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Where and what to eat in Vietnam, for a greenery holiday!
Good morning Crew,
today I take you with me among the dishes of Vietnam, where I was last August.
Why greenery? Because Vietnam really is, especially on the table. So, vegetarian friends, Vietnam is the place for you! Fruits and vegetables are on the agenda in a Vietnamese meal, including herbs and sprouts, and every restaurant always includes a wide selection of vegetarian dishes on its menu. This is because about 85% of the inhabitants of Vietnam are Buddhists, and religion requires them to eat without meat from the first to the fifteenth day of each month of the lunar calendar.
A complete Vietnamese meal can include several courses, alternating flavors and textures (many more than those we are used to!), and it’s usually arranged in a circle, so that each guest can serve. There are soups, small starters such as rolls (I will talk about below), small fries and colorful salad, a main dish made of meat or fish, the inevitable bowl of white rice, one or more cooked vegetables and finally lots of fresh fruits.
The portions are usually in proportion to the number of courses, but you will hardly see a Vietnamese order one dish at a restaurant. He simply orders and divides with others.
What to Eat in Vietnam? Fresh coriander or fish sauce!
From North to South, Vietnamese cuisine has been influenced by neighboring countries and the French colonization: so do not expect all too spicy or unrecognizable flavors. The variety of Vietnamese courses will satisfy any taste!
Two flavors, however, distinguish Vietnamese cuisine: fresh coriander (you will love or hate it) and fish sauce, nước chấm, a clear liquid obtained by fermenting fish often mixed with water, lemon, sugar, garlic and chili before being served and used to flavor their fantastic salads. Its flavor when well mixed, does not remember fish at all: it has a fresh and salty taste, not well defined for our western palate, and its scent in purity, however, is not exactly inviting… but, I assure you, eat salad in Vietnam is something that will forever change your idea of salad!
I’m not talking about super salads with eggs, corn, mozzarella, and tuna, but a simple julienne sliced vegetables, with added fruits, such as papaya, shoots, and seeds, seasoned with fish sauce. I would have eaten tons!
In fact, I came home with a bottle of fish sauce.
These vegetables are the same that you will find in the famous Vietnamese spring rolls or Goi Cuon, but… raw!
Oh yes, there’s a light version of spring rolls: vegetables, sprouts, rice noodles, omelet, fish or meat are rolled over moistened rice sheets and served… to be dipped in fish sauce, of course. After the first impact with the bit sticky texture of the wrap, you’ll savor the crispness of fresh vegetable stuffed in.
On the boat in Halong Bay, the guide taught us how to prepare them. Well, I won a beer for the best-wrapped roll!
And yes, I also came home with a box of rice sheets (actually, even those of the supermarket there are just fine).
What to drink in Vietnam?
Speaking of beer… it’s practically the national drink, so that each “brand” is actually the name of the city of production: from north to south, you will find the Bia Hanoi, the Bia Ha Long, the Bia Hue, the Bia Saigon… beers are actually made in Vietnam, but they proudly cites on the label the European methods they follow in making them.
Although, the most popular beer is Bia Hoi (literally, cold beer), produced almost exclusively in the area of Hanoi, the capital. It is a draft beer, very light, cold, ideal to be consumed at any time of the day, by anyone. In Hanoi, you’ll find it at Bia Hoi Corner, between Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen street. Avoid locals full of tourists and you will enjoy a pint at about 25 cents.
What to eat in Vietnam: the national dish Pho Bo
Also, in the north of the country, do not miss the chance to taste one of the most famous dishes of Vietnam, as well as the national dish, Pho Bo: this is a soup with rice noodles, beef (although it exists in other versions, but Bo means just beef), with lime, mint, sprouts and spices. It is delicious, although for us Italians have only one bug: it should be consumed at breakfast.
I’ll confess, I have nevertheless ordered it for dinner at a restaurant in Hanoi, repeatedly apologizing to the waiter and justifying saying “I understand that it’s as if I order a cappuccino for dinner” he laughed and served me anyway. I rather appreciated it one morning, as a second breakfast, while touring by boat in Cai Be market on the Mekong. I assured the chef that after bread, butter, and jam I’d be ready to face it. So I did and I’ll be honest: thanks to the mix of spices, boiled beef is acceptable even at 8 am.
Where to eat in Vietnam: Street food or restaurants?
Another nice aspect of Vietnamese cuisine is street food: from fruit to pancakes, from sandwiches to chicken skewers… I have tasted a bit of everything, from North to South. Often, however, the cost, especially for tourists with few negotiation skills, is penalizing. If you consider that in Vietnam you will be able to find a full dinner with only $ 4, it might be worth leaving the street food as emergency breaks hunger.
However, speaking of restaurants, do not make confusion in the evening, when you will often see the sidewalks equipped as outdoor restaurants. Simply, the Vietnamese like to share meals, and it is not uncommon for some of the ladies and girls who live in the narrow buildings become available to prepare dinner to the entire neighborhood and that the meal is consumed together, sitting on small stools. The practice is so widespread that in the historical centers, just as Hanoi, it’s quite hard to distinguish convivial dinners from real restaurants.
I named the sandwiches. Did you notice it? Yes, because the French colonization brought a fundamental thing: baguettes. The sandwich as we know it has been revisited with Vietnamese ingredients: roasted meats, herbs, sprouts, and papaya. The best of the Vietnam seems to be that of the funny Phi, with its kiosk/house in Hoi An (a beautiful town, much to be worth the whole trip just to see it). Try Phi Ban Mi. I guarantee you will come back at least twice, and you will eat at least two of his sandwiches!
I leave you mouth watering, and some small advice: if you plan to visit Vietnam as backpacker, as I did, I tell you that it is absolutely feasible, but unless you have a month at your disposal, you must plan well the routes and an assessment of internal air travel. Not everything, in fact, is as close as it seems! Reach the legendary Ha Long Bay from Hanoi, for example, requires about 5 hours by bus (no alternative) and at least one night on the boat. Find good hotels at a very low price is easy, but if you want a more authentic accommodation, look among the homestays: private houses owned by a family, adapted to housing and often have all the amenities, including the mother who prepares banana pancakes for breakfast and a network of friendships and tips very valuable to reach the next destination!
Where to eat in Vietnam?
Among the addresses to eat I recommend:
New Day Restaurant – Hanoi – site
We have been there twice. Great pho bo, extremely wide choice of dishes and if you are in crisis with the idioma you can also order in view from the kitchen. Eat outside, in the street or on the rooftop terrace.
Phi Ban Mi – Hoi An – site
The best sandwich of Vietnam.
Cafe 43 – Hoi An – site
Recommended by Phi. Delicious and ridiculously cheap.
The Red Gecko – Hoi An – site
Good barbecue, you can also split if you do not want to overdo it (or if you already nibble something from the nearby night market).
Han Restaurant – Hue – site
Super casual, super friendly, but you will taste the traditional dishes of central Vietnam, including meat on sugarcane skewers.
Family Home Restaurant – Hue – site
In an alley, a little hard to find, great food… in a real home! There’s even the grandmother who watches TV in the living room.
Victoria Hotels – site
After much wandering, between Vietnam and Cambodia, we decided to splurge a little luxury, and we turned to this hotel company that brought us from Saigon to Cambodia, thanks to its numerous services (drivers, shuttle, boat trips and hotels in the area). A little more expensive than the most popular tour (but less mess) to shot the delta and we climbed back up the river in Phnom Penh, with a unique and excellent treatment!