How to Unite the World's Vietnamese Food Lovers

By: Keely Burkey

Why did you start Vietnamese Food Lovers (VFL)?

Because for over 11 years, as I’ve promoted Vietnam with City Pass Guide, I’ve come to the conclusion that tourism in the country is portrayed all wrong. The essence of what makes Vietnam a special place isn’t its attractions or its monuments or its landmarks. What really makes it stand out is the people and the food. You can’t really export people too much, but you can export food, and Vietnam definitely has one of the most interesting cuisines—especially now that everyone is becoming aware of the importance of eating healthier. Green, light food, diverse food, easy, simple but fresh, which are attributes of the Vietnamese cuisine.

foodImage source: The Gourmet Gourmand

How will VFL change the experience of eating Vietnamese food?

I hope that we will be able to support the Vietnamese restaurants in order to ensure higher quality and safety standards, an important area in which improvement must be made. Our aim is really to make a stand for Vietnamese cuisine worldwide.

How do you plan to do that?

It’s a long-term goal that requires ample resources and time. And this is what we’re currently building. Vietnamese Food Lovers aims to recruit the best food supply chain stakeholders and to work together with them to support the promotion of Vietnamese cuisine and food, not only marketing-wise, but sales-wise. Vietnamese Food Lovers plans to be active in international trade fairs for hospitality, F&B sectors, gastronomy and other related trade fairs. The aim is to help local producers who are producing quality food-related products to export to the rest of the world. Vietnam has not yet tapped into this huge potential in this huge industry.

foodImage source: serenitydentalclinic.com

Why do you think Vietnamese cuisine isn’t more widely celebrated in the world?

I think it’s a combination of things. First, Vietnam has truly opened its doors to the rest of the world only for the last 25 years. And for the first 10 years, tourism was very minimal. The second reason is that to make good Vietnamese food you require some basic raw ingredients that are still not yet available in most countries around the world.

VFL now has a website. What’s the purpose of the website, and what can foodies get out of it?

We just launched the English version, with a Vietnamese version coming soon. Basically, the website aims to be a one-door portal where demand and supply can meet in order to do more Vietnamese cooking. That includes recipes, a very large database of food suppliers from around the world, a large database of restaurants and hotels that have an interest in Vietnamese cuisine, and daily news and films and data that is relevant to Vietnamese Food Lovers.

foodImage source: vietnamtastelondon.com

What are your goals for VFL by 2020?

By 2020 Vietnamese Food Lovers will have organised over eight Vietnamese Food Festivals across Vietnam. We will have received a million pledges of Vietnamese food lovers around the world. Vietnamese Food Lovers will be the largest database of food supply chain and demand contacts worldwide, so we can unite all Vietnamese food lovers under one portal. It will be the largest media agency responsible for promoting both Vietnamese cuisine and Vietnam’s finest food producers.

Banner image source: serenitydentalclinic.com


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



Organic Seafood Production in Vietnam: an Interview with Antoine Bui

By: Karen Wise

Today’s consumers are increasingly socially and environmentally conscious. No longer are they eating simply to survive. A growing number want to be sure of the quality of what they are consuming, know where it has come from, how it’s been produced and any subsequent impact on the natural environment. Local producers are taking note of this trend thanks to people like Antoine Bui, a man with a passion for developing local organic production here in Vietnam. Bui is Representative Office Manager of Binca, a German company that distributes seafood products in Europe and Vietnam.

organic seafoodImage source: delamer.ca

Bui’s interest in organic food production started early in his career during a stint as a consultant conducting market studies related to Vietnam. Already someone at the forefront of new trends having opened a pasta restaurant in Poitiers, a student city in the West of France, at a time when pasta was just beginning to hit the food scene Bui moved back to Vietnam to work as Sales and Marketing Director at Aquaservice, specialists in tilapia production. It is here that he learnt about organic seafood production and certification from Mr Philippe Serene, General Director of Proconco and Aquaservice and a consultant for a German company distributing seafood products in Europe.

