At this point in my life, I can finally laugh about the amount of weight I gained while traveling. On the other hand, when I got home from my three month trip and none of my jeans fit, I was not as "easygoing" about the situation......
One of the most exciting parts of traveling that you CANNOT miss out on is trying new foods! (I only gained weight because i “tried” pad thai 4 times a day). For me, there was something really exciting about ordering something off an all Vietnamese menu and not knowing what would appear in front of me. For others, I can see how not knowing what to order in a new place can actually be a scary part to traveling (especially if you have allergies or are a vegetarian/vegan).
So first, let me start this blog by saying, no matter what you order in Vietnam, you can always be assured that the ingredients are going to be FRESH. Extremely fresh. That is something you never have to question. The fruits and vegetables you eat were just bought that morning at the market and the meat in your meal is from an animal that might have been killed that very day. You don't even have to worry about preservatives or antibiotics in your food like you do in America! [A word of caution though... Just because the ingredients are fresh does not guarantee the actual FOOD is fresh. Some street vendors leave their food sitting out all day and still try to sell it to you. So make sure when you are buying street food, you only buy food that was made in front of you or is still hot!]
Whether you plan on going to Vietnam in the near future or you're just in the mood to read about food, here is a comprehensive list of Danielle and I's favorite Vietnamese dishes!
1. Banh mi
A delicious, freshly baked loaf of bread stuffed with pickled vegetables, cilantro, a fried egg, grilled pork (optional), and topped with a spicy sauce. Banh mi's are usually eaten for breakfast and can be found all over Vietnam (but are the best in Ho Chi Minh!).
Banh mi in Hoi An
Although you might already know what Pho is, but you may not know that it is usually eaten for breakfast in Vietnam. My favorite is beef pho - pronounced pho bo in Vietnamese. When you order pho in Vietnam, you will notice they put the soup broth in the bowl first and then put raw meat in the soup right after and it cooks in the bowl. They then give you plates of ginger leaves, limes, sprouts, and hot peppers for you to add to your soup. Pho can be found everywhere in Vietnam.
Pho from Ho Chi Minh
3. Spring rolls
I am a little emotional right now typing about spring rolls because I miss them so much….
When ordering spring rolls, you need to make sure you specify which type you want; fresh or fried. I personally am obsessed with the fried spring rolls because I never have to worry about getting sick from them because they are cooked in hot oil. But when I'm at nice restaurants, I love the fresh ones as well.
Spring rolls (to really simplify it) are the equivalent of an egg roll, but 100% better. You will usually be given the option of ordering vegetarian spring rolls or pork spring rolls. [And if you're really lucky, you might even get a surprise fish spring roll if you order them from a street vendor...That definitely happened to Danielle and I on more than one occasion]
Ordering spring rolls is a must on your trip to Vietnam!
Fried spring rolls from Ho Chi Minh
Fresh spring rolls from Hanoi
4. Banh Xeo
Banh Xeo translates in Vietnamese as “pancake”. This dish actually turned out to be one of my favorite foods in all of Vietnam but sadly, I only discovered it towards the end of my travels.
When you order Banh Xeo, you are given a plate with rice paper, a pork/shimp omelette that looks like a cut up pancake, greens, pinapple (if you're lucky), and spicy sauce. From there, you essentially make your own roll up and dip it in the spicy sauce. My favorite Banh Xeo was from Hanoi!
Danielle was recently told by her homestay dad that Banh Xeo (pronounced zzz-ow) was named because that is the sound the egg makes as it hits the oil in the pan as it is being made...zzz-ow). Interesting.
Banh Xeo from our favorite little place in Hanoi
5. Bun Cha
This dish can be found all over Vietnam. If you hear Vietnamese talking about a barbecue, this is one of the dishes they might be referring to. Bun Cha is simply cold noodles in a sweet sauce with barbecued meat on top. A simple meal, but very delicious!
Image from http://www.hanoistreetfoodtour.com/bun_cha.html because I would always eat this meal too fast to take a picture of it!
6. Cao Lau
This was Danielle's favorite dish but unfortunately, you can only find it in the middle of Vietnam. Our favorite Cao Lau was found in Hoi An!
Similiar to Pho, Cao Lau is a soup-like dish that is usually served for breakfast. The bowl is made up of thick rice noodles with strips of pork. The dish also contains pork-rind croutons, bean sprouts, mint, and sometimes peanuts!
Cao Lao in Hoi An
7. Com Tam
This is a mostly rish dish with barbecued pork and a fried egg on top. What more could you need?
Com tam from Hanoi
8. Bot Chien
God's gift to the Vietnamese is Bot Chien. We recently discovered Bot Chien while in Saigon. This dish is made with fried potatoes, egg and green onion. Bot Chien is served with a small bowl of vinegar sauce that you can drizzle over the hot dish as well...delicious! It is also usually served with a green papaya salad on the side. It is the perfect Vietnamese savory snack!
Bot Chien from Ho Chi Minh
Picky eaters, don't fret! No matter where you are in Vietnam, there will always be restaurants with Western food and simple Asian foods like vegetable/chicken fried rice or fried noodles if you do not feel like stepping out of your comfort zone with new foods.
If you ARE feeling adventurous and want to try foods even more obscure than the ones listed above, Vietnam is the right place for you! There are PLENTY of new things for you to try (I still have no idea what some dishes are even after spending a month there). Here are a few of the new foods Danielle and I tried while we were there.
ACTUAL LITERAL chicken fingers in Hanoi (YES, you eat the toenail. NO, I am not kidding)
Proof of Danielle actually eating a chicken finger (TOENAIL AND ALL)
Me eating cow stomach (or brain - we are not entirely sure) that this nice old lady added as a surprise to my pho
Although I think Danielle and I did a fantastic job of going out of our comfort zones and trying new foods, here are some foods we did not have the courage to try. May the odds be ever in your favor if you do end up trying them...
Whole birds on skewers in Sapa.
Currently still trying to figure out what these are.