Before moving to Vietnam in 2016 I had no idea that Vietnamese cuisine was so diverse. Sure, I had tried beef pho before, but I knew little to nothing about the complex gastronomy of this colorful country.
I live in Central Vietnam in a small trading village by the beach called Hoi An. In Chinese Hoi An means “peaceful meeting place”, and a peaceful meeting place it is. Northern and southern traditions merge at this cultural frontier; here the bold oriental flavors of the north mix with the light, fresh cuisine of the south.
Although small in comparison to her cosmopolitan neighbor Da Nang, Hoi An offers a large array of dining options for visitors. Delicious local cuisine can be enjoyed at street stalls, riverside hangouts, on the beach, as well as high end restaurants all for very reasonable prices.
If you find yourself in Vietnam (or you’re just looking to broaden your culinary horizons) I suggest trying a few of the following Vietnamese Dishes:
A specialty dish made from wheat noodles in a pork broth, Cao Lau is a unique dish that can only be found in Hoi An. It is said that this regional dish can only be prepared using special water from an ancient bottomless well in Hoi An. It is often served with a bowl of fresh greens to add to the broth as well as fried noodles for a bit of crunch.
Vegetable Rice Curry
Being a largely Buddhist country, there are a plethora of delicious vegetarian options in Vietnam. One of my favorites is the simple vegetable rice curry, usually containing, potatoes, carrots, lentil, and steamed greens. A traditionally southern vietnamese dish, vegetable curries are quick, simple, and not particularly spicy.
A delicious (sort of) vegetarian option, papaya salad is a traditional Vietnamese dish that can be found from Hanoi all the way to Ho Chi Minh City. The perfect papaya salad is all about aesthetic combination: sweet and salty, crunchy and soft, green, and red. Made from shaven unripe papaya and various herbs, the bittersweet mix is paired with a tart fish sauce and topped with fried onions, shrimp and eaten with a shrimp cracker. This delicious salad is refreshing, healthy, and surprisingly filling.
Hoi An is famous for its delicious seafood—in particular fresh squid caught daily by the local fisherman. If you’re relaxing by any beach restaurant you will always see moc on the menu. It can be prepared in almost any fashion: fried, boiled, or raw.
Banh Mi Sandwich
A classic sandwich popular with tourists and locals alike, a bahn mi is the perfect mid afternoon snack. The oblong bread used to make a ban mi is reminiscent of a baguette, a reminder of Vietnam’s French colonial past. The bread is cut into a pocket and filled with delicious meats, spices, steamed vegetables, and fresh greens. I prefer mine with pork or spicy tofu and extra vegetables.