Become a Vietnamese Food Master with these 5 Cookbooks!

By: Molly Headley

Whether you’ve been in Vietnam for years, or are just finding your feet, there is one thing we can all agree on. This country is a dream destination for food lovers! On every street corner your can grab a delicious banh mi, sip a cà phê sữa đá, or tuck into a piping hot bowl of phở at any hour of the day. Or at least we could until the dreaded ‘C Word’ forced our favourite street food sellers, restaurants and cafes to close their doors. 

So now what do we do? If you’re anything like me, you’ll be wondering how you can transform a bunch of wilting cilantro and a pack of rice noodles into a delicious meal that not only fills your belly, but satisfies your cravings for a serving of Vietnamese cuisine. Also like me, you might be wondering ‘how’ to cook Vietnamese food, seeing as I usually nip down to the street and pick up something so tasty and affordable that I’ve never really bothered to learn how to cook Vietnamese food before now. 

Luckily for us all, Vietnamese cuisine is the perfect place to start for the novice chef. Versatile and often simple to make, the flavours of Vietnamese food gain complexity through the expert combining of fresh herbs, sauces and spices rather than difficult cooking processes or the use of a million ingredients. 

With a quick peek inside this selection of the best Vietnamese cookbooks around (each one is available as an e-book too!) you’ll be sure to find inspiration to try these easy recipes that are destined to make your palate sing!


Christine Ha’s, “Recipes from My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food from the Winner of MasterChef” will tell you everything you’ve wanted to know about The Blind Cook’s life and cooking style.

Is the author legit? Yes! Christine Ha wowed the world in Season 3 of MasterChef America by beating out the competition with her Vietnamese-American influenced dishes, despite being legally blind. Ha became a symbol of strength and inspiration in both Vietnam and America after her surprise win, but don’t be fooled into thinking she became famous just for overcoming great odds. According to the back cover of the cookbook, Chef Gordon Ramsey says, “The lady has an extraordinary palate, a palate of incredible finesse.” Judging from Ramsey’s famously televised temper tantrums, this type of compliment doesn’t come easily.

cook bookImage source: vietlifemagazine.com

Skill level? Basic to moderate cooking aptitude is required depending on the recipe. Home cooks living in Asia may find some of the American ingredients hard to find and vice versa. However, Ha does a great job of describing the techniques needed to successfully craft a delicious meal.

Are the recipes traditional or westernised? Ha was born and raised in Los Angeles after her parents immigrated to the US from Vietnam. The recipes in the book reflect Ha’s dual heritage. Within the pages of the cookbook you’ll find all types of comfort foods ranging from catfish cooked in claypot to American-style fried chicken. This is a cookbook for those who love food of all types and want to invigorate dishes with new twists on the classics.

What’s special about this book? “Recipes from My Home Kitchen” will appeal to both Asian and Western aspiring cooks. Christine Ha became an icon in both Vietnam and the US with her astonishing rise to fame. Ha has a degree in creative writing and her skillful essays about her life will inspire, as much as her recipes excite.

cook bookImage source: img.zanda.com

Where can you get it? “Recipes from My Home Kitchen” is available through Ha’s website The Blind Cook, or you can get the Kindle edition here. You can also follow Ha on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.


Australia’s most famous Vietnamese chef, Luke Nguyen, will take you on a culinary journey from the street food of Saigon to the seafood specialities of the Vietnamese coast, all while giving the reader an intimate peek into Nguyen’s unique life and heritage in “The Food of Vietnam”.

Is the author legit? Definitely! Luke Nguyen’s parents were part of the wave of “boat-people” who fled Saigon in 1978. They landed in Sydney, where Nguyen’s parents opened up a restaurant in Cabramatta, a Sydney suburb mainly populated with Vietnamese immigrants. Nguyen’s parents were obsessed with food and they passed that quality on to two of their children. Pauline and Luke Nguyen opened up the Red Lantern in South Sydney in 2002, and it quickly took the culinary world by storm. According to the website, the Red Lantern is “the world’s most awarded Vietnamese restaurant”.

cook bookImage source: thedealguys.com

Following his restaurant’s success, Luke Nguyen became a household name due to his television series “Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam”, “Luke Nguyen’s France” and “Luke Nguyen’s Street Food Asia” as well as his eight subsequent cookbooks.

Skill level? Moderate. Nguyen sometimes refers to ingredients by their Australian names, so you may need to Google a few words. However, Nguyen takes care to mostly include ingredients that can be found in your local market.

