By Jeremy Jones
South East Asian cuisine has many icons: the hawker centres of Singapore, Indian restaurants in Malaysia and all things Thai.
But there is one cuisine that should rank among these celebrated styles that often goes on the backburner. That cuisine is Vietnamese, and there is so much more to this country’s cooking style than bowls of noodles and broth known as pho…
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1. Banh Mi
Although the period of French colonisation of Vietnam is long gone, remnants of the cuisine have remained to this very day. The Banh Mi sandwich is one such creation that is as much Vietnamese as it is French.
As with every good French dish, Banh Mi starts with the iconic baguette; warm, crisp, and seemingly baked into the same standardized dimensions in every restaurant in the country. But that is where the French inspiration ends, as the filling is 100% Vietnamese. Add in grilled pork, cucumber, pickled carrots, and a sweet chili sauce, sell it for about a Euro per sandwich, and you may end up walking away with three or four in a single purchase.
2. Green Mango/Papaya Salad (Goi Du Du)
A staple appetizer and side dish in many Vietnamese restaurants is Goi Du Du, or more commonly listed as either Green Mango or Green Papaya Salad. This salad is a common menu item in most South East Asian countries; however, Vietnam has perfected the recipe above all others.
The main ingredients in the salad include peeled green, unripened papaya and carrots. Before ripening, the papaya has more of a crisp vegetable taste than the fruit flavors that typically come to mind. Where this dish shines is the sauce, which is a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, tangy, and salty, common in most all Vietnamese cuisine.
3. Spring Rolls (Goi Cuon)
Fresh spring rolls have never been more true to their name than in Vietnam. Everything about this famous Asian delicacy is the epitome of freshness.
From the soft rice paper wrappers to the fillings of freshly caught shrimp and recently harvested lettuce, cucumber and other vegetables, these treats instantly make your mouth water when they arrive at your table.
The fresh wrappers are hydrated before serving, often giving the final product a translucent appearance that shows off the tasty ingredients that lie within.
4. Bun Bo Nam Bo (in Hanoi)
There is one Vietnamese dish in particular that stands out above all others as being the absolute best the country has to offer. Surprisingly, you’ve probably never heard of the name. Bun Bo Nam Bo is not a mainstay cuisine style like its sister dish Bun Bo Hue, but rather the devious creation of one small restaurant owner in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.
Simply but, Bun Bo Nam Bo is a dish of vermicelli noodles, thinly sliced beef, and an array of fresh vegetables that is topped with fried onions and a sweet and tangy broth that gives the whole dish a refreshing feel during the heat of the summer months. Although many similar dishes exist, no other gets as close to perfection as the creation from this Hanoi landmark.
To find this particular vendor, head to 67 Hang Dieu Street in the Old Quarter and look for the sign that says Bun Bo Nam Bo. They only serve one dish, so the question is not what you want, but how many and what you’ll drink with it.
To truly understand the freshness of Vietnamese cuisine, taking a cooking class is an absolute must. Many of the cooking classes in the country come with a tour of the public markets where you are educated on the turnaround time of most of the ingredients (often from field to table in less than six hours) and pick up your cooking items for the day’s feast. The best part about a Vietnamese cooking class? Eating it all at the end.
In this culinary country, you can do no wrong.
Author bio: Jeremy Jones has visited 34 countries around the world in North America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He writes at the travel blog Living the Dream and runs several other websites including The International Food Project and Free Travel Contests. His first book, The Long-Term Traveler’s Guide, was recently released and is the definitive guide for planning long-term travel.
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