Yin and Yang, Banh and Pho
Imagine yourself walking through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam and a wave of people with food in their hands comes towards you. Suddenly you are surrounded by all sorts of smells and flavors! Just the thought of that makes you hungry, right? So let’s explore the wonders of Vietnamese food together.
Some might say that Vietnamese food is like any other in Southeast Asia, nothing special. What they don’t know is how wrong they really are! Vietnamese food is neither bland nor boring.
The combination of fresh herbs and spices makes the food not only colourful, but also full of flavor. Although it might differ from region to region, there is always something that makes Vietnamese cuisine unique. The aroma, the taste of sweet and sour, and the hint of fish sauce are all combined and perfectly balanced. It is all about yin and yang, in every meal providing beneficial input to your body!
China influences heavily the food in the north. That means a lot of stir-fries and noodle-based soups. Then towards the southern part the flavors become more and more tropical, almost blending with Thai cuisine. But it is hard not to talk about the French influence in Vietnam cuisine.
One example would be the bánh mì which is basically a crispy/fluffy baguette filled with seasoned pork and vegetables like cucumbers, cilantro and pickled carrots. Some say you can find the best bánh mì in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.
When you walk through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, you are definitely going to find Phở. Pho is made of a smooth broth with vermicelli rice noodles and meat, topped with the freshest herbs you can find. It is a very popular street food in Vietnam and probably the most known Vietnamese food in the world. Surprisingly, is usually eaten as a breakfast!
If you are a pork fan, then bún mọc is for you. In it you can find pork sausage, fried pork meatballs, pork ribs and pork belly with a light mushroom broth and garnish with fresh herbs. That is a lot of pork and all in one bowl!
If you have more of an adventurous side, you can try the coconut worms in fish sauce and chili slices, usually eaten alive while drinking! One bite of these fellas pops salty and spicy flavors into your mouth. But be careful with their mandibles because these little worms may bite while you are trying to eat them!
Another daring option would be the balut, a fertilized bird embryo, usually duck. The Vietnamese believe that the balut is very nutritious and restorative for pregnant women.
But enough about meat!
Don’t be afraid to visit Vietnam if you are vegetarian. Vegetarian restaurants are really common in Vietnam, as there is a large Buddhist population. It means that being a vegetarian is not a big deal. And even if the restaurant is not specifically vegetarian, you can still find or ask for vegetarian options.
It is important to know the Vietnamese word for vegetarian (chay) and that would get you through. You can make any Vietnamese dish into a vegetarian dish like phở chay, bánh xèo chay, hủ tiếu chay, cà ri chay, and so on. Or say “Tôi ăn chay”, which means “I’m vegetarian”. Another option is to say that you don’t eat pork “Tôi không ăn thịt heo” or beef “Tôi không ăn thịt bò“.
There are a variety of vegetarian dishes you can get, like sticky rice (xôi). Most of the xoi are vegetarian and found in the food stands on the streets. Đậu sốt cà chua is a fried yellow tofu with tomato paste and onions. You can accompany your dậu sốt cà chua with some fried water spinach and garlic (rau muống xào tỏi) or some bok choy with shitake mushrooms (cải xào nấm).
Drinks are on me! A common drink is the Vietnamese iced coffee or cà phê đá made with freshly brewed dark roast Vietnamese-grown coffee and condensed milk. But if you go to Hanoi, you might come across the egg coffee (cà phê trứng) which includes egg yolk. Sugarcane (nước mía or mía đá) is a really popular drink during the hot summers. Kumquat juice is often added to the sugarcane to balance the sweetness.
Vietnam has its own brewery called Sabeco, which is Vietnam’s leading beer producer. They produce not only the classic Saigon Beer, but also Vietnam’s favorite 333. Bia hơi is a draft beer popular among the locals. It can be found in small bars and on street corners. It’s brewed daily and each bar gets a fresh batch delivered everyday! Going to the stronger liquor is the rượu đế, rice wine, made out of cooked glutinous rice.
Enjoy these delicacies and join us!