YOUR INSIDER'S VIETNAMESE Restaurants GUIDE
IN Ho Chi Minh City 🇻🇳 Since 2008
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE VIETNAM’S MOST DELICIOUS DESSERTS
No good meal is complete without something sweet to finish it off.
Luckily, in Vietnam, there are a number of desserts to choose from — many with an interesting history and tradition attached. Similarly to the savory meals made in Vietnam, the versatile rice grain makes a regular appearance.
Unlike Western desserts, which use plenty of wheat flour and butter to make the likes of cakes and biscuits, the Vietnamese opt for glutinous rice and rice flour. To fill these sweets delights, cooks in Vietnam use plenty of coconuts, fruits, beans, and nuts — ingredients that are much more readily available than the dairy products found in the West such as chocolate or cream.
Here are some of the country’s favorites, with links to the recipes included.
Balance of texture is a particularly important factor to building the perfect dessert in Vietnam, demonstrated through the popular sweet soup, chè, which comes in many forms.
One version, known as chè chuối, balances soft banana — cooked and served in coconut milk — with slightly chewy sago pearls (a starch extracted from the spongy centre of tropical sago palm stems) and crunchy nuts.
Sữa chua mít
This popular jackfruit yoghurt is another dessert that balances texture well. Colour really makes this dessert stand out, topped with a layer of nuts and featuring colourful cubes of jelly and sago pearls.
Bánh bò nướng
Contrasts between northern and southern Vietnam can be found in the country’s desserts. The fertile soil in the south, for example, is a perfect breeding ground for palm sugar, coconut and tropical fruit trees, which means these ingredients are more freely used.
This can be seen in the southern dessert, bánh bò nướng — a chewy coconut cake, sometimes called “honeycomb cake” in English, which is green in colour from the use of tropical pandan leaves.
Bánh tét chuối
Another dessert found in the south of Vietnam is bánh tét chuối, a sweet variation of the glutinous rice snack bánh tét. To make it, sticky rice is flattened out on a banana leaf, topped with banana or red mung beans and rolled up. It is then cooked either on an open flame or boiled in water and is served with a custard-like sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds.
You can get cơm rượu — a glutinous rice wine — all across Vietnam but it varies depending what region you’re in. Generally, it’s made by mixing sweet rice balls with a milky rice wine. In the north, where it is often thicker in consistency, it is enjoyed as a pudding and called rượu nếp. It is made by fermenting the rice with yeast and steaming it in a banana leaf. When a particular rice is used, it has a wonderful deep purple-red colour.
Tàu hũ nước đường
Balance in flavour is also an important element within Vietnamese desserts, particularly between the sweet and spicy. This can be seen in tàu hũ nước đường, which is a Vietnamese silken tofu dessert. There are many variations of this pudding across Asia but what makes this dish so special in Vietnam is the use of a spicy ginger syrup that is poured over the top. It is then topped with cubes of flavoured jelly.
Bánh da lợn
Translating literally as ‘pig skin cake’, this steamed layered tapioca pudding gets its name from its gelatinous appearance. It’s made from tapioca starch, rice flour, mashed mung bean, durian, coconut water and sugar and is dyed green with pandan leaves. This is a soft and slightly chewy cake, which can be eaten on its own as well as being made on special occasions like birthdays or death anniversaries.
This is a traditional sweet food which is often eaten during Tet, the Lunar New Year. Families will offer a tray of mứt to their ancestors because they believe it will bring them good fortune in the coming year. There are many different kinds of mut tet but essentially it is candied fruit, vegetables and nuts. A tray of mứt Tết will generally have an array of striking colours, doubling up as a decoration during the fun festivities.
Bánh chuối chiên or bánh cam
You won’t find whole load of desserts in Vietnam that have been fried but when you do, you are usually left with a smile on your face. These are two separate fried treats but both can be enjoyed on-the-go as a sweet street food snack. Bánh chuối chiên is a banana fritter, which is made with a sweetened batter. Bánh cam are sweetened and fried balls, made from rice flour and stuffed with a sweet mung bean filling. The balls are then finished with a coating of sesame seeds.
Bánh trung thu
This wildly popular Vietnamese mooncake is enjoyed during the mid-Autumnal festival season and is often given as a present to friends or family. The sweet version can be made with a variety of fillings including shredded coconut, sunflower and sesame seeds, and mung beans. This is then encased in a golden crust and enjoyed with a pot of tea.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? ORIGINS OF VIETNAMESE DISHES
Modern Vietnamese food has a number of influences from countries near and far.
The most obvious of these are intertwined in Vietnam’s history and geography, from its colonial past with France, to its neighboring countries like China and Cambodia. Inspirations from the West are evident with touches of America seen in Vietnam’s food and drink scene in major cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
Perhaps less obvious are the influences from countries like India and Malaysia, but nevertheless, these places have also had a hand in shaping one of the most unique and delicious cuisines in the world.
Dishes and drinks
Bánh mì: France
The baguette was introduced by the French during the colonial period in the 1800s and has since been turned into a staple Vietnamese ingredient. Rather than using wheat flour, however, the Vietnamese make their baguettes with rice flour, giving them a much lighter texture than the ones found in France.
Bánh mì also refers to the popular street food snack, which is a wonderful Viet-French fusion sandwich, packed full of meats, pickles, and pâté—the latter of which is another ingredient that was introduced by the French.
Hủ Tiếu: Cambodia
The origins of this dish—which is particularly popular in the south of Vietnam—can be traced back to Cambodia’s Kuy Teav, which is a meaty noodle soup, garnished with crispy shallots and bean sprouts. The Vietnamese version is made with pork stock, rice noodles and meat. Similar to the nation’s much-loved phở, hủ tiếu is also served up with a plate of fresh leaves and herbs.
Cà ri gà: Malaysia/India
Malaysian and Indian influences can be seen in Vietnam in this wonderfully fragrant chicken curry, cà ri gà. It is cooked with carrots, sweet potatoes and peas in a coconut sauce and is often mopped up with rice or a baguette.
Bánh bao: China
This is Vietnam’s take on the Chinese baozi, which is a type of steamed, filled bun. Bánh bao are typically filled with minced pork, a piece of sausage and a hardboiled egg and are sometimes served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce. Vendors can be found selling these on most street corners across Vietnam.
Bánh flan: France
A quintessential French dessert is the crème caramel and bánh flan is Vietnam’s take on this. The Vietnamese version is a set custard, served chilled with a caramel or coffee topping. So popular is this dish in Vietnam, that it is not uncommon for it to be served in the mornings on a breakfast menu.
Phở is arguably Vietnam’s most famous dish. It’s known and loved by many across the globe as a wonderful balance of Asian flavours. What is less known about phở, however, is that it was likely influenced by the French beef stew, pot au feu. Both dishes use the likes of a meat broth, with chunks of meat and shallots. However, in Vietnam, rice noodles and herbs are used to bulk out the dish rather than potatoes and vegetables.
Cà phê đá: France
Coffee is another ingredient that was introduced to Vietnam during France’s reign over the country in the 1800s. Since then it has become the nation’s drink, with thousands of cafes and vendors selling it all across the country. The favoured way of drinking it in Vietnam, however, is somewhat different to the hot, black version enjoyed in the West. Instead, the Vietnamese pour a shot of coffee over ice and add a good glug of condensed milk to make cà phê đá, making something sweet and frosty to cool down the locals during the humid days.
Craft beer: America
Vietnam’s craft beer boom is well and truly underway—a clear influence from America, which has been brewing up a variety lagers and ales for years. This is particularly prevalent in the modern southern capital of Ho Chi Minh City, which is a popular tourist and expat destination.
Vietnamese cooking techniques and serving
Pickled and crispy shallots: France
Nothing screams France more than the simple onion and in Vietnam this ingredient is used a lot. In particular, the use of French shallots as a garnish—either pickled or fried—can be seen on most dishes. Their sweet flavour works very well with Vietnamese dishes, which aim to balance out spicy, sour and sweet elements.
Soy Sauce: China
Fish sauce may be the most popular and widely used condiment in Vietnam but that doesn’t stop China’s soy sauce from making a regular appearance. It can be used during the cooking process as a seasoning, much in the same way cooks use salt in the West. Alternatively, it can be served up as a condiment in a small pot with fresh red chillies—similarly to Vietnam’s favourite dip nước mắm pha, which is made with fish sauce, chilli and sugar.
China’s wok cooking is commonly used in Vietnam today to rustle up Viet-style stir fries and other quick-fix meals. Like China, the wok is also used in Vietnam to deep fry certain ingredients such as tofu, which is often enjoyed with a few fresh herbs and a spicy soy sauce dip.
In addition to the wok, the Vietnamese also use the Chinese chopstick during food preparation. These can be used for stirring, stir fries or even for making a bánh mì. And, of course, they are used for eating most foods in Vietnam too.
