Now that we are in Cambodia we have been craving some of our favorite foods from Vietnam. Though some of it is still offered here in Cambodia, these are some of our favorite Vietnamese dishes and markets.
These are delicious sweet warm puffy buns filled with meat, mushroom, spices and a boiled quail egg. You find them mostly in South Vietnam in special banh baò street carts. The carts have a little glass case with stacks of banh baò and a steamer where they pull the hot ones out after being bought. We were addicted to them and at 10,000 VND ($.50) they made for a great snack and sometimes dinner. One night in Hoi An, by the river and night market, we went to every banh baò cart to try as many as we could, we found out our max was four. So good and so filling!
Vietnamese Pancakes – Banh Xēo
We also found Vietnamese pancakes in the south, mainly Hoi An, which we found to be our Vietnamese food Mecca! The pancakes are made from rice flour, coconut milk, turmeric and some other spices. The pancakes are prepared open face with beef, chicken, shrimp, and veggies. Then, like an omelette, folded over keeping all its fillings inside like a stuffing and leaving a delicious crispy outside. Our favorite pancake also came with dry rice paper accompanied with a bowl of water. Dipping the dry rice paper in the water as to soften the paper like a noodle so you could wrap the pancake with lettuce and mint and have your own fresh spring roll. This dish had a lot of flavor and so maybe not something to fill up on but with other savory plates we had the Vietnamese pancake in almost every dinner at our favorite place.
This is a Hoi An local dish and a must try if you go there. It is a noodle soup, but it has more noodles then broth, which is not normally the case in noodle soup dishes. The thick round noodles, similar to udon, are cooked al dente and layered by a hard cracker, giving the soup an awesome crunchy texture in every bite. Mixed throughout the soup you’ll find big pieces of pork and lots of veggies. Loa Coa had a very nice mix of savory and sweet that we loved and would for sure have again if spotted on the rest of our travels.
Phò is probably one of the most well known dishes of Vietnam. It is a noodle soup and can be made with or without meat and it is found everywhere. Unlike Loa Coa, Phò is a broth base soup with thinner noodles similar to spaghetti but made of rice. We had it at many places from restaurants to street carts, with the street carts being some of the best. There was nothing better to warm you up after a chilly motor bike ride or soggy hike. We ate allot of this in the north!
Beef in Banana Leaf – Bō Nuońg
Bō Nuońg was a dish we loved for not just flavor, but it was also very cheap in a beautiful presentation. The marinated beef was displayed on a vibrant green banana leaf and dotted with sesame seeds. Along side the banana leaf you had an option of steamed or fried rice. We opted for the fried rice most every time since we would find goodies like peas, mushrooms, and carrots mixed in. The marinaded beef and rice was a perfect combo with the Vietnamese Pancake. We would take our pancake with the lettuce and mint, add rice then beef, and then roll it all up in the rice paper like a burrito. This dish on its own was so great and savory! You could get chicken or pork as well, but the beef was so tender when steamed in the banana leaf and perfectly paired with the cold local beer on tap.
Breakfast Rice – Xôi Ngot
This is a great street stall food, when getting off a sleeper bus at the wee hours of the morning. David would always get his egg sandwiches from a cart, but since Morgan couldn’t eat the baguette, she fell for the breakfast rice as a quick bite to eat. The rice is in a giant steamer, where you have the option to get white rice, purple rice with dark almost black beans or yellow rice with red beans. Though the beans give a nice dose of protein, I didn’t particularly like the beans paired with the sugary toppings. The rice is covered in sugar, cinnamon, coconut, nuts and a yellow crumbly cookie like powder. So tasty!
This was another Hoi An local dish. We only had it once, as we found it to be expensive for food that doesn’t fill you up. The dish was presented in a flower shape, with the outside dumplings filled with a meatball and the special inside dumpling was filled with vegetables. Though it was a dish you could find at every restaurant in Hoi An, we did not particularly enjoy the dish, maybe our only time we had the dish it was not the best, but either way the white rose was a pretty presentation.
The pancakes are made with rice flour and are very thin, more like crepes. They are filled with a selection of fruits including; pineapple, banana, mango, or lemon and sugar, and in some places you could add chocolate for a little extra. One of our favorites is the banana and chocolate (that is if it was Nutella) pancake. In the picture there is also a baguette, which comes standard with any Vietnamese breakfast. It was more than the case of our baguette where the French influence showed presence. Morgan also started swapping the baguette with steamed rice, and then adding a little bit of condensed milk on top for a sweet rice pudding like dish. But all in all the pancake was more of a dessert for us since the lacking of our American maple syrup.
