Essential Vietnamese New Year Foods - Central food

By: Nhu Tong

While Vietnam’s northern people welcome Tet with peach blossoms, green bánh chưng cakes, pickled onions and frozen meat (a tradition we covered extensively in a previous article), the people of Central Vietnam greet this time of year with a distinct meal featuring yellow apricots, fermented pork rolls and a host other traditional dishes. To borrow a colloquialism, same same but different: this region’s dishes and food cultures have a distinguished and wholly different style from North and South Vietnam.

A Hard Life Begets a Taste for Strong Flavors

Central Vietnam is known as the region with the longest coastline in the country, which suffers the most from extreme weather as a result. This combination of geography and weather conditions there have deeply shaped Central people’s custom and lifestyle. They are believed to be the hardest working and the most economizing Vietnamese.

These natural conditions have driven the region’s nutritional choices. To economize, they complete their meal with ample amounts of white rice. Also, because most central families work in fisheries, they have to preserve seafood with processes that give it with extra flavor. Because of this, Central people tend to prefer salty, spicy and fermented foods. Fermented foods are served during economic downturns and severe weather conditions, and food that are spicy and salty help them combat the numbing cold of winters.

As the Year of the Dog draws close, Vietnam’s Central families are also carefully preparing foods for the first of many days of feasting and merrymaking to come. Let's learn what a typical Central Vietnam family serves during the Lunar New Year.

Bánh Tét (Tet Cake or Vietnamese Round Glutinous Rice Cake)

When celebrating Tet with food, Vietnamese say it "ăn Tết". Maybe you don’t know Vietnamese, but the word "Tét" should sound familiar!

Like bánh chưng, bánh tét also represents heaven and the earth. It also emphasizes the importance of rice in the life of Vietnamese people. During Tet, people of Central Vietnam put a pair of Tet cakes on the altar to worship the ancestors. The first three days of the New Year are the perfect time for family and friends visit, and bánh tét is an ideal dish to serve to guests coming to the house.

new yearImage source: st.phunuonline.com.vn

This Tet specialty is made with sticky rice and filled with pork fat and beans that are seasoned with black pepper and shallots. It’s wrapped in banana leaves giving it an appealing pale green color and a slightly leafy taste. To prevent the banana leaf from coming apart while it’s cooking, people wrap it several times with plastic ribbon before steaming.

How was bánh tét first created? Some studies have claimed that bánh tét is a different version of bánh chưng—a similar food which is also stuffed with beans and pork—but this one is presented in a cylindrical shape due to the process of southward expansion in the 17th century. According to these studies, when Vietnam expanded southward to capture the former territory of Champa Kingdom, the dish was adapted to the colonized peoples tastes. Bánh tét was thus shaped by a desire to affect the linga, a phallic-shaped post associated with the deity Siva, according to Cham belief. The culture’s artistic productions prominently feature rods and poles for this reason.

new yearImage source: 3.bp.blogspot.com

One serving contains a small, neat and beautiful slices of bánh tét. Vietnamese are also known to enjoy the dish fried, which gives the bánh tét a delicious, chewy crispness.

new yearImage source: dukhach.net

Watch a video to show how bánh tét is packed:

Video source: Hướng Nghiệp Á Âu

Dưa Món (Pickled Vegetables)

Just as bánh chưng is typically paired with onion pickles in the North, bánh tét goes along with dưa món (vegetable pickles). It’s not the đồ chua (pickled vegetable) you have experienced in Vietnamese bánh mì before. The vegetables in dưa món carry a distinct, extra crunchy texture.

What’s the secret to this textural peculiarity?

To answer this question, start by looking at the dried vegetables. People from Central Vietnam usually dry carrots and radishes in the sun for a few days until the vegetables get perfectly dried.

new yearImage source: jamja.vn

These dried veggies will soak up tons of flavor when cooked instead of going soggy like they otherwise would. They’ll hold texture even after sitting in the fish sauce for a few days. They remain crunchy with an al dente bite that’s truly addicting.

If it's impossible to dry your vegetables due to cloud cover or pollution, just use your oven. Set it on the lowest heat with the over door cracked open for three to four hours or if you have a gas stove give it about five to six hours with just the pilot light on. Follow these instructions and you can also achieve that same appropriate texture.