Clay Pot Cooking: China/Malaysia
This method of cooking is particularly popular in the southern regions of China as well as in Malaysia and is traditionally done over a charcoal stove, which is what gives the dish its distinctive flavour. A popular Vietnamese clay pot dish is mắm kho quẹt, which is a rich and flavoursome dip. It is made with pork and shrimp, which are slowly cooked in pork stock, with garlic, chilli, fish sauce and sugar.
This was once enjoyed as a cheap meal by poorer families but nowadays it is not uncommon for chefs to serve it up in high-end restaurants, with the clay pot acting as both a technique for cooking the dish as well as an impressive way of presenting it.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE FEEL-GOOD FOOD: THE IMPORTANCE OF TEXTURE IN VIETNAMESE CUISINE
What makes eating fun? Of course, there’s a taste of the food.
But the smells and aromas also definitely make a difference. And, last but not least, there’s the texture. Think about it: where does the beauty of a Hanoian bowl of bún chả come from? Sure, there are the flavors: the smoky tang of the grilled pork meat and the sour hint to the broth.
They just perfectly harmonize. But what’s more, there’s the pleasant chewiness of the meatballs, the crunch of the fresh lettuce, and the deliciously marinated pieces of young mango and carrot. Overcook it and you’ll spoil it.
The importance of texture in Vietnamese cooking traditions simply cannot be overrated!
Beefing Up the Mouthfeel
Vietnamese cuisine is all about balance⇓—of flavours, of colours, of nutrients, of yin and yang. Its elements are meant to complement each other in every sense, and the mouthfeel takes centre stage in this symphony. It’s “the delivery mechanism for flavour”, as the Californian restaurateur Daniel Patterson said.
Food is supposed to feel as good as it tastes, and this is not done by mixing up the same textures. Variety is key. When ingredients are too similar in consistency, none of them stands out. Vietnamese chefs have understood that.
Central Vietnam, for instance, loves its rice crackers. Why so? Because they’re crispy. John S. Allen, scientist at the Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center and the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, claims that we’re all crazy for crispy by virtue of evolutionary legacy. And can we deny it?
In Central Vietnamese cuisine the rice crackers’ crispiness first and foremost adds to the delightful mix of textures. In a proper mì quảng, the tagliatelle-shaped rice noodles are still firm to the bite, the pork and/or (when in doubt, always pick ‘and’!) shrimp add a springy note, the greens and peanuts give it the occasional crunch, the intensely flavoured broth is slightly thick—but it’s the crumbled-in rice crackers that round it all out.
It just wouldn’t be the same experience without them. As Allen said, the rice crackers’ crisp “enhance[s] the sensory experience of eating” because they stimulate yet another sense involved in any food experience: the hearing. Take them out or let them soak up the broth too much and your bowl of goodness will only be half as good.
Down with the Culinary Preconceptions!
Western and Eastern cuisine clearly have different approaches to texture. While creaminess is something you rarely find in Vietnamese food, no Western dish will ever beat Vietnamese stickiness. Case in point: glutinous rice and mung bean paste.
The majority of local desserts is based on the simple principle that sticky food makes your mouth water in the truest sense of the word. But Vietnam wouldn’t be Vietnam if it didn’t manage to add a counterpoint. The chewy-gummy consistency of the mung bean core of bánh cam (sesame balls), for instance, is complemented by deep-frying the balls to produce a crunchy surface.
For the same reason, the classic Lunar New Year dish bánh chưng (sticky rice cake) is best fried right before you eat it (and then dipped in salty soy sauce). And hasn’t every Vietnam traveller who has tried đậu hũ dồn thịt sốt cà chua (pork-stuffed tofu in tomato sauce) wondered how on earth you can mix tofu and meat together?
The answer is simple: you just need to abandon your preconceptions about food pairings. As long as the elements form a harmonious whole (like the mushy tofu and the firm meatballs), go ahead and combine! This is a lesson to learn from Vietnamese cuisine.
Northern Puritanism, Southern Laissez-Faire
However, from North to South, the Vietnamese have a changing approach to food that, broadly speaking, goes from puritan to “everything goes”. In the country’s capital of Hanoi, the dishes are more straightforward, and the flavors are purer.
A phở is a beef broth with rice noodles and beef cuts, period. But the Hanoians too have their little textural additions, such as the sometimes crunchy, sometimes soft fried bread sticks (bánh quẩy), and minced green onions.
So here you have something that is clearly more texturally diversified than, say, spaghetti with tomato sauce. The southern and central parts of Vietnam, however, are much more generous regarding the ingredients used. A phở without greens is incomplete to a true Saigonese, and many will claim that the secret to Vietnamese cuisine lies in the herbs.
This is, of course, a biased judgment that cannot but come from a southern-spirited mind. But it is true that this lavishness in cooking naturally makes for more varied compositions. If I get bean sprouts with my phở, I’ll definitely throw them in. For texture’s sake!
Hail, King Slime!
Lastly, we have to talk about the somewhat-startling preference of the Vietnamese people for… special textures. Any foreigner who has fought their way through a potful of pork knuckles, with their smooth, yet hard-to-chew fat will know: Vietnamese like it slimey. I mean, has anyone here tried the wedding classic súp cua (crab soup) or been treated to a bird’s nest (yến sào) by a well-meaning Vietnamese friend??
In his article about the Vietnamese habit to ăn ốc, eat snails, Tom Divers from Vietnam Coracle points out another locally beloved consistency—that of rubber. “One texture beloved by Vietnamese and common to snails is the ‘chewy-rubbery’ texture. This is something that most westerners will have a hard time getting used to.”
Very true. We’re all preconditioned when it comes to food. Therefore, the first step to truly exploring Vietnamese food is to surrender to its exotic world of rarely felt textures.
Hail, King Slime!
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE THE DIFFERENT FLAVOURS OF VIETNAMESE CUISINE
Exploring Vietnam’s culinary scene from north to south is like traveling to several countries
Its long, slender and unique geography plays an important role in its cuisine because of how the climate affects the availability of certain food and spices within each region.
Traveling from northern Vietnam, through its central belly and down to its southern tail you will see not only different ingredients being used but varying styles and approaches to food and its preparation.
North VietNam Cuisine
The food in Vietnam’s northern region is often influenced by tradition. When Vietnamese ancestors settled in the northern deltas, there was a large amount of importance placed on food and clothing among the community. Hung Kings, for example, would hold cooking contests for simple foods like steamed rice and rice cakes.
Such traditions can still be seen today, with families using strict cooking methods as well as specific ingredients and food pairings to make the perfect dish. Being located so close to the border of China, Chinese influences can be spotted within Vietnam’s mountainous provinces west of the Red River Valley.
However, the northern delta does also make use of native ingredients like fish sauce and shrimp paste to show that it is not dependent on its giant neighbour. In former hill station Sapa, where the climate can be cooler, cooking methods like stewing are popular. This is changing, however, and tourism is having a hand in modernizing Sapa’s towns, with many non-Vietnamese restaurants opening up to satisfy Western demand.
Head slightly south to Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi and the simplicity seen in the far north of the country is still evident. Pepper, which is more readily available, tends to replace spices, which are seen more frequently in the central and southern regions. The embodiment of Hanoi’s simple cuisine can be found in Vietnam’s national dish, pho. Each Vietnamese region has its own take on pho, but arguably the best and most basic is found in its birthplace, Hanoi.
Traditionally, pho is a simple noodle soup, the base of which is made from beef bones. It is served with banh pho noodles, rare beef and/or brisket and herbs. The further south you head, the more you can find an “anything goes” approach to pho, with more flavors added to the broth and more herbs added as accompaniments.
Central Vietnam Cuisine
Travel further south and you will find two culinary stop-offs in the country’s central region, Hoi An and Hue, the latter of which has been wholly shaped by its royal history. Hue is the former imperial capital of Vietnam and as such its food tends to be more luxurious with more spices used and greater care taken over presentation to reflect its ancient royal past.
This attention to detail can also be seen in likes of Hoi An’s famous dumpling dish Bánh Bao Bánh Vạc, which is also commonly known as White Rose dumplings due to their pretty, flower-like shapes. One is also much more likely to see a banquet-style, multiple course approach to serving up food in Hoi An and Hue, compared to other regions of the country.
South Vietnam Cuisine
The south is known for its warmer weather system and fertile soil. This means a greater variety of fruits and vegetables grow here and the region benefits from a higher number of rice harvests per year compared to the north. As a result, southerners tend to be more liberal with their ingredients and the flavours used are bolder, more vibrant and sweeter.
This can particularly be seen in the south’s capital, Ho Chi Minh City, where desserts are more popular. One good example of this is the south’s sweet version of the savory snack bánh tét. This is made with banana, sweet red beans and sticky rice, all rolled into a cylinder. It is then boiled, cut up into chunks and served with a custard-like sauce and sesame seeds.
As with many large cities around the world, tourism is changing Ho Chi Minh’s cuisine on a daily basis, with many new restaurants opening up. The demand for different types of food is also driving change in the city, with the likes of popular Japanese/Italian fusion restaurant, Pizza 4P’s, producing their own cheese to plug a big gap in Vietnam’s cheese-producing marketplace.
