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Vietnam Travel, Insiders Guide to Vietnamese Food
You can be sure of getting excellent, fresh and tasty Vietnamese food during your Vietnam travel visit and at any time of the day or night.
Some Vietnamese food has been adopted from its near neighbors, (Laos, Cambodia, Thailand) and from some of the earlier interlopers to the country (Mongolia, France and the USA).
They’ve all left a legacy and Vietnamese food has greater variety because of this fusion.
The joy for the traveler to Vietnam is that they can indulge in this fresh, tasty food. Prices range from very cheap (around a USD1 for a meal) to the very expensive.
Here are some food ideas for dining out and also some self catering options.
Vegetables are plentiful here and so too are herbs and spices. The north Vietnamese tend to use pepper more whereas in the south you can expect more flavoring using chillies. Vietnamese food uses nuoc man (a fish sauce) as flavoring rather than salt.
The Mongolians introduced beef. Chopsticks were introduced by the Chinese. They also introduced the concept of stir fry to the mix.
Vietnam was colonized by the French (1858-1954) and they introduced baguettes, pate, coffee (with cream), milk and cakes.
Street food for your Vietnam travel experience?
Street vendors get themselves ready for the breakfast, lunch or dinner time trade depending upon the time of day. It’s a colorful spectacle sitting watching the “making” of these instant outdoor dining cafes on the sidewalk. It's cheap food too.
Typically small yellow or blue plastic tables and chairs are wheeled on rickety carts and placed on the pavement. Typically, the chairs and tables are small - perfect for the smaller framed Vietnamese but a little more difficult for taller, fatter westerners to sit comfortably. However, sitting awhile at one of these tables watching your food being prepared is a great experience.
The food on offer varies from delicately flavoured soups or pho, stir fried rice, noodle or vegetables, to barbequed pork, duck or chicken. Smelling the barbeques as you wander the streets is enough to whet your appetite.
The Vietnamese food from the pavement vendors is cheap, nutritious, tasty and varied. You can buy a large plate of rice, vegetables and meat for around $1-3US. Spring rolls, pork meatballs tasty rice packages wrapped in banana leaves abound.
It’s possible to eat even more cheaply than one dollar per meal. Vendors offer a meal in a roll too. You can buy freshly grilled pork in a bun or two eggs fried while you wait and put into a bread roll. For this quick and tasty meal you can expect to use pocket change – about .50cents.
Variety of Food
Today Vietnam offers the traveler a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, coffee and rice.
Rice and noodles are ever present in Vietnamese food. In the north the rice growing region is around the Red River Delta which provides rice for the North Vietnamese population.
High in the hills in northern Vietnam, Sapa’s rich soil is ideal for growing many fruits, vegetables and herbs. The markets display some of the freshest and finest raw ingredients you are ever likely to see.
Rice is a staple food and plentiful quantity is also grown here and during your Vietnam travel, if Sapa is on your itinerary you will be mesmerized by the rice paddies cascading down the hillsides.
The other main rice growing area for Vietnam food is in the south around Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where the area around the Mekong Delta provides fertile growing conditions.
French Bread and Pastries
In some areas of northern Vietnam bakeries are more prevalent than in others. In some parts of Hanoi there's a bakery every 50 metres or so but in other areas they're hard to find.
However, they are always good, generally have a large selection and they’re extremely cheap.
The bakiers sell bread, French sticks, pizza, steamed buns, pastries, delectable cakes, mousses etc. There's sure to be something to tempt anyone with a sweet tooth.
I’m sure the Vietnamese must consume even more French sticks per head of population than even the French themselves. They are readily available in the bakeries and beside the roadside.
These long ubiquitous French sticks are sold from bicycle baskets which are parked beside the road. In fact, if you travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay, you will see dozens of these vendors lined up beside the highway – actually on the road. Its an accepted custom to pull your motor cycle or car up, stock up and then continue with your journey.
The French sticks are always fresh, always available and always cheap at just 40cents for a huge stick of this yummy bread.
Of course, the French left another food legacy. Cakes, pastries and flakey, buttery croissants. The Vietnamese have adopted these, made them their own and they sell them like they were a Vietnamese invention! You take a tray when entering the bakery and take a selection from the wide range of goods to put on the tray.
For under a dollar you can buy several pastries and croissants. Add some butter and jam and you have a quick tasty breakfast.
Cafes and Restaurants
Eating locally is very easy in this hospitable country. There are thousands of restaurants and cafes serving authentic Vietnamese food. There are too many to even to list. However, a few in and around the Old Quarter in Hanoi worth trying are:
Café 69 on Hang Ma Street
Paradesio – 7 Nguyen Sieu, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. Paradesio offers outdoor dining and indoor dining.
Ngon Restaurant on Pan Boi Chau Street. Ngon offers outdoor dining and indoor dining..
Caio – Hang Bai Street (at the southern end of HoanKiemLake)
KOTO - adjacent to the Temple of Literature. KOTO is a classy restaurant/cafe which trains street children. Its an amazing experience to dine here and watch these previous homeless children develop skills for an independent future!
For Excellent Coffee head for any one of the many Highland Coffee outlets. The coffee is locally grown and very good. Compared to food prices, coffee here is relatively expensive. Of course you should also sample the traditional Vietnamese coffee. It’s strong and sweet as it has lashings of condensed milk in it! They also make an excellent western breakfast.
Western food is readily available if you prefer to indulge during your Vietnam travel trip. Hanoi has numerous cafes serving western food.
There are many cafes in Church Street, Hanoi, near the Cathedral. Moka Cafe is there too and well worth a visit. So too is Highland Coffee.
It's difficult to price food at a variety of cafe's and western food is considerably more expensive than Vietnamese food. Allow a food budget for Vietnam travel expenses somewhere from USD8-20 depending on your preferences. The lower end possible if you eat street food and you could spend more than USD20 if you ate only western food.
Know Your Beef from Your Dog!
It’s really helpful if, before you venture out to try street food or in some of the authentic Vietnamese restaurants and cafes, if you have a little knowledge of the language. Many restaurants have an English menu and the staff speak some English but many more do not.
If you want to be sure that you eat beef and not dog keep this list or take a trusted Vietnam travel guidebook (with food translations) with you!
Pork Thit lon
Sometimes, when you’re traveling its nice to shop yourself and prepare a simple dish at your hotel. Here that’s easily done.
Numerous street-side vendors sell fresh fruit such as watermelon, mango, pineapple (already prepared!), passionfruit, apples, pomelo etc.
Vegetables and herbs are plentiful too. There’s a wide choice and the quality is excellent.
In the main centres supermarkets cater to many tastes. Although it’s possible to get western food such as peanut butter, jam, crackers and biscuits (Oreo’s are very common here) the selection is limited.
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