Vietnam: How to eat like a local

One of the reasons we wanted to go to Vietnam was our love of Vietnamese food. This shouldn't surprise you since we booked Cuba upon discovering the amazingness of Cuban sandwiches in Key West. Food played a big part in our Vietnamese adventure, but not strictly Vietnamese food. Let's face it, we don't eat British food every single meal time, every single day.

Our first real taste of Vietnamese food took place in Hanoi's Old Quarter. We arrived in time for dinner so immediately did the first thing the nurse who sorted out our travel jabs told us not to do - eat at a local street food place. I would say that as long as you see locals there, and as long as your food is piping hot, go for it. You'll miss out if you don't. And you'll be denied the pleasure of paying a few quid for a delicious meal.

Crouched on plastic stools we had our first taste of Hanoi spring rolls (we then ordered a second portion), which would become a reoccurring order throughout the trip. And because it would be silly to have merely spring rolls for dinner, we went for a bowl of chicken pho (pho, by the way, is viewed mainly as a breakfast food; hotels will serve it as part of their breakfast offering), and our very own DIY BBQ where you sizzle your meat and veggies on a hot plate (see above). Tasty, cheap as chips, and eaten at the dreadfully-reviewed Quán Ngon Phố Cổ. We had no complaints, and we also never had one upset tummy throughout our entire stay, which speaks volumes about how seriously the Vietnamese take their food

Broth-based dishes are popular in Vietnam and bun cha, pictured above, is a speciality dish of Hanoi. You might remember that photo from a few years ago of Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama eating bun cha in Hanoi? The place we went to is not that place - we ate at Bun Cha Ta - but it is still an excellent place for bun cha, which is basically a yummy broth with grilled pork and noodles. Order with seafood spring rolls and you've ticked off another Hanoi speciality. Fancy another Hanoi dish? Banh goi are fried pork dumplings that look like empanadas, one of the many dishes we enjoyed at Garden House Restaurant later that day.

It's not just soups and street food when it comes to food either. On our last evening in Hanoi we headed to Essence for some fine dining. This was our most expensive meal in Hanoi (pictured above, and also at the top of the post - yes, we ordered more of our favourite Hanoi spring rolls, the fried ones, plus spring rolls in rice paper which tasted super fresh with all the herbs). After a few days perched on tiny plastic stools and ordering from menus with pictures, it felt decadent to eat in a restaurant with three proper courses and wine chilling in a cooler. And by expensive, I mean about a third of the price that we'd pay for a similar meal in London.

Which brings me to Hue, and my favourite Vietnamese dish pre-Vietnam: bun ga Hue. To put it simply - and probably insult Vietnamese food by doing so - it's the spicier version of pho. Ga is the chicken version, but they say that bo (beef) is Huế's regional speciality, so that's what we ordered at Family Home Restaurant (pictured above). That broth is life, what else can I say? In Hue we also ate at Nook (cafe pictured below because I refuse to share a burger picture in a blog post titled: "Vietnam: How to eat like a local"), our first non-Vietnamese food of the trip. With a super cute interior, they have excellent burgers and shakes if you fancy something a bit more western on your travels.

Two hours south of Hue in Da Nang, bun cha ca is one of their specialities. This one, admittedly, wasn't my cup of tea - there is tomato, pineapple, cabbage and bamboo in the broth, with little fishcakes floating around alongside the noodles. Bun Cha Ca only serves bun cha ca, and is very much a locals restaurant - probably why it costs 25,000 dong for a small bowl (85p) or 30,000 dong for a large bowl (£1). With those prices, you're never going to be left out of pocket and starving in Vietnam if you don't like something.

Da Nang has a more international feel about the place, and I think because of its vibe, we were less bothered about seeking out Vietnamese flavours - though we did seek them out in nearby Hoi An. Instead we ate authentic Indian food at Family Indian Restaurant, Italian/Spanish food from My Casa (it's owned by an Italian-Spanish couple), and steak from Olivia's Prime Steakhouse. All very tasty. Top tip: if you're a steak fan and want Wagyu beef at Vietnamese pricing, hit up one of Da Nang's steakhouses. OK, it's not street food prices - of course it isn't - but it's a lot cheaper than ordering Wagyu beef in, let's say, Hong Kong, New York or London.

Hoi An saw us try two different banh mi places for lunch, bánh mì being Vietnam's baguettes which are filled with various delights. We tried Phi Banh Mi and Madam Khanh (chicken banh mi from Madam Khanh pictured above) - both yum and filling, but Phi Banh Mi was a bit cheaper and the service was pleasanter. (It's also less central, but it's not like Hoi An is massive.) A traditional banh mi will set you back 15,000 dong (50p), my chicken banh mi cost 20,000 dong (67p), and the most expensive one on their menu was priced at 35,000 dong (£1.15). We also visited Home Hoi An for dinner which, again, was delicious, filling, and didn't break the bank. There is a pattern here!

Finally, in Ho Chi Minh City we had quirky Japanese pizza from Pizza 4P's - salmon sashimi, teriyaki chicken, and Japanese ginger pork are three pizzas from their menu, to give you an idea of what Japanese pizza entails - and Vietnamese food from Den Long and Rice Field. Both awesome, though Rice Field more so. The only thing I wasn't keen on there was their banh khot - the savoury pancakes pictured above. To me, the batter tasted a bit like uncooked Yorkshire pudding batter. But, their pho was excellent, as was their yellow chicken curry - it goes without saying that their Hanoi spring rolls were superb! We also grabbed a quick pho lunch at Pho Quynh, which was tasty.

And there you have it, some of the dishes and restaurants we enjoyed during our Vietnamese adventure. OK, we didn't exactly eat like locals all of the time, but we did experience some excellent food, and that's the main thing. Are you a fan of Vietnamese food?

No comments