A few days ago, while I was writing our post about Halong Bay, Andy said to me, “Do you realise you haven’t written about the food yet?”
“Pish posh!” I thought, “SURELY I’ve written about the amazing food that we’ve been eating for the past month in Vietnam.”
But then I went back and looked at our blog… and dang it if that boy wasn’t right! I haven’t done even one post about food. This is a huge oversight as one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Vietnam was for the food. I started researching the food months before we arrived and I’ve been keeping long lists of regional specialities to try, local spots to visit and food words I need to learn. (I had to learn to say “egg” very quickly as I hate eggs and don’t want to accidentally order one. It’s “trung” for those of you who are interested.)
In order to address this gaping hole in our blog, I’m going to make this a big post about the food we ate while we were in Ha Noi. This is not an exhaustive list, just a run-down of the best things we ate in the capital. These descriptions of the food are the best that I, a non-expert in Vietnamese food who cannot speak any Vietnamese, can come up with. I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes… but forgive me. I was hungry.
In the future I’ll post more regularly about the food so you can follow along at home. Try not to drool on your keyboards.
I should add that all the food that I’m posting about here was eaten at street stalls. We haven’t really been to a lot of “restaurants” here in Vietnam. The street food is so good, fresh and cheap that we can’t resist it! Here’s what our typical dining establishment looks like:
Let’s start off with that great Vietnamese staple food… Pho. Pho is a noodle based soup that is eaten all day long in Vietnam. We’ve tried two versions so far…. pho ga (chicken noodle soup) and pho bo (beef noodle soup.) We prefer pho bo. The great thing about pho (and about all Vietnamese food, really) is that you can personalise it to your own tastes with jars of chili paste and pickled garlic, bowls of freshly chopped chilis and baskets full of fresh herbs. A little of this… a spoonful of that… a bowl of soup that’s uniquely yours!
Next up, bun cha!! A speciality in Ha Noi, bun cha stalls are dotted all over the city, the enticing aroma of pork being grilled over charcoal wafts irresistibly around the capital. Bun cha is grilled patties of seasoned pork served with a tangy broth full of herbs, carrots and radishes. A big plate of rice noodles (bun) is served on the side. You grab a chopstick full of noodles, dip it in your broth and slurp them up with the pork and veggie goodness.
A popular side dish served with bun cha is nem nong. These spring-roll-type-things have a filling of rice noodles, bean sprouts and ground pork wrapped in a rice paper roll and deep fried. They are good, but they take second place to the bun cha itself.
Another very popular dish (both on the streets and amongst us Abercrombie’s) is banh cuon. These are delicate wraps, made of (I’m guessing here) some type of tapioca or other glutinous batter and filled with a mix of ground pork and woodear mushrooms. They are then topped with fried shallots and served with a tangy dipping sauce. They’re pretty hard to eat as they stick together, but even the ones we broke with our clumsy chopsticking were delicious!
Soup, soup, soup! This is another amazing Ha Noi speciality… bun dieu, which is made with crabs from the river in the middle of the city, tomatoes, tofu, noodles and lots of chilis. This soup isn’t found outside of Ha Noi, so we took advantage of having it on our doorstep and ate it three times! Lip-tingling deliciousness!
And some more tofu! To be honest, if you’d asked me a month ago, I’d have told you that I don’t like tofu. All the tofu that I’ve had in the past has a weird squidy, spongey texture that really puts me off. However, the tofu in Vietnam is a very different thing. It’s made fresh and delivered to restaurants almost hourly here. The texture is smooth and a little creamy. In this dish, bun dau, the tofu is fried and served with rice noodles, herbs and a dipping sauce made of fish sauce and kumquats.
Finally… nom bo khoa. This, for me, is Vietnam on a plate. A salad of (again, I’m guessing here!) julienned green papaya, jicama and great handfuls of fresh herbs tossed with a citrusy and spicy dressing. All this, topped with bean sprouts, pieces of dried beef, chili sauce and roasted peanuts. I swear, I could eat this every day for the rest of my life.
And, lest you think we’re doing nothing but eat (you wouldn’t be too far off!) here’s a shot of a cup of Vietnamese coffee. Served in tiny cups with a layer of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom and warm strong coffee poured on top, you must slowly stir the thick milk into the coffee. The result is sweet, strong and oh, so good.
I’ll do another food post in a few days. Next up… the food of Hue!