Monday, 7 March 2016

5 Vietnamese food must haves

Having decided to do a little detour through more of SE Asia before our big hop to the other side world, I was absolutely over the moon that this diversion enabled me to sample some real Vietnamese food.

The closest I've ever come to chowing down on some proper Vietnamese grub is on the Kingsland Road, and in all honesty, none of those restaurants really compare.

So after trying out many of the classics from North, Central and South Vietnam, here's my top 5 must haves:

1. Bun cha
By far my favourite dish is the guiltily indulgent, bun cha. This sweet meets savoury dish can leave you feeling that you've eaten a healthy 5 a day meal with the mountainous herbs and salad served alongside, whilst also feeling that the pounds will pile on with the sugary sauce cum soup, BBQ pork belly and pork patties.

This northern Vietnam dish, bun (meaning rice noodle) cha (meaning BBQ pork) requires some DIY food prep. Traditionally you will be served a bowl of rice vinegar, honey and fish sauce with pieces of root veg and meat held within (in some cases you add in yourself). On a separate dish comes your mountain of rice noodles and greens (purple basil, mint, coriander, lettuce...) You simply add it altogether in the sauce and dig in! Delish!

2. Bahn mi
We British love a sarnie, and thanks to the French, the Vietnamese do too! Wonder down any street in Vietnam, particularly in the South, and you'll find little glass vending stalls with "bahn mi" written in yellow or red writing. Within the windows of this mobile stall are crispy baguettes, sausages, sauces, veg and pate(!)

With the added ingredient of rice flour, these make for crispier breads than a typical French stick, but still with the fluffy insides. For a typical bahn mi, your vendor will slice the bread almost in half, butter with mayo, layer on the pate, throw on a couple of slithers of pork sausage, veg, chilli sauce (if you like!) and fingers crossed a tonne of coriander!!

It's a great on-the-go snack, costing around 50p and eaten anytime of day.

3. Egg coffee
I'm not sure whether I should count this as a drink or dessert, but egg coffee should be on any coffee lovers list. Vietnam has a fantastic coffee rep, and rightly so. Often strong, punchy and sometimes from an animal's arse (wiki weasel coffee), it's a great way to perk yourself up after devouring a hefty amount of Vietnamese street food.

Egg coffee is thick and creamy, made with in fact the yolk, and best consumed (eaten/drank) with a spoon. Thanks to Vietnamese coffee's aromatically strong taste, it doesn't get overburdened from the creamy yolk. Also, FYI, I'm told chicken egg is better than duck...

4. Bahn xeo
Another DIY Vietnamese foodie treat, requiring you to well and truly get your hands dirty. The bahn xeo varies between regions in Vietnam, but the basics are a crispy pancake with pork and shrimp and bean sprouts placed inside, and served to you folded in half. You then take your pancake, unfold add a load of greens, fold again and wrap in rice paper and dip into a rice vinegar, fish sauce and sugar / honey sauce, whilst the contents drips down your fingers, hands, arm...

Depending on where you are in Vietnam, your pancake could be large or small, wrapped in rice paper or lettuce (or both!), or served with chunky BBQ satay pork. The main thing is dive in and pack as much greens in as you possibly can!

5. Pho
Most of you will be no stranger to the often mispronounced famous Vietnamese dish pho. This popular dish leaves many a local either confused or amused, following a strangely confident order of a road - "fo" - rather than a noodle soup - "fuh", which even when knowing the correct pronunciation I still struggle with.

As with many dishes in south east Asia, pho can be eaten at any time of day, and is a preferred breakfast choice for many Vietnamese owing to the easily digestible slim ribbon noodles. Many are hit and miss, but when you hit one with a strong meaty broth, the flavour is awesome!

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

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