A properly executed dish of dưa món carries the aroma, flavor, and sweetness of fish sauce and sugar as well as the crunchiness of papaya. The added daikon compliments the beautiful vivid color of carrots.

Learn how to make authentic Vietnamese dưa món:

Video source: RunAwayRice

Nem chua (Fermented Pork Roll)

Nem chua is an indispensable dish of the Central Vietnamese Tet tradition. It is made from fresh pureed pork mixed with pork skin, marinated with spices, pepper, chili, all of which is fermented before becoming ripe for consumption.

new yearImage source: opentour.vn

Some won’t dare to eat nem chua at first as they know this dish is made from completely raw pork. However, once you give it a try, you will slowly fall for its addictive light sourness, sweetness, crunchiness, spiciness, and the fragrance blended on their tongue.

Each province presents their sense of flavour and natural resources by using different leaves as wrapping materials. For example, Ninh Hoa’s nem chua wears gooseberry leaves, Binh Dinh’s nem chua goes with guava leaves. These wrapping materials also contribute greatly to the flavor of each fermented pork roll.

new yearImage source: wiki-travel.com.vn

With close inspection, it’s easy to see that nem chua has two layers of wrapping. It has a layer of interior leaves, which decide the taste of nem chua mentioned above. The other is outer leaves, which are usually banana leaves. The banana leaf layer's thickness depends on how deeply fermented one would like their nem chua (more leaf means more fermentation). Normally, two layers of banana leaves are laid crisscross.

If you can’t afford to make it your own, no worry. Here are some of tips from the people of Central Vietnam to find the best nem chua. First, a well done nem chua must have dried surface. Second, it should have a slightly pink color, firm meat and reasonable sourness.

Nem chua can be eaten plain or served with wine in amongst a Tet feast. Each region has different ways to evaluate the flavor of the dish. Though North’s people prefer its original sourness, people from Central and South Vietnam usually add sugar, garlic, chili, and pepper to increase the spiciness and sweetness of nem chua.

Thịt heo ngâm mắm (Meat Soaked in Fish Sauce)

While Tet holiday could be tempting you with loads of nutritious, fatty foods, this rustic dish of meat soaked in fish sauce rolled in rice paper with various raw veggies, herbs, pickled vegetables is even more satisfying.

Meat soaked in fish sauce is a simple, flavorful yet super-easy-to-make dish. This charming treat is a traditional dish at a Tet meal in Central Vietnam. Over centuries and generations, Central Vietnam’s families still love to have a dish of meat soaked in fish sauce at their Lunar New Year feast.

new yearImage source: jamja.vn

For locals, a roll of thịt ngâm mắm is well rounded and balanced flavour wise. The salty taste of the dish coupled with veggies dipped in sweet fish sauce play nicely against the spiciness of chili, pepper, garlic, and ginger to together create an exceptional culinary experience.

Mắm Tôm Chua (Fermented Shrimp Sauce)

If we’re going to talk about Central Vietnamese cuisine, we just can’t leave out its famous dish: mắm. And, at this time of year, mắm tôm chua is proudly in attendance in a traditional Tet meal. Unlike Mắm tôm—the well-known shrimp sauce that has dark purple color and smooth surface—sour shrimp sauce owes its appealing orange color to the shrimp.

In order to make this sauce, the shrimp must be cleaned with salt water and slightly cooked in a strong rice wine. Carefully mix the shrimp with sticky rice, sliced galangal, garlic and chili before combining the mixture into a jar. Everything is covered with guava leaves and left for five to seven days.

new yearImage source: tholovesfood.files.wordpress.com

Mắm tôm chua is the best paired with thịt heo luộc (boiled pork), rolled in paper rice cake with loads of garnish including curly salad greens, cucumber, mint, herbs.

Wait. Did we forget something? Sauces!

Pour crushed garlic, chili, and sugar into the bowl of sour shrimp sauce, and mix them well with a spoon. Season the mixture until it matches your own sense of taste. Finally, squeeze a few drops of lemon in, and your sauce is ready.

Thịt Luộc Tôm Chua (Boiled Pork with Sour Shrimp Sauce) Recipe:

Video source: Helen's Recipes (Vietnamese Food)

Stay tuned for more fascinating foods presented this Lunar New Year. Next stop: a South Vietnamese traditional meal during this most festive time of year.

