Vietnam is a beautiful country. From it's 'S-shaped' geographical border to its long history, the country has something to offer to everybody who visits. In our experience, the two most interesting aspects of the country are its history and its cuisine. Today, we're all about fooooooood.
Vietnam, formally known as French Indochina, has came a long way. It's recent histroy entails bloodshed from not just the French colonial masters but also the Americans and an internal civil war. What's interesting to note is that these events have left an impact on the Vietnam culinary scene of today. (we'll explain more later)
It's also interesting to note that because of the historical, economic and climatic differences between the North and South of Vietnam, the food culture between the two actually differ quite a bit. Occasionally, you may hear of Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) which is in the South; but today, we'll be talking about food in the Hanoi, which is in the North.
Alright, let's dig in.
If you've heard anything about Vietnam cuisine, it'll probably be Phở (proununded "fuh"). Phở is a very traditional dish that's served all across Vietnam and even in Singapore. The more commercialised ones use MSG for their soup. But the real authentic ones use chicken or beef for their broth. There are two main kinds of Phở- gà (chicken) and Bờ (beef). These determines the flavor of the broth as well as the meat in the dish.
Phở in the South tends to be contain more meat than those in the North. A local we spoke to suggested that this could be because of the different levels of income in the two regions.
2. Spring rolls
Spring rolls are also another local delicacy. They come in two main forms - fried and raw. We personally prefer the fried ones due to its crispiness. Spring rolls are commonly served as sides dishes in roadside stores and go very well with condiments such as the store's own chilli paste or sauce.
3. Steamed pork wraps (Bánh cuốn)
Similar to what we know in Singapore as chee cheong fun, they contain diced pork or prawns wrapped in a flour blanket and served with a savoury light sauce. It can be easily confused with our local delicacy and may not be a novel dish for us, Singaporeans. But it is, nonetheless, worth trying to observe another culture's take on a dish we are so familiar with.
4. Bánh mì
Bánh mì is where the French influence comes in. Traditionally, Bánh mì is a small loaf (similar to what we know was a "french loaf") stuffed with pâté. According to Wikipedia, pâté is "a mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste. Common additions include vegetables, herbs, spices, and either wine or brandy."
5. Sticky rice (Xôi mặn)
This is the most under-rated dish on the list, we feel. Vietnamese sticky rice does not get as much glory as Phở but is another very filling, staple dish. When we first heard about it, we thought it was similar to the Thai sticky rice. But that couldn't be further from a the truth. It's actually savoury, not sweet. And a main dish, not a dessert. (they have sweet ones to, but we only tried the savoury one)
It's not as common to find as Phở and took us a harder time getting to one. As they're not so common among tourusts, the store owners we encountered did not speak a word of english. Thankfully for us, it was served similar to how we serve cai fan here in Singapore. We just pointed at the rice, pointed at a few toppings/side dishes we thought looked nice and got a nice meal.
6. Eel noodle (Miến lươn)
This isn't exactly as exotic as it sounds. It's actually very similar to fish soup noodles, but boiled and served with fried eel instead. But don't be mistaken, while the concept may be similar, the taste is not. If you haven't eaten fried eel before, the texture is unlike what one is accustomed to in Japanes restaurants (unagi). Instead, it's a lot drier (similar to that of ikan billis but much larger and tastier). Unlike ikan billis, however, the taste comes from the meat and not the salt.
7. Bún chả
This is a dish that a few locals we spoke to claimed to be over-rated. If you're in the culinary scene, you would know the ex-POTUS Obama launched Bun Cha to superstardom when he had it for dinner with Anthony Bourdain.
Bún chả is a dish of fried pork cutlets and served with rice noodles. But this text description of the dish serves no justice to its taste. You have to try it for yourself. It's paired well with a side of spring rolls and Bia Hanoi (Hanoi Beer). But be warned: asked for the price first before settling on the order.
8. Egg Coffee
Theoretically, its simple. You mix a raw egg with coffee, add condense milk and serve. It sounds disgusting. In practice, however, this is the opposite. The egg adds a dimension of creaminess and smoothness that milk and coffee beans alone could not. Perfect drink for chilling and resting your tired feet after a long afternoon of walking around Hanoi.
9. Steamed snails (Ốc A Sòi)
What's a food post of a South East Asian country without something exotic, right? This isn't like the escargots we are accustomed to in Singapore. For one, the environment is totally different. These snails are enjoyed as the dish by locals at night. They sit on low-stools by the road side enjoying this delicacy. We joined them and we enjoyed it just as much too. The snails are pulled out of their shells using a small metal blade and then dipped in a condiment of chili and lime.
(Photos are a mix from Kirona's collection and web images. Web sources: www.image.oregonlive.com, www.vietnamworldheritages.com, www.foody.vn, www. vice.com/munchies, www.vivuhanoi.com, www.baomoi-photo-1-td.zadn.vn, www.endlesstravelerjournal.com)