Let me tell you a little about the food we ate in Vietnam. In my opinion, Vietnamese food is among the best in South-east Asia. Unlike Thai food, the use of coconut and coconut milk is sparse, and there is little oyster sauce from Chinese influences, thanks goodness. On the other hand, a lot of fresh herbs, salads and fruit is used, making Vietnamese food generally refreshing and bursting with flavours.
Some visitors experience Vietnamese food as bland, but I think this is just a result of tourist-safe cooking. Vietnamese food always seems to appear in two varieties; one for tourists, one for Vietnamese people. The former can be bland, but I believe the latter won’t ever be.
One of my personal favourites are fresh Vietnamese spring rolls. This is an uncooked rice paper affair, filled with a variety of raw and cooked, hot or cold ingredients. I find it is best when delivered as a do-it-yourself kit. Rice noodles, salad and fresh herbs (including Thai basil, cilantro, mint,Â sorrel) are almost always included. Other ingredients vary and can include fish, prawns, fruit, cucumber, crispy fried spring rolls, grilled pork, beef or chicken, bean sprouts, or just about anything. Chilly sauce, satay-like sauces or soy sauce is typically used for dipping.
Phó is the popular noodle soup. Ingredients and quality varies widely, but Phó normally provides a reliable quick fix for breakfast or lunch, for a dollar or two. Just find a nice eatery, order a bowl of Phó Bo, then add herbs, lime juice an chilly to taste. I like the fact thatÂ Phó is usually served with a large side plate of herbs, lime and chilly so that these are really fresh, not steamed to death in the hot broth, and added to taste.
The list of fish, seafood, poultry and meat dishes is endless. We never ate anything which we didn’t like, but some were of course better than others. A table-top charcoal BBQ event was pretty good fun. Almost anything is served with steamed rice and vegetables. Among the vegetables, morning glory, sautéed with garlic, was especially popular with everybody.
And finally, there’s Vietnamese black coffee. Thick as crude oil and letting any Espresso look pale in comparison, yet delicious thanks to theÂ absenceÂ of any bitter oils.
Did I say I love it? No? OK: I love it.