Food & Drinks
Mekong River floating market

Food & Drinks

Local open-air markets sell a variety of fresh meat, poultry, fish and seafood. If cooked properly there should be no health problems. Open-air markets also sell a variety of fresh fruits and produce either grown locally or imported from the cooler mountain regions in the far-north, near Da Lat or from Ho Chi Minh City/SaiGon, China or Thailand. 

Most other basic foodstuffs, including imported fish, seafood and meats, are available in the western-style supermarkets and delicatessens. 

Full-cream fresh milk is available. Long life UHT milk (whole, low fat and skim), powdered milk, butter and imported cheeses are readily available. 

Seldom will the traveller find a wide selection of products available at one location. Thus, from time to time, the traveller will need to shop around before finding a certain item on the shopping list.

Drinks in Vietnam range from bottled water, soft drinks, local fresh fruit juice to different types of draught beer, wine, wisky...or brandy. They are available in all tourist areas as well as different rural areas.

Vietnamese tea and coffee are very strong and may keep those not used to them awake all night. The traveller may want to give them a miss if having difficulty with sleep.

The traveller should not drink tap water and should exercise precaution when served iced drinks. Normally the ice which comes in cube shape uses treated water and safer than that in broken forms.

Many consider food to be an essential ingredient of a culture, and this is particularly true of the Vietnamese food as it has some distinctive elements to be found in no other cuisine and, in particular, the infamous national condiment fish sauce or nuoc mam, a piquant fermented fish sauce served with every meal! In fact, the local find it indispensable at their meals. 

Although rice is the foundation of the Vietnamese diet, the country's cuisine is anything but bland. 
Influenced by the national cuisines of France and China, Vietnamese cooking is highly innovative. Vietnamese cooking makes extensive use of fresh herbs, including lemon grass, basil, coriander, parsley, laksa leaf, lime, and chili. Many have found that Vietnamese cuisines are not as oily as Chinese ones and not as spicy as Thai ones. Basically Vietnamese cuisines are fresh and tend to retain the original flavors of each elements. Some Vietnamese dishes leave the diners the freedom to add more elements or spices as they like when dining.
Soup/Broth is served at almost every meal. There are different types of soup ranging from vegetables to seafood soup, from spicy to sweet and sour...Normally people add more spices or fresh local herbs to enhance the fragrance and flavors to suite their own tastes.

Snacks are available in every area, be it cities or countrysides. There are a variety of snacks including healthy herbal soup-like snacks and tens of types of cakes made from rice...All come in different forms, different colors and with different flavors and tastes.

CƠM (boiled/steamed rice)   
In Vietnam, Cơm is eaten at the main meals of the day (lunch and dinner). Rice is eaten together with a variety of different dishes and is made from different kinds of rice. Typically fragrant rice is used, such as Tám Thơm and Nàng Hương.
An ordinary meal may consist of boiled rice and the following: 
Pork, fish and shrimp cooked in oil or steamed/boiled, as well as vegetables, pickles, salad etc.
Soup of pork or spare-ribs, crab meat, and fish.
Fish source, herbs and spices
BÁNH CHƯNG (Sticky Rice Cake)   
Sticky rice cakes are a Vietnamese traditional dish that must be part of Tet meals. Every Vietnamese family must have sticky rice cakes among the offerings placed on the altar to their ancestors. Bang Chung is made of glutinous rice, pork meat, and green beans paste wrapped in a square of bamboo leaves, giving the rice a green colour after boiling. 
Making sticky rice cakes is a very meticulous job.
To obtain the best cakes, rice has to soak in water for an entire day. The pork meat must include skin and fat, the green beans must be of the same size, and the leaves must be fresh.
Squaring off and tying cakes with bamboo strings requires skilful hands. Sticky rice cakes are available at any time of the year, although one is sure to enjoy them with relatives and friends during Tet.

Up until recently, cooking Banh Chung is a nice and cozy gathering time for the family. Everyone just sit around the kitchen and talk, the kids would play poker games. Normally at mid night, the cooking process would be done and the awake kids would be awarded with a little freshly-cooked Banh Chung. This is normally the best Banh Chung of all.
During Tet, Banh Chung are served with Giò Lụa and Hành Muối. 
BÁNH CUỐN (Rice Flour made into paper, steamed and rolled)   
Eating banh cuon for breakfast or for day snacks is a great favorite among many Vietnamese. 
Banh cuon is made of rice flour. Thoroughly selected rice is soaked overnight, then ground with a stone mortar.

