I have been extremely lucky in my life that I’ve had the opportunity to travel. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in 2016, did a Master’s degree, graduating in 2017, then decided to take a gap year (gap yahhh). Most of this year was spent in Australia, but I also visited Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and New Zealand. At some point, I will discuss these in further detail but for now, I’ll be discussing my experiences in Vietnam.
Of all the places I visited last year, Vietnam was my favourite for food. I’d never really eaten Vietnamese food before (in Newcastle, where I’m from, there’s not an abundance of Vietnamese restaurants), so I wasn’t really sure of what to expect. But, boy, was it good!
Firstly, I’d like to mention the places I visited in Vietnam, as recommendations for anybody looking to visit. I started in Hanoi, headed to Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh, Hà Nội, Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta. Each of these places were stunning. Hanoi was my favourite city – it was authentically Vietnamese and not Westernised. Ha Long Bah, known as one of the new seven wonders of the world, was exceptionally beautiful. The people I met in Vietnam were incredibly friendly and the overall experience was unforgettable. If you’re thinking of travelling to this amazing country, hit up my comments of DMs (@dining_with_ali). For more photos, check out my Vietnam highlight on @travelling_with_ali.
Food in Vietnam
When you think about Vietnamese food, you probably think about one dish straight away – phở (pho). This dish consists of a broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat (beef is traditional by chicken is increasingly common). Pho was the first dish I had in Vietnam and it was delightful. Over the course of 3 weeks, I had plenty of pho but my favourites were phở bò (beef pho) that I had in HCMC and phở gà (chicken pho) that I had in Hanoi. All I can say is that authentic pho is absolutely amazing and I miss it so much.
2. Banh mi
Another well known Vietnamese staple is Bánh mì (pronounced baa mee), a Vietnamese baguette filled with meat, veg and condiments. Fun fact: Vietnam has many French influences as it was taken over by France in the mid-19th century. The traditional banh mi consists of pork, pickled radish, coriander, carrot and chilli. Sounds interesting, I know. I didn’t expect to like it but somehow it was exceptional. Please note that the below images are not my own and they were taken from Google Images (there were duplicates of each so cannot be sure of who to credit for original images). However, this is the place I visited for banh mi in Hoi An and I would highly recommend.
3. Fresh spring rolls
The fresh Vietnamese spring rolls are light and summery – perfect for a humid day in Vietnam (i.e. every day). The best ones I had were in Hanoi, and were filled with pork, prawn, thin noodles and pineapple. The flavours were perfect.
4. Fried spring rolls
Vietnamese fried spring rolls are the best spring rolls ever, and I’ll hear no arguments about it. I ate fried spring rolls every day I was in Vietnam (so that’s 18 days in a row) and I never got bored of them. The best I had were these chicken spring rolls from Lantern Lounge in Hanoi.
5. Vietnamese coffee
Surprisingly, Vietnamese coffee is exceptional. The fresh coffee is grown in Vietnam and is often served with condensed milk for sweetening. I came across a lovely coffee place in Hanoi, called Dream Beans Coffee. The barista here was so passionate about the coffee and talked us through how he was making it and the best ways to have Vietnamese coffee. My first coffee here was traditional – coffee, condensed milk, ice. I then moved onto something slightly more adventurous – egg coffee. This speciality contains egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and robusta coffee, and really does taste like liquid tiramisu.
6. Elephant fish
Deep fried elephant ear fish is a speciality of the Mekong Delta that I was lucky enough to try while I was there. I stayed in a local homestay, and the fish was cooked by the family. It was crispy on the outside but lovely and soft on the inside.
Something I’d never tried before travelling to Vietnam was goat. Many places offered it on their menu and, after a while, I decided to give it a try. I tried it in Ninh Binh, a small countryside village. It was better than I thought it would be, and certainly better than it looked, but I wouldn’t rush back to get it. Although, it did go well in some hand rolled fresh spring rolls.
8. Caramelised dishes – pork, river fish
Another speciality in Vietnam is caramelisation. Caramelised pork, caramelised chicken, caramelised fish.. you name it! I tried all of the above in a single night, because clearly I wanted those caramelised textures!
9. Vietnamese fusion – duck, tacos, sushi rolls
Ho Chi Minh is much more Westernised than the rest of Vietnam, therefore there were many more options for food (other than Vietnamese food). However, I LOVE Vietnamese food and didn’t want to go for other options. That said, I decided to try a ‘Vietnamese fusion’ restaurant called Anan Saigon. This restaurant specialises in street food style dishes, but also incorporates the French style. I tried some Vietnamese tacos, filled with shrimp, pork, vermicelli and peanut sauce. WOW! These were absolutely stunning – a combination of delightful Vietnamese flavours with a Mexican twist. I then opted for the fresh spring rolls, filled with salmon, and these were served like sushi. For the main, I went for duck with orange and it was, hands down, the best duck I’ve ever had in my life.
And that concluded my top Vietnamese foods. If you are ever lucky enough to visit this incredible country, make sure you try some Vietnamese classics. Enjoy!