Food and Drink in Vietnam
Food and Drink in Vietnam
With unbelievable abundance of fresh vegetables, herbs, fish and seafood, Vietnam has a lot to offer. It can be mentioned here a range of widely- admired dishes such as noodle served with beef or chicken( pho), spring roll, eel or snail vermicelli, crab fried with tamarind, crab sour soup, rice spaghetti, steamed rolls made of rice-flour, rice pancake folded in half (and filled with a shrimp, meat and soya bean sprouts).
Food sits at the very centre of Vietnamese culture: every significant holiday on the Vietnamese cultural calendar, all the important milestones in a Vietnamese person's life, and indeed, most of the important day-to-day social events and interactions - food plays a central role in each. Special dishes are prepared and served with great care for every birth, marriage and death, and the anniversaries of ancestors' deaths. More business deals are struck over dinner tables than over boardroom tables, and when friends get together, they eat together. Preparing food and eating together remains the focus of family life.
Vietnamese cuisine varies slightly from region to region, with many regions having their own specialties. Generally, northern Vietnamese cuisine is known for being bland while southern Vietnamese cuisine is known for being spicy.
At the same time, the Vietnamese are surprisingly modest about their cuisine. (And old proverb/joke says that a fortunate man has a Western (French) house, Japanese wife, and Chinese chef.) High-end restaurants tend to serve "Asian-fusion" cuisine, with elements of Thai, Japanese, and Chinese mixed in. The most authentic Vietnamese food is found at street side "restaurants" (A collection of plastic outdoor furniture placed on the footpath), with most walk-in restaurants being mainly for tourists. Definite regional styles exist -- northern, central, and southern, each with unique dishes. Central style is perhaps the most celebrated, with dishes such as mi quang (wheat noodles with herbs, pork, and shrimp), banh canh cua (crab soup with thick rice noodles) and bun bo Hue (beef soup with herbs and noodles).
Many Vietnamese dishes are flavored with fish sauce (nước mắm), which smells and tastes like anchovies (quite salty and fishy) straight from the bottle, but blends into food very well. (Try taking home a bottle of fish sauce, and using it instead of salt in almost any savory dish -- you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.) Fish sauce is also mixed with lime juice, sugar, water, and spices to form a tasty dip/condiment called nước chấm, served on the table with most meals. Vegetables, herbs and spices, notably Vietnamese coriander or cilantro ( rau mùi or rau mgò), mint (rau răm) and basil (rau húng), accompany almost every dish and help make Vietnamese food much lighter and more aromatic than the cuisine of its neighboring countries, especially China.
Vietnam's national dish is phở (pronounced like the fu- in funny, but with tone), a broth soup with beef or chicken and rice noodles (a form of rice linguini or fettuccine). Phở is normally served with plates of fresh herbs(usually including Asian basil), cut limes, hot chiles and and scalded bean sprouts which you can add in according to your taste, along with chili paste, chili sauce, and sweet soybean sauce. Phở bò, the classic form of phở, is made with beef broth that is often simmered for many hours and may include one or more kinds of beef (skirt, flank, tripe, etc.). Phở gà is the same idea, but with chicken broth and chicken meat. Phở is the original Vietnamese fast food, which locals grab for a quick meal. Most phở places specialize in phở and can serve you a bowls as fast as you could get a Big Mac. It's available at any time of the day, but locals eat it most often for breakfast. Famous phở restaurants can be found in Hanoi. Generally speaking, the phở served at roadside stalls tends to be cheaper and taste better than those served in fancier restaurants.
Street side eateries in Vietnam typically advertise phở and cơm. Though cơm literally means rice, the sign means the restaurant serves a plate of rice accompanied with fish or meat and vegetables. Cơm is used to indicate eating in general...even when rice is not served (ie: An cơm chua?- Have you eaten yet) Though they may look filthy, street side eateries are generally safe so long as you avoid undercooked food.
In rural and regional areas it is usually safest to eat the locally grown types of food as these are usually bought each day from the market. It is not uncommon, that after you have ordered your meal a young child of the family will be seen running out the back towards the nearest market to purchase the items.
Most restaurants/cafes in Vietnam will have a bewildering variety of food available. It is very common for menus to be up to 10-15 pages. These will include all types of Vietnamese food, plus some token western food, possibly some Chinese and maybe a pad thai as well. It is generally best to stick with the specialty of the area as this food will be the freshest and also the best prepared.
Be advised that when dining in a restaurant, it is common practice for the wait staff to place a plastic packet (stamped with the restaurant's name) containing a moist towelette on your table. They are not free; they cost between 2,000 - 4,000 VND. If you open it, you will be charged for it. Also, peanuts or other nuts will be offered to you while you are browsing the menu. Those are not free, either. If you eat any, you will be charged.
Vegetarian food is quite easy to find anywhere in Vietnam due in large part to the Buddhist influence. These restaurants will run from upscale to street stall. Basically any Vietnamese dish with meat can be made vegetarian with the abundance of fake meats. Besides the Buddhist influence of two vegetarian days a month, Cao Dai people eat vegetarian 16 days, and followers of the bizarre Quan Yin method eat vegan daily. Look for any sign that says Com Chay or simply remember the phrase An Chay.
