Food & Drinks in Vietnam

Rice paper spring rolls served with soy sauce is delicious and very popular appetizer in Vietnam.
Rice paper spring rolls served with soy sauce is delicious and very popular appetizer in Vietnam.

Vietnamese food is starting to have an almost mainstream feel to it. Whereas 15 years ago it barely made an impact on many places outside of Vietnam except highly multicultural cities in the US and Europe it is now becoming somewhat more popular choice of cuisine among the everyday person and a large part of this is to do with the fact that more people are now traveling to Vietnam and experiencing Vietnamese food firsthand.

Food is a large part of the culture of Vietnam as every holiday on the calendar is celebrated with meals and most interactions and social events center on eating. For special events unique dishes are prepared that are traditional for marriage, birth, death, and ancestral holidays. In fact, even most business deals take place over the meal table and a great part of family life is centered on the preparation and consumption of meals. Given the fact that Vietnam is still largely an agricultural country this should not come as too much of a surprise.

Beef Noodle Soup is one of the most popular dished in Vietnam and worth a taste while in the country.
Beef Noodle Soup is one of the most popular dished in Vietnam and worth a taste while in the country.

The cuisine varies throughout the three different regions of Vietnam. Think of the country as split in 3 with Hanoi as the North, Ho Chi Minh City as the South and Da Nang and Hoi An as the Center.

These 3 areas have differing definitions of what Vietnamese food should taste like and while each will mostly use the same fundamental ingredients the taste will be noticeably different depending on where you actually go.

Southern cuisine is known as spicy, northern cuisine as bland in comparison, and the central cuisine as a blend between the two.

The central cuisine is the most eclectic for the most part as it is a combination of herbs, shrimp, pork, and beef combined with everything from crab soup to beef soup to noodles.

Despite the heavy emphasis on food in the Vietnamese culture, most people in Vietnam are modest about their cuisine and in most restaurants on the high end side of the scale you will find dishes that can best be described as Asian fusion combining elements of Chinese, Japanese, and Thai ingredients.

For a true taste of authentic food from Vietnam make a stop at one of the many street stalls and street side restaurants because any walk in restaurant is designed to suit the tastes that they believe the tourists will want to experience.

Most true Vietnamese dishes are flavored with a fish sauce that tastes a great deal like anchovies but surprisingly mixes into the food blends quite well. The Vietnamese use this sauce in place of salt at the dinner table and the result is actually quite pleasing even if it does not appear to smell or appear so. Almost every dish also comes prepared with herbs, vegetables, coriander, bail, and mint which make the cuisine very aromatic.

The national dish of Vietnam is pho, which is a type of brothy soup that is combined with rice noodles and worth a taste while in the country. Normally fresh herbs are served with the Pho along with hot chilies, bean sprouts, and cut limes. This is the closest meal to fast food that the Vietnamese consume on a regular basis, and is great for a mid afternoon snack although locals usually eat it for breakfast.

While in Vietnam be sure to try out the bia hoi, which is the local draught beer made fresh daily and is available almost anywhere from street corners to inside of bars and pubs. The street side bars are a great place to sit back and relax while observing the natural life of the cities. The beer is quite light and only 3% alcohol, but costs much less than a draft beer and is especially tasty given that it is freshly delivered every morning.