Where to Get Some Vietnamese Staples at Ho Chi MinhSeptember 9, 2014
- Abbey SyWords
They say that the best way to experience culture is through its food, which is why during my month-long backpacking trip throughout Southeast Asia, I went all out looking for good (cheap!) food and to fill my hunger for (gastronomic) adventure.
Our first stop of five countries was Ho Chi Minh, and here are some interesting dishes/food I got to try.
1. Noodle Soup
A former colony of China, Vietnam has hints of Chinese flavors found in their cuisine. Such is in the case of their noodle soups, which come in a variety of noodle types and soup bases.
This bowl of beef brisket noodles from The Noodle Bar had a strong Chinese influence to it, but utilizing rice noodles and a more flavorful broth aided in distinguishing it from its Chinese origins.
2. Café da
Vietnamese iced coffee (Café da) has always been a buzz among coffee lovers with its pungent coffee flavor from its beans and the way it is prepared (individually brewed with a small French drip filter). From side streets to cafes, you can’t miss a Vietnamese coffee shop, and what’s funny is that even if prices vary, sometimes most of them just taste exactly the same.
This glass of iced coffee from The Morning Café was so strong that I literally stayed up until morning, but it was excellent. The bitterness of the coffee complemented the sweetened condensed milk perfectly.
3. Bánh Bèo
A local/friend of ours who lives in Saigon took us to Nam Giao—a hole in the wall restaurant near the Ben Thanh Market where food from Huế, the ancient royal capital located in the center of Vietnam, is served. It’s interesting how the northern, central and southern parts of Vietnam have contrasting flavors due to its geographical and climatic differences but still have certain similarities to it.
We had bánh bèo (literally “water fern cake”) for our appetizer, which is a variety of small steamed rice cake or pancake, similar to our version of puto, but savory. It typically features a dimple in the center, which is filled with savory ingredients including chopped dried or fresh shrimp, scallions, mung bean paste, crispy fried shallots, fish sauce, rice vinegar, and oil. It is considered most typical of the cuisine of central Vietnam.
4. Bún bò Huế
Contrary to the ever so popular Pho noodle soup, Bún bò Huế is a spicy beef noodle soup originating from Huế as well, in Central Vietnam. What makes it distinct is its use of lemongrass as a dominant ingredient and its balance of sweet, spicy, salty and sour flavors.
Traveling two hours down south to the Mekong delta definitely gave us a reason to try its food. Known for being the most productive region for agriculture and aquaculture, the Mekong delta depicts local life at its best, where farmers and boat rowers reside. Similar to the Philippine climate, Vietnam resembles our local fruit fare—pineapples, jackfruit, papaya, and sapodilla, a rare fruit only found in Vietnam, which tastes like plums.
6. Spring Rolls & Rice
Always an Asian staple, rice also plays an important part in Vietnamese cuisine, but not as much as noodles. We were served a rice meal for lunch during our Mekong delta tour, which comprised of rice with simple viands—vegetables, spring rolls and chicken. Not much of a surprise taste-wise, but it was definitely memorable after a few dips of sweet chili sauce.
If you’re planning to visit Vietnam soon, do try visiting all of the regions and sample their specialties. Ho Chi Minh is just the capital, and there are more variants of Vietnamese fare up north and down south.
Have you been to Vietnam? Any notable dishes, cafés, and restaurants you’ve tried? Let us know in the comments below!