shrimp paste and spices. A dish of cold rice is topped with clams, starfruit, banana blossom, and some peanuts, chili, sesame rice crackers, and diluted shrimp paste sauce. Another option is to avoid the rice and have the baby basket clams with grilled sesame rice crackers.

Cao Lầu Noodles

Cao lầu was invented in the 17th century by Chinese-Vietnamese living in Hoi An. Now, you can only find the authentic version in this ancient town. Creating a bowl of cao lầu requires a lot of work. First, the cook soaks rice in lye water – a popular solution in Asian cuisine, especially in making noodles, that is specially formulated for cooking – from Chàm Islands. It is then ground and kneaded into a dough using water from the Bá Lễ ancient well. The dough is rolled into thin slices and steamed instead of steam-fried like other noodles and phở. A perfect bowl of cao lầu has 12 kinds of vegetables, along with Hoi An’s unique flavored xá xíu (similar to Chinese BBQ pork, char siu). This delicious delicacy has become an indispensable part of local people’s lifestyle, and visitors can enjoy it at any time in Hội An.

South Vietnam

Vietnamese Broken Rice (Cơm Tấm)

A common rustic dish for many generations of Saigonese, cơm tấm is a world-famous specialty in Vietnam, along with phở and bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches).  A basic plate of broken rice is served with a garnish of scallion oil, sliced cucumber and tomato, shredded pork skin mixed with ground, roasted rice, and a grilled, well-marinated pork chop with sweet and sour fish sauce. Other delicious side dishes include a sunny-side-up fried egg and steamed egg meatloaf.

Noodles with Fermented Fish Paste (Bún Mắm)

The most iconic dish of Southwestern Vietnam, bún mắm has won countless tourists’ hearts. The broth is cooked from prahok, or other fermented fish pastes made from cirrhinus lobatus and snakeskin gourami. The dish has a strong scent that makes it difficult for some people to eat. But, once you get used to the taste and start loving it, bún mắm stays in your memory forever. A bowl of bún mắm usually has shrimp, squid, roasted meat, and fish. The accompanying vegetables are usually water spinach, water lily, bitter herb (Glinus Oppositifolius), shredded banana flower, yellow velvetleaf, and chameleon plant. For a proper bowl of bún mắm, visit Soc Trang and Tra Vinh.

This post is also available in: English

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