Are the recipes traditional or westernised? Traditional. The cookbook is separated into sections based on different locations in Vietnam. Nguyen shares a short anecdote about each area and then dives into telling the reader how to prepare the region-specific dishes.

What’s special about this book? More than just a cookbook, “The Food of Vietnam” is also a travelogue about the country that influenced Sydney’s culinary movement towards high-class Vietnamese cuisine. Full-colour, National Geographic-style photographs will seduce you to try your hand at the recipes.

cook bookImage source: cdn.vox-cdn.com

Where can you get it? “The Food of Vietnam” is available with free shipping worldwide at The Book Depository, or you can get the Kindle edition here. You can also watch Nguyen’s culinary adventures in “Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam” on his YouTube Channel, or follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


Travel vicariously through the traditional food markets of Vietnam with British-Vietnamese chefs Anh Vu and Vanh Tran in “Vietnamese Market Cookbook - Spicy, Sour, Sweet”.

Are the authors legit? Yes. Despite having no formal chef training, Vu and Tran are definitely the real deal. The duo became famous after opening their bánh mì stand, Bánh mì 11, in East London’s Broadway market. The Oxford educated grads had originally gone into the corporate world of finance but ended up scrapping all that stress for a foray into street eats. What could have been a misadventure in less capable hands has turned into a success story.

Skill level? Easy. This cookbook is perfect for the home chef who wants to try his/her hand at Vietnamese cooking but doesn’t want to delve into specially ordered ingredients and hard to find spices. The recipes are praised for being easy to follow and delightful in their simplicity. Each section is divided into three sections: everyday cooking, festive cooking, and social cooking.

Are the recipes traditional or westernised? The recipes remain traditional despite some added panache in the preparation. The bánh mì recipes, such as “pork massaged in lemongrass”, are not the only stars of the book. Be prepared for more than 70 other recipes that are sure to inspire.

cook bookImage source: format-com-cld-res.cloudinary.com

What’s special about this book? Due to the exodus after the American War, many of the Vietnamese chefs who have become famous outside of Vietnam hail from the South, and their cooking styles reflect that. Anh Vu and Vanh Tran grew up in Hanoi and they bring their signature flare to the tastes of Northern Vietnam. Each chapter explores one of the five essential Vietnamese flavours: spicy, sour, sweet, salty and bitter.

Where can you get it? “Vietnamese Market Cookbook” is available with free shipping worldwide at The Book Depository, or you can get the ebook here.


“Vegetarian Viet Nam” by Cameron Stauch is a must for those who want healthy, delicious, and environmentally friendly food. The recipes within the book are adapted from centuries of research into the vegetarian cuisine of the Mahayana Buddhist monks.

Is the author legit? Yes! Even though Cameron Stauch is the only non-Vietnamese chef on this list, he knows his stuff. Former member of the cooking staff for the Governor General, Queen Elizabeth’s representative in Canada, Stauch has also worked in restaurants all over Asia.

cook bookImage source: thestar.com

Skill level? Easy. Most of the difficulty will stem from trying to find specific ingredients but once that is done recipes such as, “curried vegetable stew with baguette”, are both simple enough for the home cook to recreate and hearty enough to satisfy even the largest appetites. It isn’t hard to eat well when the food is both delectable and sustainable.

Are the recipes traditional or westernised? The book focuses on traditional Vietnamese recipes for cơm cháy (vegetarian food).

What’s special about this book? The only vegetarian book on our list, “Vegetarian Viet Nam” is also beautiful to look at. 70 full-colour photographs sit alongside an easy-going writing style. Plus, this is the only cookbook that has a glowing review from the first fully ordained monastic disciple of Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh.

Sister Chan Khong writes, “This beautiful book of delicious Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine shows how we can all contribute to protecting and healing ourselves and our precious planet by eating vegan. Being vegan is a simple, non-violent and effective way to bring about change for our world”.

Where can you get it? “Vegetarian Viet Nam” is available with free shipping worldwide at The Book Depository, or you can get the eBook here. To learn more about Stauch check out his website here, Twitter here, or Instagram here.


The last cookbook on the list is a culinary love letter to Vietnam. Andrea Nguyen’s, “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors” dives headfirst into the nostalgia Nguyen feels for the classic recipes of her late mother, and the cultural heritage her parents brought with them when they immigrated to America in 1975.

