Ah, Vietnam: exotic, completely addictive Vietnam.
When I think about this corner of South East Asia a burst of colour and flavour immediately come hurtling to mind. It is the most vibrant place I have ever visited, offering a thousand things to absorb all in a single Vietnamese moment. Total sensory overload, I promise you. Perhaps my favourite aspect of visiting the country was enjoying the orgasmic variety of exotic culinary delights on offer. As a pescetarian (or someone who only eats seafood) I was worried that I would limited to a diet of vegetables. I was wrong. So wrong. In fact, I even returned back to Australia with a couple of excess kilograms (and I don’t mean in my luggage). So, without further ado, here are my top culinary experiences from my one month stint in Vietnam.
Warning: after a visit to this country, your old stir fry or home cooked pasta will never taste the same again. My advice: buy a Vietnamese cookbook to take the edge off when you get home!
Morning Glory, Hoi An
This popular restaurant and cooking school caught our attention after making its way onto the majority of recommended eateries and it certainly did not disappoint. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it was the most delicious two meals we had in the entire country (that’s right, we enjoyed it so much we went back twice!) Nestled in a bustling location in Hoi An’s charming historic centre it is easy to find, cheap and well worth seeking out for its low-key ambiance and spectacular exotic menu bursting with herbs, spices, fresh seafood, just-steamed buns and freshly made rice paper rolls. It offers all the traditional favourites including a number of modern options. I enjoyed the most wonderful fish soup, smoked eggplant and fried spring rolls. Yum. Yum. Yum!
Mango Mango, Hoi An
We found out about Mango Mango after stumbling across three travel-addicted Australian women we originally met in Siem Reap, Cambodia. As they waved us off from their bikes in Hoi An they yelled at us to meet them at Mango Mango that evening. Lucky we had internet access and found out this restaurant was just around the corner from our accommodation in a charming riverside setting. From our outdoor table we watched as young children celebrated the full moon festival dressed in a traditional dragon costume. The fusion cuisine on offer at this stellar restaurant was mindbogglingly good. It offered fresh seafood and vibrant salads. The cocktail list is a big enough draw card on its own. Don’t miss happy hour for cheap and friendly cocktails!
Avalon Cafe, Hanoi
This cafe is worth a visit simply for the stunning views of Hoan Kiem Lake from the rooftop (featured above). After a day of exploring in the heat, it is a refreshing relief to sit in the air-conditioned cafe enjoying just-made prawn (or beef) rice paper rolls and a fresh drink or two. It’s not the cheapest of establishments but has plenty to offer in terms of atmosphere and views.
Topas Ecolodge, Sapa
Though not that easy to access if you’re not a guest, the food at this accommodation just outside of Sapa, Northern Vietnam was full of flavour and texture. Our accomodation package came included with a complimentary outdoor dinner where the hotel’s chef cooked us a magnificent Vietnamese BBQ with locally sourced beef, vegetables and rice. They also cooked up mouth watering prawns from the coast of the country and followed it up with the freshest fruit we’ve ever had the pleasure to taste. Nothing like rice sourced straight from the surrounding terraces to make an authentic Vietnamese dining experience!
Street Food Tour, Hanoi
This three hour tour might alone be the reason I took home those extra kilos. But, it was well worth it to encounter total Vietnamese street food indulgence, tasting the best that the streets of Hanoi had on offer. This walking excursion was offered by local company, Kim Tours and unlocked the culinary secrets of the old quarter. Over three hours we sampled Vietnamese pancakes made in a hole in the wall, fruit smothered with condensed milk and ice, famous Vietnamese pho, seafood buns and cold beer. The highlight of the entire street food tour was the traditional egg coffee made from egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and coffee – not the healthiest but absolutely delicious. Reason enough to return to the country!
Green Mango, Hanoi
Vietnamese fusion at its very best can be found at Green Mango, Hanoi. We shared a range of exotic Asian-fusion dishes made from fresh seafood, a balance of herbs and spices matched with an extensive option of light cocktails. Perfect!
In addition to these amazing restaurants and food encounters, I would highly recommend sourcing the following local specialties from recommended street vendours!
- Pho: a rice noodle soup, traditionally made with beef. All over the country you will find locals slurping this cheap and flavoursome noodle soup at makeshift street stalls. Ask the locals to find the best!
- Bun Cha: Can be enjoyed on the Hanoi Street Food Tour and is slices of marinated pork belly smoked over a charcoal fire.
- Bahn Mi: This is a bizarre combination of french baguette and Vietnamese flavours! Usually it is jam-packed with cheese, pickled sausages, fried egg and chilli sauce.
- Banh Xeo: I had this a number of times during my stay in Vietnam and was impressed by the flavour. This crepe is crammed with pork, prawns, sprouts and fresh herbs cut into slices, rolled in rice paper rolls and served with a flavoursome sauce – yum!
- Cat fish from the Mekong Delta region (offered at most local restaurants and home-stays)
- Coffee – I hope you like it sweet! Vietnamese coffee is made with condensed milk and is extremely strong! You can find coffee at the majority of cafes around the country but it can best be enjoyed in the Northern city of Hanoi.
Over to you – what are your favourite Vietnamese dishes?