My choice of song, rather than being about food or eating, is by a band that I’m not a massive fan of, but I do like this song and the band name is appropriate.
Not all of the food I list below will be available or taste the same in each city as Vietnam varies greatly from North to South. These are my particular favourites and if you are visiting Vietnam you are bound to see most of these on the menu. Ironically, I wrote this list while munching on Captain Caveman’s emergency chocolate stash during a rain storm.
I will start off at number 10 and count down in reverse order of these delicious dinners. There is only one salad on the list and as I don’t eat many salads it has to go in at number 10.
# 10 – Banana Flower Salad (Nom Hoa Chuoi in Vietnamese). I love this because it is so fresh and banana flower is difficult to come by, back home. The salad usually comprises of carrot, cucumber, crushed peanuts, chopped chilies and my favourite comes with thinly sliced beef. If you’re lucky you may even get some prawn crackers to eat it with too.
# 9 – Steamed Buns (Banh Bao). These are usually sold from a motorbike, loaded with a steamer on the back, in our small village and you need to get them before 7.30am as they sell out quickly. In the cities they are sold on the street and in more permanent establishments. Usually the cheaper they are the less meat they have in them and sometimes they come with minced meat filling and egg – I prefer the cheaper ones and find it hard to manage more than 2 for a meal.
#8 – Noodle Soup (Pho). I attended a cooking class a few years ago and learned how to cook Pho Bo, Beef Noodle Soup and I was gobsmacked that a soup that looks so simple would take over 6 hours to make. It’s a clear, consomme style, which is made from using the beef bones. It has wide rice noodles in with some herbs and very thinly sliced raw beef is dropped in a few minutes before serving so that the hot liquid cooks the meat in the bowl. Usually served with extra leafy greens, lime and chilies for you to add to taste. Ideal for a filling breakfast.
#7 – Sandwich (Banh Mi). This is basically a baguette filled with some salad items, sweet chili sauce and pork products, although there a lots of variations around. Some will contain a pate like slice, some will add cheese or egg. If your Vietnamese skills are up to it you can request what you want. Near where we live I have it with BBQ pork, no sauces and it’s amazing. It can also be a really cheap option for a meal at any time of day and ideal for taking with you on a long journey.
#6 – Pork & Noodle dish (Cao Lau). This is a famous local Hoi An dish that is made using the water from the Ba Le well. It is one of my favourite foods and I always seek it out whenever I am in Hoi An. The noodles are thicker and similar to udon and the dish comes with some thinly sliced pork and leafy green stuff on top. Some of the noodles are cooked to make a crunchy version and are added to the top of the dish after a small amount of ‘gravy’ has been poured over. This meal would be my number one if I could get it outside of Hoi An.
#5 – Pork Noodle soup (Bun Heo). This is one of my frequent breakfast dishes, here in Phong Nha. It’s made differently depending on the family and which vegetables and herbs are available in their garden. It is made from rice noodles (vermicelli) that are thin and soft with slices of pork, pepper and chilies. Usually you will be served some salad to add and even a spring roll to dip in. The soup is clear and a slightly salty, oily taste to it. I never manage to eat a full bowl as it is so filling.
#4 – Tofu in tomato sauce (Dau phu sot ca chua). If any vegetarian readers are still reading I’m guessing you’ve been wondering if there would be anything on the list without meat. Here it is, my favourite lunch time food. It is usually very cheap with plenty of firm soy tofu that fries so much better here than at home (I’ve tried to make it at home and it was nothing like the Vietnamese version). The sauce has lots of tomato, garlic, spring onion, mushroom and some seasoning and the dish is served with steamed rice.
#3 – Spring Rolls (Nem ran, Cha Gio or Goi Cuon). I love the fried spring rolls the best and the ones with pork and shrimp in are usually my favourite. The vegetarian ones that have glass noodle, mushroom, carrot & tarot are also delicious. The fresh spring rolls (Goi Cuon) are healthier and tend to have more cucumber and herbs in. Ideal as a starter or even to share.
#2 – Crispy Pancakes (Banh Xeo). This dish is a real treat and one I like to eat as part of a social gathering as it involves using your hands and even helping others roll them. You are usually served the crispy pancakes containing some or all of pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, quails egg along with a plate of green salad, strips of pickled carrot and cucumber and some rice paper to roll it all in before dipping in the crushed peanut and chili sauce. It’s cheap and easy to keep ordering more to share. These can be served vegetarian too.
For people that know me, most will have guessed my number one choice of Vietnamese food…….
#1 Grilled Pork & Noodle (Bun Cha). The pork patties are grilled on a BBQ along with fatty pieces of pork bacon, then served with salad leaves, bean sprouts, banana flower and cold rice noodles on the side. In the middle is a bowl of liquid that usually contains some chili, garlic, sugar, salt, fish sauce, vinegar, sliced carrot and radish and lime juice. This can test the chopstick skills a little as you should put all the ingredients in to a mouthful that has been dipped in the liquid. I love this food and although traditionally a Hanoi dish, we are lucky enough to find it in Phong Nha.