Is the author legit? Definitely. This book is probably the most decorated of all of the cookbooks on our list. “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” was a finalist for the 2007 James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence, which is America’s top culinary award. In addition, Nguyen’s cookbook was awarded two International Association of Culinary Professional prizes for best first book and best international cookbook. The Chicago Tribune goes so far as to say that “Andrea Nguyen may be to Vietnamese food what Julia Child was to French fare and Barbara Tropp to Chinese cuisine”.

cook bookImage source: pbs.twimg.com

Skill level? Easy to Difficult. There is something for everyone in this opus. With more than 175 recipes ranging from Master Chef level to the tier just above pack-o’-ramen, aspiring cooks just have to sift through the recipes and full-color photographs to find their pleasure.

Are the recipes traditional or westernised? Traditional. To make these classic Vietnamese dishes, Nguyen also directs readers on how to shop for important ingredients, which are surprisingly easy to find if you know where to look.

What’s special about this book? On her website, Nguyen writes that “When my family was airlifted out of Saigon in 1975, one of the few belongings that my mother hurriedly packed for the journey was her small orange notebook of recipes.”

More than 30 years later, Nguyen has added to that treasured culinary heritage. Part cookbook, part memoir, part encyclopedia of Vietnam’s diverse food traditions, “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” is a creation that is as enjoyable as a stunning coffee table book as it is a cooking manual. With recipes such as, “Beef Flank and Ginger Simmered in Caramel Sauce” and “Grilled Bananas with Coconut Sticky Rice and Lemongrass Ice Cream”, the content will inspire and educate the reader about the culinary mecca that is Vietnam.

cook bookImage source: hotpotdc.files.wordpress.com

Where can you get it? “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” is available with free shipping worldwide at The Book Depository, or you can get the eBook here. To learn more about Andrea Nguyen check out her website here, Facebook here, Twitter here, Pinterest here, or Instagram here.

Banner Image source: saveur.com


More than the Sum of its Parts: Organs in Vietnamese Cuisine

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

You will know by now that Vietnamese cuisine consists of thousands of different kinds of dishes. Some are region-specific and then there are some with variants of the same dish across the country.

However, one unique factor about Vietnamese cuisine is how dishes were created solely through resourcefulness. When Vietnam went through periods of hardship in the past, many people were left without food or proper food sources and as a result, had to improvise with what was available.

This is why you find many dishes that may come across as bizarre to foreigners. Snakes, mice, bugs are popular sources of food and beyond that, even common sources such as pigs and cows are fully utilised—that is, it’s not just the meat that’s harvested but almost every other part of the animal too.

Pig

According to Vietnam Online, pork is the most widely eaten meat in the country, accounting for about 77.5% of the country’s total meat intake. Therefore, it’s not surprising that beyond the popular pork-based dishes, there are also dishes that utilise almost every other part of the pig, except its hair.

Brain

A popular dish across the country, and yet one that not many tourists know about, is Sup Cua Oc Heo, or Vietnamese Crab Soup with Pig Brain. Consisting of crab meat, quail eggs and pig brain, the dish is served in a small bowl in most local markets and street stalls and often eaten for breakfast, or as a snack.

The use of the pig brain in this dish originated from the popular belief among parents that pig brain is nutritious and helps the child become ‘smarter’. Although there’s no scientific evidence for this, it remains popular and is a popular snack that’s best eaten hot.

Video source: Best Ever Food Review Show

Intestine

A very common product made from of the pig’s intestine is Doi, also known as Vietnamese blood sausage. A layer of the intestine, also known as hog casing, is filled with a mixture of pig’s blood, vegetables, spices, garlic, peanuts and green beans and then steamed or grilled. It’s usually served with fish sauce, lime and chili.

Vietnamese CuisineImage source: theravenouscouple.com

This item is also an ingredient in Chao Long, a porridge filled with offal. As a snack, it apparently goes really well with beer.

The intestines and colon can also be boiled or deep fried on their own and are known as Long Non or Trang, which can be found in most local markets.

Stomach

There are two noteworthy dishes that use the pig’s stomach. One is Stewed Pork Stomach with Star Anise, or Da Day Ham Hoa Hoi, and Slow Braised Pig’s Stomach with Whole Peppercorns, or Bao Tu Ham Tieu.

Vietnamese CuisineImage source: monansz.blogspot.com

Both dishes are complicated and require long cooking times and are usually home-cooked and eaten with the family.

Blood

Also known as Tiet Canh, pig’s blood is often served as a coagulated pudding of terror (for most foreigners) and is commonly served with Bun Bo Hue, or Hue Beef Noodles.

It can also be eaten on its own as a street snack, although it was also the subject of a blood-poisoning outbreak from the Streptococcus suis bacteria earlier this year that left 12 people hospitalised and four dead. Otherwise, the dish is generally safe to eat.

In other words, make sure you check the source before you buy it.