Banner Image source: jamja.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



Christmas specials in Vietnam

By: Quang Mai


Christmas specials in Vietnam


With so many restaurants and hotels running Christmas specials, it’s hard to find the perfect one for your tastes. To help you along with your decision, City Pass Guide has accumulated a list of some of the tastiest venues to go for your Christmas holiday meal.


They fill up quite fast so it’s recommended to book your reservation in advance.









Club Opera Novel


One of the only places in Hanoi with an exclusively Vietnamese themed-menu with an option of free flow sparkling wine.

17 Trang Tien 04 3972 8001
Click to see details




Fortuna Hotel


The chef’s own 4-course set dinner showcasing the finest ingredients.

6B Lang Ha st. 04 3831 3333
Click to see details




Hotel L’Opera


An international buffet will delight your tastebuds while traditional Christmas songs are played live in the background.

29 Trang Tien 04 6282 5555
Click to see details






Mercure Hotel


Two different menus for Christmas Day and Eve are available and children under four eat for free.

94 Ly Thuong Kiet 04 3944 7766
Click to see details




Silk Path Hotel


A family friendly five course dinner with entertainment such as interactive games, a clown and magician along with an appearance by Santa Clause.

195-199 Hang Bong o4 3266 5555
Click to see details










Camargue


A sophisticated French inspired six course Christmas Eve dinner makes Camargue one of the most sought after dinners in town.

74/7D Hai Ba Trung st. District 1 08 3520 4888
Click to see details




Grand Hotel


Choose from a BBQ rooftop buffet or a Christmas Gala buffet complete with gifts, a magic performance and a lucky draw.

8 Dong Khoi District 1 08 3915 5555
Click to see details




Hogs Breath


Not content to only having your Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve? If not then head to Hog’s Breath where a Holiday Set Dinner runs from the 15th of December to the 25th.

2 Hai Trieu st. District 1 08 3915 6066
Click to see details







Hotel Equatorial


Enjoy your Christmas buffet while being serenaded with carols with a real Christmas tree in the background.

242 Tran Binh Trong (08) 3839 7777
Click to see details




La Brasserie De Saigon


A four course Christmas dinner featuring a glass of sparkling wine and fresh seafood awaits you at Le Brasserie De Saigon.

38 Dong Du 08 6291 3657
Click to see details




La Cuisine


Take in a five course Christmas Eve dinner at this Miele guide listed restaurant.

48 Le Thanh Ton District 1 08 2229 8882
Click to see details







La Villa


Violin and guitar players entertain while you feast on a six course dinner.

14 Ngo Quang Huy St District 2 08 3898 2082
Click to see details




Monsoon Restaurant


A very Asian Christmas set dinner complete with a glass of sparkling wine.

1 Cao Ba Nha District 1 08 6290 8899
Click to see details




My Place


Choose from a three course lunch or five course dinner for Christmas.

195 Dien Bien Phu District 3 08 3829 8301
Click to see details







New World Hotel


A plethora of festive events for the holiday season including special room rates and private parties.

76 Le Lai District 1 08 3822 8888
Click to see details




Renaissance Riverside Hotel


Dine at 21 floors or have a cozy gathering of friends on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

8-15 Ton Duc Thanh District 1 08 3822 0033
Click to see details




Sofitel Saigon Plaza


There are options galore at the Sofitel Saigon with buffet and set menu options. Also celebrate at home with the “french touch” menu available for delivery.

17 Le Duan District 1 08 3824 1555
Click to see details










StarCity Saigon Hotel


Enjoy the festive holiday with an abundant seafood buffet and unlimited Tiger beer and soft drinks. Book early and get a 15 percent discount.

144 Nguyen Van Troi Phu Nhuan District 1 08 3999 8888
Click to see details




Vatel


A special French-Vietnamese buffet with a complimentary glass of sparkling wine at Vatel.

120Bis Suong Nguyet Anh st District 1 08 5404 2220
Click to see details




Wine and Brandy Bar


A five course dinner with paired wine suggestions for the wine lover.

38 Dong Khoi District 1 08 3829 3968
Click to see details




Le Bouchon De Saigon


Enjoy Christmas dinner at the friendly casual French bistro with homemade foie gras and Christmas turkey.