Regional differences can still be seen when you travel to Vietnam’s southern coastline to places like Mui Ne and Vung Tau, where you will be greeted with a high number of seafood and BBQ venues. Then when you enter the heart of the Mekong Delta, which is further south still, you will see an abundance of coconut, palm sugar and tropical fruits, which is not seen in the north.
Vietnam’s great regional variation makes it a must see place for any food lover, with unique experiences to be had across the country.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE A GUIDE TO VIETNAMESE HERBS
Vietnamese cuisine has so many condiments and accompaniments
When you order a Vietnamese dish, and especially the country’s many noodle soups (phở, bún bò Huế, mì Quảng, and bún riêu, just to name a few), your food usually comes with an entire basket-load of leaves and vegetables in different shades of green, and even purple.
These leaves are herbs that have been specially curated over generations to complement specific dishes for a variety of reasons, from enhancing the taste, to simply providing an additional source of fibre and nutrients. So what exactly are these many herbaceous varieties, and why did the waiter place them next to your plate? Read on!
Vietnamese Perilla – Tía Tô
Probably the easiest herb to identify on this list. Vietnamese Perilla leaves are green on top and purple underneath. With a strong, earthy taste, these herbs usually come with popular soup dishes like phở and bún chả, along with salads and grilled meats.
Health benefits? This herb is known for its antibacterial and antiviral properties. In Chinese medicine, it is used to treat respiratory issues such as coughs, stuffy noses, and asthma.
Thai Basil - Húng Quế
Small and slightly narrow dark green leaves with purple stems. The leaves have a smell similar to black licorice. This is definitely one of the most popular herbs in the country. Thai basil is slightly sweet with a taste that will remind you of anise and is always served with phở. Simply tear off the leaves and mix them into your soup.
Health benefits? Known for its antibacterial qualities, some households use the crushed leaves of Thai Basil to treat small cuts.
Culantro - Ngò Gai
It might sound like the title of a really bad sequel to a food-themed film, but culantro is an actual herb, with long, narrow, serrated leaves and a slightly stronger taste than cilantro… so maybe it is a sequel after all! This herb often accompanies phở, bánh xèo (pork and beansprout pancake), and sour soups.
Health benefits? In traditional medicine, it is commonly used to treat diarrhea, colds, pneumonia symptoms, and many other ailments.
Piper Lolot - Lá Lốt
These teardrop-shared herbs are dark green and have a bitter, peppery taste. Often used as the outer wrap for bò lá lốt (grilled beef wrapped in leaves), they are often confused for betel leaves due to their similar taste and appearance.
Health benefits? The herb can also be used to treat a variety of conditions, from inflammations to snakebites.
Fish Mint - Diếp Cá
This green, heart-shaped leaf has a slightly fishy smell, which gives it its name. It also tastes as fishy as it smells, and is usually served with grilled meat, fish soup, noodle salads, and fresh spring rolls.
Health benefits? The leaves are also a well-known local remedy for stomachaches and indigestion.
Bitter Herb - Rau Đắng
It usually appears on thin stems with narrow, alternating leaves. Just like its name suggests, this herb leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
Health benefits? Bitter Herb is also traditionally used to treat fever, joint pain, and inflammation.
Vietnamese Coriander - Rau Răm
Another popular herb, Vietnamese Coriander, is dark green and spotted with two purple streaks. It looks and smells like mint. This herb holds a variety of complex flavors. It’s spicier than traditional mint, with a slight lemony and bitter aftertaste. Sounds confusing? That’s exactly how this herb makes you feel, in a good way. It’s often used in salads, fresh spring rolls, soups, and stews, but it’s most prominently known as the sidekick to the infamous hột vịt lộn (fertilized duck egg).
Health benefits? This herb is known for its diuretic properties and is also used as a digestion aid.
Vietnamese Balm - Kinh Giới
The long, serrated leaves of the Vietnamese Balm can be anywhere between 2 to 8 centimetres long, and are basically “those long leaves” you find in your herb basket whenever you order any soup or meat dishes. Tasting like a combination of lemon and mint, this is one of the most common and popular herbs used in Vietnamese cuisine.
Health benefits? It is also a home remedy to treat colds, fevers, and headaches.
Cilantro - Ngò Mùi
Also known as Chinese coriander, cilantro, with its broad leaf and tiny top, isn’t exclusive to Vietnamese cuisine—it’s often used in cuisines around the world. Depending on who you ask, this herb can either taste remarkably earthy, or soapy.
There’s a scientific explanation for that. In Vietnam, it is used often as a garnish and served with many fried and grilled dishes, though it’s most commonly found in your bánh mì.
Health benefits? The herb is a good source of potassium, manganese, calcium, iron, and magnesium, as well as Vitamins A, C, and K.
Rice Paddy - Ngò ôm
This bright green herb has hollow stems and small hairs, and are quite spongy to the touch. The leaves are slightly serrated and it tastes like a mixture between lemon and dill. Rice paddy is often used in sour soups and is commonly served with hot pots.
Health benefits? The herb is also used as a disinfectant and as a treatment for kidney stones.
Chinese Chives - Hẹ
Another prominent herb in Vietnamese cuisine is the Chinese chive, also known as garlic chives. It has a tubular shape that flattens off at the ends—you’ll recognize it as the herb that sticks out awkwardly from the ends of fresh spring rolls. The herb got its alternative name due to its somewhat-garlicky flavor, and the fact that it’s sometimes chopped up as a garnish for some dishes. It is also usually used to add complexity to soups.
Health benefits? Due to the presence of rich organosulfur compounds, Chinese chives have been extensively researched by scientists in relation to their preventative effects against stomach and colorectal cancers.
Pennywort - Rau Má
This tiny herb has very thin stems, with rounded leaves and tastes slightly of cucumber. It’s often eaten raw in salads or used in fresh spring rolls, and is also the main ingredient in nước rau má (pennywort juice).
Health benefits? It is known for its antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties and contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6, as well as calcium, magnesium, sodium, manganese and zinc.
Spearmint - Húng Lủi
This herb comes in dark green leaves with serrated edges and is a slightly milder version of peppermint. Usually served and eaten raw, this herb is a common feature in spring rolls, and salads and can be found in your herb basket in almost every single food stall or restaurant in Vietnam.
Health benefits? Spearmint is known for its beneficial effects on the digestive system and also works as a remedy for stomach distress, indigestion, and nausea.
Peppermint - Húng Cây
The other popular minty herb, peppermint, has less serrated leaves than spearmint, but holds a slightly glossier sheen. It also has a strong, minty smell. If you are familiar with the taste of mint toothpaste, then this herb is exactly what you’re imagining right now. Both served and eaten raw, it is often found in spring rolls and salads, and will definitely make an appearance in your basket of herbs at almost any food establishment in Vietnam.
Health benefits? The health benefits of this herb fill up an entire list, from helping with irritable bowel syndrome to tuberculosis.
Watercress - Xà Lách Son
This herb comes in the form of wavy and waxy-looking green leaves growing out of a thick stem. With a peppery flavor, it is often found in herb baskets when you order a soup dish. It also goes well with pancakes and grilled meats.
Health benefits? The most prominent nutrient in this herb is Vitamin K, which forms and strengthens bones and teeth.
Sorrel - Rau Chua
The leaves are usually broad and wavy and shaped like an arrow. This herb is found in Europe and Asia and is commonly used in Vietnamese restaurants in the United States. Due to its sour, kiwi-like taste, it is usually added to salads and can be found in bánh xēo, soups, and spring rolls.
Health benefits? Sorrel is also known for its health benefits, such as regulating blood pressure, boosting eyesight, and remedying certain skin infections.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PHO IN VIETNAM
Which image first comes to mind when you think of Vietnamese phở?
A hot bowl of rice noodles in beef-bone broth, served with various additives that differ depending on geographical origin? Well, there are far more wonderful dishes made from bánh phở than you may think.
The Great Phở Debate: North Vs South
Due to its versatility and popularity, Vietnamese eat phở at any time of the day almost every day. However, there is nonstop discussion among Vietnamese over which phở tastes better, the Northern or Southern version. It only takes one look at a bowl of phở to recognize its origin.
Phở Bắc (Northern Phở)
Phở is believed to have originated in Northern Vietnam. Primarily, Northern phở has an intense and delicate flavor due to its clear and simple broth. Besides the beef bone, anise, cloves, and cinnamon harmonized into one subtle undertone flavor, Hanoians prefer eating phở tái (rare beef)—phở served with thinly sliced rare beef cooked quickly in the hot broth. Condiments such as green onions, thinly sliced white onion, chopped cilantro, or mint are put on top rather than served alongside.
Phở Bát Đàn
49 Bat Dan Street, Cua Dong Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Opening hours: 6:00-10:00 AM; 6:00-8:30 PM
Phone: +84 24 6683 3535
Phở Nam (Southern Phở)
In Southern Vietnam, with its abundant produce, herbs and other ingredients are used liberally in cooking. The Southern phở is often served in bigger bowls, with loads of garnish — mint, cilantro, rice paddy herb, sawtooth herb, bean sprouts, lime, chili, basil, and hoisin sauce, for instance. The broth is even prepared with other ingredients such as chicken or tripe.
