Vietnam Street Food
If I posed the question, what are your first images of Vietnam? Chances are it would be the fresh cuisine. One of the truly delightful joys of wandering the hems and sidewalks of town is discovering the taste sensations of the city. Vietnam is quite provincial, with every region creating their own specialties, and this is certainly evident with the amazing variety of street foods and coffee on offer in Dalat. Many of Vietnam’s classic signature dishes are served in these little eateries, the quality high and the price low. Noodles form the basis of a great number of these dishes, so to help Dalat visitors get an insight into the more popular varieties we have described them below in greater detail. But remember one tip. Always look for where the locals eat. They know where to go!
1. Bún thịt nướng
A dry noodle dish rather than the previous soups, this is a real
favorite of many Western expats. It is traditionally a breakfast and dinner dish, filling, tasty, easy to prepare and available in many street stalls. It isn’t as common as some of the soup dishes and the reader may have to look for it. A good start is the streets around the Xom Moi market where a number of places make it as do nearly all the stalls above the market itself. It is a cold dish based on white vermicelli noodles, grilled marinated pork, spring rolls, shredded lettuce, peanuts, sprouts, cucumber and fresh herbs. The pork and spring rolls are cut into smallish pieces and the dish dressed with Nuoc Cham, a tasty dipping sauce. The result is a beautiful, fresh, slightly spicy and healthy dish.
2. Bánh mì
The humble sandwich may have been ‘invented’, or at least
made famous by John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich in England in 1762, when he asked his butler to bring him some meat in 2 slices of bread, but the Vietnamese have made it their own art form. It is known as Bánh mì and is a firm favorite of both locals and visitors due to its simplicity and the fact it is just plain good! Bánh mì comprises a long, thin bread roll, or baguette, filled with uniquely local ingredients. There are no hard and fast rules as to what is to be used, and it varies from place to place across the country. In Nha Trang, Bánh mì stalls are everywhere, both within the tourist hub and in local areas. Pate, pork, chicken, sausage, pickled vegetables, green herbs such as coriander, tomato, carrot, cucumber, chilli and sauces plus much more can be included and it is easy to customize your own as it is being prepared. It originated during the French colonial days where the French were fond of filling their baguettes with butter and pate, but after they left in the 1950’s the locals started to add their own ingredients until it evolved into what we see today. Such is their quality and popularity, several internet travel sites have given the humble Bánh mì the accolade of being one of the world’s great street foods! A big call indeed, but warranted. In fact, Lonely Planet has described it as “The World’s Best Sandwich” and Concierge.com, “The World’s Best Street Food”! And at a street stall it will cost you around VND20,000!
Without question, Vietnam’s best known dish. It is knownacross the globe and is even celebrated on T shirts. One can find it served everywhere, from street stalls to 5 star resorts and there is a reason for its popularity. It’s great!Pho, pronounced “fur” is a noodle soup based on beef (bò),chicken (gà) or pork (heo) and is usually served in large widebowls with plates of accompanying ingredients. The secretlies in the broth and every stall owner will have their own special recipe. The dish will often be served with just the broth beef and noodles and the customer adds the sprouts and other ingredients such as chilli, so a seasoned Pho eater can customize the dish to their own taste. The princely sum of VND35,000 will buy you the national dish!
4. BÁNH CĂN
Based on a rice flour and water batter, this is more a cake than a pancake of the Southern Central provinces. It is popular and easily identified by the unique cooking method on the street. A large clay “wheel” full of round holes in which removable molds are placed is a common sight across Dalat. The batter is poured into these hot molds, the contents baked quickly and with remarkable efficiency and topped with a wide range of ingredients. Pork, large shrimp, eggs, green onion and even tiny “jelly prawns”, a small seasonally abundant species, can be used. In fact it is a dish constrained only by the imagination and ingenuity of the cook. It would be a real “hit” and novel talking point among friends and family at a gathering or party. If you find yourself walking past a Baùnh caên street stall, stop, spend some time observing their production and try them. It is very cheap, around VND5,000 each, will be served with several sauces and only takes a couple of minutes. Fast food at its best and not a greasy burger in sight!
5. BÁNH XÈO
Pronounced “Banh Sao”, literally translated means “sizzling
cake” describing the sound it makes as the batter meets the hot fry pan. These savory rice pancakes are based on a rice flour, water and turmeric (for color) batter stuffed with a variety of fillings which may vary depending where you go. But typically slices of pork, shrimp, squid, green onion, bean sprouts, mint leaves and other herbs and even quails’ eggs are commonly used. A side dish of a special dipping sauce is served which adds a hint of spiciness to a beautifully simple and tasty meal. The many upmarket restaurants serving Baùnh xeøo are, not surprisingly, a hit with visitors, and small local places specializing in it can be found across town as it is a local favorite as well. This is a great dish to share with a group of friends at a small eatery in the back streets. It is cheap at around VND20,000 and quick to prepare so it is just a case of ordering more until you have had your fill!
6. BÚN BÒ HUẾ
Like Pho Bo this dish is a traditional beef noodle soup, buT that is where the similarity ends. To an experienced eater of Vietnamese food these dishes are poles apart! Named Bún (noodle), Bò (beef) Huế (it originated in the city Hue) it is a balance of sweet, spicy and salty elements and uses lemongrass as one of the dominant flavor items. The broth is made using beef bones and shanks with lemongrass, and then red chilli oil is added later in the process. The beef is in thin slices and congealed pigs’ blood is also often used. Remember, if this doesn’t appeal ask for it not to be included. Fermented shrimp sauce, sugar, green onions, raw sliced onions, banana blossom, red cabbage and various leafy herbs are all part of the recipe along with bean sprouts. Usual cost is about VND35,000.
7. CƠM TẤM
Cơm Tấm (Broken Rice) is a dish based on broken grains ofrice left over after the drying and milling process. The grains,being broken are much shorter than normal, and the Saigon people have developed special dishes based on it, hence the commonly used name, Cơm Tấm Saigon. Typically, it can beserved with a variety of toppings such as grilled pork (Sườn nướng), steamed pork and egg quiche (chả trứng), or fried egg (ốp la) plus garnishes such as spring onions, mint and lime. Side dishes such as a thin broth, pickled vegetables,tomato, cucumber, chilli and a dipping sauce are commonly served. Look out for the signs on the street stalls which tell what dishes are offered and give Cơm Tấm a try. As with all Vietnamese street food, it is cheap, tasty, fresh and healthy. Expect to pay about VND25,000.