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:
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
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!
Top Places to Celebrate Lunar New Year-Tet 2016 in Vietnam
Ignite your 2016 Vietnamese Lunar New Year with exciting deals all over Vietnam. Citypassguide.com has carefully selected the top venues and offers to ensure a wonderful Tet experience. Also, check out our website for even more places to go, things to do and great memories to be made!
Enjoy the holidays - spoil yourself, you know you deserve it!
Tet Eve Buffet: enjoy our signature and mouthwatering foods along with music performance, from VND 650,000++/ person (food only) to VND 1,000,000++/person (includes beer, soft drinks, chilled juice & wines)
2nd day of Tet: Seafood Buffet from VND750,000++/person (food only) to VND1,100,000++/person (includes beer, soft drinks, chilled juice & wines).
3rd day of Tet: Buffet from VND650,000++/person (food only) to VND1,000,000++/person (includes beer, soft drinks, chilled juice & wines).
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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Have you ever wondered what Vietnamese cuisine is like outside of Vietnam? There have been numerous articles about Vietnamese food in faraway lands, such as Australia and the United States, thanks to the large Vietnamese diaspora in these places. However, not much is known about Vietnamese cuisine in neighboring countries, especially in my homeland: a little sunny island about a 2 hour flight away from Saigon called Singapore.
If you happen to be there and have a sudden craving for authentic phở, Hủ tiếu Nam Vang and bánh xèo, would be able to find them? Well the good news is, yes, you can.
Now, you might be thinking, “no, wait. It’s going to be super expensive”! Well, you’re both right and wrong. You’re right that Vietnamese food in Singapore can be overwhelmingly pricey, however, if you know where to look, and don’t mind a little bit of adventure while searching, you can actually find a decent bowl of phở for almost the same price as in Saigon. Curious? Read on.
Image source: cdn.vox-cdn.com
First of all, a little background information. Due to Singapore’s proximity to Vietnam, and the large number of Vietnamese students and professionals who’ve moved to Singapore to study and work, there has been an explosion of eateries catering to this demographic over the last decade. Most of these eateries were opened either by Vietnamese migrants, or enterprising Singaporeans with a love for Vietnamese cuisine.
So here comes the disclaimer: the dishes here may be authentic, but they aren’t region-specific. To a Singaporean, a phở is a phở, regardless of whether it’s prepared in the style typical of Saigon or Hanoi.
The eateries featured here have some of the best Vietnamese food you can find in Singapore, and some of them are also highly recommended by Vietnamese people who have visited the country or live there. They are listed from “as pricey as you’d expect” to “for real”?
Located in Novena Gardens along Thomson Road, Saigon Alley is the closest you can get to an authentic upper-class dining experience in Saigon, save two details: the impressive English proficiency of the mainly Vietnamese staff and the prices.
Image source: 3.bp.blogspot.com
One of their most popular dishes, spicy Australian beef noodles, costs about SGD14 (VND240,000). For that price you’ll get something that looks like bun bo hue, but with a slightly spicier broth, and with a very generous serving of sliced Australian beef and brisket, as well as herbs like mint and basil. They are also quite well known for their fresh spring rolls, which are actually new interpretations because you won’t find these versions in Vietnam.
Image source: juice.com.sg
The fresh Vietnamese tiger prawn rolls are huge, simply because of the size of the prawn, which is tightly packed into and yet, still clearly visible through the rice paper. The crab spring rolls are another great variation, containing a generous amount of real crab meat. Each roll costs SGD8 (VND137,000).
Although the dishes are pricey, it’s probably one of the best places in Singapore to get delicious Vietnamese food, including a few imaginative variants of popular Vietnamese dishes in a clean restaurant with great ambience. Perfect if you’re missing Vietnam, and have money to spend.
I experienced Vietnamese food for the first time in my life on a rainy day in Singapore in 2013. I walked past this restaurant in Raffles City, and my friend remarked that she had “heard some good things about this place”, so we decided to check it out. It didn’t change my life, but it definitely opened my eyes because it’s where I had my first phở.
Image source: 1.bp.blogspot.com
What I found interesting about Nam Nam is that there is a huge diagram on the wall that teaches you how to eat phở. The restaurant specialises in Hanoi phở, and the toppings range from chicken (SGD9.90/VND170,000), to beef steak slices (SGD10.90/VND187,000), and medium rare wagyu beef (SGD19.90/VND341,000).
Image source: 1.bp.blogspot.com
You can also find bánh mì with toppings such as smoked salmon, cold-cut meats, and caramelised pork belly for not-so-authentic prices, like VND130,000.
Just by its name, you know this entry is going to be all about bánh mì. Sandwich Saigon Cafe has some of the best bánh mì you will find outside Vietnam with just one drawback: it costs about SGD7 (VND120,000), which is about 10 times the price of what you’ll get in Saigon.
However, if you look beyond the price, the authenticity of the taste, texture and ingredients will remind you of Vietnam. This is the place Singaporeans go after returning from a trip to Vietnam to recapture their favourite food moments. Vietnamese expats also head to this place when they start missing the tastes of home.
Image source: sandwichsaigon.com
The bánh mì xíu mại is to die for, with its giant pork meatballs and vegetables. One additional condiment used here is mayonnaise, which is not commonly used in Vietnam. But it works like a charm.
The baguette is crusty, yet airy, a perfect contrast of crunchiness and softness in one bite. There are also a wide range of fillings available, such as pork-chops, garlic chicken, roast beef and more.
