Vietnam is a great country to open your tastebuds to Asian cuisine and try something new and different. With a plethora of street food and hundreds of local restaurants and cafes lining the streets it would be a crime not to immerse yourself in Vietnamese food.
1. Snails – often thought to be more of a French delicacy, there is a huge culture of eating different types of snails in Vietnam.
Oc Dao is one of the most famous snail restaurants in HCMC and for good reason. Whilst it may not look much with child size (the norm throughout Vietnam) plastic chairs and tables lining a busy street and buckets of snails beside an open grill, believe me you have to stop here. We selected a range of different sized and shaped snails and shellfish from the multiple baskets and told the owner that we would have them cooked however he recommended. There is a menu listing many different styles of cooking and toppings but for one we don’t understand Vietnamese, and secondly I don’t quite have enough experience of eating snails to pick correctly! I have to say that everything he cooked us was very delicious. We continued to sample more delicacies, leaving quite an impressive pile of shell debris behind us!
2. Pho – by far the most well-known Vietnamese dish in the Western world . The locals eat pho for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This noodle soup is usually served with thin slices of beef, and a selection of herbs are served alongside for you to flavour your pho how you wish. Common garnishes are beansprouts, spicy basil, spring onions, chilli, cilantro, slices of lime and various pastes and sauces. I like to keep mine quite simple and slurp up the noodles as best I can but it is quite a messy dish to eat!
3. Xoi – there are many variations of this sticky rice, both savoury and sweet and all worth a try. If you’re staying in Hanoi the best place to try a bowl is at Xoi Yen. We tried two different varieties: one with meat floss and a fried quails egg, the other topped with Chinese sausage and crispy shallots.
4. Banh cuon – one of my favourite quick bites sold at many street vendors dotted around the old quarter of Hanoi. Banh cuon consist of a very thin rice sheet filled with minced pork and wood ear mushrooms and rolled up, topped with crispy shallots and ground nuts. Simple but divine dipped in fish sauce. Whilst devouring a plate (or three) of these delicious snacks marvel at the owner making the rice sheets, I had a go myself and it’s nowhere near as easy as they make it look.
5. Banh xeo – a crispy pancake filled with pork, shrimp, spring onions and bean sprouts. The traditional way is to eat this pancake is to wrap it up in the leafy greens provided, dip in the fish sauce and devour. It makes a tasty and surprisingly filling dish, certainly a challenge to eat with chopsticks though!
6. Banh bao – for a snack on the go you can’t beat a banh bao. These steamed buns are stuffed with minced pork and quail eggs creating an entire meal within a fluffy, slightly sweet bun. If you want to try one of these you’ll have to hail one of the cycling street vendors!
7. Noir – not exactly a food type but an amazing experience in HCMC that I simply had to highlight. Noir is a dining in the dark experience where you give up your sense of sight for the evening and really let the food do the talking. You can pick between a menu from the West or East however the food (and drinks if you choose) are kept a secret. The waiters are adept at navigating the darkness as they are themselves blind, and will help explain how to navigate the small dishes served in front of you. Following your dining experience, back in the light, you will be shown photos of the dishes you have eaten – it’s very interesting to see how many you’ve managed to guess from their taste, texture and smell (we were a bit embarrassed by some of our awful attempts to guess!)
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