Regional Vietnamese Cooking

By
Eve O'Sullivan
Added
24 August, 2015

You can buy a bowl of Vietnamese pho almost anywhere in the UK now, but we wanted to discover more about the regional gems, from the rich and warming soups from Hanoi in the north, to crispy pancakes stuffed with vibrant herbs and fresh vegetables in the south. Here, Vietnamese chef Luke Nguyen and three Airbnb hosts from around the country explain what you should be eating when you get there, the subtle differences in ingredients and flavours, and how you can replicate your favourite dishes when you get home.


Beef noodles

 

Hanoi, north Vietnam

The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi, Luke regales, with its ‘beautiful wide boulevards, streets and timeless French villas and estates, is a charming visual experience.’ That may be so, but as he explains, ‘Hanoi is a city on the move, and as everywhere in Vietnam, street food is a major part of the culture. For the Vietnamese, street food is more than just a convenient way of eating; it’s a lifestyle, which I feel is the envy of many in the West.’ And Luke realised something else as he ate his way around the city. ‘The Hanoi palate is very different to that in the rest of the country, particularly the south. Food in Hanoi is not at all bland, but it is more elegant – simpler but refined. Flavours are light and delicate: not as spicy as in the centre, and not as sweet and complex as the south.’ Thuy, who rents out a room to visitors in her family home, tells us what she thinks are the best dishes in her home town.

 

What five ingredients typify the food in Hanoi?

Pho, and our fresh water crab and fresh water fish. There is also a street named after one of our most famous dishes, cha ca, which is fish fillets fried with spices and dill

 

What three things should every visitor to Hanoi eat?

Pho, of course, bun cha, a dish of grilled pork with vermicelli noodles, and nem, which is a spicy Vietnamese sausage often rolled in rice paper then fried or steamed.


What’s the easiest dish for visitors to replicate when they get home?  

If you can get the ingredients, green papaya salad is so easy to put together, you should definitely try it.


What are the best-kept food secrets?

My favourite spots are Ngon restaurant – there are four branches in Hanoi – and Giang Cafe, which serves fantastic Vietnamese coffee.


Why should people visit Hanoi?  

Quite simply, it’s full of nice people, and cheap tasty food, what more do you need!

 
 

Hoi An, central Vietnam

A beautiful port town, Luke Nguyen explains that Hoi An is ‘one of the few cities in Vietnam that has retained its cobbled streets and historic architecture, made all the more beautiful by the river, which floods every year.’ And, he notes, there’s ‘an obsession with food. I am surrounded by street food, market food, restaurants, cafes and even little old ladies sitting on the street with a steam pot.’ Plus, it’s home to the cao lao noodle, he says. ‘Only one family in Vietnam knows how to make this noodle, and Hoi An is the only town where you can try it. The secret to the noodle, it is said, is the local water which is taken from Ba Li Well, with its colour and flavour being attested to the added ingredient of burned ash.’ We asked resident Jami Chen to tell us more about what defines the food of Hoi An.


Luke Nguyen

 

 

What five ingredients typify the food in Hoi An?

In terms of flavour, I’d say cinnamon and star anise, when it comes to ingredients, chicken, pork, rice and potatoes.

What three things should every visitor to Hoi An eat?

You can’t miss cao lao, a noodle dish with pork and greens, freshly cooked sturgeon and cha bong, which is dried pork that’s often used in salads and rolls.


What’s the easiest dish for visitors to replicate when they get home?

Cucumber wrapped in cured bacon – the easiest snack out there.


What are the best-kept secrets (restaurants, bars, cafes, shops) in your Hoi An?

Mekhoo grand view bar.


Why should people visit your region/city?

We have a colourful culture, not to mention the best weather and places to trek outside of the city. The perfect excuse to eat well.

 

Ho Chi Minh City, south Vietnam

The largest city in the country, Ho Chi Minh, previously known as Saigon, is bright, bustling and bursting with fresh produce. Luke says one of his favourite spots in the city is Ben Thanh market, ‘colourful and vibrant, it has everything you need, from fabrics and cooking gear to souvenirs and dried goods. I go specifically for the street food and fresh produce though, from tamarind and pineapple soup to green papaya salad.’ AirBnb host Chau Nguyen tells us more.


Rice paper rolls
 

What five ingredients typify the food in Ho Chi Minh?

There are many more than five! To name a few; rice, lots of fresh herbs (sweet basil, coriander, mint, lemongrass and many more), fish sauce, leafy green vegetables, green papaya, mud fish and corn.


What three things should every visitor to your region/city eat?

Com Tam, which translates as broken rice – you’ll find this everywhere in Ho Chi Minh; Banh mi thit, a Vietnamese pork sandwich, and banh xeo, which is a pancake made with coconut milk that’ll you’ll mainly find in the south.


What’s the easiest dish for visitors to replicate when they get home?

I think everyone should try to make spring rolls!


What are the best-kept secrets (restaurants, bars, cafes, shops) in Hoi Chi Minh?

I want to keep it a secret still! Actually, street food eateries are on every corner in my city, and that’s where you’ll find the best food. But I can’t give you addresses, as they don’t have them – you have to discover which are your favourites for yourself!


Why should people visit Ho Chi Minh?

Why not? It is a crazy, busy and vibrant city with a wide range of great local dishes.

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