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Try These Vietnamese Flavours

Vietnamese cuisine may be deliciously diverse, but fragrant spices remain essential ingredients. Lucy Jones explores where you can taste the best of this country in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Drawing from its neighbours as well as decades of French colonialism, Vietnamese cuisine is a captivating blend of old and new, East and West. Crusty French bread is baked daily in almost every city and is as good as you would find in a Parisian boulangerie. In the north of the country, the cuisine is influenced by China and tends towards fragrant soups and rich curries. In the south, where temperatures are higher, you’ll find more Thai-inspired spicy salads and grilled meats. Across the country, the key ingredients are fish sauce and sugar that bring a balance of sweet and salty to dishes, plus plenty of fresh, zesty coriander. 

Hanoi

Hanoi holds the title of South-East Asia’s most elegant city, it is also the home of pho, Vietnam’s national dish. Rich, aromatic broth is filled with slippery noodles, thin slices of beef, handfuls of fresh herbs and spicy chillies. It’s served everywhere, but for the authentic experience, perch on a tiny plastic stool on a street corner and eat a steaming bowl ladled from a large central pot. You’ll see locals doing this at all hours of the day.   

Vietnam Hanoi Street Vendor
Noodle Soup, Vietnam
Bun cha is another street-food favourite: sizzling grilled pork and pork mince patties served on thin rice noodles with a fragrant salad, fresh herbs and a sweet and salty broth. You’ll also want to try cha ca (small fishcakes with turmeric, galangal and dill), xoi xeo (sticky rice topped with mung beans and fried onion) and banh cuon (a steamed crepe stuffed with ground pork and spices). 

Ho Chi Minh

You can barely walk a few metres without coming across a stall selling Ho Chi Minh’s most famous dish, banh mi. A crusty French baguette is filled with pâté, mayonnaise, three kinds of pork, Vietnamese radish, pickled carrot, cucumbers, coriander and a good hit of chilli. They are deliciously flavoursome and cost around $1.  

Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls. Vietnam
Vietnam street market lady seller, Ho Chi Minh, Saigon
Op la is a dish of fried eggs with slices of meat or sausage, onions, herbs and more of that wonderful French bread. Try bun mam, a fermented fish soup with vermicelli noodles, squid, prawns or pork, and slices of eggplant, sweetened with tamarind juice and sugar. For something crisp and refreshing, bun bo nam bo is a salad of grilled beef, papaya, cucumber, lettuce, fresh herbs, crunchy fried onions and crushed peanuts served over rice noodles.  
Explore Vietnam's cuisine and culture on APT's 11 Day A Taste of Vietnam tour from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.