When traveling to Vietnam, it’s important to explore the local eating habits and the dishes that people love most. Vietnamese people usually have 3 meals a day with dinner as the most important one.
The most popular choice is Pho, which is also well-known all over the world. The star of Pho is the broth. The general method to make the broth is to cook cow’s bone with spices on low heat for at least 48 hours. The final taste of the broth depends greatly on the spices and the preparation before cooking. This explains why some Pho restaurants are more famous than others.
Vietnamese gastronomy is famous for its diversity. The second most chosen option for breakfast in Vietnam is Banh Mi. Even though nowadays, people enjoy Banh Mi any time of the day. The bread is a shorter version of the French baguette. It has a fluffier texture inside with a sturdy and crunchy crust outside. Those textures are important to enhance the flavor of the infamous Vietnamese banh mi. There are many variations of Banh Mi. The most popular type of Banh Mi is Banh Mi Thit which means Sandwich with cold cuts and grilled/roasted meat. The ingredients include a loaf of bread, meat (pork, beef, chicken or canned fish), sliced sausages, cold cuts, Vietnamese pate, butter, cilantro, cucumber, soy sauce (or very light fish sauce), and a few slices of chili.
- For Banh Mi Thit, we recommend Banh Mi Huynh Hoa: 26 Le Thi Rieng, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
- For Banh Mi Ga (Chicken sandwich), we recommend Banh Mi Ngoc Sang: 199 Ly Tu Trong, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Banh Mi Chao needs a special mention here. It is a “contemporary version” of Banh Mi. As its name suggests, Chao means Pan in English, this type of Banh Mi is served in a pan. The ingredients usually include omelet, Vietnamese pate, cold cuts, special sauce, sausages, and herbs -all cooked in a pan and served hot with side dishes such as cucumber, and pickles. Banh Mi Hoa Ma (Alley 53 Cao Thang, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City) is the most loved address for Banh Mi Chao; it first started in Hanoi, then moved to Saigon and has been here for 60 years.
People also love to dip their bread in condensed milk or milk coffee – this is very unique to Vietnam.
In the southern region, specifically in Saigon, there is a signature dish that the locals love. It is Com Tam. The rice is tiny and we call it broken rice (a type of rice that fractured during the milling process) – it has a softer texture and absorbs flavors more easily. Before serving, the rice is steamed and then served on a plate, cutleries are spoons and forks. People prefer a steak-cut piece of pork which is usually marinated overnight and then cooked on a coal grill. Other popular toppings are steamed meat cake, omelet, Vietnamese sausage, etc. Complimentary side dishes are pickled carrots, parsnips, and fresh slices of cucumber or tomato; all served with fish sauce.
Cha Ca La Vong – Snapper pan-fried with Turmeric and Dill
This is one of Hanoi’s most loved dishes. In Vietnamese, it is “Cha Ca.” You can easily find several restaurants serving this dish in Hanoi. However, we recommend a visit to Cha Ca La Vong (14 Cha Ca, Hang Bo, Hanoi). Yeah, you did not read it wrong, there is a whole street named after this famous dish. The restaurant serves only one dish for four generations.
Snails and Seafood
People in the south especially love dishes with snails and seafood due to the convenient location which is close to several beaches. Both restaurants and street food stall serve these dishes; however, there is a rumor that street food stalls make it better. Among others, Vietnamese people love mussels and clams of different types such as Mekong Delta clams (Ngheu), razor clam which is best to steam or make a salad; snails such as garlic snail, spoon snail, conch, or Huong snail; and escargot which is best to grill with green peppers and fish sauce.
Other types of seafood such as squid, shrimp, crab are also our favorites. Vietnamese people love seafood steamboat because it’s easy to share and creates a merry atmosphere when eating together.
An Chay or Vegetarian Eating is a popular activity among the Vietnamese. Around 85% of the people follow Buddhist practices and believe in the lessons from Buddha. In terms of An Chay, it refers to two approaches: the first approach is Chay Truong, which calls for lifelong abstinence from animal products and is most often the choice of monks and nuns; the second one is part-time vegetarianism, Chay Ky, which plays important roles in cultural and religious traditions in Vietnam, especially around the time of death.
For many practicing Buddhists, the period immediately after the death of a loved one is a time for minimizing sin to help the departed in their journey to the afterlife and reincarnation. The 1st, the 15th, and the last day of the lunar month are also common occasions when people practice part-time vegetarianism. It’s at these times that many restaurants will serve vegetarian dishes or host meat-free buffets.
These are the most popular dishes in Vietnam can be the main dish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Besides these, Banh Bao (steamed bun), Xoi (sticky rice), Hu Tieu (noodles with pork broth), Bun Rieu (crab noodles soup), Banh Xeo / Banh Khot (savory pancake), Sweet and Sour Soup (Canh Chua) are also favorites.
The seasoning that comes with these dishes is difficult for some people to taste. For example, fish sauce is an important condiment in most Vietnamese dishes, you either like it or you don’t like it. So the next time you intend to try something in Vietnam, pay attention to dishes that go with fish sauce and those that don’t.
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