Vietnam is a treasure trove of delicacies. Fresh seafood that still leaves a hint of the sea in your mouth, to smoky and charred meats, a delicate broth which is sublime for breakfasts to hearty sandwiches to fuel your body at any time of the day—Vietnam offers too many food options to hungry travellers.
I was in Vietnam earlier in the year and while I’d had Vietnamese before, of course, this was an authentic introduction—eating the delicacies from where the originated and spread across the world. As an Indian who eats everything, Vietnam was an explosion of flavours. Salty, hot, sour, sweet; like Southeast Asian flavours, Vietnamese cuisine is a fine balance that has excelled over centuries. It’s no secret I went to eat like there was no tomorrow. My new husband only stared as he’d never seen me eat so much during the whole of two years that we dated. It was like my stomach made me a different person! While vegetarian options are plenty, here is my guide to what to not miss out on eating if you find yourself in Vietnam:
The queen of breakfasts. Really. The country’s national dish is a noodle soup. The simple chicken or meat broth is peppered with sping onions, coriander, noodles, and meat. It’s accompanied by chili (lots of it), lime, garlic and sauces to flavor the broth with. I can’t tell you how good it is. The first slurp will have you hooked for life. I’ve had pho before many, many times but the refreshing taste of waking up early in Hanoi and heading to a street vendor for some pho will always be an experience worth writing about. No wonder President Barack Obama and the late Anthony Bourdain bonded over pho!
You may know them as rice paper spring rolls. The translucent rolls are filled with greens and meat (try the non vegetarian version if you prefer), dip the rolls into a sweet-chilli sauce and bite. The refreshing taste of mint will combine with the fresh boiled shrimp and the dipping sauce will act as an agent that elevates the simple taste to something extraordinary. These rolls are popular across the southeast, specially neighbouring Cambodia. My suggestion would be to get the fried variety. The best ones I found were in Hoi An, across the river near the cultural centre.
This is a Hanoi specialty. It is available widely in the city and the most-famous joint, where locals and tourists flock to, is called by the name of the specialty. A red sign drew me inside as the smells of fresh grilled meat filled the air. The pork is barbecued on a bed of charcoal, and comes with noodles, a plate of greens and sauce, In a bowl mix all together, add chilli or lime, and dig in. Bathe the meat in the sauce first, pick them up with the chopsticks and put it in your mouth, Then use a spoon to have some of the broth. Ever-so-deelish!
This dish a Hoi An special. Don’t get put off by the colour brown as it tastes divine. The noodles are thick, yellowish and made with rice flour; the broth has a star anise-y flavour; the pork is thinly cut while rice flour croutons and pork crackers give this bowl a balance. The first bite will fill you with a sense of familiarity but also, a feeling of new. The taste is unique because of the water source used to make it. The origin is debated upon, but it’s said the water must be drawn from the Ba Le well which is apparently extremely pure.
This baguette sandwich can be found all over the country. The soft-on-the-inside-and-hard-crust-on-the-outside baguette is cut lengthways, smeared with pate and butter, filled with meat or tofu or whatever you want, pickled vegetables like carrots and cucumber, fresh coriander and some even put mayo. The sandwich is closed and ready to be devoured. The Banh Mi is a typical confluence of cultures—the French and Vietnamese. Developed during colonial times when the French had power in the country, the locals added their own style to it once they gained independence.
Getting to Vietnam from India is a breeze. VietJet is to start direct flights from New Delhi to Hanoi. One can otherwise take Thai Airways/Singapore Airlines/Air Asia etc flights with a halt to reach Vietnam. One can get a visa on arrival at the airport so what's stopping you from going to Vietnam now?