A screen of cloth used to mold the rice sheets is fitted over the opening of a pot of boiling water. Flour is spread on the screen and covered with a lid. After a few minutes, a bamboo stick is used to strip the thin layer of flour off the screen. Then it is sprinkled with fried onions and mushrooms and rolled up.
A small village in a suburb of Hanoi is famous for its banh cuon called Bánh Cuốn Thanh Trì. People there serve it with a dressing comprised of lean meat, shrimps, mushrooms, dried onions, fish sauce, and pepper. All the ingredients are stir-fried and rolled into a banh cuon.

Banh cuon is delicious when it is very thin, white, and sticky. It is even tastier when dipped in a sweet, sour, and spicy sauce, especially sauce with flavors from Cà Cuống. 
BÁNH TÔM (crispy shrimp pastry)   
Although Banh Tom is available almost everywhere in the country, it is best at the Nha Hang Ho Tay (Hanoi West Lake Restaurant) on the banks of Truc Bach Lake, close to Ho Tay (West Lake) in Hanoi. While diners await the arrival of the hot fried shrimp pastry, they can enjoy the picturesque lake and landscapes offered by the vast expanse of water from West Lake and the tree-lined Thanh Nien Road.
The dish should be eaten as soon as it arrives at the table. The fried pastry is topped with red shrimps and is eaten together with dishes of spicy vegetables mixed with sweet and sour sauce.
BÚN (rice vermicelli)   
Vietnamese vermicelli is a luxurious as well as a popular dish. Different ingredients can be served with vermicelli: grilled pork meat, snail soup, lean meat balls, chicken, and crab soup, to name a few. Each region and locality, even each restaurant, has its own vermicelli dishes with their own recipes. 
Bún Chả (noodles with grilled meat)   
Bun Cha (noodles with grilled meat) is one of the various table delicacies prepared with noodles. The best is indigenous to the Ha Noi region.
Noodles and meat are the main ingredients which create the appetite of the diners. Bun cha is always served with a plate of raw vegetables and herbs.
What is unique and important with bun cha is the sauce. The one who prepares this sauce must possess a very special skill and experience which causes the sauce to permeate thoroughly into each ball of the grilled meat and each thread of noodles once they are dipped in it. 
When served, the sauce is to be poured over the grilled meat prepared beforehand in a bowl. The diner dips the vermicelli into the sauce and enjoy the freshness, the tastes of the elements blended with one another. Good sauce would deliver all the salted, sweet, sour and spicy tastes as well as the aroma of vegetation.
Satisfaction of the diners depends on the skill of the sauce mixer. Although there are no recipes for the sauce and bun cha is available everywhere in Vietnam, rather it is the skill in mixing the sauce that bun cha in Ha Noi is most commendable, not that pigs in Ha Noi are fatter, or the rice for making noodles in Ha Noi is more palatable nor the atmosphere and sceneries in Ha Noi agree better with bun cha.

The meat required is fat-and-lean thinly-sliced pork or lean meat balls, which once grilled will taste so rich and nutty. Pieces of the meat should be clamped between two splints of fresh bamboo bark for grilling. The fresh bamboo splints would give the grills an additional agreeable odour. Aromatic herbs also play an important role in enhancing the relish of bun cha, especially the mint leaves makes bun cha in Ha Noi unparalleled. The flavour of bun cha is unique. It adds to the fame of Vietnamese cuisine and the elegance of the diners. 
 CANH CHUA (Sour Fish Soup)   
Canh Chua originated from the Mekong Region, more specifically from Đồng Tháp Mười.
Canh chua is a fish sour soup made with fish from the Mekong River and so dua flower.
This dish is mostly served when the so dua flower first blossoms at the end of the rainy season. A feast is organised and the fish sour soup is among the delicious meals prepared for this event.
Fish sour soup must be eaten very hot. It must also be eaten all at one time since the taste is altered when the soup is reheated.  
CHẢ CÁ (grilled minced fish)   
Grilled minced fish has been served in Vietnam for more than 100 years. The Doan family of Cha Ca Street in Hanoi first invented this dish.

