Vietnam is a destination to taste and tour with food to excite your palate and whet your appetite. From north to south, sweet to sour
“An com chua?”
In Vietnam, daily life revolves around food and the inspiring flavours prove a tempting national attraction. So, hear the call and wake up to Vietnam, smell the rich coffee, dine alfresco with the friendly locals and be prepared to indulge in a flavoursome street-food journey with explosions of taste at every corner. The local greeting of “An com chua?” asks whether have you eaten yet — and this is a phrase you will hear constantly throughout Vietnam. It’s also worth noting the following key words — ‘pho’ meaning a broth, ‘banh’ a sizzling pancake, ‘banh da ca’ meaning a tangy fish soup and ‘bun’ meaning noodles.
“From the rich broths and unadorned dishes of the north, to the more sweet southern concoctions dressed with fresh herbs, there are so many different dishes that you are bound to experience food envy in Vietnam.”
“Delicious and fresh, the balance of herbs, heat, sweetness, sourness and bitterness is at the heart of every dish — Vietnam food is all about the yin and the yang”
Touring and tasting your way through vibrant Vietnam is an experience that is bound to leave a signature ‘sweet and sour’ taste in your mouth. With fragrant herbs and fish sauce (which has no fragrance), playing an important role in every Vietnamese dish, there is always a zest and zing to accompany the ‘yin and the yang’. From the beautiful, turmeric-yellow crêpes and bright orange crabs, to the scarlet-red chillies and lush-green basil, the creations provide an array of colour, with the textures offering a delightful crunch. Designed to soothe and shock in equal measure, the deep-purple shrimp paste, with pungent greens, forms the perfect stock. Add to this, a measure of Malay curry, a dash of Indian spice, a helping of Chinese noodles — not to mention a serving of French baguette — and you have a unique blend of flavours and textures to appeal to all tastes.
“Vietnamese cuisine is never boring! The ingredients aim to soothe and shock your tastebuds”
A Plate Of Devotion
Central to daily Vietnamese life is the ‘procurement, preparation and shared pleasure of nourishment’ meaning their culture revolves around food! Over half of Vietnam’s population makes a living in agriculture or from the food trade — making it a shared necessity with heavy cultural investment. Visitors will find bustling markets and vocal vendors at each turn, along with charismatic cooks alongside every curbside. For those wishing to sample the cuisine available on the street and inside a stylish hotel, there are a number of stunning hotels and resorts worth visiting along the way. Choose from Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi in the north, to Fusion Maia, near Da Nang, the Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai at the pretty port of Hoi An, the beach retreat of Six Senses Ninh Van Bay on the south east coast, the famous Caravelle Hotel in bustling Ho Chi Minh City in the south or Six Senses Con Dao on the historic island of Con Dao — off the southern tip of mainland Vietnam.
A Food-Lover’s Destination For Taste
Matching its varied landscape and tumultuous history, the variety of food is based around the balance of herbs, heat, sweetness, sourness and bitterness — with the key ingredient being fish sauce. Similar to other South East Asian cuisines, the central pillars of ‘yin and yang’ support each dish’s structure, with sweet and salty, the cooling and the heating, the fresh and fermented all being core. The final concoctions are usually colourful and, almost always, finely balanced. Vietnam food is never boring, even the most delicate dish can relay a story, from its laboursome source in the field to its tasteful lasting finish.
Discover The Ingredients Of Vietnam
Whilst the classic combination of beaches and culture may prove the initial draw to its impressively long shores — Vietnam has 3,400 kilometres of coastline boasting powdery sand and lovely lagoons — it is often the varied, yet simple, cuisine can leave the greatest impression. Heavily influenced by its neighbours, such as China in the north, its years as a French colony, plus its fight for independence (achieved in 1954), the ingredients and flavours that infuse its famous street-food are certainly eclectic. Like its changing climate, the warmth of the dishes and introduction of spicy heat, can be followed from north to south, akin to any travel journey.
A Food Flavour Trail From North To South
The locally available produce and freshly grown ingredients are crucial to the authentic, honest and direct style of dining. And, being so fresh, light, bright and healthy, the international demand for Vietnamese cuisine is causing quite a stir. Often it is the sheer pace of Vietnamese life that dictates a speedy delivery and fast consumption of food, with the need for steam and a variety of tastes essential to cater for the locals’ constant cravings. There, of course, fine dining restaurants that offer a little more flair, creating an altogether different Vietnam food experience.