Video source: Best Ever Food Review Show

Combination

An article about organs will never be complete without mention of Pha Lau, or Vietnamese Stew with Organs. This dish is a showcase of Vietnamese resourcefulness at its finest.

Featuring various organs including intestines, tongue, ears, tripe, stomach, lungs and many others, the ingredients are all stewed in coconut water, curry powder and five spices for hours resulting in a dish that’s much tastier than it sounds. It is usually presented as a hot pot in the Northern provinces but can also be found in the rest of the country served as a general stew.

Pha Lau can be served with rice, noodles or even as a filling for Banh Mi.

Vietnamese CuisineImage source: scootersaigontour.com

The heart and the uterus of the pig are also worth a mention and they are commonly grilled at barbecues and eaten as snacks during gatherings.

Cow/Buffalo

Beef is another commonly eaten meat in Vietnam. You can find sliced beef in popular dishes like Bun Bo Hue and Pho, and the Vietnamese version of beef steak, also known as Bo Ne. And just like the pig, various other parts of the animal can be found in dishes across the country.

Tripe

The tripe, also known as the muscle wall of first three chambers of the cow’s stomach, can be found in many dishes around the world; in Vietnam, it makes its appearance in the country’s most widely known dish: pho.

Do you know what else you can find in pho?

Tendon

Just like the tripe, beef tendon is also usually included in pho. With its chewy texture and unique taste, the tendon can also be found in a salad known as Nom Bo Thap Cam, or Beef Tendon Salad.

Vietnamese CuisineImage source: youtube.com

Combination

Just like its pork-based cousin, Pha Lau Bo is prepared the same way, but using the organs from cows. This dish can be found in most restaurants specialising in beef and can be eaten with rice, noodles or bread.

Video source: Best Ever Food Review Show

Chicken

Gizzards

Also known as Me Ga Sot Gung, Fried Chicken Gizzard with Ginger Sauce is typically eaten during cold days, usually with steamed rice.

Vietnamese CuisineImage source: vietnamesefood.com.vn

There are several dishes that make use of chicken gizzards that are typically home-cooked, such as Me Ga Xao Ca Tim, or Stir-Fried Chicken Gizzards with Eggplant, and the gizzards are also commonly grilled on a skewer and eaten on their own. Another popular organ that’s prepared the same way is the chicken’s heart.

Eggs

In Vietnam, the most common egg dishes are derived from chickens, quails and ducks. The egg dishes from chickens are generally similar to what you can find elsewhere in the world. However, quail and duck eggs are popular for another dish: Balut.

Also known as Trung Vit Lon, what makes the Vietnamese version slightly different from the Filipino version is that the eggs are about 19-21 days old, and the dish is served with coriander, also known as Rau Ram.

Vietnamese CuisineImage source: thanhniennews.vn

The version using quail eggs is called Trung Cut Lon. Both of these dishes are usually sold by mobile vendors who ride their pushcart bikes around the neighbourhood blaring out the name of the dishes ominously in an almost poetic form that even if you don’t understand what it means, you can mimic word for word.

Video source: Trắng

Banner image source: foody.vn


2016 Valentine’s Day Deals in Vietnam

By: Trung Vo

Love is everywhere this season! Valentine’s Day is approaching fast - do you know what you’ll be doing for you special someone? Check out our lovely Vietnamese Valentine’s Day deals below - we chose the most romantic venues and the best offers so you won’t be running around like mad this February 14th. Moreover, for local insight and extra information about great dining places, lovely sights and cool drinks, see the rest of our website, where you can always find some places to fit you and your partner. Put on your best suit/dress and impress your loved ones with your marvelous preparation.


SHERATON HANOI HOTEL

Time: 6th - 14th February

Oven D’or Restaurant

  • VND1,300,000 ++/ set, includes 01 glass of Rose sparkling wine, free flow of beer, wine and soft drinks.

Hemispheres Restaurant

  • VND3,000,000++/set (wine pairing set dinner)

Reservation and more


SOFITEL PLAZA HANOI

Summit Romance

A magnifique date with roses, flavorful cocktails, desserts with live entertainment under the star-studded sky.

- Venue: Summit Lounge, 20th floor

- Price: VND880,000++/couple

Romantic Dinner

A lovely dinner with Champagne Cocktail, Seafood and Carvery Buffet plus special gifts for the ladies and live violin performance.

- Venue: Brasserie Westlake Restaurant

- Price: VND2,250,000++/couple

Reservation and more


HOTEL DE L'OPERA HANOI - MGALLERY

Some Enchanted Evening

Venue: Cafe Lautrec

Price: VND1,400,000++/person, five-course menu and a glass of champagne.