While Hanoians prefer a dish with a broth-based soup, Saigonese is much likelier to prefer a well-self-seasoned one, using hoisin sauce, Thai basil, veggies, lime, green onions, mint, cilantro and bean sprouts, and the optional chili or sriracha sauce to enrich the broth’s flavor.
Phở Hòa Pasteur
260C Pasteur St, Ward 8, District 3, HCMC, Vietnam
Opening hours: 6:00 AM-12:00 AM
Watch a video of YouTuber Sonny Side from the Best Ever Food Review Show Channel trying phở bắc and phở nam.
More Phở Varieties
Apart from the famous rice noodle soup, there are six popular phở options you should definitely try.
Phở Gà — Vietnamese Noodle Chicken Soup
If you are looking for a lighter version of phở, go for phở gà. This dish is said to have emerged in the 1930s in response to a government ban on slaughtering cows. Over the years it was finally recognized as one of Vietnam’s specialties. Nowadays, many eatery shophouses serve phở gà exclusively.
The broth is clear, light, and gently flavored with a slight pepperiness. It is not particularly fragrant, relying on the condiments and herbs for the complexity of flavor. Each bowl is served with a little plate of Thai basil, curls of shredded morning glory, and bean sprouts.
Price: VND30,000 – 50,000
Phở Miến Gà Kỳ Đồng
14/5 Ky Dong St, District 3, HCMC
Opening hours: 5:00 AM-1:30 AM
Phone: 028 3843 5630
Turn left from Ky Dong Street into Hem 14 and head down to number five; there’s a real sense of industry here, and the shop is likely to be full. Good dishes always take time. You can order your broth with customised options such as hủ tiếu, bún, mì trụng, mì gói or bánh phở. Don’t forget to order a cup of cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese milk coffee) and enjoy your meal.
Phở Xào — Stir-Fried Pho/Stir-Fried Flat Rice Noodles
At first sight, it is a simple dish, made from fried rice noodles with beef, loads of oyster-like bean sprouts, onions, and spring onions. Dark soy sauce is added to give the noodles their attractive and intense brown color. What makes this simple dish stand out is probably the smoky flavor. To get that special flavor, the dish needs to be prepared in a very hot wok by a skilled cook. In case you don’t want beef, there are also options with chicken or shrimp and even pork.
We ordered a dish of stir-fried phở with beef in Bat Dan shophouse eatery, which we accidentally bumped into when strolling down Mieu Noi Street. The dish’s quality was way beyond our expectations and the owners were also very friendly. The price was clearly posted up on the menu so we didn’t have to worry about being ripped off.
Price: Normally, a dish of Phở xào costs around VND45.000.
Phở xào Bát Đàn — Miếu Nổi
5 Mieu Noi St, Ward 2, Phu Nhuan District, HCMC
Opening hours: 6:00-2:00 PM, 4:00-10:00 PM
Phone: 0979 46 49 68
We could not reach this old recommended establishment on July 2022, please call them first and let us know.
Phở Cuốn — Rice Noodle Roll
Phở cuốn is probably a perfect choice if you are on a diet. It is considered the healthiest option among all types of phở, and became a part of Hanoi cuisine in the last two decades. In order to make phở cuốn, Vietnamese people use uncut sheets of bánh phở to roll with beef, lettuce, and other spice veggies. A highlight of phở cuốn is the light sauce made of fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and chili served alongside.
Price: VND100,000 for two people
Phở cuốn Thanh Hằng
29B Ngu Xa St, Truc Bach Ward, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Opening hours: 8 AM-10 PM
Phone: 98 316 03 17
Local insight: We also ordered a dish of Vietnamese spring rolls (nem or chả giò) with the phở cuốn, definitely a perfect combination. If this is your first visit to Ngu Xa street, you might get annoyed by the enthusiastic staff of the shophouse eateries here. The solution is to search for one shop that you like/are recommended and stick to it.
Phở Chiên Phồng — Deep Fried Phở (Rice Noodles) with Beef Sauce
The phở most favoured by foreigners is probably phở chiên phồng, which looks like piles of fried pillows topped with saucy meat and greens. Small stacks of bánh phở, which is slightly larger than a postage stamp, are tossed in a wok with bubbling hot oil until they transform into golden and crispy cushions.
These cushions are then scattered on a plate and smothered in a thick sauce, fried beef, green broccoli, or lettuce. The crispy crunch of fried noodles, the brittle of beef, the natural sweetness from veggies, and the tasty sauce make this a memorable experience.
Local insight: If you can’t decide what to eat, order different dishes and share them with friends. Don’t hesitate to ask for personal bowls, the staff is more than willing to provide them.
Phở cuốn 31
31 Ngu Xa, Truc Bach, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 24/24
Phở Chua — Sour Pho
Not complex or classy, this dish captures the different cultures of Northern Vietnam. A delicious bowl of phở chua contains six main ingredients: noodles, sour sauce, pickles, peanuts, and Northern sauce. For delicious noodles, choose the “pink rice” which is mostly planted in the Northwest region. The sour sauce is taken from the pickle jar.
Local insight: You might not like this dish at first, but you’ll change your mind as you become more familiar with it.
Phở Chua Thành
242/101 Nguyen Thien Thuat Street, Ward 3, District 3, HCMC, Vietnam
Opening hours: 3:30-7:30 PM
Phở trộn — Rice Noodle Salad
Flat rice noodles, a pork chop, herbs, peanuts, and dried scallions are added to a bowl before a spoonful of sour sauce is sprinkled on top, giving this dish an extraordinary taste. The sauce is the key ingredient: no rice noodle salad is complete without it. That’s why vendors distinguish themselves by owning a “secret” recipe. It is likely you’ll never experience the same flavor of this dish in Hanoi.
Local insight: The sour sauce already lightens the flavor, but some people prefer drizzling a little less juice over the meat. Mix everything together and enjoy!
Phở trộn – Miến trộn than
127 Thich Quang Duc St, Ward 4, Phu Nhuan District, HCMC
Opening hours: 6:00 AM-10:00 PM
Phone: 090 231 32 81
We could not reach this old recommended establishment on July 2022, please call them first and let us know.
Want to experience something more out of the ordinary? Check these dishes created by phở lovers around the world.
A phở option for fast-food lovers. Eat it like a burger but get the taste of phở. Burger phở is made with deep-fried rice-noodle buns, Vietnamese-style coleslaw, and juicy fried beef. The side servings are a fragrant phở stock with strong notes of roasted small spring onion, along with a dipping bowl of Hoisin and Sriracha sauce.
Phở + Burrito = Phorrito
Phorrito gives Vietnamese food a Mexican twist. Made with thinly sliced rib-eye steak, bean sprouts, cilantro, onions, Thai basil, jalapeño, lime juice and phở noodles, the burrito is wrapped in a large flour tortilla and served with sriracha and hoisin sauce. It tastes surprisingly like a bowl of phở.
An interesting harmony of Italian and Vietnamese cuisine, pho pizza with its crispy base is made with deep-fried rice noodles topped with stir-fried beef and veggies. Sprinkle some pepper, fried shallots and chili slices on top and that’s it. Pho pizza best served while it’s hot and the base is still crispy.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VIETNAMESE NOODLES
Noodles are a much-loved and used ingredient in Vietnam.
Whether they are served up in soups, form the base of a salad, or are wrapped up in a fresh gỏi cuốn, they are a staple enjoyed in Saigon and everywhere else in the country morning, noon and night. However, to anyone new to the country, the sheer quantity and variety can be pretty overwhelming. To help ease the passage for the budding ex-pat or bemused tourist, here’s a list of the different noodles in Vietnam and the dishes for which they are commonly used.
Arguably, the two main types of noodles eaten by the Vietnamese are bánh phở and bún. Both are made from rice flour and are available dried or fresh.
These flat rice noodles can come in a variety of widths: the thinnest form the base of the country’s national dish, phở; the larger forms can also be used for dishes involving pan frying or stir-frying.
Phở is a hot noodle soup made with a beef broth, slices of rare beef and/or brisket, herbs and bánh phở. The broth is prepared over several days, giving it a depth of flavor like no other soup you can find. A popular, yet lighter variation of this dish is made with chicken rather than beef and is called phở gà.
These noodles are filling and are meant to be enjoyed as a full meal rather than as a snack.
These are a type of rice vermicelli noodle, which are thin, round and wonderfully versatile. The smaller and lighter bún variety are used as one of the fillings in gỏi cuốn – fresh spring rolls. To make these tasty midday snacks you roll up a few cold noodles with thin slices of pork, lettuce and a couple of prawns in a soft rice paper sheet. They are often served with a warm peanut sauce.
The larger and thicker forms of bún are used in hot and filling soups, such as the spicy and flavourful bún bò Huế soup – from the central region of Vietnam. The broth of this hearty dish is made with beef bones, fermented shrimp paste a fiery chili oil. It’s then accompanied with large chunks of meat, which the noodles wrap themselves around, creating a perfect texture partnership.
