Beyond banh mi: 9 local dishes to try in Vietnam

29/02/2016 / By / , , , / Post a Comment
Vietnam. You’ll come for the culture, you’ll come back for the food. And what a lot of food there is. You could order something different at every meal and never taste all the incredible dishes that Vietnam has to offer.

Most people have heard of Vietnam’s most famous dishes pho (noodle soup) and banh mi (Vietnamese pork rolls) but there are hundreds of other options to try before leaving the country. Here are 9 dishes you may not have heard of, but you should definitely look out for on your next visit.

1. Bún chả

vietnam food - arnie kim

Image c/o Arnie Kim, Flickr

A Hanoi specialty, this is Vietnam’s version of san choy bow. Grilled pork patties are cooked over the grill and served with cold rice vermicelli noodles, leafy green herbs and a bowl of sweet and sour broth. The broth has a great little kick, made from vinegar, sugar and lashings of fish sauce. Wrap a little bit of everything in a lettuce cup and dip into the broth, or mix it all together in a bowl and slurp it down over lunch with the locals. There’s no shortage of bún chả street vendors in northern Vietnam, and you’ll smell their smoky grills long before you see them.

2. Bò bít tết

If you overindulged in bia hoi (Saigon’s most popular beer) last night, then a breakfast of steak and eggs will hit the spot. Bò bít tết is served on a sizzling cast iron plate topped with steak and a fried egg, along with tasty extras such as Vietnamese meatballs, sliced sausage, diced tomatoes, baked potatoes wedges or pickled vegetables – depending on where you order it. Pierce the egg and let it run down over the rest of the dish, and as you’re tucking into the steak the sizzling skillet will continue to cook the egg and form a crispy, crunchy layer on the bottom.

3. Bánh bột chiên

When school gets out, you’ll see kids flocking to their nearest bánh bột chiên vendor for this simple yet filling dish. Don’t be shy, just grab a seat and join in. Bột chiên are essentially little doughy cakes made from rice flour and some tapioca starch, with a quality that’s quite similar to polenta.  The cakes are fried in lard until golden, then chopped up into smaller pieces and topped with an egg and some shallots. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is! Dip each forkful into a bowl of salty soy sauce and you’ve got yourself the perfect after school snack.

4. Chả Cá

Vietnam food - Image c/o World To Table, Flickr

Image c/o World To Table, Flickr

Another Hanoi specialty, this dish combines the famous sweet, salty, sour and fragrant elements that Vietnamese cuisine is famous for. Grilled white fish is marinated in turmeric, ginger, garlic then fried until crisp and golden. Onions, scallions, peanuts and handfuls of fresh dill are quickly sauteed and tossed with the fish, which is served on a bed of rice vermicelli noodles. The whole thing is then topped with a smattering of fresh herbs including mint and coriander. Dip each mouthful in nuoc cham, a Vietnamese dipping sauce made from fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and red chilli. Need we say more?

5. Bún riêu cua

Vietnam food - Image c/o mmmsedap, Flickr

Image c/o mmmsedap, Flickr

This northern Vietnamese soup is flavoured with tangy tomato, deep-fried tofu and fresh crabmeat. Traditionally, the base of the broth would be made by pounding whole blue crabs with a mortar and pestle, then straining water through the crab shell. The meat is then shaped into little crab cakes that are dropped into the soup, which is served with vermicelli rice and a pungent shrimp paste. Congealed pig’s blood is also used to add a rich, red flavour to the broth but don’t be put off by this, it’s there for a reason and it all combines to make an absolutely delicious dish.

6. Cá Kho Tộ

Vietnam food - Image c/o insatiablemunch, Flickr

Image c/o insatiablemunch, Flickr

Vietnames kho dishes are cooked in clay pots, which have thick walls to retain the heat and moisture. This gives the meat inside a soft, caramelised quality when it’s braised. This particular dish is popular in southern Vietnam, as it is made from fresh fish (usually catfish). The gooey, caramelised quality comes from fish sauce flavoured with ginger, shallots and garlic. The dish is incredibly flavoursome on its own, and it’s also quite rich so is usually served on a simple bed of jasmine rice, or with some fresh cucumber salad. If you’re not keen on fish, you can often find plenty of kho dishes that feature pork, chicken and tofu instead.

7. Nộm Hoa Chuối Thịt Gà

This is one of those fabulous dishes that you can really only get in Vietnam, due to the main ingredient of banana flowers. So instead of being able to order it whenever you like after returning home, it’s almost imperative that you take another trip to revisit the flavours! It’s a fairly rustic salad that’s both juicy and crunchy. The banana blossom is the flower of the banana plant, and is a little bit like an artichoke heart in texture and taste. For this type of salad, it will be peeled and either thinly sliced or julienned before being tossed with bean sprouts, green papaya, carrots and coriander.  The dressing is made from sugar,lime juice , fish sauce, garlic, chilli, ginger all whisked together with a crunchy topping of dried shrimp and crushed peanuts.

8. Chè sương sa hạt lựu

This is also known as Rainbow Dessert, and is a refreshing dessert served in a glass. The main ingredients are cubes of agar agar jelly and imitation pomegranate seeds (made from diced water chestnut coated with a tapioca starch). The other flavours include a mildly sweet mung bean paste, creamy coconut milk and a sugar syrup. The glass is layered with agar agar jelly, a mung bean paste and finally a layer of pomegranate seeds then drizzled with the syrp and coconut milk. Start by popping the seeds into your mouth first, as they have a delightfully chewy coating with the crunchy water chestnuts inside, then work your way through the rest of the dessert while it’s still nice and cold.

9. Chè Bắp

This sweet corn and sticky rice pudding is the perfect summer’s treat, and a great way to reward yourself after a day navigating the winding streets of Hoi An. Depending where you are, this will either be runny like soup or a bit firmer like a pudding and can also be served hot, warm or cold. The base of the dish is sweet corn and glutinous rice (or tapioca pearls) topped with sweet, sugary coconut milk and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.

Ready to taste the flavours of Vietnam? Take a look at our small group trips here.

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