What is the best part of visiting Vietnam? Some would say it’s the people and the culture, others would argue for the sites and the beaches. But ask anyone who has visited, and the food is up there as well. Vietnam has some of the most delicious, fresh food in the world, regardless what meal or time of the day you’re searching. At 4 AM, Noon, 3:30 PM and 11 at night you can always find someone, somewhere, selling a delicious plate, bowl or tasty morsel of some Viet-cuisine. Whether it’s the nation’s staple Pho or a freshly baked Banh Mi sandwich, there’s something for all adventurous taste buds.
If you’ve ever wandered Vietnam’s streets (or driven to/from the airport) early in the morning, you’ve encountered its strange buzzing atmosphere. Sure there are darkened windows and most people are asleep, but there are also loads of glowing shop fronts and cruising motorbikes carrying the day’s newest deliveries. Breakfast stalls get started extremely early in the morning, purchasing, pounding, slicing, dicing, brewing and preparing their richly flavored meals for the early morning risers (and there are a lot of them in Vietnam!). By 7 AM the famous pho stalls have been slinging bowls of soup for hours already, and by 9 AM other breakfast selections have already sold out.
So what makes Vietnamese food so good? It’s a mixture of the preparation, portions and ingredients. While much of the world thrives off preservatives, instant eats and genetically modified things that are somehow called “food”, Vietnam is busy spending hours preparing meals, using only the freshest and most flavorful ingredients. Dig into a bowl of Central Vietnam’s Cao Lau and you’ll be greeted by a plethora of fresh herbs and spices, locally produced specialty noodles, market fresh pork and ancient stock ingredients. Vietnamese meals leave you perfectly satisfied- not uncomfortable, bloated and loosening your belt from overindulgence.
What makes these fresh and meticulously prepared meals even more amazing is the fact that you’ll be spending anywhere between 1-3 USD per dish (depending on where and what you’re eating). So you can enjoy all the flavors of Vietnam, all day long, without being too stuffed or breaking your travel budget.
From Saigon in the south to Hanoi in the north, all the famous Vietnamese plates (soups, spring rolls, rice dishes, salads of all sorts, barbecued meats, etc.) can be found, and with their own local twists. Of course some stalls are recommended over others, but if you don’t have a local friend or a guidebook, just follow your nose (and the crowds) to the best spots.
Don’t know where to begin? Here are a few things to look out for:
Banh Mi: the French-influenced Vietnamese Baguette sandwich
Banh Xeo: A fried pancake stuffed with a variety of vegetables, meats and herbs
Bun: A noodle soup filled with loads of different ingredients (depending on the stall- beef, snails, fish, pork)
Com Ga: Chicken Rice
Xoi: Sticky Rice (sweet, salty, meat or veggie options)
Banh Bao: Chinese influenced steamed bun, usually with pork and egg inside (find these at bakeries and on mobile vendors).
...And of course Pho: the soup of the nation.