Vietnam’s love for noodles doesn’t stop there, though. There are plenty more types to choose from. Some differ in ingredient – whether it’s egg and wheat, tapioca flour or mung bean – while others differ in size. A few favourites include:
Bánh hỏi are another type of rice vermicelli noodle but are ultra-thin and woven into bundles. They are usually steamed and served alongside rich foods such as pork or beef, and topped with a drizzle of spring onion oil.
From the ultra-thin, to the uber huge. Bánh canh are very thick noodles made from a mixture of tapioca and rice flour. These are similar in appearance and texture to Japanese udon noodles – big, soft and slightly chewy. One Vietnamese dish made with bánh canh is bánh canh cua – a rich, crab-based broth, packed with fresh crab meat, a crab meat ball, slices of pork, a quail’s egg, congealed blood and a juicy prawn.
This refers to egg or wheat noodles, which are thin and yellow in appearance. They can be fried, stir-fried or used in soups, such as the Chinese-inspired wonton soup. This is made with a light, meaty broth, thin slices of pork, wontons and spring onion. Mì should not be confused with mì quảng, however, which is a dish made using rice noodles that have instead been dyed yellow with turmeric. Mì quảng is a popular meal enjoyed for lunch and is usually topped with Vietnamese sesame rice crackers, fried shallots and peanuts.
Miến are very thin and slippery glass noodles, made from mung beans. They have a slightly chewy and almost elastic texture, which can make them rather difficult to eat with chopsticks, but don’t let that deter you. One meal eaten all throughout the day in Vietnam is called miến gà. This soup is not dissimilar from phở gà, only the broth is lighter and is served with the miến noodles rather than bánh phở. It is served with boiled chicken, fresh herbs, leaves and a sweet chili dipping sauce.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE THE CANTONESE INFLUENCE ON VIETNAMESE CUISINE
Noodles were first created in China as far back as the Han Dynasty, and thanks to the Chinese, we now have pasta, ramen, and bánh phở. In many ways, there’s a Chinese influence on Vietnamese cuisine, though this view is sometimes controversial.
During my recent trip to Hong Kong, a fellow former colony that wonderfully blends its traditional Cantonese roots with its modern British influences, I got a closer look at how Hong Kong’s “East meets West” cuisine is both similar and different from that of Vietnam, from dim sum to suckling pig to wontons.
Discovering Dim Sum and Egg Tarts
My culinary experience in Hong Kong started off with none other than the acclaimed Cantonese dim sum at the Tim Ho Wan chain. In Vietnam there is only one Tim Ho Wan, a high-end restaurant located on the 36th floor of Lotte Hotel in Hanoi. That’s why I was intrigued by the relatively small and simple Tim Ho Wan in the basement of Hong Kong’s central train station. The long queue outside and the crowd inside this seemingly modest dim sum house shocked me.
However, I was no longer surprised once I tasted the food. Being so close to Guangzhou, the home of dim sum, Hong Kong is the gateway of this sumptuous dining experience to the rest of the world. First, my group had the braised chicken feet, which were very soft and fatty compared to Vietnam’s preference for chewy, crunchy chicken feet. We found it a bit unusual, but it made for a good starter since we were all hungry. Next was the signature baked cha siu bao (BBQ pork-filled buns), a distant cousin of bánh bao, a steamed bun filled with minced pork, wood-ear mushroom and boiled egg.
After that, we were presented with a plethora of dumplings, such as ha gow (Vietnamese: há cảo) and shumai (Vietnamese: xíu mại). There were also rice noodle rolls with a variety of fillings, similar to the Northern Vietnamese bánh cuốn, but with a thicker, oilier steamed rice noodle wrapper.
For dessert, we headed to the Star Ferry Pier in Kowloon, where a small shop of the famous Tai Cheong Bakery is located. The bakery is known for its egg tarts, with a smooth custard filling and a buttery, crumbly crust. Grabbing the last egg tarts of the day to enjoy on the boat back to Hong Kong Island was indeed a sweet memory.
The popularity of this Western-influenced dessert in Hong Kong reminded me of Vietnam’s ubiquitous bánh flan (known as caramen in Hanoi), an occasionally caffeinated variety of the French crème caramel.
Exploring Suckling Pig and Beef Brisket
On our second day on Hong Kong’s streets, we went to a locally known eatery for roasted duck and suckling pig. These are just as popular in Hong Kong and other regions of China as grilled pork in Vietnam. The meat was served with rice on a dish; the rice was drier and less warm than you would expect from a Vietnamese restaurant, but the duck meat was soft, with crunchy skin.
The roasted suckling pig was the star of the show, with its special crackling skin, melting fat, and soft meat dipped in the sweet hoisin sauce for enhanced flavors. I also tried the lean BBQ pork, or char siu (Vietnamese: xá xíu), which was, in contrast, very thick in texture. Our dinner on the second day was at Supreme Beef Brisket Soup, a famous store featuring many pictures of Hong Kong’s television stars as patrons, and serving everything from its signature beef brisket noodle soup to Vietnamese and Thai-inspired dishes.
The braised beef brisket, served with Chinese flat rice noodles in a clear, sweet broth, with the additional aroma from a fat chunk of well-cooked daikon radish and a dash of chili sauce, would fill any heart with warmth. This is one of Hong Kong’s favorite comfort foods. However, being Vietnamese, we could not help but give our national pride, phở, the upper vote. The abundance of herbs and the thinness of beef cuts are what set phở apart from any other beef noodles.
Comparing Wonton Noodles
Our culinary expedition came to an end as we had lunch at Tasty Congee & Noodle Wantun Shop. Wonton noodle soup is another typical dish of Cantonese cuisine. The simple bowl contained egg noodles, shrimp wontons, and spring onions in a clear broth. Vietnam also has its own version of wonton noodles, known as mì vằn thắn in Hanoi and mì hoành thánh in Saigon, with more ingredients such as pork liver, BBQ pork, boiled egg, and chives.
As I sampled Hong Kong’s best Cantonese cuisine, I also learned more about the influences it has on Vietnamese food. Vietnam is geographically close to China’s southern provinces, and home to almost a million ethnic Chinese, half of them with Cantonese origins. Looking at the similarities between some of the dishes I tried, it was clear that over centuries, some of their cooking methods were adapted with remarkable creativity to enrich our national cuisine.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE BECOME A VIETNAMESE FOOD MASTER WITH THESE 5 COOKBOOKS !
This country is a dream destination for food lovers!
Whether you’ve been in Vietnam for years, or are just finding your feet, there is one thing we can all agree on. This country is a dream destination for food lovers! On every street corner, you can grab a delicious banh mi, sip a cà phê sữa đá, or tuck into a piping hot bowl of phở at any hour of the day. Or at least we could until the dreaded ‘C Word’ forced our favorite street food sellers, restaurants, and cafes to close their doors.
So now what do we do? If you’re anything like me, you’ll be wondering how you can transform a bunch of wilting cilantro and a pack of rice noodles into a delicious meal that not only fills your belly but satisfies your cravings for a serving of Vietnamese cuisine.
Also, like me, you might be wondering ‘how’ to cook Vietnamese food, seeing as I usually nip down to the street and pick up something so tasty and affordable that I’ve never really bothered to learn how to cook Vietnamese food before now.
Luckily for us all, Vietnamese cuisine is the perfect place to start for the novice chef. Versatile and often simple to make, the flavors of Vietnamese food gain complexity through the expert combining of fresh herbs, sauces, and spices rather than difficult cooking processes or the use of a million ingredients.
With a quick peek inside this selection of the best Vietnamese cookbooks around (each one is available as an e-book too!) you’ll be sure to find inspiration to try these easy recipes that are destined to make your palate sing!
Christine Ha’s, “Recipes from My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food from the Winner of MasterChef” will tell you everything you’ve wanted to know about The Blind Cook’s life and cooking style.
Is the author legit? Yes! Christine Ha wowed the world in Season 3 of MasterChef America by beating out the competition with her Vietnamese-American-influenced dishes, despite being legally blind. Ha became a symbol of strength and inspiration in both Vietnam and America after her surprise win, but don’t be fooled into thinking she became famous just for overcoming great odds.
According to the back cover of the cookbook, Chef Gordon Ramsey says, “The lady has an extraordinary palate, a palate of incredible finesse.” Judging from Ramsey’s famously televised temper tantrums, this type of compliment doesn’t come easily.
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 westernized? Ha was born and raised in Los Angeles after her parents immigrated to the US from Vietnam. The recipes in the book reflect Ha’s dual heritage. Within the pages of the cookbook, you’ll find all types of comfort foods ranging from catfish cooked in clay pot 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.
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”.
Following his restaurant’s success, Luke Nguyen became a household name due to his television series “Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam”, “Luke Nguyen’s France” and “Luke Nguyen’s Street Food Asia” as well as his eight subsequent cookbooks.
Skill level? Moderate. Nguyen sometimes refers to ingredients by their Australian names, so you may need to Google a few words. However, Nguyen takes care to mostly include ingredients that can be found in your local market.
