THE BEST AUTHENTIC LOCAL DISHES IN VIETNAM
By about 11am the sidewalks and streets of the many cities and towns in the North are filled with wafts of smoke from mini fan-powered barbeques grilling the pork slices and meat balls required for diners. Bun cha served with rice noodles, a basket of fresh lettuce and herbs, and a bowl of dipping sauce that all gets mixed together, this simple street food with all its savoury goodness, fresh flavours, and contrasting textures, is quite simply Vietnam on a plate.
If there were just one dish that could be picked to represent Vietnam then this dish, adored by the locals, would likely be voted number one. The best pho bo begins its life at midnight, when a large pot of water is brought to the boil with beef bones and pork bones. With the adding of fish sauce, ginger, grilled onions, and star anise, the broth is allowed to simmer for about five hours whereupon it is ready to be served with rice noodles, chopped onions, basil and pepper to the throngs of salivating customers any time of the day and often beyond. Chicken is also available instead of beef.
Its light, delicate yet flavourful characteristics make banh cuon a popular dish for breakfast or a late night snack. Banh cuon are Vietnamese crêpes stuffed with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms served cut-up and dipped into a tasty nuoc mam (fish sauce). The dish is often completed with the adding of crispy fried garlic and coriander, sliced cucumber, cha lua (mortadella), beansprouts, deep-fried shallots and chopped mint.
The popularity of cha ca, a fish dish originally conceived at the cha ca La Vong restaurant in Ha Noi, is so great that it has spawned many copycats, and the street where it is served has been renamed from Paint Street to Cha Ca street. The dish itself is composed of a delicate whitefish that is fried at high heat in peanut oil with dill, turmeric, rice noodles, and peanuts. A do-it-yourself dish cooked at the table in a Japanese style charcoal hibachi, this is a fun dish to have with friends and perfect for the cooler months.
These light and healthy fresh spring rolls are a wholesome choice and what many people know best about Vietnam cuisine. The translucent parcels are first packed with salad greens, a slither of meat or seafood and a layer of coriander, before being neatly rolled and dunked in Vietnam’s favorite condiment – fish sauce. Nem cuon are great as an appetiser and may be found on the menu of any good Vietnamese restaurant.
Urban legend has it that the signature thick, sticky rice noodles of cao lau can only be made from the water taken from a specific Ba Le village well. Whether or not this is actually the case is irrelevant as there is no denying that there is something unique about this dish only found in Hoi An town, Central Vietnam. Topped with shrimp and pork and garnished with mint, basil, bean sprouts and lettuce, and served in a light soy sauce broth, cao lau is a dish well worth hunting down.
Bun bo Hue
The name itself gives the origins of this dish away, bun bo Hue hails from the royal city of Hue in Central Vietnam. This meal-in-a-bowl noodle soup requires both spoon and chopsticks to enjoy its many components. Contained in this bowl of liquid heaven are pork slivers, rare beef, chopped spring onions, various kinds of pre-cooked luncheon meat and thick fresh noodles (bun). The distinct sweet flavour of the soup is derived from a broth composed primarily from beef bones; fermented shrimp paste, lemongrass, and dried chilies.
Not quite a soup, not a stew, mi Quang is to some an oddity of the soup world, being more like salad with a splash of soup. Originating from Quang Nam province and Da Nang city, the dish is one of the most popular in the region. This popular lunch meal is composed of a combination of wide white rice noodles and yellow egg noodles, and served with seasoned pork chop or chicken, hard-boiled egg, sautéed shrimp, peanuts, cha (pork sausage), chili pepper, a plethora of fresh vegetables, and pieces of crispy banh trang (rice paper). With mi Quang only enough broth is added to moisten the noodles.
Related to the popular Thai/Cambodian tom yum soup, canh chua Vietnam is a light, refreshing sour soup harking from Southern Vietnam typically made with fish from the Mekong River Delta. Cooked in a broth of pineapple, tomatoes, and bean sprouts, the dish obtains its sour taste from the addition of tamarind. The soup is garnished with the lemony-scented herb ngo om, caramelized garlic, and chopped scallions, and other herbs. Canh chua may be served alone, with white rice, or with rice vermicelli.
Bun bo Nam Bo
This bowl of noodles comes sans broth, keeping the ingredients from becoming sodden and the various textures intact. The tender slices of beef mingle with crunchy peanuts and bean sprouts, and are flavored with fresh herbs, crisp dried shallots, and a splash of fish sauce and fiery chili pepper. Textures of contrasting flavours, temperatures and flavours with each passing bite makes for a wonderful simple dining experience.