The world outside of pho

Welcome to the galore of Vietnamese foods that I have been feasting on; the affordable prices make it easier to sample many different dishes. I usually do not research a specific place for the dishes since most of the local shops are not listed online.

Known as Vietnam’s national dish, most visitors coming to Vietnam have heard of phở. Phở is rice noodles soaked in a delicious clear broth that is usually either of chicken or beef. Phở is an iconic dish that can be found in many places outside of the country. Phở is consumed throughout the day as breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. This bowl of noodles originated from Northern Vietnam around Hanoi. You can find variations of the noodles in terms of the broth and toppings all over the country. The original phở from Northern Vietnam is served with all the necessary herbs already in the bowl unlike in Southern Vietnam where the dish is usually complemented with a side dish of vegetables and herbs for you to add in the soup.

 

Okay, enough about phở! If you are a huge fan of noodles like me, Vietnam is the country for you. The main types of Vietnamese noodles can be grouped into the following: phở, bún, miến, and my. In terms of phở, I have only tried beef and chicken broths. I think fish and seafood are other popular options, but I have not tried those.

The next most popular type of noodles are bún noodles which are round white rice noodles. They can be served with or without soup and in salads as well. A famous dish up North is bún chả, made popular by former US President Barack Obama. This was the dish he sampled during his visit to Vietnam. Bún chả is a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork, rice noodles, and dipping sauce. You are to dip the bún in the dipping bowl. Similarly, another common dish in Northern Vietnam is bún đậu mắm tôm, a dish served in a large platter with nice noodles,  tofu assortment, vegetables, and a shrimp paste dipping sauce. It was said that the shrimp paste is also used for dog meat dishes.

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A large bún đậu mắm tôm platter for 4.

Bún soup noodle options are endless. You can add beef, snails, curry, thai, innards, duck, chicken, fish, crab, and more. Each eatery has their own recipe for the broth. As a fan of snails, I really enjoy bún ốc, which is rice noodles served in a tomato-y broth with snails. Another local favorite is bún bò Huế, a rice noodle beef soup dish from Hue. I had my share of bún bò Huế when I was around Hue.

Another way to consume bún without soup is to mix it in bowl with vegetables and meat, almost like a salad. Popular dishes of this style include bún thịt nướng, bún mắm, and Bún bò Nam Bộ.

Through my travels in Vietnam, miến seems to be more rare to find and less talked about. Miến is glass noodles or vermicelli. The only dish that I tried with miến is miến lươn, glass soup noodles with eel. My host family has their own miến shop right below where we live. I was told this originated from Central Vietnam. I believe miến lươn is the most popular dish with miến.

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Lastly, mì or my, are noodles popular in Central Vietnam. Mì quảng was the first dish I had in Vietnam. They are wide rice noodles served with just enough soup to cover the noodles and rice crackers. Sometimes the noodles are yellow in color because they are made with turmeric infused in either the noodles or the soup. Mì quảng comes in second as my favorite noodles in Vietnam after bánh canh (thich noodles made from tapioca flour).

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I was too busy indulging in noodles, I barely had any rice dishes. The rice specialty that I am used to eating back in the U.S. is cơm tấm, or broken rice platter that is famous from Southern Vietnam. I did not realize that it is mainly served in the south so I missed the chance to sample it. I finally had it during my last days in Vietnam. Other rice dishes I have tried include cơm gá (chicken rice, a Hoi An specialty) and cơm hến (rice with baby clams, a Hue specialty).

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Bánh mì can be so affordable in Vietnam. There were some street vendors that charge as low as 10,000 VND or around $0.50 USD. You can argue that! I noticed that in some shops, they would flatted the sandwich for in something like a panini press while heating the sandwich. I have not figured out if that is a regional thing, but I have only seen that in Hanoi. Hoi An is known for their bánh mì, but I did not find them particularly spectacular in comparison to other sandwiches I had elsewhere. They are affordable and portable food options to get on the go.

One of the first meals I had in Vietnam was the hot sizzling savory pancake called bánh xèo. It is made with a rice flour batter, shrimp, pork, and bean sprout. The pancake is to be cut into pieces to be wrapped in rice paper and lettuce and then dipped in a sauce. You can opt to add nem lui, or meat skewers, in the wrap. In Hue, they have a dish called bánh khoai which is similar to the bánh xèo. There are different variations of the pancakes depending on which region you are trying them from.

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One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes before coming to Vietnam is their fresh spring rolls, or what I normally call summer rolls, or gỏi cuốn in Vietnamese. They are rolls wrapped in rice paper. I actually did not have any of this in Vietnam. Instead, I was introduced to other types of rolls. I like to have bánh cuốn, thin wide sheets of rice batter filled with meat, for breakfast. It reminds me of the Hong Kong cheurng fun, rice noodles. It is a northern dish which is usually consumed with fried garlic, vegetables, and dipped in fish sauce. I love phở so it was so exciting to learn about this roll made with phở sheets wrapping in the filling. This is also a Hanoian specialty called phở cuốn. The filling include lettuce, ground beef, and herbs served with fish sauce. Although I am not the biggest fan of fried spring rolls, I happen to eat a lot of nem rán in Vietnam and even made some with some students for dinner.

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The list of food to try in Vietnam is endless. It would take a lot to go in-depth describing each one. You just have to go and try for yourself. Why would you want to read about food when you can eat it instead, right? Below is the list of the different dishes I have tried over my 2 months in Vietnam. Feel free to message me if you want to know more about any of them.

  • Banh xeo
  • Banh khoai
  • Bun bo hue
  • Bun cha
  • Bun cha ca
  • Mi quang
  • Pho
  • Banh cuon
  • Pho cuon
  • Banh canh
  • Bun thit nuong
  • Bun mam
  • Com tam
  • Com ga
  • Com hen
  • Cao lau
  • White rose
  • Bun oc
  • Bun rieu cua
  • Bun beo
  • Bun loc
  • Bun nam
  • Bun thai
  • Bun ca ri
  • Banh mi
  • Banh trang nuong
  • Bun bo nam bo
  • Bun dau mam tom
  • Mien luon
  • Banh trang tron
  • Hu tiu kho
  • Che
  • Kem Flan
  • Xoi

Some dishes that I wanted to, but didn’t get to try include:

  • Bo la lat
  • Cha ca
  • Bo kho
  • Bun nang
  • Banh ep
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