Are the recipes traditional or westernised? Traditional. The cookbook is separated into sections based on different locations in Vietnam. Nguyen shares a short anecdote about each area and then dives into telling the reader how to prepare the region-specific dishes.
What’s special about this book? More than just a cookbook, “The Food of Vietnam” is also a travelogue about the country that influenced Sydney’s culinary movement towards high-class Vietnamese cuisine. Full-colour, National Geographic-style photographs will seduce you to try your hand at the recipes.
Where can you get it? “The Food of Vietnam” is available with free shipping worldwide at The Book Depository, or you can get the Kindle edition here. You can also watch Nguyen’s culinary adventures in “Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam” on his YouTube Channel, or follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Travel vicariously through the traditional food markets of Vietnam with British-Vietnamese chefs Anh Vu and Vanh Tran in “Vietnamese Market Cookbook - Spicy, Sour, Sweet”.
Are the authors legit? Yes. Despite having no formal chef training, Vu and Tran are definitely the real deal. The duo became famous after opening their bánh mì stand, Bánh mì 11, in East London’s Broadway market. The Oxford-educated grads had originally gone into the corporate world of finance but ended up scrapping all that stress for a foray into street eats. What could have been a misadventure in less capable hands has turned into a success story?
Skill level? Easy. This cookbook is perfect for the home chef who wants to try his/her hand at Vietnamese cooking but doesn’t want to delve into specially ordered ingredients and hard-to-find spices. The recipes are praised for being easy to follow and delightful in their simplicity. Each section is divided into three sections: everyday cooking, festive cooking, and social cooking.
Are the recipes traditional or westernized? 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.
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 flavors: 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.
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 westernized? 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-color 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 the 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”.
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.
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.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE NORTHERN VIETNAMESE CUISINE
Northern Vietnam is the oldest and most geographically diverse region of the nation
It has a history of occupation by China, France, and Japan. The region’s cuisine is shaped by both long-standing traditions and heavy foreign influences. In the vast mountains bordering China and Laos, with Sapa as the most popular destination, about 30 ethnic minorities live in partial seclusion and maintain their unique customs. The forests, upstream rivers, and terraced fields provide special spices and ingredients.
In the Red River Delta, farm animals and freshwater species are commonly used. The flavor and texture of food are lighter than elsewhere in Vietnam, with a preference for sour and salty rather than spicy and sweet. The capital Hanoi is where many Northern Vietnamese dishes are made popular. The coastal areas, including the world-famous Halong, add a supply of seafood and especially fish sauce to the Northern cuisine.
Rolls to Make You Drool
Vietnamese cuisine is famous for its rolls, and Northern Vietnamese cuisine is no exception. The standard dipping sauce is nước chấm.
Nem is the Northern Vietnamese name for fried spring rolls, made from crispy rice paper wrapped around a mixture of minced pork and/or sea crab, vegetables, mushrooms, glass noodles and egg yolk. However, I was no longer surprised once I tasted the food. Being so close to Guangzhou, the home of dim sum, Hong Kong is the gateway of this sumptuous dining experience to the rest of the world.
Phở cuốn is a simple roll of unsliced bánh phở filled with stir-fried beef, lettuce and cilantro.
RICE AND STICKY RICE
Apart from the use of white rice (cơm) as a staple, sticky rice (xôi) is also popular. Broken rice is less common in the North than in the South. Cơm lam is salted rice cooked in bamboo tubes, a traditional way to prepare for long journeys in mountainous regions, such as Mai Chau. Bánh chưng is the traditional food for Tết in Northern Vietnam, made from sticky rice, mung bean paste, and fatty pork wrapped in green leaves and steamed for a whole night.
Bánh khúc has three layers: a ball of mung bean paste and fatty pork, a skin of rice flour mixed with fragrant rau khúc (cudweeds), and sticky rice, all wrapped in banana leaves.
Xôi xéo is sticky rice coloured with turmeric powder before steaming, topped with savoury mung bean paste and crispy fried shallots.
Cốm is a Hanoian snack made from young sticky rice, lightly roasted and flattened, then wrapped in lotus leaves.
Soup noodles bring comfort in winter when the northeast monsoon blows, but on sunny days, non-soup noodles steal the show.
Phở, the national dish influenced by both the French taste for beef and the Chinese love of noodles, has been around since the 1920s. Hanoians like it traditional: clear beef bone broth, rice noodles, beef slices, onions, and lime and chili to taste.
Bún chả, Hanoi’s favourite lunch, combines grilled pork and rice vermicelli dipped in nước chấm with pickled carrot and green papaya, and fresh herbs.
Bún thang is the epitome of Hanoi’s cuisine, a colourful combination of chicken slices, thin strips of fried eggs and Vietnamese sausage, shredded shrimps, shiitake mushrooms, pickled daikon radish and herbs with rice vermicelli in a clear broth.
Bún bò Nam Bộ is a beef noodle salad, originally sold on Nam Bộ Street (now Lê Duẩn Street). Rice vermicelli combines perfectly with stir-fried beef, bean sprouts, fried shallots and peanuts, dressed in nước chấm.
Bún đậu originated in rural Northern Vietnam, on the simple premise of rice vermicelli bundles and fried tofu dipped in shrimp paste or fish sauce.
Fresh from the Water
Like other regions in Vietnam, the North has a vast supply of aquatic creatures and creative ways to turn them into food.
Chả cá Lã Vọng is a fancy dish of grilled cá lăng (large catfish) marinated with galangal and turmeric powder, then pan-fried with dill and spring onions on the dining table, and served with rice vermicelli.
Chả mực is a fried fishcake made from cuttlefish pounded in a mortar and pestle, a Halong specialty.
Bánh đa cua is popular in Haiphong, using the local red rice noodles called bánh đa đỏ and a broth made from tomato and minced paddy crab.
Miến lươn, both soup and dry versions, consist of glass noodles made from mung beans, stir-fried or deep-fried swamp eels, and herbs. It is best served spicy.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE MORE THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS: ORGANS IN VIETNAMESE CUISINE
Snakes, mice, and bugs are popular sources of food for many Vietnamese
You will know by now that Vietnamese cuisine consists of thousands of different kinds of dishes. Some are region-specific and then there are some with variants of the same dish across the country.
However, one unique factor about Vietnamese cuisine is how dishes were created solely through resourcefulness. When Vietnam went through periods of hardship in the past, many people were left without food or proper food sources and as a result, had to improvise with what was available.
This is why you find many dishes that may come across as bizarre to foreigners. Snakes, mice, bugs are popular sources of food and beyond that, even common sources such as pigs and cows are fully utilised—that is, it’s not just the meat that’s harvested but almost every other part of the animal too.
According to Vietnam Online, pork is the most widely eaten meat in the country, accounting for about 77.5% of the country’s total meat intake. Therefore, it’s not surprising that beyond the popular pork-based dishes, there are also dishes that utilise almost every other part of the pig, except its hair.
A popular dish across the country, and yet one that not many tourists know about, is Sup Cua Oc Heo, or Vietnamese Crab Soup with Pig Brain. Consisting of crab meat, quail eggs and pig brain, the dish is served in a small bowl in most local markets and street stalls and often eaten for breakfast, or as a snack. The use of the pig brain in this dish originated from the popular belief among parents that pig brain is nutritious and helps the child become ‘smarter’. Although there’s no scientific evidence for this, it remains popular and is a popular snack that’s best eaten hot.
A very common product made from of the pig’s intestine is Doi, also known as Vietnamese blood sausage. A layer of the intestine, also known as hog casing, is filled with a mixture of pig’s blood, vegetables, spices, garlic, peanuts and green beans and then steamed or grilled. It’s usually served with fish sauce, lime and chili. This item is also an ingredient in Chao Long, a porridge filled with offal. As a snack, it apparently goes really well with beer. The intestines and colon can also be boiled or deep fried on their own and are known as Long Non or Trang, which can be found in most local markets.
StomachThere are two noteworthy dishes that use the pig’s stomach. One is Stewed Pork Stomach with Star Anise, or Da Day Ham Hoa Hoi, and Slow Braised Pig’s Stomach with Whole Peppercorns, or Bao Tu Ham Tieu. Both dishes are complicated and require long cooking times and are usually home-cooked and eaten with the family.
Also known as Tiet Canh, pig’s blood is often served as a coagulated pudding of terror (for most foreigners) and is commonly served with Bun Bo Hue, or Hue Beef Noodles. It can also be eaten on its own as a street snack, although it was also the subject of a blood-poisoning outbreak from the Streptococcus suis bacteria earlier this year that left 12 people hospitalised and four dead. Otherwise, the dish is generally safe to eat.
In other words, make sure you check the source before you buy it.
An article about organs will never be complete without mention of Pha Lau, or Vietnamese Stew with Organs. This dish is a showcase of Vietnamese resourcefulness at its finest. Featuring various organs including intestines, tongue, ears, tripe, stomach, lungs and many others, the ingredients are all stewed in coconut water, curry powder and five spices for hours resulting in a dish that’s much tastier than it sounds. It is usually presented as a hot pot in the Northern provinces but can also be found in the rest of the country served as a general stew.