Reservation and more


HILTON HANOI OPERA

Immersed in a truly romantic atmosphere, enjoy this special menu for Valentine’s Day with your loved one at Hilton Hanoi Opera.

Price: VND1,355,000++/couple (included 02 glasses of champagne/wine/beer)

Additional beverage packages:

- VND300,000++/person for free flow of champagne, house wine, beer, soft drink.

- VND200,000++/person for free flow of house wine, beer, soft drink.

Express your feeling to your sweetheart in a unique way and make this an unforgettable day for both of you.

Combo of Valentine cakes with tea/coffee: VND250,000++ at Lobby Lounge Hilton Hanoi Opera

Reservation and more


NOVOTEL DANANG PREMIER HAN RIVER

- Package 1: The Cupid's Arrow – Priced at VND 1,999,000++/couple 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. at The Square Restaurant (level 4)

- Package 2: Endless Love – Priced at VND 2,333,000++/couple 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. at Premier Executive Lounge (level 29)

Reservation and more


NOVOTEL NHA TRANG

Be my Valentine

Special dinner by the pool for VND 735,000++/ person, includes chocolate, 5 dishes with pairing wines and romantic live acoustic music.

Reservation and more


NEW WORLD SAIGON HOTEL

In the Mood for Love

Time: 14th February 2016

- Parkview: Lunch buffet for VND610,000++/person- Dinner buffet for VND910,000++/person, feature seafood including lobster, sparkling wine, chocolate, and a keepsake photo to mark the occasion.

- Dynasty: Set menu for two for VND1,500,000++/ couple, inclusive of complimentary sparkling wine, on-premise photos and a takeaway gift.

Reservation and more


LE MÉRIDIEN SAIGON

Valentine 2016 is coming along with the Lunar New Year, on this 14 February, choose out of the couple Romantic Valentine’s dinners at Le Méridien Saigon:

- Latest Recipe – Dinner Buffet from VND1,100,000++ per person

- Bamboo Chic – Set Menu from VND1,300,000++ per person

Complimentary a lovely rose and a glass of Champagne for couples.

Reservation and more


INTERCONTINENTAL ASIANA SAIGON

Romantic Valentine’s Day

February 14th from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

- Market 39: Buffet dinner from VDN1,688,000++/person, includes free flow of champagne, wine, beer and soft drinks.

- Residences: Romantic Set Menu for VND1,488,000++/person and VND2,800,000++/couple, includes two glasses of Bollinger Rose champagne, free flow of beer or house wine.

Reservation and more


EASTIN GRAND HOTEL

Sweet Indulgence, Sweet Valentine

Time: February 1st- 15th

Accommodation: VND1,800,000++/couple, inclusive of:

- Accommodation with an upgrade to Deluxe Room for an overnight stay or day use

- Breakfast Buffet for 2 persons

- Complimentary bottle of sparkling wine when dining at the Grand Buffet Dinner or enjoy 25% off our Grand Buffet Dinner

Reservation and more


THE LOG RESTAURANT AT ROOFTOP GEM CENTER

A Sweet Love Story on a “Tree - House”

A detectable candlelit night out filled with roses, indulge in the irresistible flavors of premium culinary cuisine at the unique rooftop dining space.

- Set Menu: VND1,400,000++/pax, 5 courses featuring Duck Breast Stuffed With Foie Gras Served With Melon Salad In Honey Sauce, Grilled Lobster In Orange Butter Sauce, Baked Tenderloin In Apple Sauce...

- Buffet dinner: VND1,600,000++/pax dinner with more than 120 amazingly delicious dishes. Full of choices from fresh seafood such as lobsters, oysters, crabs…to an array of mouthwatering international dishes, freshly made soups, salads and even dim sum.

Price includes free flow of soft drinks

Reservation and more


LA VILLA FRENCH RESTAURANT

Special Valentine Menu prepared by Chef Thierry Mounon

Price: VND1,990,000++/person (violin players during dinner)

Reservation and more



Top 5 dishes to eat in Hanoi

By: Vinh Dao

Hanoi is a foodie’s paradise offering plenty of cheap yet delicious eats. Heartier and indicative of the cooler temperatures of the north, the nuanced flavours of Hanoi cuisine can be a welcome relief to it’s brash cousin to the south. Nowhere is this more indicative than in the Old Quarter. The maze like streets are crammed with makeshift stalls and storefronts that offer one or two dishes handed down from generation to generation. They have spent years perfecting these dishes so when you sit down on that little plastic blue chair, take whatever they give you. You won’t be disappointed.
We have listed five must eat dishes while in Hanoi.

