Viet Nam News
By Ha Nguyen
After an international marketing guru’s advice that Viet Nam should sell itself as a food destination, there has been increased focus on the culinary delights produced in the country.
The CNN television channel has released a list of six must-try dishes in the country: pho (noodle soup), bun bo Nam Bo (southern vermicelli with beef), xoi (sticky rice), goi cuon (vegetables, shrimp and pork meat wrapped up in rice paper), banh xeo (rice pancake folded in half and filled with shrimp, meat and green bean sprouts) and bun cha (vermicelli and grilled chopped meat).
The choice of these six dishes chosen is not a surprise, but it is noteworthy that all these gourmet creations are part of daily food in the country, available throughout the year, and even throughout the day.
Renowned writer Nguyen Tuan has written that enjoying pho is almost a religious rite because it is intrinsic to the daily life of locals, especially Hanoians.
Tran Van Tri, 78, a Hanoian, said that for around 50 years, a bowl of pho has been his breakfast, come rain or shine.
Ray Wester, an Australian lecturer at the National Economics University, said pho is the most tasty soup in the world that adds to his enjoyment of working in Viet Nam.
Traditional cuisine expert Pham Anh Tuyet said pho is so highly appreciated because it is a great combination of broth which is made by boiling cow bones for 6-7 hours and spices like cinnamon, anise, cardamom and white rice noodles.
“No one can hold his or her appetite on seeing a bowl of rice noodle soup covered with thin beef pieces, green onions, and Lang basil. The dish gets even more delicious when a few drops of lemon juice, chili and peppers are added to it,” Tuyet said.
The bun bo Nam Bo is an aromatic gift from the southern part of the country. Unlike the flat rice noodles used in pho, the bun (vermicelli ) is round.
Food expert Le Kim Chi said this southern dish is a mix of bun, stir-fried beef, vegetable salad of green bean sprouts, cucumber pieces and basil topped with fried groundnut, fried onions, and sweet and sour vinegar or lemon juice drops.
“The dish is ideal for summer because it not only has a great flavour, but also helps cool down heat inside your body,” Chi said, adding that you need not to go to the south to enjoy this dish. It is available in Ha Noi.
Xoi, another popular dish, is made with glutinous rice that is cooked wither by itself, or with corn, black beans or peanuts.
Nguyen Thi Sang, a resident of Ha Noi’s Hai Ba Trung District, said she buys xoi as breakfast very often, choosing xoi lac (sticky rice with groundnuts) for her grandparents, xoi do xanh (with green beans) for her husband, xoi bap (young corn) for her son and xoi ruoc (salted shredded meat) for her daughter.
Sometimes, they enjoy xoi gac (momordica cochinchinensis) fruit or xoi thit kho tau (Chinese braised pork).
“Each portion of xoi can be as low as VND5,000, suitable for a crowed family like ours. It helps us feel full through the morning, not to mention healthy,” said Sang.
The dish is available in all parts of the country, and many cities now boast xoi chains, even.
Goi cuon (vegetables, shrimp and pork wrapped in rice paper) is a dish that is very popular among locals and foreigners.
The dish is also from the south, originally. Dipping the roll in sweet and sour sauce and chili, makes it a tasty snack or food that is full of different flavours and textures, said food expert Chi.
She said however, that the dish should not be eaten to fill oneself.
The banh xeo ((rice pancake folded in half and filled with shrimp, meat and green bean sprouts) is well known in all the three regions.
Ray said his Australian friends were delighted with the banh xeo they had when visiting Viet Nam.
“ I still remember a shop selling banh xeo in Hue, witnessing the cooks quickly putting the rice powder and its dumpling into a cooking pan over a medium fire and waiting until it turned yellow and well cooked,” recalled Ray.
Having it with fresh salad, cucumber, fresh banana and sour carambola wrapped in rice paper, is really enjoyable, he said, adding that “although it’s a fast food, I can never have enough of banh xeo”.
The final dish in the top six is bun cha (vermicelli and grilled meat) of Ha Noi. The dish enjoyed an extra dose of fame when former US President Barrack Obama had it when he visited Viet Nam last year.
Many eateries in the capital city serve this dish, but one of the tastiest versions can be found at the Quan An Ngon Restaurant chain in Ha Noi, said overseas Vietnamese-American businessman Duong Quang Nghi.
He said the cookers use young fresh and flat bamboo sticks to grill pork on wood charcoal, which gives the dish a special flavour.
“I like the way a waiter gets the grilled cha out of the bamboo sticks and puts it in a bowl with a mixture of carrot and kohlrabi pieces in sweet and sour sauce,” Nghi said.
“For a long time, I have preferred having bun cha for lunch whenever I come here on business trips,” he said.
In fact, the Quan An Ngon chain is a place where all the six dishes can be enjoyed in their original tastes. —
Quan An Ngon restaurants in Ha Noi:
– 18 Phan Boi Chau Street, Hoan Kiem District
– 25T2 Trung Hoa Nhan Chinh, Cau Giay District
– 34 Phan Dinh Phung, Ba Dinh District
– B2R6 Vimcom Royal City, 72A Nguyen Trai, Thanh Xuan District