“Hanoi Cha Ca — a contradiction of raw and cooked ingredients, paired with both assertive and delicate flavours”
The food represents a tangible and palatable link to each region’s past and present. The ancient cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, plus quaint towns such as Hoi An and Hue, celebrate a plethora of heritage, with the changing landscape a timeless source of ingredients. From sprawling deltas and tiered paddy fields, down to coconut plantations and fields of palm sugar — there is an adventure of flavour and picturesque route to follow.
Heavily influenced by China, the food found in the north is laced with noodle-based soups, stir-fries and hearty broths. As you travel through the country, the flavours meld more with the nearby countries of Thailand and Cambodia. Further south, the tropical climate comes to the table, with rice paddies, coconut groves, jackfruit trees and herbs reaching the kitchen. Southern food is typically sweeter, with sweet broths of pho and the addition of sugar used in savoury dishes, too. Proffering a sweet finish to your culinary journey are the popular, toffee-like, coconut candies, made with rich coconut milk, found in the deep south.
Vietnam’s Signature Food Flavours
In the great old capital city of Hanoi, in the north, visitors can be seduced by a breakfast of ‘Pho Bo’, which is a rich, earthy beef broth infused with ginger, cloves, star anise and noodles, plus raw or cooked beef. The overall result is a wholesome, protein-rich, stock — an ideal cure for the colder climate. For the ultimate breakfast, perhaps sample ‘Bun Cha’, which is grilled pork in a marinade of sweetened fish sauce and a side of rice vermicelli. For lunch, why not try ‘Banh Da Ca’, which is a tangy fish soup? And for dinner, ‘Hanoi Cha Ca’ is a mixture of a raw and cooked concoction, punctuated by assertive and delicate flavours and topped with crumbled peanuts — a tempting choice!
Travelling south along the east coast, the former capital of Hue promotes a slower pace of life. Whilst the Tomb of The Emperor and former royal residences form a key attraction for this once Imperial city, it was the skilled cooks of the royal palaces that have left a lasting culinary legacy. Renowned for their elaborate cuisine and spurred on by the demands for innovative dishes, they created dainty, flower-like, dumplings and cakes, such as ‘Banh Beo’. The sight of these aesthetic gems immediately hints at the Chinese and Japanese influence of the past. For those seeking a savoury taste sensation, the signature dish, ‘Bun Bo Hue’ is a fiery broth of long-simmered beef bones infused with lemongrass.
Further south in the well-preserved port town of Hoi An – dating back to the 15th century – guests can easily sample the profusion of cultures and key sites within this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll the narrow streets, admire the wooden architecture, visit the temples and pagodas and explore the atmospheric Old Town’s Japanese merchant houses, before tasting ‘Cao Lầu’ and ‘Banh Bao Banh Vac’, which are both unique to Hoi An. The seafood is sourced from the Thu Bon River and the flour is milled from the rice grown in nearby fields — however, it is the alkaline water drawn from the ancient local wells that gives the noodles and dough a distinctive taste. Of course, it is Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) that is a magnet for tourists, home to a kaleidoscope of fabulous food stalls and tempting carts, along with the famous ‘Bánh Mì’ Vietnamese baguette, which is made with rice flour.
Vietnam Food — A Question Of Texture?
Causing a bite and complementing the daily fare is the use of unripe fruits, which are incorporated into dishes in the same way as vegetables. Crispy and crunchy, a green papaya, mango or banana flower is often used, instead of leafy greens, as a base for fresh salads. As the unripe fruit flesh is usually a little sour, this works well when paired with the fish sauce, chilli, garlic, dried shrimp and finely chopped peanuts — it’s very much a question of crunch! Whilst street food is attractive for its use of local ingredients and simple honesty, it is peasant food and involves the clever use of whatever ingredients are available. Lower down the food chain, pig intestines, chicken heads and shrimp eyes are, perhaps, more of a local delicacy than an international hit!
So, why not relish the lazy café culture and indulge in the fiery and fast cuisine? Bathe your palate in rich noodle-based broths or soothe your soul with sweet coconut desserts. Whichever flavour enlightens your tastebuds, Vietnam has a street vendor, courtyard restaurant or curbside food seller ready to greet your food fancy. We suggest you kick-start your journey with some zesty lime and ginger to taste the tang and savour the aroma of this fascinating country.
If you feel inspired to taste the vibrant cuisine of Vietnam, please call our Travel Consultants on 01244 897 578 or visit elegantresorts.co.uk to start your tempting food journey.