Some of my favourite memories of my Vietnam travels are of visiting small fishing towns with one particular goal in mind – to get to know the locals over an enormous plate of sautéed garlic shrimp. It is a guilty pleasure of mine, and when the seafood is so cheap, it seems rude not to indulge. Each country around the world has its own unique cuisine and the historical and geographical influences that have shaped it. Here is a quick guide to what to expect of Vietnam’s culinary delights…
Over the years Vietnam has been influenced by many of its neighbours. The Mongolians introduced Beef, the Chinese arrived with chopsticks and popularized stir fry, and the French have insured that you are never too far from delicious pastries. There are certain areas of Hanoi where you can barely walk 50 meters without seeing a bakery. The French have introduced baguettes, pate, coffee (with cream) and cakes to satisfy any traveller’s sweet tooth.
Vietnamese local dishes regularly use fish sauce, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs and vegetables. It is known for its fresh taste and generally healthy in nature. Pho (noodles) served in a clear broth with herbs and meats are popular for breakfast, but will be eaten for lunch and dinner too. Bun (rice vermicelli) comes in many varieties and is one of my personal favourite meals. It can be served with grilled pork meat, chicken, fried rice cakes, fried eggs or snails (thank you French colonisation). Com (boiled rice) is usually saved for lunch and dinner meals. The rice is served in combination with a variety of meats, vegetables and herbs depending where in Vietnam you are.
Make it yourself
If you visit Hoi An during your Vietnam travels, you could try putting on your chef’s hat and take part in a cooking class (after a trip to the tailors of course)! Here you can learn all about Vietnamese cuisine and how to make delicious dishes including fresh rice paper rolls of Shrimp, crispy Hoi An Pancakes with Shrimp with a Peanut sauce and Seafood Salad with mixed Vietnamese herbs served in half a Pineapple to name a few. This is very much the done thing in Hoi An, and is a perfect way to kill time in between tailoring alterations.
For special occasions, why not celebrate with ‘ruou rang’ or snake wine! There are two main styles: one is steeped wine, where the snakes are soaked in the wine for months before serving, and the other is mixed wine, where the snake is sliced up the belly and the blood is drained into a waiting shot glass of wine. The ethanol denatures any venom and you can surely call yourself adventurous after trying this delicacy. This elixir is considered a tonic and allegedly cures everything from night blindness to impotence!
More squid for your quid
Like lots of street food in Asia, Vietnam’s is cheap, mouth-watering and exotic all at the same time. During your Vietnam travels, you can buy a sizable mixture of rice, vegetables and meat for around £1. It is tricky to budget for food in Vietnam because there is such a range. As with many things in life I would suggest hitting a balance. A rough estimate of £5-15 per day should cover expenses assuming you have the odd western meal. But if you have a weakness for the occasional splurge, then you could go well over £15 per day… up to you!