Fried Rice and Fried Noodle
Vietnamese make both of these dishes so well and at about a $1 a plate, we ate these a lot. The fried noodles when done well were rice noodles that were fried up in a pan with mixed veggies and made slightly crunchy. Yum! We seemed to always get one of each while trying to save money and having a little variety at the same time. The dish for us just wasn’t complete without some shrimp, chicken, pork, or beef. Our usual was fried rice with pork and fried noodles with chicken. But this classic Asian dish wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t start it out with the other classic, fried spring rolls!
Vietnam has many different types of spring rolls. There are the fresh spring rolls which were filled with fresh veggies and mint, but we preferred the fried ones. In the north the fried spring rolls are almost like a meatball inside. The meat is ground and mixed with spices and then rolled in a rice paper. Very traditional looking. The spring rolls more commonly found in South Vietnam were pieces of meat and veggies wrapped in coconut paper and deep fried. They had an amazing crunch to them. We really miss the spring rolls, our delicious afternoon snacks.
The coffee in Vietnam is as strong as espresso and carries such a beautiful presentation. You order a cup of coffee one of two ways.., Black coffee or white coffee. Black coffee is what it sounds like, but rich, dark, and delicious with a hint if hazelnut. White coffee comes with a bit of condensed milk at the bottom of the cup. When the coffee arrives there is a metal steeper on top of your cup. Inside is the coffee, hot water and the coffee press, then you must be patient and wait. Once all the water has strained and you have your strong cup of coffee, you flip the lid of the steeper upside down on the table and set the whole coffee press on top. Genius and so good!
Thankfully these are just as popular in Cambodia as Vietnam, as this is how we get our daily dose of fruits. Everywhere you go you can order a fresh fruit shake for about $1 and they always use the freshest fruit, none of that frozen stuff. Some of our favorites are coconut, banana, pineapple, strawberry or you can always have them mix up any combo, lately we have been having strawberry coconut.
The food markets in Vietnam were a whole other adventure as well. The vegetable stands had so many shades of green and so many different and unusual looking produce, it was really fun to see. There were also sections for fish, animal innards, chickens and all different cuts of meats. It was always fun to see the Vietnamese doing their grocery shopping.
Tangled in the maze of a massive market in SaPa we stumbled across a handful of matching stalls that carried loads of dried goods. Piled high and well out of reach, the plastic packaging display was something impressive to just look at. We weren’t quite sure what it tasted like but you could buy dried starfish and alligator, we think it must of been for soups or an awesome gift for the right person!
There was also cobra whiskey everywhere….that will put some hair on your chest!
Every now and then we would spot something roasting on a spit. We never indulged on this BBQ pig, but it did look good. The thing was that, at first we thought this was dog since Vietnam is so famous for eating dog, known to them as chō. It must of turned our appetite before we could give it a try. Looking back I think at one point we did eat some “Chō” It was in a food stall in Bat Trang. There was nowhere else to eat except this one tented area. There were no menus and you just said how many you wanted. We unfortunately got two and it tasted awful! Just imagine gamy meat in trash sauce with rice noodle. Truthful Morgan kind of liked it.
In and out of all streets and alleys we would see baby pineapples on display in fruit stalls, on bikes, at bus stops, even just being toted around, they were everywhere. It must of been the season because they tasted as good as they looked. We just didn’t think of it at the time, so we didn’t get the best photos of how cool they really were. It was a genius idea for cutting the fruit and it was something that would be repeated with everyone that was selling. After shaving off a thin first layer, as to just show the inside of the pineapple, there would then be a spiral cut around the fruit to remove the stars of the pineapple. The technique saved every bit of the fruit and left a cool pattern wrapping around the pineapple. In some cases they would even give you a soup flavor packet or some chili salt to season it!
Morgan – I loved the food in Vietnam so much, it was probably one of my favorite things about the country. Back when I was living in New York, I had my favorite Vietnamese delivery place by work and one by my house. However my favorite dish back in the states, bùn bó, I found to be so different in Vietnam. I tried to get it a few times at the start of our trip, but the taste was a lot more sour then in the US and instead of it being a sauce over the rice noodles it was more of a soup. Another very famous Vietnamese dish is the Vietnamese sandwich, bunh mi, but since I couldn’t eat the baguette and David isn’t much of a sandwich guy, we actually never had one, though they could be found every where on street carts. The food culture of Vietnam was truly an amazing experience!
David – Vietnam offered a wide variety of tasty dishes and not just Vietnamese. I would have to admit that I, more than once, indulged in some familiar flavors which you could find on the “Western” side of the menu. My favorite being the cheese burger with a fried egg on top. I don’t think I’ll eat another burger without an egg on it. Such a good combo! But for the most part I did love the Vietnamese food all except that fish sauce that came with everything. It truly smelt like an old trash can and tasted like I had just licked the back side of an old fish. With that being said I should probably finish this on a higher note. My top three would have to be the Vietnamese Pancake, Banh Baò, and those famous Spring Rolls from Hoa’s!