Bun Cha Hanoi

Bun Cha Hanoi

You will probably smell this dish before you see it.  Sliced pork along with seasoned pork patties are grilled over hot coals and served in a sweet and salty sauce. It is served with a garnish of fresh herbs, noodles, chopped chili and garlic. Beware, once you have this dish, it will haunt your dreams. Local insight: Grab a side of Nem Cua Be, crab spring rolls that are traditionally served with this dish.

Pho Bac

Pho Bac Hanoi Top 5 Dishes Must Eat

You can’t mention Vietnamese food without mentioning the country’s national dish, pho. The pho in Hanoi is very different from the pho from the South. Pho Bac  is beefier and tends to be cleaner tasting than it's southern kin, Pho Nam.
Local insight: Less is more with Pho Bac so don’t dilute the taste of the broth with extra condiments.

Banh Cuon

Banh Cuon Hanoi Top 5 Dishes to Eat

Traditionally served as breakfast, this rice crepe is filled with minced pork, wood ear mushrooms and chopped onion. Garnish can consist of fried shallots, fresh basil, beansprouts and steamed pork pate. Served on the side is the obiquitous nuoc cham dipping sauce.
Local insight: Though traditionally served for breakfast, this is also popular late night snack.

Cha Ca La Vong

Cha Ca La Vong Hanoi - Vietnam Food

Served in a skillet, this fish dish combines tumeric, a heavy dose of dill, fish sauce and shrimp paste to create a flavourful dish that is nuanced yet bold in taste. Typical of Vietnamese cuisine, the fish is only a part of the equation with noodles, fresh herbs and nuoc cham sauce rounding out the dish.
Local insight: The shrimp paste can be a bit strong and most restaurants will omit it in the preparation if you don’t care for it.

Xoi Xeo

Xoi Xeo Hanoi Delicious

Photo Source: Hanh Le - Tue Vien

This dish combines yellow sticky rice with ground mung bean and fried onion. Traditionally served for breakfast and lunch, some Hanoi stalls serve this as an afternoon snack.
Local insight: Some stalls serve this dish with steamed eggs or shredded chicken breast


Other articles:

Top 5 things to do in Danang

Top 5 souvenirs to buy in Vietnam

Top 5 things to do in Quy Nhon

Top 5 dishes to try in Nha Trang

Top 5 things to do in Nha Trang

Top 5 places to go shopping in Ho Chi Minh City

Top 5 Che-sweet soups must try in Saigon



How NOT to Get Food Poisoning While Travelling

By: Robert Fouldes

After a quick online search for health tips and warnings about food poisoning, you may rapidly come to the conclusion that you should only eat in expensive restaurants and international hotels in Vietnam. However, don’t get too intimidated and don’t assume that high cost is a guarantee of cleanliness and good food hygiene.

food poisoningImage source: russellworthsolicitors.co.uk

Use Bottled Water, but Filtered, Boiled Water is Usually Safe Enough

When I left my cosy and secure family home in England long ago heading to the Far East for a new job, I asked my doctor what health issues I should be concerned about. My doctor was a well-travelled chap and I always remember his words of advice. “Most water will be safe enough to drink as long as it’s been boiled enough to make a good cup of tea.” Note: this refers to local drinking/potable water, not river or stream water. I’m not a big tea drinker myself, but I do drink lots of coffee and have always thought back to those words whenever I enter a new coffee or tea shop.

However, do continue to use bottled water or water from a known healthy source for personal use whenever possible. It should also put you at ease to know that most homes and businesses in Asia have their drinking water delivered in large geyser bottles.

Personal Hygiene – “Now Wash Your Hands!”

In day to day travels, our hands touch all kinds of things and all of those things have come into contact with various kinds of contaminants. Therefore, the best favour you can do for yourself is to always wash your hands before eating or handling food. The most common cause of travellers getting sick is from hand-to-mouth contact. Sharing finger foods can also be a great way to pass-on any bugs you may have picked up during the day to others.

food poisoningImage source: johnston.biz

Check the Kitchen

It’s not always possible to look over the kitchen for hygiene standards but when you approach your chosen eating place you should observe the surroundings. Glance at the rear entrance where the kitchen usually is, if possible. If you see food hanging around outdoors and unrefrigerated, you may wish to reconsider your chosen restaurant or be sure you order something that is well-cooked.