Located at Grandlink Square in Singapore’s Geylang district, Little Vietnam is a charming little eatery serving decently-priced Vietnamese fare in a comfortable setting.
They are known for their fried spring rolls, which are served in sets of 5, for SGD5 (VND86,000). Filled with chicken, vegetables and glass noodles, the rolls are slightly larger than what you’d find in Vietnam and are deep-fried to perfection.
They have a pretty huge menu with offerings such as chạo tôm going for SGD5 (VND86,000), gỏi ngó sen for SGD6 (VND103,000) and phở, starting from SGD6, depending on what toppings you choose.
Image source: static.straitstimes.com.sg
The bún thịt nướng served here costs about SGD6 (VND103,000) but looks and tastes exactly like what you find in Vietnam. It’s a very popular dish in this restaurant.
Take note that if you’re planning to have a beer here you will need to reserve a table inside the restaurant due to alcohol restriction laws in Singapore. You can’t drink outside the establishment. The place is very popular and often filled to capacity so making a reservation is highly recommended.
Earlier in the article, I mentioned that if you know where to look, you can find some excellent Vietnamese food at almost authentic prices. Here are two places you might want to consider. One of them will be a bit of an adventure.
For fans of bánh xèo, this is probably one of the best places in Singapore to get authentic versions of the famous Vietnamese crepe.
Located in Bukit Panjang Hawker Center, Saigon Food Street is actually a stall in a residential neighbourhood accompanied by other street food stalls. This means that you can choose your seat, and buy a variety of dishes from different stalls at the same time.
The bánh xèo in this stall is priced at SGD5 (VND86,000) and is made to order. With fresh and succulent shrimp and slices of delicious pork wrapped up in a razor-thin pancake, it’s as good as some of the best bánh xèo I’ve tried in Saigon.
Video source: Eatbook
You can also find other dishes at authentic Saigon prices, like phở for SGD2.50 (VND43,000) and spring rolls for SGD5 (VND86,000).
If you take Bui Vien and compress the entire street into one building, you will get Orchard Towers, one of the seediest parts of Singapore and also colloquially known as the “four floors of whores”.
Made up of establishments where you can find some of the cheapest booze in the country, massage parlours and gogo bars, it’s also home to one of the best and most affordable Vietnamese eateries you will ever find in Singapore.
Image source: eatbook.sg
Located on the 4th level, Thien Long is one of only two eateries along the stretch with tables and chairs spilling onto the walkway. It is also where you will find the best hủ tiếu nam vang and bánh canh cua in Singapore for only about SGD5 (VND86,000).
Although their regular phở is not bad, they have a “spicy” version, which remains one of the best post-drinking supper recommendations I can give. I should also add that this restaurant doesn’t close until 4:00 am.
Video source: Eatbook
So, if you’re in Singapore and suddenly feeling a massive craving for Vietnamese food at 3 in the morning, you don’t want to empty your wallet, and you don’t mind some chaos along the way, then head to Thien Long Vietnamese Restaurant.
How did you enter into the food business in Vietnam?
My father was in the Air Force in Vietnam during the war, and suddenly I became a boat person. When I was in my 20s, I said that one day I would go back to Vietnam. I started working for Park Hyatt, and they sent me to Jordan and Dubai to open Vietnamese restaurants. In 1996 I started working for Park Hyatt in Saigon. And then, when I was working in the Park Hyatt in Paris in 2002, I called up my embassy and said, “I want to go to Vietnam.”
Do you think it’s easy to cook popular food in Vietnam?
I think we are improving but we’re not finished yet. How many restaurants can you find in Saigon that are both presentable and commercial? None. Maybe Wrap and Roll, because [the founder] knows what to make to make it popular all around the world.
Image source: danang.huongnghiepaau.com
Do you think street food is real Vietnamese cuisine?
No matter where we eat today, we still don’t find real Vietnamese cuisine. Because it’s not supported, it’s not understood. And when it comes to street food, no one has a fixed hygiene routine. It’s sad to see that. Me, I’m scared to eat somewhere here on the street. People just want to play a game. I want to tell the chef, cooking is not a game.
What’s the future of Vietnamese chefs?
Now young chefs try to be more modern. There has been a lot of progress since I’ve been here. The presentation of food is much more interesting today. With so much competition in an area like District 1 it’s more demanding to be number one. The cooks, the chefs used to not want to be chefs. But now, they are happier to be chefs. They’ll know about truffles and goose liver, but they don’t understand Vietnamese leaves. Bamboo? I used to eat fresh bamboo, it’s very nice. Why don’t we find these things now?
Image source: danang.huongnghiepaau.com
Do you think Vietnamese food can get more famous internationally?
When I was 18 or 19, Vietnamese cuisine was unknown. Look around the world today, it’s number one, and it’s the same cuisine, this is what we eat every day. Vietnamese cuisine for me is the best Asian food I have ever eaten. I don’t say that because I’m Vietnamese, because that’s not the entire part of my identity. I’m from France. I feel in France, things are much more rigid. Here, you can go for pho, you can have some steak frites, you can have some fries.
What makes Vietnamese food better than Western food, in your opinion?
One thing I would say to my French competitor: You might have a steak, some foie gras… But me, when I cook Vietnamese cuisine, I have the opportunity to use six spices. Having more spices brings diversity of flavour and texture. With the crispness, the leaves, the slow cooking, the tenderness. So in one meal, I can pick up different things that you otherwise miss out on.
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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.