Pho is easily the most recognizable Vietnamese dish, reaching cult like status in many major metropolitan areas. However, Vietnamese food has such incredible depth and variety that it’s a shame more people never experience it. Vietnamese food is beloved for many reasons: it’s one of the healthiest asian cuisines, has incredible flavor while being light, and blends spices and textures in a way that attracts wide appeal. So what really makes Vietnamese food so special?
Vietnamese food can be divided into three distinct regional styles. The northern style of cuisine is the most traditional, and uses less ingredients and has a more simple taste and feel. Southern cuisine has much more French and Chinese influence, and southern cuisine has a broader range of flavors. The central part of Vietnam focuses on smaller dishes, and as a whole uses much more spices than the North or the South.
Pho is a dish that is popular in all parts of Vietnam, and contrary to western traditions, is usually had at breakfast. Essentially a beef noodle soup, pho features rice noodles, assorted beef parts, fresh herbs and spices, and an enticing beef broth. The broth is what really separates one bowl of pho from the next, and each restaurant hoards it’s recipe as they very well should. However, pho is just the of the Vietnamese noodle iceberg.
Bun bo hue is a defining dish of central Vietnamese cuisine. It’s broth consists of beef and pork bones, simmered down for long amounts of time. A much bolder soup than pho, it’s characterized by distinct notes of lemon grass and lime. It’s quite spicy and is usually served with a thick round noodle. Definitely a favorite amongst locals and those craving a bolder, spicier flavor.
If you travel to the north, you should definitely try some cha ca thanh long. This dish, which came from Hanoi, is a fish dish with intense flavors of tumeric and dill. The fish is covered with tumeric and dill, cooked, and then placed on a hot skillet with onions. The smells as the hot skillet sautees the onions is truly remarkable, and the combination of flavors is amazing, especially when combined with a great fish sauce.
Of course, rice is a staple of most asian nations, and Vietnam is no exception. Com tam is the standard rish dish for Vietnamese people. Simply a prefix, com tam means “broken jasmine rice” and is served with a variety of items, as well as fish sauce, sliced cucumber, tomatoes, and lettuce. It is often served with grilled pork, beef, or chicken, shredded pork (bi), and a fried fish cake (cha tom). The Vietnamese equivalent to meat and potatoes.
Finally, there is the beloved banh mi. A creation of Vietnam’s cultured history, banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich with distinct French influences. It uses Vietnamese ingredients such as pickled carrots and daikon radish, fish sauce, and Vietnamese sliced pork. It also uses French ingredients like a French roll, headcheese, and liver pate. Consumed by many because it’s often quite cheap, the Vietnamese sandwich makes a great snack at any time.
This is just a small sample of Vietnamese cuisine. Be adventurous and try new things, and you’ll definitely be rewarded.
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