Coffee , baguettes, and pastries were originally introduced by the French colonials, but all three have been localized and remain popular contemporary aspects of Vietnamese cuisine. More on cà phê below, but coffee shops that also serve light fare can be found in almost every village and on multiple street corners in the bigger cities. Bánh mì are French bread sandwiches: freshly baked white bread baguettes filled with grilled meats or liver or pork pâté, plus fresh herbs and vegetables. Most pastry shops serve a variety of sweets and quick foods, and are now owned by Vietnamese.
If you like seafood, you may find heaven in Vietnam. The ultimate seafood experience is traveling to a seaside village or beach resort area in the south to try the local seafood restaurants that often serve shrimp, crab, and locally-caught fish. Follow the locals to a good restaurant: the food will still be swimming when you order it, it will be well-prepared, very affordable by Western standards, and often served in friendly surroundings with spectacular views.
All Vietnamese restaurants are controlled by government, and some are fully owned by government. Most restaurants' opening times are 10:00 to 22:00, some opens at 7:00 and some at 6:00 or 8:00. In 24-hour restaurants, there will be two prices, the price is normal from 6:00 to 22:00, and doubled from 22:00 to 6:00. For example, rice (com) usually costs 10,000 dong, but if you order after 22:00, the price will be 20,000 dong. This project is made by government to discourage people from eating late. Some dishes are not served after 22:00.
In restaurants fully owned by government, you will usually get "errored cuisine" such as fried fish with lemon sauce instead of fish sauce, or rice with tea instead of chili, and some dishes are not available for one month long without any announcement.
Drinks and Drinking in Vietnam
Watch out for ice in drinks. Factory-made ice is generally safe, but anything else can be suspect.
Pubs / Bars
Drinking in a Vietnamese bar is a great experience. One of the interesting things is that during the day, it is almost impossible to see a bar anywhere. Once the sun goes down though, dozens seem to appear out of nowhere on the streets.
Don't miss out on bia hơi, (literally "air beer"), or draught beer made daily. It's available throughout Vietnam, mostly from small bars on street corners. Bia hoi bars will give you the opportunity to relax drinking in a typical Vietnamese bar surrounded by the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Every traveler can easily find these bars to experience what the locals are enjoying.
The beer is brewed daily and each bar gets a fresh batch delivered every day in plastic jugs. It's a very light (3% alcohol) refreshing lager at a fraction of the cost of draft or bottled beer in the Western-style bars. Bia hoi is not always made in sanitary conditions and its making is not monitored by any health agency. Though fun for the novelty factor, this beer may produce awful hangovers for some. For those people, sticking with bia chai (bottled beer) might be more advisable.
The most popular beer (draft, bottle or can) among the Southern Vietnamese is Saigon Do (Red Saigon). For the Northern VietnameseBia Hanoi (Hanoi beer) is the most popular brand, whereas Central Vietnamese prefer Festival beer orBia Huda. 333, pronounced "ba-ba-ba" is a local brand, but it's somewhat bland; for a bit more flavor, look for Bia Saigon in the green bottle and a bigger bottle than Bia Saigon Special. Bia Saigon is also available as little stronger export version. Bière Larue is also good, and you can find local brands in every larger city.
It's regular practise for beer in Vietnam to be drunk over ice. This means that the cans or bottles need not be chilled. If you are drinking with Vietnamese people it is considered polite to top up their beer/ice before re-filling your own drink. It is also considered necessary to drink when a toast is proposed...mot, hai, ba, do (one, two, three, cheers). Mot tram, mot tram implies you will drink 100%.
Wine and Liquor
Vietnamese "ruou de" or rice alcohol (ruou means alcohol) is served in tiny porcelain cups often with candied fruit or pickles. It's commonly served to male guests and visitors. Vietnamese women don't drink much alcohol, well at least in public. It's not recommended for tourists.
Dating back to French colonial times, Vietnam adopted a tradition of viticulture. Dalat is the center of the winelands, and you can get extremely good red and white wine for about US$2-3, however this is very hard to find. Most wine is Australian that is served in restaurants and you will be charged Australian prices as well making wine comparatively quite expensive compared to drinking beer or spirits.
Coconut wine - Rượu dừa - ruou dua : This is special VietNam wine. This wine is made by traditional material and coconut form natural. Copra of coconut can purify Aldhyt in rice wine which cause your headache and tied. You feel free to drink a health to somebody.
Rice spirt and local Vodka is incredibly cheap in Vietnam by western standards. Russian Champagne is also quite available. When at Nha Trang, look for the 'all you can drink' boat trips for around US$10-15 for an all day trip and party with on board band.
Coconut water is a favorite in the hot southern part of the country. nước mía, or sugar cane juice, is served from distinctive metal carts with a crank-powered sugar cane stalk crushers that release the juice. Another thirst-quencher is the fabulous sinh tố, a selection of sliced fresh fruit in a big glass, combined with crushed ice, sweetened condensed milk and coconut milk. You can also have it blended in a mixer. You could place any fruit-type after the word sinh tố - e.g. sinh tố bơ (avocado smoothie) or sinh tố dừa(pineapple smoothie). If you prefer to have orange juice, you won't use the word sinh tố but nước (literally: water) or nước cam if you would like to have an orange juice. Juices are usually without condensed milk or coconut milk.
Another popular drink among locals and tourists alike is the coffee (cà phê). Do be careful when drinking locally prepared coffee as the locals tend to drink it incredibly strong with about 4 teaspoons of sugar per cup. It is usually served black or with sweetened condensed milk. Definitely an acquired taste.
Vietnamese coffee beans are fried, not roasted. If you are picky, bring your own coffee.
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