40 Thai Van Lung District 1 083 829 9263
Click to see details



 

 








Mui Ne Unique Resort – Mui Ne


Enjoy a beachside BBQ buffet for Christmas at Mui Ne Unique Resort. Dancers, musicians and an international DJ will provide entertainment along with a special appearance by Santa!

20 B Nguyen Dinh Chieu 062 374 1617

Call for details




Guava – Nha Trang


Enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner with roast turkey with all the trimmings for VND400,000/person.

17 Biet Thu 058 3524 140

Call for details




Kozak Mamay - Vung Tau


Celebrate a quiet Christmas eve in traditional Russian style with a traditional goose and all the trimmings

06-07 H3, Nguyen Tri Phuong

084 356 3776




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



3 Vietnamese Soups You Must Try

By: Quang Mai

Our writer makes you discover his top 3 Vietnamese soups you must try if you travel to Vietnam.

In my opinion, one of the most enjoyable aspects of traveling is the discovery of new cuisines. I guess that’s why I always gain weight during my holiday. Having traveled across Vietnam, I have tasted and discovered many new cuisines which I consider not-to-be-missed. I believe that traveling independently is perfect for me. If I took a package tours which usually has set menus for meals, I would never discover the different tastes (even unpleasant ones) of special local dishes.

My favorite type of soups are the sour ones because they are said to be cooling during hot weather in tropical countries like Vietnam. Furthermore, they are especially nutritious and refreshing. Here are my top 3 Vietnamese soups:

Catfish and Vegetable Sour Soup (Canh chua cá bông lau) - South Vietnam :

Thanks to a wealth of vegetables, this sour fish soup is very colorful. The sour taste comes from tamarind and indian taro, okra, spring onions, along with herbs bring out the taste of the catfish.

The same recipe and process can go with many types of ray-finned fish but Catfish is much better than others. The soup only contains the head and tail of the fish and is served with an array of vegetables and flavorings. The rest of the fish is usually served in combination with the soup on the side so you can experience the combinations of different flavours in one meal. It is usually served simply on a side dish with fish sauce or gets caramelized and served in a clay pot. The tastes will last for a long time in your palate so prepare to drink much water during and after the meal.

Do not feel distraught when you only see the head and the tail in the bowl of soup. The restaurant includes them on purpose. It may look weird to westerners unfamiliar with Vietnamese cuisine but this is the way canh chua is done in the south. This happened to Charly, City Pass's marketing manager. On his first time seeing a fish head in his "canh chua", he complained to the restaurant because he thought they didn’t have any fish fillets to put in the soup so they put in what they had left. But in fact, locals consider the head to be the best part of this soup.

I will recommend you to try this one first if the trio are placed up at the same time. But hey, don’t think that I am region-biased. It is said that this is the traditional dish that welcomes travelers to southern locales, so it’s worth it to have this soup first.

Sour Bamboo Shoot Soup (Canh măng chua) - Central Vietnam:

Sour Bamboo Shoot Soup

Fish also features in this soup, but light sour flavor complements due to the pickled salted bamboo shoots. A bit of green onions and dill are added and the soup is served with raw vegetables. This soup is very healthy.

Carp is usually served with this soup to make a perfect combination of sweet from the fish and salty and light sourness from the bamboo shoots. The soup has a light sour taste which makes it different from the strong flavours of the Southern version which definitely puts your taste buds at ease.

Mussel Soup (Canh chua hến) - North Vietnam

Mussel Soup

A species of small freshwater mussel found on lake-and river-bottoms is used to make this tasty soup. After being cleaned, the tiny mussels are removed from their shells and cooked with tamarind. Spring onions and various herbs add to the sweet and sour flavor.

Mussels aren’t as expensive as fish but in term of taste, they bring a very special flavour to anyone who has not tried them before. The mussels are fried with garlic and other spices until the flavours meld together. Then the mussels are poured into a sour broth of carambola or green banana. Though it has a light sour taste, the inherent sweetness of the mussels make this soup different than the others in the country.

These are my top three Vietnamese Soups, are you ready to try one of them? Share me your top 3 so that I can put on my "must try" list for my next holiday!


Why Is Food So Cheap in Vietnam?

