A taste of culture in Vietnam.

December 17, 2017

Understanding a culture through its food is one of the best ways to explore parts unknown. Food reflects the country's history, its climate and other cultural nuances. I am not a food critic or a food writer but heck I love food, appreciating new flavors, textures and aromas is therapeutic to me. During a recent trip to Vietnam, exploring local food was one of the trips highlight. From exploring the street food, restaurants and local eateries I started to understand the country it is and was. This story is about my culinary experience in Vietnam, with the best the country has to offer.

 

Just like any other country Vietnam’s cuisine reflects its geography and history. My trip started from the gorgeous Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) in the South and ended with the capital Hanoi in the North.

                                                                            Food trail of Vietnam

 

Saigon

The city of beautiful architecture, lively people and amazing night life, it does not disappoint you. With the fertile Mekong delta close by, food choices are in abundant especially the exotic tropical fruits.

 

District 1 at night.

 

My first introduction to Vietnamese food was with the spicy beef noodle soup (Bun bo hue). It was the best thing I had in Vietnam, spicy soup, fresh herbs and tender beef. Such good quality of meat, how do these guys do it so well? This roadside restaurant like many other places was run by a bunch of women.

Bun bo hue at 34a mac dinh chi district 1.

 

She does one thing and knows how to do it the best!

 

 

I am a huge of Anthony Bourdain, have religiously watched all his travel & food shows. I was interested in trying out the famous lunch lady, highly recommended by him. After taking a long walk to find the lunch lady, I was left disappointed as she had already left for the day, what a fuck up! Fortunately there were other eating joints in the area, it was flooded with the locals and seemed good enough to try.

 

Vietnamese people love eating out and hanging out with their friends and family, by evening most streets are full of such social gatherings. It reflects on their culture, warm, friendly and simple people.

 

Evenings in Ho Chi Minh.

 

After a long hectic first day in Vietnam, I was looking forward for a nice peaceful dinner and I ended up at a cute little restaurant near the Saigon river. Sauteed beef tossed in fresh sweet leek flowers and sticky rice turned out to be unexpectedly delightful. I loved how simple and delicious it was, a dash of soya and some local chilies in the bowl of goodness. I was struggling to eat with the chopsticks but when the food is so good you don't care if its a spoon or chopstick.

Are you hungry ? Head to Restaurant 13 Ngô Đức Kế, Bến Nghé, Quận 1.

 

 

Da lat.

The land of coffee and flowers. I would describe Da Lat right out of a postcard, It feels nostalgic writing about this beautiful hill station, sigh.

 

Hills of Da lat.

 

Coffee culture is strong throughout Vietnam, you drink it with sua (condensed milk). I ended up buying all this, this coffee is addictive!

 

Imagine taking a bite of a bread which is light as air, crispy on the outside and soft inside, you tear it open, smear some chili & spreads, salami, crunchy salads and herbs. Banh Mi or french baguette is a local snack throughout the country, the ingredients are very Vietnamese, subway style but leagues ahead of a sub sandwich. Lien Hoa bakery knows how to do it the best.

 

That whiff of fresh bread! Banh mi at Lien Hoa bakery, 15-17-19 Duong 3/2, Da Lat.

 

Avocado ice cream or Kem bo is a local specialty. A healthy ice cream you can have guilt free! A scoop of avocado ice cream with vanilla ice cream was an interesting amalgamation of flavors. The taste was subtle and unique with a rich creamy texture. This place is known for Kem bo, popular with locals and tourists. 

At Kem bơ Thanh Thảo, 76 Nguyen Van Troi Street, Ward 2, Da Lat.

 

 

 

Wine is love, wine is life. Ok I made that up, but isn’t it true? Da Lat has a strong French influence, and you can taste it in their wine. The best known is Vang Da Lat. Not that I am a wine connoisseur but I could say their red wine was quite decent, local grape wine cut with fermented mulberry juice, 16% alcohol. I paired it with the local favorite Banh Can (rice cake), this bizzare pairing is due to lack of dairy options in the country, as a cheese lover my only disappointment here.

Da Lat special wine platter.

