Vietnamese cuisine prides itself on fresh ingredients and minimal cooking.
Vietnamese cuisine is characterised by big, comforting bowls of noodle soup, refreshing rice paper rolls with different fillings and even meat and vegetable sandwiches. The dishes cooked in Vietnamese kitchens may seem elaborate, but kitchens in Vietnam are simpler when compared to Western kitchens. Also, the cuisine is meant to be shared, and this communal character of Vietnamese culture comes out most when it’s time to eat.
Although Vietnamese cuisine is vast, daily meals normally consist of staples. Leftovers often make up dinner, with generous portions of steamed rice accompanied by four flavourful side dishes. The sides usually include a soup, a bowl of greens, a dish made with meat, fish or tofu, and a bowl of fish sauce. Besides this, street food is very popular and available at stalls across the country. Overall, Vietnamese cuisine prides itself on fresh ingredients and minimal cooking.
If you’re curious about Vietnamese food, here are fish dishes for you to start with:
Banh mi is essentially a Vietnamese sandwich. French colonialists arrived in Vietnam in the 19th century and brought baguettes with them. The Vietnamese added colour and flavour to the baguette, and banh mi was born. A traditional banh mi may use pork paté or cha lua (Vietnamese pork luncheon meat), cucumber, pickled carrots, spring onions, coriander and some chilli sauce. Some years ago, the Vietnamese were unfamiliar with baguettes, but managed to take the food item and give it a quintessentially Vietnamese spin.
Pho bo or beef noodle soup is perhaps the popular dish within Vietnamese cuisine that has also reached other countries. It is believed that the dish originated in the early 20th century just outside Hanoi and there are a couple of theories about how it came into being. Some people believe it was influenced by the French dish ‘pot-au-feu’ or beef stew. Others think it was inspired by a Chinese dish called ‘guoqiao mi xian’. Despite its disputed origins, pho bo is omnipresent in Vietnam and may be eaten for breakfast or other meals.
Traditionally eaten only for lunch, bun cha hails from Hanoi. It includes grilled pork belly and minced pork patties served bathed in fish sauce, with cold vermicelli and fresh herbs. Former US president Barack Obama and late TV show presenter Anthony Bourdain are known to have eaten bun cha together in Hanoi. That contributed to putting not just bun cha but Vietnamese cuisine on the global stage to a large extent, and also said a lot about how a prominent political figure represented the common Vietnamese man with what he ate and how he ate it.
Cha ca La Vong
Named after a restaurant in Hanoi, cha ca La Vong is a dish of fried fish served with cold vermicelli and peanuts. The story goes that in the late 19th century, revolutionary soldiers held secret meetings in Hanoi. The family that hosted them and helped them remain in disguise set up a restaurant and named it La Vong. The place was known for serving only cha ca. Later, the restaurant became well known among the French, whom the soldiers wanted to drive out. After the French were ousted, the street was named Cha Ca and the restaurant began to be considered a symbol of revolution.