Some say Vietnam is the culinary gem of Southeast Asia. Others say nutritious food is a must in this part of the world. I say… YES to both!
I grew up in another part of the world, which is well-known for its culinary delights, but Vietnamese food still blows my palate with goodness because of how nutritious, yummy, and surprisingly affordable the food is.
Vietnam is known for its noodle-based dishes. You’re probably aware of that. But did you know that there is more than one kind of noodle served in most Vietnamese eateries? In fact, there are five main noodle types. I have had the privilege to have tasted each and every one of them in different dishes. And in this article, I will share my knowledge of this part of the world’s culinary delicacy.
Before we begin, there’s one thing you need to know about Vietnamese dishes: they are abundantly green. Most of the main dishes come with a big bowl of greens, typically consisting of lettuce and cilantro. And the best part is, you can always ask for more!
Let’s start with the obvious and what is probably the most popular Vietnamese dish worldwide. It’s so popular that some upscale restaurants have turned it into one of the most expensive dishes in the world by adding the best, rarest wagyu meat and—wait for it—edible gold! Of course you won’t find that particular phở all over Vietnam. But even the most regular phở sold at the most humble eatery is still good.
Phở, pronounced “fuh,” is a type of rice noodles that are white and distinctively flat and soft. A phở dish is usually served with a fair amount of hot, clear broth, beef, bean sprouts, and the obligatory bowl of greens. One regular phở dish, like phở bò (phở with beef) pronounced “fuh bha,” usually costs 25,000 VND (approximately 1.1 USD).
Bún is generally known as rice vermicelli. Like phở, it is made of rice, but it is round and smaller, which gives bún dishes a different texture compared to pho dishes. The most popular bún dish in Vietnam is bún chả, which is bún noodles served with grilled pork in a sweet and sour, spicy broth. The locals love their food spicy, so if you can’t handle the heat, you should ask your dish served without any chili pepper.
Chả literally means processed meat, mostly minced and meatball-like. So, you’ll often see this word on the menu. If it stands alone, it usually means pork. But if it is followed by another word, such as chả cá, it refers to other kinds of meat; in this case it means processed fish such as a fish cake.
What’s most distinguishable about bún chả, besides its flavorful braised pork, is the way the noodles are served. Instead of putting the noodles in the broth, they are served separately to maintain their freshness as you eat. You can eat the noodles separately as you would rice, or you can put them in the broth immediately before you eat them. Don’t forget those greens! Like phở dishes, a bowl of bún chả usually costs 25,000 VND (approximately 1.1 USD).
You’re probably familiar with this type of noodle due to its similarity to Japanese udon noodles. Unlike most noodles in Vietnam, bánh canh is made of wheat flour, so the noodles are yellowish. You won’t find dishes with bánh canh very often in Vietnam, as it is the specialty of one town: Hội An. UNESCO lists Hội An as one of the World Heritage Sites, so it’s definitely worth a visit.
The most popular bánh canh dish is cau lầu, pronounced “cow low.” It is usually served with roasted pork, greens, some crackers on top, with a little bit of broth in the bottom just to keep the noodles juicy. A bowl of cau lầu usually costs 25,000 VND (approximately 1.1 USD).
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Like bánh canh, mỳ noodles are made of wheat flour, but they are mostly white and flat, like phở noodles, just thicker and chewier. So, it should come as no surprise that mỳ dishes are more filling than most Vietnamese noodle-based dishes. And the texture of the noodles is not the only reason why.
The most popular mỳ dish in Quảng Nam Province is mỳ quảng. Besides the always-available greens, this dish is served with rich, thick broth, your choice of meat, crushed peanuts, and my personal favorite, sesame rice crackers or bánh tráng mè (pronounced “bun chung meh”). The most popular choice of meat is, without a doubt, pork with shrimp and quail eggs. Yum!
If you’re in Quảng Nam Province, you can find a good mỳ quảng dish for just 15,000 VND (approximately 0.65 USD).
Like bánh canh to Japanese udon, miến is commonly found in Chinese and Southeast Asian dishes. Miến, pronounced “mehn,” is cellophane noodles made of starch. It has distinctive thin and transparent appearance.
Not many dishes in Vietnam use miến noodles as they are Southern Vietnam’s specialty. I found it unexpectedly in Huế on a local specialty dish called bún riêu cua (pronounced “boon dzyu kwa”), which is served with pork and crab meat in thick seafood broth. Like most noodle-based dishes in Vietnam, bún riêu cua costs around 25,000 to 30,000 VND (approximately 1.1 to 1.3 USD) a bowl.
Full of taste, full of nutrition
If there’s a reason why you should keep coming back to Vietnam, it should be the food. It is not hard to find good quality food in this country. And it is fun to try out all different kinds of dishes, especially the noodle dishes. Not to mention that the meals are very low cost!
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