Phở ALL DAY LONG - FEW WORDS ON VIETNAMESE CUISINE
Traditional cuisine is something every traveler is dying to try, because it refers to all of our senses: taste, smell, sight, touch and even hearing. Trying traditional dishes is an exciting experience, including some level of risk. Food helps us to get to know the country’s culture better. Even though it not always makes the best impression on us, it is usually totally different to what our taste buds are used to. Asian cuisine differs greatly from the European. Despite the fact that its influences have been present for many years now, and that it’s possible to find Asian-influenced take-aways on every corner, recreating the perfect Asian taste is practically impossible. And Asian taste has a lot of diversity, inter alia Vietnamese.
One can’t complain about the culinary variety in Vietnam. Vietnamese people eat a lot of beef, poultry, seafood, rice, salads and fresh herbs. However, their culinary preferences are much wider than what we consider “common food”. Most restaurants and chop-houses serve dishes made of snakes, crocodiles and toads, less often of mice or…dogs. Eating dogs is such a controversial matter among Western society, that Vietnamese stopped serving them in restaurants. Apparently, it is possible to find doggy dishes in the north of Vietnam, but local people don’t like to flaunt about it.
IN THE MARGIN: we saw dog farm on Phu Quoc Island, but it wasn’t possible to get in. We haven’t seen any places serving dogs, at least we didn’t know about it. We’ve managed to try baked mice instead!
Is Vietnamese cuisine spicy? It is more spicy than European but not as hot as Thai or Indian. Usually you can decide on the hotness of the dish by yourself by adding or not freshly chopped chilis to the dish.
How do Vietnamese eat? All of the dishes are served at the same time. Freshly chopped vegetables and herbs, such as basil, mint, coriander and lemon grass, are always served on separate plates along with main dishes and soups. Vietnamese use chopsticks, even when eating soup (!) – first, they eat solid ingredients to then drink the brew straight from the bowl. The cutlery is available in most places in bigger cities, but eating with them is usually unwelcomed, therefore it’s better to practice using chopsticks before going to Vietnam.
What do Vietnamese eat and drink?
- Phở - it’s the most popular dish in Vietnam. People eat it all day, every day and are never fed up with it. It is kind of meat or vegetable brew, cooked with rice noodles, fresh vegetables and herbs. There is no one and only recipe for this soup, because it always tastes slightly differently, depending on where you eat it. What determines it’s a phở soup? Added fresh coriander and a lot of salty fish sauce (Vietnam’s specialty). There are few kinds of phở soup:
- Phở gà - with chicken
- Phở bò - with beef
- Phở chay - with vegetables
IN THE MARGIN: try to eat phở soup in clean places, where a lot of locals eat, because you never know what this soup is really made of. Once it went wrong for us as we ordered some king of brew that smelled like a dead cat and we were not able to eat it.
- Cốm trắng - this is simply boiled white rice. Don’t get fooled, though – it tastes completely different to Uncle Ben’s ;) In Vietnam, rice is served to every kind of dish, even in addition to noodles. Vietnamese eat so much rice, that they boil it in special device for cooking rice, which makes the rice sticky and full of taste, and easy to eat with chopsticks.
- Chả giò - these are traditional spring rolls: pieces of beef, crab meat and eggs, rolled in to thin rice paper and filled with noodles, mushrooms and herbs. They can be served raw or deep-fried in oil. They taste best when dipped in soy sauce.
- Mì chiên với rau - rice or egg noodles fried with vegetables.
- Ech chiên bột - frog meat in pancake-like dough, deep-fried and served with vinegar and fish sauce.
- Canh chua - sweet and sour soup cooked with tamarind, tomatoes and pineapple, traditionally derived from Mekong Delta.
- Trứng vịt lộn or Hột vịt lộn, also called Balut - this delicacy is advised only for people with strong stomachs. Balut is a cooked duck’s egg with an embryo inside, which has to be swallowed at once with embryo’s beak and bones.
- Baguette (Bánh mì) - what? Yes, yes. Vietnamese people love small wheat baguettes, which was introduced by the French during their colonial years in Vietnam. It is usually made into half-fried egg or minced ham sandwich, filled with fresh cucumber, chives, lettuce, a lot of coriander and even more Maggi (monosodium glutamate is very popular in Vietnam and used to emphasize the taste of almost any food). These baguettes can be bought in the street stalls, bakeries, bus stations and local dinners.
IN THE MARGIN: they seemed the safest food while we were travelling in Vietnam, because we could point to exactly what we wanted to have them with.
- Fruit – when you go to Vietnam, you have to eat a lot of fruit, all day long...It would be hard to try them all, or even remembering all of their names, but trying few of them I’ve listed below is a must:
- mango – it may not seem such an exotic fruit anymore, because it widely-available nowadays, however it tastes so much better in Vietnam. Popular are dishes with raw unripe mango or unripe mango salad sprinkled with salt and chili flakes.
- bananas – really? Vietnamese bananas are the ‘mini bananas’, which are smaller and dryer, but much sweeter than the regular ones. There is a wide variety of bananas in Vietnam, so the bigger ones are also available.
- dragon fruit – is sweet and juicy, in the size of a big apple. It’s intensive pink skin is covered in green scales (that’s where the name comes from). It’s pup can be white or dark pink and it hides many tiny black pips inside, but they are almost imperceptible while eating.
- jackfruit – it is the biggest fruit growing on a tree. It’s considerably big pips, covered in eatable dark yellow pulp are hidden underneath green, “hairy” skin. Jackfruit is sweet but not very juicy. It is usually sold already peeled.
- mangosteen - it looks like a big plum on the outside. It's skin is hard, but inside a white, beautifully balanced, sweet and sour pulp can be found.
- longan - the center looks like lychee, but it's skin is rusty orange, it's taste is sweet and juicy.
- durian - it's the stinkiest fruit in the world, it has been banned on planes and in some hotels; it's green, thorny skin hides very sweet and tasty orange flesh. Make sure not o breath when peeling it, because the smell is truly repulsive.
- guava - raw guava tastes similar to pear, but it's consistency is much more buttery. Feel free to it all, including skin and pips.
- papaya - ripe papaya is sweet and juicy, it's color intensively orange. There are many black pips inside, though they can be easily scooped out with a spoon.
- Java apple - although it looks like an apple, these are tree-grown berries, which don't have an intensive taste: they are rather sour, hard and very juicy.
- coconut - there is nothing more refreshing than the fresh coconut water drank straight from the fruit - people keep young coconuts in fridges in Vietnam, so they can quench the thirst even better.
- Coffee - Vietnamese coffee is strong, sweet and thick. It can be made in two ways: by preparing very strong coffee brew to then mix it with hot water and condensed milk, or by putting tin strainer on a glass, filled with freshly grind coffee and waiting until the hot water soak the brew through it into the glass.
- Tea - the most popular in Vietnam is the green tea, which tastes absolutely amazing with added Jasmin petals.
- Beer - Saigon export and 333 are the most popular beers and they taste quite good as well, not to mention the price.
Vietnamese cuisine is such a wide topic, that I decided to divide it into parts. Therefore, you may expect another posts related to it. I plan to describe places, where the Vietnamese eat; street market,s where they buy food; and how do they prepare fish and seafood, so please stay tuned! :)
To conclude, I would like you to watch my vlog from Vietnam, where my fiancé and I are trying very hot chilis and we eat mice (these scenes are not recommended to people with gentle stomachs, because the way mice are killed and prepared for cooking may be disturbing for some!).