Pha Lau can be served with rice, noodles or even as a filling for Banh Mi. The heart and the uterus of the pig are also worth a mention and they are commonly grilled at barbecues and eaten as snacks during gatherings.
Beef is another commonly eaten meat in Vietnam. You can find sliced beef in popular dishes like Bun Bo Hue and Pho, and the Vietnamese version of beef steak, also known as Bo Ne. And just like the pig, various other parts of the animal can be found in dishes across the country.
The tripe, also known as the muscle wall of the first three chambers of the cow’s stomach, can be found in many dishes around the world; in Vietnam, it makes its appearance in the country’s most widely known dish: pho.
Do you know what else you can find in pho?
Just like the tripe, the beef tendon is also usually included in pho. With its chewy texture and unique taste, the tendon can also be found in a salad known as Nom Bo Thap Cam, or Beef Tendon Salad.
Just like its pork-based cousin, Pha Lau Bo is prepared the same way, but using the organs from cows. This dish can be found in most restaurants specialising in beef and can be eaten with rice, noodles or bread.
Also known as Me Ga Sot Gung, Fried Chicken Gizzard with Ginger Sauce is typically eaten during cold days, usually with steamed rice.
There are several dishes that make use of chicken gizzards that are typically home-cooked, such as Me Ga Xao Ca Tim, or Stir-Fried Chicken Gizzards with Eggplant, and the gizzards are also commonly grilled on a skewer and eaten on their own. Another popular organ that’s prepared the same way is the chicken’s heart.
In Vietnam, the most common egg dishes are derived from chickens, quails and ducks. The egg dishes from chickensare generally similar to what you can find elsewhere in the world. However, quail and duck eggs are popular for another dish: Balut. Also known as Trung Vit Lon, what makes the Vietnamese version slightly different from the Filipino version is that the eggs are about 19-21 days old, and the dish is served with coriander, also known as Rau Ram.
The version using quail eggs is called Trung Cut Lon. Both of these dishes are usually sold by mobile vendors who ride their pushcart bikes around the neighbourhood blaring out the name of the dishes ominously in an almost poetic form that even if you don’t understand what it means, you can mimic word for word.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE FIVE INDISPENSABLE VIETNAMESE INGREDIENTS
The amazing diversity of regional cuisines in Vietnam depends greatly on the different flavors used in each location.
Vietnamese cooks use a lot of fresh spices, herbs, and locally grown vegetables. As the climate, soil and culinary customs change throughout the country, the additives also vary. However, here are five of the most ubiquitous and essential ingredients that you can use to make a proper Vietnamese meal at home.
Scallion (hành lá), also known as spring onion or green onion, has tubular green leaves that can be chopped and added to soups, noodles, porridges, and stir-fries during the last cooking stage, or as a garnish. However, some Vietnamese people don’t like it in their phở.
Scallion pairs well with tomato-based broths and sauces. Chopped scallions can also be mixed into omelettes and meatballs. Scallion oil (mỡ hành), which is chopped scallions lightly cooked in vegetable oil, is found in dishes such as cơm tấm and bánh hỏi in Central and Southern parts of Vietnam. The small white bulbs of spring onions are traditionally pickled to serve during Tet in the North, while in the South, pickled Chinese onions (kiệu) are more common.
Shallots (hành tím) refer to small onion bulbs, often red or purple in color, that are used in a similar way to garlic in stir-fries, stews and soups. They can be sliced or finely chopped, and used to flavour marinades before cooking, or fried with oil before adding other ingredients to the pan. Crispy fried shallots (hành phi), made from sliced shallots deep-fried until golden brown, are also a favorite garnish for noodles, porridges, sticky rice, fried rice, and steamed rice rolls.
Garlic (tỏi) is an essential ingredient in the Vietnamese pantry, often accompanied by chili (ớt). Chopped garlic and chili are used in the versatile Vietnamese dipping sauce, nước chấm. Garlic and chili can also be pickled in vinegar to make a type of condiment called giấm tỏi ớt, which is often added to noodles before serving.
Garlic can be added to stir-fried vegetables to bring out a distinct taste in the originally bland vegetables. This recipe is common in Vietnamese cuisine, as well as Chinese and Thai cuisines. The aroma of garlic also complements different types of meat when stir-fried, especially beef.
Lemongrass (sả) is another herb that can be paired with chili, more commonly in Southern Vietnam. It has a citrus scent, resembling that of lemons, though much stronger. It can be used to marinate stir-fried beef, grilled pork, fried chicken and everything in between. For these dishes, the lemongrass stem is finely chopped and mixed well with the meat before cooking.
Lemongrass can also be used to enhance the flavor of fish soup (canh chua), beef noodle soup (bún bò Huế), or added to steamed seafood dishes; its strong aroma helps subdue the smell of fresh seafood.
Chili is one of the oldest and most widely used spices in the world, dating back to 7500 BCE on the American continent, then spreading to European countries, such as Portugal and eventually Asia, through ancient trade routes.
In Vietnam, chili comes in many forms, freshly chopped chili, dried chili, chili powder or flakes, chili oil, and chili sauce. Central and Southern cooks use more chillies than their Northern neighbours, but in the North chilies are still available as an optional condiment for serving.
Chillies not only add an addictive, spicy taste to any dish, they also add a bright-red color that pairs nicely with green scallion, white garlic or yellow lemongrass. Chili powder is probably the most convenient way to use chili in cooking and garnishing, and it is also the least spicy.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FISH SAUCE
Vietnamese cuisine, nước mắm is the county’s most loved and versatile condiment
Visit any restaurant, home, street corner, or shop in Vietnam and there is one thing you will be guaranteed to find: fish sauce. Quite easily the soul of Vietnamese cuisine, nước mắm is the county’s most loved and versatile condiment. Its pungent, salty and slightly sweet flavor is truly like no other, making it not only a southeast Asian favorite but a common ingredient now found in the West.
Use it in marinades before cooking, as a seasoning, or as a simple dipping sauce as you eat, there is nothing it can’t do. But what exactly is fish sauce and where is it made? How can you tell the good from the bad? And what’s the best way to cook with it?
How Did it Come to Be?
Believe it or not, fish sauce dates as far back to Roman times, where a similar, fermented fishy liquid was brewed up called garum. Created from the likes of anchovies, sardines or mackerel, garum was much like the nước mắm we can buy off the shelves today. The fish, for example, would be salted and left to ferment in the sun for several months until ready to consume.
But it wasn’t until about 1,000 years after it was documented in Italy, that fish sauce made its way over to Asia. As Veronica Meewes writes in her book The Fish Sauce Cookbook, some historians suggest it was passed along the trade route known as Silk Road. Although, she points out, it was entirely possible that Asian fish sauce was created independently. The modern-day process of making fish sauce follows a similar pattern to garum. Fish, usually anchovies, will be mixed with sea salt and left in barrels to ferment in the sun for up to a year.
During this time, bricks or the like will be placed on the fish to weigh it down during the fermentation process, after which all that is required is patience. Once it’s ready, liquid is drained out of the vats; the first batch is considered to be the highest quality and is called the “first press”. However, some companies will take this liquid and age it further, which results in a less concentrated, lighter and sometimes sweeter sauce.
What’s the Best Fish Sauce in Vietnam?
Navigating your way around the wall of brands on the market can be a bit of a mind field: an array of bottles, each filled with liquids dark and light. But there are things to look out for to ensure you are buying quality. The most obvious of these is to look at the ingredients. Steer clear of bottles that have a number of preservatives—remember that fish sauce is made from just fish and salt. In addition, the better-quality brands tend to use one type of fish rather than a blend, so bear this in mind when you sift through the label.
Another good indicator of quality is to look out for a nitrogen content. Typically, this will be marked on the front of the bottle as “degrees N”, referring to the amount of nitrogen per litre. The amount of nitrogen denotes the quantity of protein in each drop—and the higher the protein, the more concentrated the liquid is. Industry standard is considered to be “30N”, while “40N” is seen as high quality. Anything under “30N” is seen as low-grade.
Choosing Your Fish Sauce
Fish sauce is made all over Asia, but the best is said to come from two places in Vietnam: Phú Quốc, a tropical island off the southwest coast and the southeast coastal town of Phan Thiết. Both of these locations boast of many reasons for why their fish sauce is the best, but they mainly refer to the quality of the fish, the sea salt used and the region’s perfect climate during fermentation.
Phú Quốc-based Red Boat fish sauce is one such brand that hails its “all natural – 100 per cent pure” liquor. They even produce a “50N” fish sauce variety. Red Boat says its “first press” sauce is made with wild black anchovies, which are salted immediately after being caught and then aged in traditional wooden barrels under the Phú Quốc sun.
Another well-known fish sauce brand is Viet Huong, which was actually set up in San Francisco by a Chinese-Vietnamese immigrant. Viet Huong is behind a number of labels, including Three Crabs and Flying Lion. Despite its American base, it has facilities in Phú Quốc as well as Thailand. Popular Phan Thiết brands include the Lien Thanh company, which has been around since 1906. They have a full range of products, from premium to affordable as well as a vegetarian option.