GIF source: giphy.com

Is the food hot and steaming when served? If not, then consider how and where it has been kept. Food in Vietnam is commonly pre-cooked and served with rice or a noodle dish. Do you think the food has been adequately covered and protected from contamination prior to being paired with the rice or noodles (are there any flies or insects on the food)? A judgment call may be needed on what items to order.

In a street market, you will find many vendors selling the same foods. A tip an old friend gave me (picked up during his travels across Africa) was to locate the person cooking that food, and buy directly from them. This way you will have a better idea about where the food has been and how it has been stored since it was prepared and cooked.

Meat and Fish

If you have a craving for meat, consider how the local cuisine incorporates meat into meals. In Vietnam, it’s usually served in small amounts and is often very well-cooked, boiled, fried or grilled. If you really must have that rare steak oozing blood or that seemingly fresh sushi, think about the supply chain that provided the meat and fish (do you see refrigerated delivery trucks)?

Visit a local food market and make your own judgements - food markets offer great photo opportunities too. If you are on a beef farm or at a fishing port, enjoy the local delights, if not perhaps think again.

food poisoningImage source: cloudfront.net

Dairy – Yes or No?

Usually a sniff test is sufficient to warn you off milk past its best. In today’s brand name coffee consuming culture, we get lots of dairy pressed upon us and sometimes it is difficult to know how fresh the product is when it is combined with a stronger flavour. In the past, I’ve been served sour milk simply because it is a costly item in Asia and many vendors are remiss to throw it out.

Alternatives do exist, such as soy or other vegetable sourced milks, but the same questions on freshness remain. Soy is a commonly available option in most of Asia and is a commonly consumed and familiar beverage in the Asian market. Local Asian coffee products are usually produced using sweet condensed milk, which in my experience, is far less likely to be served past its shelf life simply due to the fact that it lasts much longer than fresh milk.

Some dairy can be very beneficial to your digestive health if it suits your diet. A small amount of yoghurt daily can keep the good bacteria in your gut in good shape. If you can find it, enjoy it. Most Yoghurts in Vietnam are filled with sugar and artificial flavourings. One natural yoghurt is from Da Lat and is commonly available at most supermarkets.

Probiotics are commonly available in drink form or capsule form in Asia. The drinks are a bit on the sweet side, but they can also work wonders in protecting you from and in aiding a speedy recovery from a bout of food poisoning.

Fruits and Vegetables

At the grocery store, many fruits in Vietnam can be found in their own packaging so we don’t always think about the hygiene risks. But be aware that peeled and cut fruit may be exposed to unclean environments or contaminated by insects carrying dirt and bacteria. If you can see the fruit being washed and cut in front of you (with clean utensils), then it’s probably a safe choice, if not, then looking for another vendor may be wise.

food poisoningImage source: media.foody.vn

Washed and cooked vegetables are unlikely to present any problems on their own, but uncooked salads and vegetables should be considered more carefully. Pay attention to the washing method before you commit your stomach to trial by bacteria.

Both fruit and vegetables are usually grown locally or on the outskirts of towns and cities. The land may be intensively farmed and the fertilizers used may be a by-product of animal waste (dung) or even human waste. This thought alone makes me extra cautious in buying fruits and vegetables, no matter where they are from. Peeled fruits are by far the wisest choice, but washing thoroughly with clean water, or soaking in salt water or vinegar water prior to washing is a good practice.

Don’t Panic. Just Stay Hydrated – but be Prepared to Seek Medical Attention

If you do succumb to a bout of food poisoning, think about the likely source and consider the options your have. Often (usually) your body will deal with the issue itself and perhaps by lunch time the next day you will be fine.

In other cases, you may be facing dangerous levels of fluid loss (always maintain body fluid levels by sipping on water or oral rehydration solution (ORS) salt drinks. It is always good to have a few of these in your luggage along with a supply of Immodium or similar medicine (Dhamotil is commonly provided in Asia).

If the problem persists or you find yourself unable to hold down any fluids, then seek medical help as soon as possible. Some victims reach straight for western antidiarrhealmedicines, some of which work by slowing down your digestive system. This may make life more comfortable, and may be very useful to make it through the journey, but if the problem persists for longer than a few days, seek medical help as soon as you can.

Video source: GRRRLTRAVELER | Christine Kaaloa

Banner Image source: musiquesattitude.com


A Saigon Girl Gets A Taste Of Something New Up North

By: Robyn Wilson

Perched on a small plastic chair in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh district, I tasted something that I hadn’t eaten in a long time: dill.

I was slurping a bowl of bún cá - a light fish noodle soup, which is topped with fish patties and a few spring onions - when that familiar but almost forgotten flavour filled my mouth.

