Vietnam Week: Favourite Food Survey
Vietnamese food is my absolute favourite cuisine, but choosing one Vietnamese dish as a favourite is almost an impossible task – there are just too many different forms of deliciousness.
I decided to survey my team of Vietnamese experts to uncover the best of the best, as judged by locals. But guess what? Every single person struggled to name a favourite.
Darling Man settled on three favourites, while his sister and mother announced “seafood” was theirs and they refused to identify one dish as their absolute number one.
So, rather than name THE best dish in Vietnam, I offer you a visual buffet of some of Vietnam’s tastiest dishes, as voted by my lovely panel of Vietnamese eating experts. (And in Vietnam, EVERYONE is an eating expert. I have no idea how they stays so thin because boy-oh-boy do they love to eat!)
Phở won the most votes in my very unscientific poll of Vietnamese eating experts. Darling Man and his father both named it as their favourite dish (although they each had multiple favourites.) If you didn’t catch it, I’ve prepared a guide on how to eat phở, Vietnam’s unofficial national dish.
Bun Bo Hue
A dish from the former imperial capital of Hue, Bún bò Huế is a sweet, tangy and sometimes slightly spicy noodle soup with beef and pork. It’s usually served with a side of finely sliced banana flower and crisp bean sprouts.
Seafood, or hải sản, in Vietnam includes such a diverse array of dishes. One of my favourite seafood dishes is tôm nướng muối ớt – prawns barbecued with chilli and salt. (The names of many Vietnamese dishes are VERY literal.) This dish is one of the reasons why you do need to open your wet napkin (some people don’t open them to save a few thousand dong). Getting the prawns off the skewers and peeling them is a very messy business.
This dish, like many seafood dishes in Vietnam, is served with a little dipping bowl with salt, pepper and lime, which should be mixed together to form a paste. Most of the time I just eat seafood plain, though, because it is so fresh and fantastic.
Another noodle dish that won multiple votes as a favourite. It can be served “wet” as a soup, or “dry” with a small bowl of broth on the side. I prefer the soup version (so much so I’ve never paused to take a photo). I also love the greens that are served with hủ tiếu – edible chrysanthemum.
There are many versions of hủ tiếu, most have slices of pork and prawns. Some versions include squid. I love the last few spoonfuls where you can scoop up the tiny specks of pickled carrot, dried baby prawn and fried garlic that give the soup its extra-deliciousness.
Even though this was one of Darling Man’s nominations, he snorted when he saw it on my list. Cháo lòng is rice porridge with offal and part of the reason Darling Man nominated it is that his mother often cooked cháo lòng when he was growing up, so it’s one of his comfort foods.
Cháo is something I avoided for quite a long time after I moved to Vietnam. I’m not a fan of oatmeal porridge and so a rice version of it really did not appeal. But cháo proved to be a cross-cultural comfort food. It’s warm, salty and nearly 100% carbs. The rice is so soft it’s almost creamy. I like cháo with fish or chicken though. I don’t do offal at all but I do like the version with raw egg, which is cooked by the hot porridge if you stir it in quick enough.
Hotpots, cooked right at your table, are usually ordered towards the end of the meal. I always forget this fact, and the first dishes to arrive at the table are always so delicious that I eat a lot. Then a hotpot is delivered and I eat more.
Most hotpots are quite tangy, as pineapple is a staple ingredient in the stock. There’s usually a range of greens, mushrooms and tomato that are thrown in. Cooking a hotpot is quite a scientific endeavour, involving serious discussions about how much stirring and when to put things in the pot. The wait staff will usually take over if they think you’re doing not doing it right.
The amazing Vietnamese dessert in a glass, chè is more of a snack than something you eat immediately after dinner. Slippery sloppy syrupy things are layered in a glass, topped with sweetened coconut cream and ice. (I always ask for no ice, so there’s none in the picture.) Chè ba màu is my favourite version of chè, which is often translated as “sweet soup”, which really doesn’t do it justice. You can read more about chè here.
Other favourites mentioned (that I didn’t manage to get a photo of) included grilled corn, rooster testicle fried with garlic and chicken with fish sauce. I haven’t tasted two of those three nominations, so even after eating my way around Vietnam for nearly four years, I STILL have fantastic new dishes to discover!
So that is the list of “favourites” as nominated by my expert panel of friends and family.
There are a few dishes that I think deserve honorable mentions. And because I set the rules around here, I am going to mention them, even though none of my experts did.
Without further ado, let me introduce some of my favourite Vietnamese dishes:
Steamed Clams with Lemongrass
I don’t think I’d ever even eaten a clam before I moved to Vietnam but once I had my first taste of nghêu hấp xả, I was absolutely hooked. I’m not even sure the clams have much of a taste themselves, but the whole nghêu hấp xả experience is wonderful, especially if you’re on the street and can use your fingers.
Take a clam shell, open it up as wide as possible and use it like a spoon to scoop up some broth and a small amount of the sweet chili dipping sauce into the half that has the clam meat, then deliver the taste explosion to your mouth. Bam – FANTASTIC!
If you’re eating with good friends, use the clam shell to spoon more broth into your mouth, pausing only long enough to ask your wonderful friends to order another pot of steamed clams.
Mì Quảng is a dish from central Vietnam and I consider it the food of love. Just after our beautiful baby was born, Darling Man would regularly nip out early in the morning to collect Mì Quảng from a street vendor near our house in Ho Chi Minh City. The vendor has since disappeared, but his version of this noodle dish was out of this world, as was the love with which Darling Man would prepare my bowl.
The soup is a hodge-podge of strange ingredients that you probably wouldn’t think of putting in the same dish – noodles dyed yellow with tumeric, tender braised pork, prawns, quail eggs, shards of sesame seed-studded rice crackers, shredded lettuce, shredded banana flower, peanuts, lime juice, bean sprouts, basil and mint. Some versions also include chicken or duck.
Bun Thit Nuong
Soft fresh bún noodles, tangy marinated barbecued pork, lettuce, herbs and the to-die-for all-purpose Vietnamese dipping sauce called nước chấm. Served up in separate sections so the diner can mix and fold and season their bún thịt nướng just the way they like it. Which for me is dumping the dipping sauce over the top of everything and giving it all a big stir.
I consider bún thịt nướng a salad but Darling Man tells me it’s not – “it’s noodles, pork and herbs”. It’s served cold, though, so I think I win.
Do you have any favourite Vietnamese dishes that didn’t make my list?
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11 years ago