How to Store It
It’s important to note that fish sauce has a shelf life. Its high salt content acts as a preservative, which means that it can be kept at room temperature, although it may last longer if you store it in the fridge. But be sure to discard your bottle if it begins to smell rotten or if salt crystals or mold begin to form around the opening.
Cooking With It
Of course, what good would fish sauce be without some cooking ideas?
The beauty of nước mắm is its strength of flavor. Such boldness marries wonderfully with meat in marinades and glazes. One popular Vietnamese dish is cánh gà chiên nước mắm—fish sauce chicken wings. To make it, chicken wings are floured, fried, and then flavored with garlic, chili, a little sugar, and fish sauce.
Nước mắm is also used as a seasoning during cooking much in the same way that Westerners use salt. But, of course, fish sauce is able to give a depth of flavor to a meal that salt is unable to do. A popular dipping sauce in Vietnam is used after cooking too, known as nước chấm. It is made with fish sauce, chili, lime juice, vinegar, and sugar. It acts as a perfect accompaniment to most meals; from spring rolls, to grilled meats or even with noodle soup.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE FIVE FANTASTIC DUMPLINGS OF HUE
Some say that Hue cuisine is the most refined of all Vietnamese culinary traditions
Hue cuisine is as much about the food as it is about the elegance and courtesy of the people of Hue. Be it because of their magisterial manner or their delicious food, Hue people are proud. Similarly, we’re proud to offer our selection of the five best Hue dumplings.
Bánh bèo (Water fern cake)
Water fern cake is one of the most popular snacks in Hue as well as in restaurants serving this cuisine throughout Vietnam. The fine, white steamed rice cakes topped with scallion oil and reddish shrimp floss are laid out on tiny ceramic dishes all placed on a round tray. This dish looks like water ferns floating on the surface of a lake, hence the name of the dish.
To eat it, use a spoon to sprinkle the rice cake with a sweet and spicy fish sauce before serving. Alternatively, you can use the spoon to get the rice cake out of the dish and dip it gently in the sauce, but be careful not to let the toppings float away! Feel the soft and chewy rice cake in tandem with the spicy sauce; the fatty, sweet minced shrimp; scallion oil and the crispy piece of fried pork skin. The harmonious combination of taste, aroma, color and texture makes this simple dish one you will forever remember.
Bánh bột lọc (Tapioca dumpling)
Beside water fern cake, the tapioca dumpling is also famous to Hue’s visitors. Anyone would agree that this translucent dumpling encasing a bright red-orange shrimp inside looks very interesting and beautiful. This dumpling has a balance of chewy and sticky. Texturally, this dish’s pleasures are feeling the crust of shrimp shell playing against the softness of pork belly.
However, not everyone knows that to make it translucent and chewy, the tapioca starch must be mixed by hand with boiling water until it becomes a soft and smooth mixture. The shrimp and pork belly portions that go in to this dumpling are stir-fried in caramelized sugar for color and taste. The dumplings are then wrapped in banana leaves and boiled.
Bánh nậm (Flat rice dumpling)
Bánh ướt (Steamed rice sheets)
These are the same paper-thin, steamed rice sheets that go with Vietnamese sausages in other parts of Vietnam, but in Hue they get creative. Hue people fancy the dish with grilled or roasted pork instead.
The steamed rice sheets are made from a rice flour and tapioca batter, thinly spread out and steamed on the spot. The grilled pork is then put on the sheet together with fresh herbs to make a roll. It can be served with sweet and spicy fish sauce (nước chấm) or a bean dip made of fermented soybean sauce (tương), ground meat and peanuts.
Served with roasted pork, the steamed rice sheets are to be eaten as a type of noodle together with fresh herbs and pickles. To serve, put all the ingredients together in a bowl with spicy fish sauce sprinkled on top and experience a symphony of tastes.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE HOW TO EXPERIENCE VIETNAMESE COMFORT FOOD
Goodness in a bowl
There is a reason soup-based noodles make up a large proportion of Vietnamese cuisine, with their most famous representative being phở. Like a cup of hot tea, the fragrant broth infused with herbs and spices will wake up your senses and send “comfort waves” to your brain. This is why it is best eaten in the early morning or at night, when you want to refresh your mind.
For many, the best noodles should be home cooked, and I couldn’t agree more. However, when what you need is a quick mood fix and not an hour in the kitchen, you’ll be grateful for the noodle stalls on the street. My go-to noodle soups when I need to feel better are phở, bún (rice vermicelli), hủ tiếu and Vietnamese wonton noodles.
Hot, Hot, Hot!
Warm and soft rice porridge, or cháo, that makes your tongue sting a little is a good call on a chilly day, or when you feel tired and need comfort. Vietnamese believe that porridge with spring onions and shiso leaves can help with treating the common cold. In Hanoi, porridge is usually thicker and smoother, and can be made with pork ribs, pork organs, chicken or freshwater mussels. In Saigon, it is common that rice grains remain, and ingredients vary from chicken or duck to fish or squid. Century eggs can be found as a side dish in the South, but rarely in the North.
Charcoal and Smoke
Skewers are among the most favourite snacks for schoolchildren and nostalgic adults. The sweet, spicy and fatty pork skewers can make you feel full and satisfied in an instant.
However, what really takes me back to my childhood is grilled corn. If you have been to Hanoi during winter, you will see many street vendors grilling and selling corns and sweet potatoes on the spot. Burning hot in your hands and heavenly sweet in your mouth, these winter treats also bring together generations in a family, as they used to be the common food in the past when rice was scarce.
In Saigon, you can also find grilled banana wrapped in sticky rice, an adorable comfort food especially on rainy days.
It would be a mistake not to mention snails and shellfish (ốc) as a unique comfort food in Vietnam. While the snails themselves don’t really have any taste, the different sauces that accompany them sure do. Chilli, lemongrass, tamarind, you name it, the feast of spice in chewy bites will satisfy your taste buds and leave you a happier person. And what’s best? You can go to the store alone and order a bowl of steamed snails or clams, or a dish of superbly cheap grilled oysters, and nobody would bat an eye. Having such a treat all to yourself is one of the most satisfying things ever.
My favourite comfort food, which I missed a lot during the years I spent overseas, is fried tofu. Vietnamese fried tofu is different from what you can find in other Asian countries, but more than that, it reminded me of meals with my family. Family is very important in Vietnamese culture, and meal time is when the family sits together and shares stories. We bond over our homemade food, and when we are away from home, Vietnamese food always reminds us of the coziness and familiarity that sometimes is lacking in the big, wide world.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE PROPAGANDA: A CLEVER TWIST ON VIETNAMESE CUISINE
With a name reflecting anti-war campaign posters, Propaganda Saigon marks a different style of Vietnamese cuisine in the heart of Saigon. Opening at the end of the Dragon Year, Propaganda offers a wide variety of inventive dishes, including incredible spring rolls and a smorgasbord of Vietnamese street food served with creative twists. We delved into a number of tasty dishes from north, central and south Vietnam, and particularly enjoyed the “Bún chay gạo lức Propaganda”. This dish consisted of:
- light noodles,
- perfectly fried tofu,
- an abundance of typical Vietnamese herbs and vegetables,
- nutrient-rich puffed brown rice,
- garnished with chilli, peanuts and shallots,
- and served with a sweet soy sauce.
Puffed brown rice has recently crept into many Vietnamese recipes, as it is a popular healthy option that gives the texture a boost while adding a subtle mellowing flavor.
For a group of friends, the spring rolls are a must. With a wide selection you can have any meat you might want or vegetarian if the fancy strikes. We went with the chicken and avocado spring rolls and were not disappointed. With the clever twist of adding Western ingredients, they’ve created a brilliant new way to experience a typical Vietnamese dish. It also helps that they were cut into compact bite sized pieces – so much easier to eat.
Last point (because we probably shouldn’t go on about spring rolls forever), the peanut sauce they’re served with is to die for: a thick sweet sauce with the hearty crunch of chopped nuts. We found it hard to stop ourselves licking the bowl – though we did go so far as to use a handy invention, a spoon, to scrape the remnants directly from the dish.
The architecture is modern, clean and simple with French Colonial traces, seen in the old floor tiles and the Art Deco replica marble tables. The hand-drawn propaganda mural on their main wall ties the entire scene together making the restaurant vivid and lively – as one might imagine would have been the attitude of the artists originally making propaganda art years ago.
With multiple floors and a long narrow space to work with (similar to their neighbouring restaurant Au Parc), the smart table layout means people aren’t cramped, even at peak hours. Propaganda lets you gather with friends and family, relax and enjoy well made, modern Vietnamese street food.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE CHEF DAVID THAI ON THE FUTURE OF VIETNAMESE FOOD
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.
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?
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.
SAIGON INSPIRATION RESTAURANTS VIETNAMESE 3 VIETNAMESE SOUPS YOU MUST TRY
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!