Since foreign companies could not purchase land Bui’s first mission was to secure partnerships with local fish farmers willing to go organic. Not an easy sell, 15 years ago, when the focus was on quantity, minimising costs and making a modest living. As it happened all that was needed was one person Ms Nguyen Thi Dung, an aquaculture engineer by training, who had her concerns about farming processes at the time. She was shocked to see that whole ponds were being treated with antibiotics without any distinction between sick and healthy fish and that epidemics were prevalent in the high density farms. Her misgivings made her immediately receptive to Bui’s approaches. A collaboration was formed and Ms Dung set up her first organic farm at Long Xuyen.

organic seafoodImage source: rd.com

Challenges and Opportunities for Organic Producers in Vietnam

At the heart of organic seafood is the quality of the environment, adherence to recognised stringent criteria; profits, with perseverance, come later. Organic is not for those seeking to make a quick buck or wanting to cut corners. You need to be a true believer working with a partner as devoted as you are. Converting a conventional fish farm into an organic one can take up to three years. Radical changes must be made throughout the entire business including seemingly basic hygiene matters such as not throwing used cigarette butts anywhere. In order to get certification, the whole farm must be organic - a mix of conventional and organic is not allowed - something that not everyone appreciates. Regulations must be met. The European Union, for example, forbids the use of reproductive hormones. Creation of optimal atmospheric conditions for the natural reproduction of pangasius presents a huge challenge for organic farmers in Vietnam. Nevertheless, certification labels are important as they give producers credibility in the overseas market.

For those that are unable to get organic certification, the Global GAP Aquaculture and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) standards, which allow the use of antibiotics under certain conditions and with strict tracking, offer an intermediary option. Producers in the Mekong Delta, seeing the growing concern over food safety among the middle class, are taking an interest in these intermediary labels. Bui hopes that once they understand them he will be able recruit more suppliers.

organic seafoodImage source: psmag.com

Seafood is not the only organic food item today’s consumers are looking for. Demand for vegetables, fruits and poultry is also on the rise. Producers, recognising this and having heard of Bui’s work, are approaching him for advice on how to switch to organic farming. The organically certified, EU and Naturland, fruits and vegetables of this first collaboration will be available on the domestic market in early 2019.

According to Bui this organic movement offers a lot of opportunities. Shortages at stores are common particularly in Hanoi where consumers are perhaps more affluent. He also suspects Hanoians are wary of the many Chinese products flooding the market and have a greater trust in local produce. He has yet to witness such shortages in Ho Chi Minh City however he estimates that of the 10 million inhabitants of the metropolis 1.4 percent of them consume organic products on a regular basis spending around VND1,000,000 per month. He is convinced that a similar study in Hanoi would show even greater numbers.

The Future of Organic in Vietnam; Will the Trend Last?

One might wonder if this trend is sustainable in Vietnam. In Bui’s opinion, yes. Over the past two to three years the Vietnamese consumer has grown increasingly sophisticated and organic is seen as a guarantee of quality compared to products traditionally available to them. The numbers of farms declaring themselves organic producers are increasing particularly in the Hanoi area so much so that the Vietnamese government recognises that clarity around what is truly organic is going to be needed. In fact, Bui would go as far as to say that, were he a younger man, he’d start a chain of organic stores selling an extensive range of organic products including cosmetics highlighting the international appeal of such items.

organic seafoodImage source: nymag.com

As to how the trend first started. Bui puts it down to the Vietnamese diaspora, especially those emanating from California where, of course, organic production has been popular for many years. He goes on to cite the example of an organic pepper producer who converted following the advice of his brother living in California.

Like this article? Read more about organic production in the Blog section on CityPassGuide.com

Banner Image source: Shutter Stock


Become a Vietnamese Food Master with these 5 Cookbooks!

By: Molly Headley

Everyone knows Saigon is a city for foodies. At any given moment you can hop on the back of a motorbike to seek out the best banh mi in town, sip a cà phê sữa đá in one of Vietnam’s thousand and one cafes, or stumble into a phở restaurant at 3 a.m. after a long night out and a lot of rooftop cocktails.

But what if you don’t want to go out? How can you transform that wilting cilantro and package of rice noodles in your kitchen into a delicious meal? Cooking doesn’t have to be hard and Vietnamese cuisine is the perfect place to start. Versatile and often simple to make, the flavours of Vietnamese food gain complexity through the expert combining of fresh herbs, sauces and spices.

A peek inside our selection of the best Vietnamese cookbooks will make you want to drop by your local market for some ingredients to throw into 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 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 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” and “Luke Nguyen’s France”, 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 SBS Australia, or follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

In addition to the cookbook, Saigon locals and visitors can visit Nguyen’s cooking studio, Grain by Luke Nguyen, to try their hand at learning his extensive cooking techniques.


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, Bánhmì11, 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. Stauch currently teaches cooking classes in Hanoi.

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


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.

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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.

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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!

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