What should I know about eating culture in Vietnam?

Vietnamese cuisine can very easily become a number one reason to come to Vietnam or a number one reason to fall in love with this country. Personally, I haven’t been to a country with a richer cuisine than Vietnam. The number of unique and — at the same time — delicious meals will literally blow your mind, even when you might expect that local people only eat pho all day. Sidenote: It is pronounced Phffff. Not phaaa. Just Phffff.

While you will find out that food varies in every province, there are some things that are the same in the entire country.

One restaurant, one meal

When I first got on the road in Vietnam and hunger called, it was surprisingly hard for me to understand how things worked here. Living in Europe and being used to walking in a place I like, the first thing I would do is to get a menu a decide what would I like to eat. It doesn’t work like this in Vietnam. Most of the “restaurants” and eateries only makes one particular dish. It might seem stupid at first but it is actually very smart. Everyone only cooks what they cook the best. In Vietnam, you almost never encounter those nonsense restaurants claiming they make the best italian pizza, american burgers and chinese dumplings. In Vietnam, you usually walk in a place and you already know they only cook rice or they only cook pho.

For this reason, always try to think in advance what would you like to eat and then search for the particular eatery. You will quickly learn that Vietnamese people love big bold ads helping you find the exact thing you are looking for. Be it Com (Rice), Pho (Noodles), Banh mi (Sandwich) or anything else.

Always a street food

In many Western countries, street food is often looked at as something dirty, low quality and possibly causing diarrhea. Well, in Vietnam, everything is a street food − a different kind − and you will quickly learn to love it.

It is a part of how Vietnamese people live – publicly, on the porches of their houses where doors are always opened, on the street curbs or on their motorcycles by the road. The food is sold and served for this kind of lifestyle. You can buy food from a portable counter on the street, someone’s bicycle in the park or a tiny stand by the highway.

A local lady selling banh trang nuong, so called “Dalat Pizza”.

And while you can actually get pretty sick after eating hotdogs at the football stadium in Europe, getting sick after eating street food in Vietnam is very rare. The main reason is that the food is only prepared using fresh ingredients. There is definitely nothing to worry about and exploring something special is always worth it.

Something special

“No, this is not pho! It’s bun, can’t you see? Pho is different than bun!” told me a local friend of mine with smile on her face one night in Hanoi not understanding how can I not see the difference in two kinds of noodles. In fact there are more than two kinds of noodles, much more, which not only tells something about how much rice products local people eat but also how confusing it might sometimes get.

During my trips to Vietnam I was lucky enough to taste some of the best meals I have ever had. In fact, vietnamese cuisine quickly became my favorite and I will gladly tell you about some of the best things you can also taste.

Mi Quang
Central Vietnam, especially Da Nang, is my favorite part of the entire country for multiple reasons and one of them is Mi Quang. This chicken or fish broth filled with noodles, meat and peanuts is something you will definitely like.

Hau sua

Seafood in Vietnam is something incredible. You always get it fresh, you always get it cheap. For example oysters, especially with eggs, peanuts and herbs. If you are ever in Nha Trang, keep driving north until you hit a tiny fishermen’s village. You will not regret.

Chao
Eventually, believe it or not, you will have enough of all the delicious pho. “Chao” is something I find to be a great alternative. This chicken, fish or shrimp congee always tastes great.

Cha gio
Also known as Nem ran, are deep fried rice paper rolls filled with meat, noodles, mushrooms and vegetables. I call it a “kit” since you often need to put it together on your own.

Banh cuon
Another kind of rice paper rolls but not deep fried, usually served with a soup. Another interesting Vietnamese meal.

 

Food in Vietnam is one of the national treasures. Do not be scared to experiment and taste the unknown. You will never regret.