VIETNAM CUISINE

Along with exploring new cultures, one of the great joys of travel is the discovery of new cuisines. Those unfamiliar with Vietnamese food are in for a treat, as the national cuisine is flavorful, colorful and extremely healthy. In the south, the food tends to be spicier, while the northern cuisine has more Chinese elements. French influence is also apparent. You’ll see women on street corners selling fresh baguettes and shops advertising pate and pastries. The French also introduced cafe culture. Vietnam’s Central Highland produce some of the most aromatic coffee beans in the world, as well as black and green tea.

The Vietnamese word for meal, “com”, also translates as “rice”, and no Vietnamese meal is complete without it. Rice noodle soups with chicken or beef, known as “pho”, are a Vietnamese staple. “Nem” (in the north) or “cha gio” (in the south) are bite-sized, fried spring rolls, which are another Vietnamese classic. Beef, chicken and pork are common ingredients, and with its long coastline, Vietnam offers delectable, fresh seafood. Dishes to try include “cha ca”, filleted fish grilled over charcoal, “muc xao chua ngot”, sweet and sour squid, and “tom bao mia”, grilled shrimp with sugarcane. Another highlight is the abundance of fresh fruit. Along with tropical favorite like mangoes, pineapples and melons, Vietnam’s orchards produce exotic fruit like blue dragon fruit, star fruit and mangosteens.

So dont forget to join in a cooking class once you visit Vietnam!

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WHAT TO EAT IN HANOI

♦ Pho

Pho is one of the most famous dishes of Hanoi. You can find “pho” everywhere in Vietnam but “pho Hanoi” still has a special taste that not like pho anywhere.

“Pho”is served in a bowl with thin cut of white rice noodles in clear broth with slim cuts of beef (or chicken) and green and herbs. The most important part is how to make the broth. The broth is generally made by simmering beef (and sometimes chicken) bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onion, and spices, taking several hours to prepare. Seasonings can include star anise, roasted ginger, roasted onion, coriander seed …

Where to eat:

+ Pho Thin – 13 Lo Duc Street (Beef only, Long standing one but small and dank)

+ Pho 24 – www.pho24.com.vn

+ Pho Ga – 34 Le Van Huu (Chicken only)

♦ Banh tom (Crisp shrimp pastry) Ho Tay

Banh Tom is available almost everywhere in Hanoi, but it is the best to have it at Ho Tay Restaurant on the bank of Truc Bach Lake, close to Ho tay (West Lake). Here you can not only have a delicious meal but also enjoy the romantic views of Truc Bach lake and West Lake. The best time to enjoy shrimp pancake at West Lake is at sunset in summer. The pink shrimp (from the West Lake fresh water) on light brown crackers and the sweet, sour and spicy sauce all remind you of the aroma of the countryside.

The dish should be enjoyed hot, as soon as it reaches the table and the fried pastry topped with red shrimps eaten together with the dishes of spicy vegetables and mixed sweet and sour sauce.

♦ Cha Ca La Vong

Cha ca is so famous that a street in Hanoi was named after it. Cha Ca Street now still exists in the Old Quarters.

It takes quite long time to make the dish so if you donot have much time, dont try it. To make grilled fish, the fish must be Anh Vu fish, cut into thin slices then mixed with ginger, saffron, fermented cold rice, pepper and fish sauce; placed on bamboo skewers and grilled on a burning charcoal stove right on the dinning tables. You have it with shrimp paste (or fish sauce), roasted peanuts, rice vermicelli and some kinds of raw green vegetable.

Where to eat:

+ Cha ca La Vong – 14 Cha Ca Street ( Oldest restaurant, about 130 years old but quite small and dark.)

Tel.: 84 4 – 38253929

You can also try it at some newer restaurants:

+ Cha Ca La Vong – 107 Nguyen Truong To, Ba Dinh Dist.

+ Cha Ca Kinh Ky – 104 Hoa Ma, Hai Ba Trung Dist.

♦ Bun cha

Half the Hanoi populace does the bun cha for lunch! This dish is basically meat (slices or minces) grilled over hot coals served in a dipping sauce with bun (vermicelli) and herb jungles as sidekicks. The most important part is the sauce. Fish sauce with rice vinegar, sugar, water and green papaya, all are mixed together to make the sauce a bit salty, a bit sour, a bit sweet and crispy. It is even better to taste with chili, garlic and pepper tableside.

Where to eat:

+ Bun Cha Dac Kim I – No.1, Hanh Manh Street, Old Quarters ( A bit narrow)

+ Bun Cha Dac Kim II – 67 Duong Thanh Street , Old Quarters ( a three storey bulding, clean, bright and spacious).