By: Arik Jahn

A bánh mì for VND15,000? A coffee for VND15,000? If you’re on a budget, look no further than Vietnam! Prices for food and drinks, as well as the general cost of living, are so unbeatably cheap that Vietnam was recently named the world’s most affordable country for foreigners. And the best part is: you’ll eat well!

vietnamese foodImage source: migrationology.com

Accommodation, transport, sightseeing, food and drinks… budget tourism site Price of Travel has recently estimated a backpacker’s daily expenses in Hanoi at VND500,000. That’s less than the entrance fee to visit the Tower of London—in pounds!

Online institution Numbeo estimates that the cost of living in Vietnam is 45.71 percent lower than in the US.

Food makes up a good part of this. The usual Saigonese office lunch, for instance, offers a range of local specialities from cơm tấm to hủ tiếu at VND35,000, often including a soup as a starter and a small dessert. While portions are not US-sized, this three-course meal does fill you up; and it is delicious!

If you think these bargains are limited to street food, think again. Even more sophisticated eateries up to Vietnam’s dining temples are highly affordable compared to international prices. For local fare, you’ll rarely pay more than VND250,000 per dish.

One simple question arises:

Why Is Food in Vietnam So Cheap?

Vietnamese Food Is Inexpensive by Nature

Vietnamese cuisine is fresh and light in character. Following a deeply rooted food philosophy that aims at harmonising yin and yang through nutrition, nearly all Vietnamese dishes perfectly balance out greens and vegetables, proteins and carbohydrates. Portions are not humongous like in other parts of the world, but stomach-filling.

vietnamese foodImage source: migrationology.com

The recipes, on the other hand, have often been passed down from previous generations who lived a simple life, relying heavily on locally sourced ingredients you’ll find on pretty much any street market at prices that truly amaze.

A 10-pack of eggs merely puts you back VND25,000. You could easily buy a whole bagful of vegetables like carrots or local greens, or fruits like bananas or passion fruits and not spend more than VND60,000. And a country with a coastline of 3,440 kilometres is never short of the freshest and cheapest seafood.

Nature is so kind to abundantly provide Vietnamese gastronomy with everything it needs. A trip to the Mekong Delta is enough to understand just how rich and fertile the Vietnamese soil is. This country is quite simply a food paradise on earth!

Cheap Work = Cheap Food

Another reason for the cheap food prices is the same as for the affordability of life in Vietnam in general: wages are rising, but still low on an international scale. Consequently, the labour cost that goes into your lunch is considerably lower than in other countries, which beats down the prices and also creates a demand for reasonably priced food. If you earn VND4 millions per month, you won’t spend more than a dollar or two on your daily eating. So there are also vendors who cater to that demand.

Check the video below for cheap and tasty street food under $1 in Saigon:

Video source: Best Ever Food Review Show

A Lack of Food Safety?

Lastly, there’s also a downside to the spectacular prices: food safety is not Vietnam’s strong suit. Paying less attention to hygiene ultimately means a lower cost. The main problems are the use of pesticides, lack of refrigeration and insufficient storage systems, as well as hygiene violations during food processing and cooking.

vietnamese foodImage source: cntraveler.com

While any consumer in Vietnam should keep this in mind, it would be wrong to distrust the whole industry—and even more wrong to refrain from indulging in all the goodness offered on the street side! Just use your common sense. If a place looks dirty or obviously lacks proper hygiene standards, don’t go. Well-frequented street vendors and restaurants are usually safe.

Eating Well

The good news is: Vietnam—and especially its urban centres Hanoi and Saigon—gives you all the options. If you want to have lunch for VND20,000, you’ll find that. If you’re willing to pay top prices for top-quality international fare, you’ll also find that, cheaper than in many other countries. However, the best choice is, as so often, the happy medium.

vietnamese foodImage source: migrationology.com

Vietnam has plenty of mid-range street restaurants that are fixed in a house or on a street corner. Prices hover around VND30,000-70,000 per dish, food quality is good and the taste is to drop to your knees for. And after all, three dollars for a full-blown, savoury meal is not too bad, is it?

So do look out for those charming little bún chả or cơm tấm, cao lầu or bún bò Huế, mì quảng or bánh xèo places that get crowded at lunch- and dinnertime. This is where you’ll truly experience the culinary genius of Vietnam’s multifaceted, healthy and flavour-bursting cuisine.

Video source: Steve's Kitchen

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