When I was asked to write an article about the top 10 most adventurous foods I have ever eaten in Vietnam, I thought to myself, “I’ve never eaten any adventurous foods before.” I started to reflect on my time in Vietnam and tried to have intentional flashbacks.
I am not an adventurous person by any means; however, living in a foreign country one must try local cuisine to fully understand and appreciate the place they are living. Not only is food essential for life, but food gives a traveller a chance to try what other inhabitants are eating.
Full disclaimer: my meaning of “adventurous” might not seem all that daring to you.
Súp Cua (Crab Soup)
The reason I put súp cua number one is that at every wedding or party that I have been to over the last decade in Vietnam there was and will always be súp cua at the table. I will be honest, it smells delicious, but just looking at it makes me gag. It really looks like thick snot and whenever I eat it I have to hold my nostrils together. It does taste good though.
Image source: webanngon.com
Chân Gà (Chicken Feet)
There is just something strange and odd about eating chicken feet. Even though locals love chicken feet, I can’t even dare to try them. However, if you are mood for good value, I am told you can get a kilo of chicken feet for about VND60,000.
Image source: niemdamme.com.vn
Lưỡi Lợn (Pig’s Tongue)
This is an obvious choice. No way will I ever try this again. I remember going to the countryside in the Mekong Delta (Long An) and being served some local tongue. Needlessly to say I wasn’t having it.
Image source: blogamthuc.com
Côn Trùng (Bugs)
Cockroaches, crickets, larvae and so on—pique your attention yet? This number should probably be number one. There’s really nothing worse than seeing a bowl of worms or larvae swimming around and then being asked to devour them without hesitation. Obviously I am not going down that road again.
Image source: steemit.com
Phá Lấu (Meat Offal)
Have you ever driven down the street and looked at all the street vendors and stalls and seen piles and piles of meat hanging and dripping all over the stalls? Well, that is phá lấu, basically all the leftover meat. If you are into intestines, lungs, kidneys and whatever else there is, this is something you must try—just kidding. Seriously, I remember trying one piece of meat from a stall one time and told myself that is not happening again.
Image source: mav.vn
Con Ếch (Frogs)
There is just something creepy and wrong about eating frogs. People religiously eat them here and they actually do taste like chicken. I remember venturing into an alleyway and eating frog porridge. There was something strange about eating frogs in a liquid substance. I prefer my frogs dry and crispy.
Image source: baogiadinhso.com
Bánh Bao (Steamed Buns)
Locals love them, as do some expats and foreigners. Me? Nope. I honestly don’t eat much meat in general and when I do I need it to be cooked and grilled properly. I just can’t open up some bread and demolish a local meat-stuffed pie—actually I can, but that is usually in Australia or the UK.
Image source: tucomcongnghiep.vn
Bánh Mì Muối Ớt (Chilli Banh Mi)
Imagine biting into the world famous bánh mì only to discover your mouth burning, snot coming from your nose and burning sensation in your lips and fingers from touching the chilli. Yes, that happens. The problem will eating bánh mì is that you can’t really see if or how much chilli they actually put into it. It is really audacious, to say the least. These were a big trend a few years ago, but it’s hard to find one in HCMC now.
Image source: chudu24.com
Hột Vịt Lộn (Fetal Duck Eggs)
This should also be number one—it has to be number one! I wanted to put fetal duck eggs number one, but that would have been too obvious, so I decided to put it here instead to catch your attention. I remember using a spoon one day on the street to crack open one of them and I opened up the shell and I just felt like I was looking at a baby duck. I was really expecting and hoping it would move so I did not actually have to try to eat it. I masked it with salt and pepper and slowly put it close to my mouth. I was just about it try it and bam! I vomited. Thank God for that because I would never have been able to forget that taste and memory if I actually had tried it.
Image source: youtube.com
Banner image source: icekrambol.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.