I live in Ho Chi Minh City and the addition of herbs like dill are seldom used in the noodle dishes I have tried.

Soups like bún mắm, which I love, have become a staple meal for me in the south. But its bold broth, made from a fermented fish paste, gives it a unique sweet and salty taste that would overpower the likes of delicate dill.

Instead, what I had in front of me in Hanoi was a subtle marriage of flavours, so different from what I had been used to but equally satisfying.

Banh Mi Two Ways

The longer I stayed in Vietnam’s capital, the more I unearthed these differences - a fun part to learning the culinary ropes to any city.

Take the iconic bánh mì as another example - the nation’s favourite Viet-French fusion sandwich.

In Ho Chi Minh City, I visit my favourite bánh mì shop (Lo Banh Mi 109, 54D Xo Viet Nghe Tinh) about three times a week.

culinaryImage source: Trang

They pack it full of rich pâté and mayonnaise, crispy pork belly, strips of fiery green chilli, cucumber and a good slug of soy sauce. This is a far from a subtle sandwich: it bursts with powerful flavours and I can’t get enough of the stuff.

Here in Hanoi, however, the bánh mì were modest and minimalist. A few thin slices of pork were added into a crispy baguette, with some veg, pâté and a little sauce.

But their understated flavours still managed to leave an impression. With less to compete against, the pork stood out much more than ones you find in the south, for example.

Different Tastes

In addition to finding different takes on certain foods in Hanoi, there was also a wide selection of street food favourites that you could get your hands on more easily than in Ho Chi Minh City.

The popular lunch dish bún chả is one example of this. Made with bun noodles, grilled pork, herbs and a wonderfully sweet and sour dip, this is one of Hanoi’s most famous meals. Vendors selling bún chả will also likely serve crab spring rolls - nem cua bể - as an accompaniment.

culinaryImage source: mevacon.com.vn

Eating a plate of bún chả and spring rolls was even on former US president Barack Obama’s to-do list when he visited Vietnam in 2016. This should definitely be part of every tourist’s food experience.

Bánh cuốn - a steamed rice flour pancake, filled with pork and mushroom and served with fish sauce - is another must-try northern street food and is often eaten for breakfast.

culinaryImage source: chudu24.com

Xôi, or sticky rice, is also enjoyed in the morning in Hanoi. I had one particularly tasty bowl of xôi tucked down an alleyway on the edge of Hoàn Kiếm district.

culinary
Image source: lozi.vn

A friendly vendor scooped up a portion of rice and topped it with a thick slice of slowly braised pork, a little vegetable and meat broth and a couple of whole raw red chillies on the side.

Until Hanoi, I hadn’t been mad about xôi (it’s nice but never blew me away) but after that bowl I fell in love with its simplicity.

In fact, it was so tasty that I went back the next day for lunch, only to find out that the vendor opened early in the mornings and late at night, the more popular times to eat this dish in the north - worth bearing in mind if you fancy a taste.

Instead I ended up eating bún đậu mắm tôm, a more typical lunch dish. For this you’re served up bún noodles, cubes of fried tofu, herbs and a strongly tasting fermented fish paste dip.

culinary
Image source: lozi.vn

Bún đậu mắm tôm is certainly not for everyone but my addiction to mắm (fermented fish paste) put this meal straight onto my favourites list.

Wetting the Whistle

Another interesting comparison to make between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi can be found in their beer scenes.

Hanoi is famous around the world for its ridiculously cheap lager, bia hơi, which is brewed fresh with no preservatives and consumed on the same day for around VND5,000 a glass.

Being very low in alcohol content (around 3%), it’s not uncommon for locals to start drinking this pretty early in the day in Hanoi.

culinaryImage source: twitter.com

This contrasts somewhat with the Americanised craft beer boom that is sweeping across the south at the moment.

A string of microbreweries have popped up over Ho Chi Minh City including Heart of Darkness, Phat Rooster, BiaCraft and Tê Tê.

These are much stronger beers, packing a whole load of flavour, a higher alcohol content and, at around VND100,000 a glass, they are also a lot more expensive than bia hơi.

Such variances are a pleasure to experience. It’s only by absorbing these sometimes stark but also subtle regional differences that you get to see how unique Vietnam and its culinary scene really are.

About the Author

Robyn Wilson is a freelance journalist currently based in Asia. Formerly the news editor for a popular B2B publication in London, Robyn now writes on food, travel, culture and history. She blogs at: www.weirdfishes.org

Banner image source: vietnamtravelbudget.com

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