Vietnam 21.03.2016 Transindus
Vietnam's cuisine has a growing reputation as one of the most delicious and healthy in the world. And while this country's cooking may be making waves in the UK, there's still no better place to try it than the nation itself.
Of course, you can enjoy Vietnamese food on any tour of the country, but if culinary adventures are what interest you the most, it's worth considering going on a gastronomic tour. Trips like this give you the perfect opportunity to explore local cooking styles and flavours to their fullest, not to mention have a go at recreating classic dishes yourself.
However you choose to discover Vietnam's culinary highlights, though, you can rest assured you'll have some utterly amazing taste experiences. Try a mix of restaurant food and street food, the latter of which is particularly big in Vietnam, to get a wider taste of the country's cuisine. Below, we introduce you to the world of Vietnamese cooking.
Vietnamese cooking - an overview
Making heavy use of vegetables, Vietnamese cooking typically has a really fresh taste - something that's enhanced by its use of herbs, spices and fruits. This isn't the only distinctive element of Vietnamese cuisine; fish sauce is a key ingredient, as is shrimp paste and soy sauce, all of which help lend dishes a distinctly Vietnamese flavour.
Rice and noodles, meanwhile, are staples and you'll find they're served as an accompaniment to a huge array of dishes, while the latter often make a meal in their own right.
In terms of top places to eat, Hanoi has a fantastic reputation for the calibre of its street food and restaurants, while Ho Chi Minh City is another street food favourite. A gastronomic tour will also often whisk you to smaller villages, where you can sample things like locally grown rice or see fishermen at work.
Dishes to try
We'll start with one of the most basic dishes - com. Com, or boiled rice, can be made with lots of different kinds of rice, but typically fragrant varieties, such as tam thom, are used. Usually eaten at lunch or dinner, com is a popular accompaniment to all kinds of other dishes, such as mon an kho - a dish of pork, fish or vegetables cooked in oil.
Banh Chung is a sticky rice cake and a traditional Vietnamese dish. Made with rice, pork and green beans, the cake is wrapped in bamboo leaves, which is what gives this delicious treat its characteristic green colour after it has been boiled - the cooking process turns the rice green.
Banh mi has become quite popular in the UK in recent years. Originating from Ho Chi Minh City, this fusion dish is a blend of French and Vietnamese cultures (the French were in power in Ho Chi Minh City for many years).
A banh mi is a sandwich, made with a baguette - the French element - grilled over coals. Once heated through, the baguette is then topped with pate and mayonnaise, followed by pickled vegetables, meat, herbs and soy sauce, among other things.
Moving on to Hanoi for our next dish, noodle soup or pho is one of the city's staples. Indeed, it is actually something of a staple across the country, but Hanoi is believed to be where it originated. There are plenty of variants to choose from, usually featuring different kinds of meat.
Also popular in Hanoi, xoi xeo is a sticky rice dish that many Vietnamese people eat for breakfast or lunch. You'll often notice it at street food stands, owing to its popularity. Usually, it's simply topped with a combination of fried onion and ground mung bean, but you'll often have the option to add extras, such as eggs or chicken.
So many countries have pancakes on their culinary repertoire, and often they're served very differently in each place. In Vietnam, pancakes are made with water and rice flour then steamed, and then used to make delicious dishes such as banh cuon.
Banh cuon is a Vietnamese pancake stuffed with well-seasoned pork, usually served with a mixture of fish sauce, lime and sugar known as nuoc mam.