How to Eat Your Way Through Vietnam
When you are not out trekking through the mountains of Sapa, paddling amongst lime karsts of Halong Bay or sliding down the sand dunes of Mui Ne, be sure to indulge in the variant cuisines specific to each region.
Introductions First: Food Tours with Locals
Whether you are flying into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) or Hanoi, you will find plenty of operators offering their take of a food tour. Honestly, I’ve never been let down with any of the companies I’ve trusted to take me around. Even if you are a veteran traveler, joining a tour is the best way to get a feel for it all.
Hanoi Street Food Tour guides travelers through the intense network of alleyways that make up Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Without a guide you can easily get lost, plus you’ll most likely walk past the best bowl of Pho or Bun Cha without even knowing it. If you are not into walking, then opt for a food tour while riding on the back of a scooter. Motorbikes are how most Vietnamese get around the city and tours offered by Saigon Food Tour will take you to experience the authentic food life at night.
Noodles, Noodles, and More Noodles!
Vietnam is known for noodle soups of so many variations. Pho is the most common noodle dish known to most travelers. You can usually find a delicious bowl of this at any street vendor for $1-2 dollars. If one bowl doesn’t fill you, simply ask for more and take in the sites around.
Once you’ve had your fair share of Pho, seek out the other delicious noodle dishes on hand. Bun Bo Hue is a beef noodle soup that originated from its namesake city, Hue. The noodles are thicker and rounder and the broth is a mixture of lemongrass, shrimp paste, and sugar with a little bit of chili oil mixed in. Bun Rieu is more common in the south and a must try dish. This tomato based broth is cooked with shrimp and crab paste, tamarind and eggs, and served either pork or freshwater crabs. If you want the true local experience, go with the pork-crab combo!
Leave the Utensils at Home and Get Your Hands Involved
One of the great things about Vietnamese food culture is that you rarely use forks and spoons. Chopsticks are offered at every restaurant and usually present challenges to the newbies. However there are a few dishes that leave the chopsticks behind and go all fingers in!
The simplest or most familiar one to start with is grilled seafood. These vendors can be found all over the country considering Vietnam has a coastline spanning over 3,000 kilometers. If you want the freshest seafood then head to the shores of Da Nang or Nha Trang, where you can purchase fresh clams, crabs, shrimp, and squid daily.
Banh Xeo, which originates from Central Vietnam, is a savory pancake filled with a mix of ingredients including pork, shrimp and vegetables. These little pancakes are then wrapped in rice paper or rolled up in lettuce and other herbs finished off by dipping them in a peanut sauce.
One last option that is must try and definitely does not involve the use of utensils is Banh Mi. These sandwiches are popular snacks not only for the common backpacker on the go but for also the locals, especially moto taxi drivers. The fresh baguettes are stuffed with meat, cucumbers, cilantro, chilies and an assortment of other ingredients. Trust me when I say you will fall in love with these.
An article about what to eat in Vietnam can go on and on without an end in sight. Much like your appetite when traveling through this amazing country. Vietnamese cuisine is intertwined with the different cultures you’ll come across on your journey inside this Southeast Asian haven for foodies. Just remember, if you left Vietnam on an empty stomach, then you definitely did yourself wrong.