A wide variety of fish can be used in this dish including sturgeon, catfish and tuna. Tuna is low in fat, has an exquisite flavour, and few bones. The bones are separated from the meat and put into saffron water to be later used in a sauce. The fish is marinated in salt and spices before being grilled.

What is interesting about this dish is that people can add their favourite condiments: coriander, mint, dill, shallots, and more.  Going to a Cha Ca restaurant now, people will enjoy cooking the dish themselves which requires basically no effort since all have been done. The diner just has to try the experience on a charcoal stove served on the dining table. All are hot, stuffed with nice aroma and full of atmosphere.
CHẠO TÔM (Grilled Shrimp Paste)   
Foreigners often say that grilled shrimp paste is a very unusual dish made from very simple ingredients. The recipe consists of clean shrimps placed in coconut water.
The shrimps are ground to obtain shrimp flour. The cook then will wrap the shrimp flour around a piece of sugar cain. Then the kebab-like shall be baked or roasted until well-done. This dish is served with fish sauce.  
CỐM (drily fried young rice)   
Com is mostly served in the fall. After collecting the rice from the fields before it fully ripens, several steps have to be performed to obtain excellent com. After removing the grains from their husks, the rice is wrapped in lotus leaves to keep it from drying and to allow it to absorb the lotus flavor.
Com can be found everywhere in Vietnam, but the best com is found in Vong village, 5 km from Hanoi. People in this village still use traditional secret recipes. People eat com with eggs, bananas, or sapodillas. People, especially young girls in Hanoi would eat com as snack.
CƠM HẾN (Mussel Steamed Rice)   
Hot white rice is part of every meal in Vietnam, but only Hue mussel rice is served cool. Hue people, after deciding that no food should be wasted, have designed this dish using leftover rice.
This dish includes bamboo shoots and an assortment of green vegetables (banana leaves, mint, star fruit slices, etc.).
The broth obtained after boiling the mussels is used to flavour the rice. Ginger, sesame, and pepper, chili are also added to the broth. This dish is very spicy and it is not rare to see people with watery eyes and sweaty faces while eating it; nevertheless, everyone congratulates the cook for such a delicious meal. 
GIÒ LỤA (Lean Pork Paste Pie)   
Lean pork paste pie is available in Vietnam only and has different names in the north and south. Foreigners as well as Vietnamese are fond of lean pork paste pie.
Gio lua consists of pork meat wrapped in fresh banana leaves. The little bundles are then boiled. The most delicious part of lean pork paste pie is the top layer since it absorbs the flavour of the banana leaves.  

One must have years of experience to cook excellent Huế beef noodle soup. This recipe mainly consists of shredded meat and rice noodles. Most restaurants and merchants in Hue do not make the rice noodles themselves; they buy them in Van Cu and Bao Vinh, two villages located near Hue.

Learning how to make a clear broth from bone and meat is also a difficult task, but cooks have the satisfaction of seeing customers enjoying a good meal. The secret of this recipe resides in the meat which must be bought directly from the slaughterhouse early in the morning. The meat is then shredded, boiled, and taken out of the water to obtain a delicious clear broth.

The amount of salt put in the recipe varies depending on the season; during summer, Hue beef noodle soup is served with soy bean, mint, and different kinds of lettuce; in the winter, the recipe is saltier and lemongrass and fish sauce are added. 
LẨU MẮM (hot-pot)   
Lau Mam was a popular dish among farming communities hundreds of years ago, especially in the southwestern provinces.
Nowadays, lau mam is considered a delicacy and is often served to special guests. Lau designates the broth, and mam the salted fish. The main ingredient used in the broth is marinated fish to which meat and vegetables are added.   
Various ingredients, such as seafood, fish, and meat, are prepared on separate plates.
Guests choose and boil their meat in the broth. The meal is accompanied by several fresh vegetables and aromatic herbs.
This dish is particularly enjoyed since so many alternatives are possible, offering a wide array of delicious flavors.

LẨU NƯỚNG (grilled meat such as seafood, fish, beef, pork..)
Lau nuong is a dish that cooked by the diner right at the table. A variety of ingredients such as fish, seafood, beef, pork which have been treated with sauce and spices before being served to the dining table. The dining table has a cooker which allows the diner to roast the meat the way they like. More spices and aromatic herbs can be added.

