When people think of Vietnamese food, most think of pho. But there is so much more to Vietnamese cuisine than this typical breakfast noodle dish.
I traveled with three locals from the southern parts of Vietnam all the way up north for a month, and here are some of the dishes I experienced. For more on foodie-inspired vacations, check out some tips on spicing up your next itinerary.
1. Traditional southern Vietnamese dinner
A traditional dinner usually consists of rice, a savory dish (such as clay pot fish, fried omelets, grilled pork, stir-fry beef, etc.), a boiled vegetable dish and a soup (with vegetables and a meat). The Vietnamese like to balance out this meal with both “hot” and “cold” ingredients: The meat and savory dish are considered hot and the veggies are considered cold.
2. Traditional southern Vietnamese breakfast
This includes charcoal-grilled pork belly, vermicelli, green onion, fish sauce and oil, and is eaten with veggies and rice paper. The important part is the charcoal, which gives it a smoky flavor.
3. Mi (or My) Quang
This specialty dish is mainly made with rice noodles, peanuts, vegetables and herbs of the region.
4. Tiny clams with smashing rice paper
They are usually stir-fried with lots of seasonings and eaten with crispy rice paper (similar to rice crackers, but thinner). Another way to eat these mini clams is in porridge. These guys are known to taste a lot sweeter than regular clams.
5. Rice noodle with jellyfish
The broth is made with pork bones — sometimes pork feet — and tomatoes (for extra sweetness). The dish can consist of rice noodles, jellyfish (fresh when in season, dried when not), Vietnamese ham (pork roll), fish tofu, green mango, peanut and onion.
6. Clay pot fish
Fish is typically cooked in a clay pot with fish sauce, pepper or whole chilis, sugar and various seasonings. The cooking process takes a long time so the sauce sinks in and gives the fish lots of flavor. This is a common Vietnamese dish for lunch or dinner, finished off with cilantro or dill and pepper for extra flavors, and is usually eaten with rice.
7. Vietnamese pancake
This is a national dish and varies region to region. It’s more similar to a crepe than an American pancake. The shell consists of a rice flour batter to make a thin and crispy layer. The filling is a combination of shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and green onions. The pancake is then wrapped inside steamed rice paper with other vegetables like lettuce, cucumber and herbs, and dipped in fish sauce.
Snails are a super popular street food in Vietnam. The traditional way to cook them is to boil them in a broth that is seasoned with lemongrass, ginger and pepper. This broth is what provides the unique flavor. In the south, snails are cooked with coconut milk, while in the central and north they are cooked with lemongrass. For bigger snails, you can choose to eat them boiled or grilled. If grilled, then you can add toppings such as green onions and peanuts and dip it in fish sauce, vinegar, chili and garlic.
Photo by Moxi Zhou