 

 

Fermented grilled pork sausage, nem nuong is a must try in Vietnam, served with crunchy fresh herbs and some awesome dips. The way to eat it is roll the grilled pork on rice paper, add the leafy stuff garnish with chilies if you wish and dip in the last. Crisp, soft, juicy with a funky taste of the sausage, club it with beer, perfect!

Nem nuong at Nem Nuong Dung Loc, B14 Hoang Van Thu Street, Da Lat.

 

 

Hoi An.

Ancient town of the lanterns. French architecture, Japanese bridge, awesome beaches and laid back vibes. My absolute favorite place in Vietnam.

Hoi an is a dreamy old town.

 

This town is not just a beautiful destination the food here is equally amazing.

 

The famous papaya salad or Goi du du as they say it. I had it at many places but Ho Lo Quan won my heart, a family run restaurant excellent for local cuisine. Something was just right about this salad, the peanuts were crunchy, the ingredients super fresh and I guess made with love. Clubbing this salad with a avocado smoothie was a good idea. 

Healthiest meal ever at Ho Lo Quan, 20 Tran Cao Van | 20 Tran Cao Van, Hoi An.

 

In Vietnam sometimes the main dish comes with a lot of side ingredients, at times you don't know how to begin. When I had my first banh xeo, the restaurant owner gave us a demo how to eat this dish which looks a like pancakes. I have memories of a crackling sound, crispy texture, aromatic herbs, sweet n sour dip, filled with fresh pork & prawns.

 

Banh xeo at Ho Lo Quan, 20 Tran Cao Van | 20 Tran Cao Van, Hoi An.

 

I love munching on the local snacks, I found in Vietnam nothing better than dried spicy beef and fish, so much better. There is a strong culture of curing fish and beef with chilies and other local flavors. It goes awfully well with beer.

 When you have beef ban in your country, you say moo in Vietnam!

 

 

Tam coc.

The gateway to the halong bay of the land. Perfect for bicycle rides in the countryside with massive rice fields and picturesque karst mountains.

Endless mountain ranges.

 

As I was moving north the flavors had started to become subtler, I realized I liked the spicy south more.

 

In Tam coc in almost all the restaurants I went everybody was having spring rolls, I thought it must be really good. I have to tell you it was not good, it was delicious. Nen ran has ground meat, usually pork, wrapped in rice paper and deep-fried. A crunchy texture, meat wrapped with some noodles and veggies, for the first time ever I actually liked spring rolls.

Nen ran at Bamboo Bar and Restaurant, Van Lam, Ninh Hai, Tam Coc.

 

After a tiring sweaty hike to Trang An I wanted to relax with some beer and goat skewers or thiet De Xien Nuong. Meat char grilled to perfection and a sip of chilled beer made my day. It reminded me of kebabs but it was different, garnished with sesame seeds and lemon grass, I know sounds good ha, I added some local lime to enhance the flavor. Bamboo restaurant is an excellent place to eat in Tam coc and the best part is they give a slice of pineapple as complementary dessert, it was a pleasant surprise.

Thiet De Xien Nuong at Bamboo Bar and Restaurant, Van Lam, Ninh Hai, Tam Coc.

 

 

Hanoi.

The capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, known for its centuries old architecture, rich cultural influences and home to some of the finest delicacies.  

Old quarter Hanoi.

 

I was told you get the best bun cha in Hanoi, so I resisted myself and had my first bun cha in Hanoi only. The first bite was an overwhelming burst of flavors, grilled pork dipped in a funky broth, with crunchy herbs wrapped in noodles. It was soulfully delicious and definitely worth the wait and the best part by now I had learnt how to eat with chopsticks, no more embarrassment.

Bun cha at 34 Hang Than, Nguyễn Trung Trực, Hà Nội.

 

Throughout my travel I was amazed how incredibly fresh the food was, complementing with the right textures, colors and flavors. As an Indian I am used to spicy food, which subdues the taste of the meat or vegetables, however Vietnamese food is quite the opposite. The principle of yin and yang is evident in this cuisine, with the balanced combination between fragrance, taste, and colour. The cuisine is known to be one of the healthiest in the world. If you are a food enthusiast you will fall in love with this country, Vietnam is truly a gastronomic heaven. I hope to be back again.

 

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© 2020 by Ankita Singh.