Some restaurants now have tables with facilities for Lau Mam and Lau Nuong so the diner can enjoy botth.
MIẾN (Cassava Vermicelli)   
Mien threads are very long and tough, made from a kind of tuber plant called Giong Gieng. When served, the long tiny flour threads are cut into smaller pieces. 

Like rice vermicelli, this kind of cassava vermicelli is used to make several different dishes, the most popular being Mien Ga (chicken cassava vermicelli), Mien Bo (beef cassava vermicelli), and Mien Luon (eel cassava vermicelli).

Cassava vermicelli is also used for different dishes which are stirred in oil, such as Mien Xao Thit (vermicelli and pork stirred in fat), Mien Xao Long Ga (vermicelli and chicken tripe stirred in fat and mushrooms), and Mien Xao Cua Be (vermicelli and sea crab meat stirred in fat). 

NEM RÁN (Fried Spring Roll)    
In Hanoi, the introduction of Nem Ran dates back to a time when Cha Ca had not existed. Although it ranks among Vietnam's specialty dishes, Nem Ran is very easy to prepare. Consequently, it has long been a preferred food on special occasions such as Tet and other family festivities.

Ingredients used for Nem Ran comprise of lean minced pork, sea crabs or unshelled shrimps, two kinds of edible mushroom (Nam Huong and Moc Nhi), dried onion, chicken eggs, pepper, salt and different kinds of seasoning. All are mixed thoroughly before being wrapped with transparent rice paper into small rolls. These rolls are then fried in boiling oil. 

Nem ran can be served at meals. People can have nem ran with vermicelli or rice or simply alone.
NỘM (Salad)   
This dish is a combination of a variety of fresh vegetables, usually used in salads in Western countries. The make-up of Nom, however, is slightly different.

The main ingredients of Nom include grated pieces of turnip, kohlrabi, cabbage, or papaya, and slices of cucumber with grated, boiled, lean pork. Other auxiliary ingredients include grated carrot, slices of hot chilly, and roasted ground nuts. These are used to make the dish more colourful and more of flavors. All are mixed thoroughly before being soaked in vinegar, sugar, garlic, hot chilly, and seasoned with salt.

The presentation of the dish is also very meticulous. The mixture of ingredients is put into a dish before being covered with vegetables.

To try a mouthful of Nom is to enjoy a combination of all the tastes life has to offer, including fresh, sour, hot, sweet, salty, and fragrant aromatic herbal tastes. The dish helps with digestion at meals and parties.   
PHỞ (Fresh Wet Noodles)   
Pho is the most popular food among the Vietnamese population. Pho is commonly eaten for breakfast, although many people will have it for their lunch or dinner. Anyone feeling hungry in the small hours of the morning can also enjoy a bowl of hot and spicy pho to fill their empty stomachs.

Like hot green tea which has its particular fragrance, pho also has its special taste and smell. Preparations may vary, but when the dish is served, its smell and taste is indispensable. The grated rice noodle is made of the best variety of fragrant rice called Gao Te. The broth for Pho Bo (Pho with beef) is made by stewing the bones of cows and pigs in a large pot for a long time. Pieces of fillet mignon together with several slices of ginger are reserved for Pho Bo Tai (rare fillet). Slices of well done meat are offered to those less keen on eating rare fillets.

The soup for Pho Ga (pho with chicken meat) is made by stewing chicken and pig bones together. The white chicken meat that is usually served with Pho Ga is boneless and cut into thin slices. You could consider Pho Bo and Pho Ga Vietnam's special soup. Pho also has the added advantage of being convenient to prepare and healthy to eat. 
TÔM CHUA (Hué Sour Shrimp)   
Vietnamese tourists normally would buy some jars of sour shrimp before leaving Hue or Hoi An. Because of the national reputation of this dish, some cooks and merchants specialize in making sour shrimp. In the past, people made this dish at home, but now it is easier to buy it at the market.

This dish can be prepared with any kind of shrimp. The recipe includes a number of steps that must be performed in a specific order. First, the fresh, clean shrimp of approximately the same size are put in wine along with dry bamboo shoots, garlic, and chili. The ingredients are kept in a closed container at room temperature for three days. Then the container is put in a cool, dry place. After five or seven days, the sour shrimp are ready. Sour shrimp has the combined tastes of sweet, sour and spicy. It enhances a great deal if eaten with soup or noodle soup.