Distinctive and unforgettable – this is a common reaction by those trying Vietnamese food for the first time. Vietnamese food is based on a delicate balance of flavours; sweet, sour, salty and spicy. This concoction is the result of carefully mixing nuoc mam (basically a fish sauce which has been fermented), cane sugar, kalamansi citrus juice, tamarind and chilli.
Vietnamese food uses healthy helpings of fresh herbs and vegetables, but dishes are generally not too spicy, as normally hot chilli sauces are provided separately so you can add according to your own taste. The growth in popularity of Vietnamese cuisine in the UK in recent years has been helped by the growing number of outlets providing authentic Vietnamese food.
Here are 6 Vietnamese dishes you must try, whether on the street or at an excellent Vietnamese restaurant London offers:
- Banh mi
This sandwich (baguette) is stuffed with various fillings such as omelette or paté. The Bahn mi baguette has to be one of the most copied Vietnamese dishes in the world.
- Goi cuon
This is probably the most well-known food to people outside Vietnam; wafer-thin spring rolls typically stuffed with healthy greens, and a wide range of fillings including minced pork, crab or shrimp, and coriander; often accompanied by a bowl of mint or lettuce.
Popular variations include barbecued pork strips with star fruit and green banana, accompanied by a peanut sauce dip.
- Banh xeo
An enormous pancake – inexpensive and very filling, this Vietnamese pancake is typically made with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and egg fried together and then made into a wrap using rice paper, and served with green vegetables, and dipped in spicy sauce.
- Bun cha
This dish is a specialty originally from Hanoi. It’s an extremely popular dish served by street vendors across London. It looks like a very small beef burger – but the small pork patties are actually charcoal barbecued and usually come on a bed of rice noodles, accompanied by a light sweet sauce and green vegetables.
For the Vietnamese, Pho is a staple part of the daily diet. Traditionally a breakfast dish, it is frequently consumed at various times throughout the day. Various versions exist, but the basic Pho is a broth (chicken, pork or beef) with added coriander and ginger, with flat wide rice noodles, and spring onions.
- Cao lau
This mouthwatering dish comes from central Vietnam originally. A bowl full of thick rice-flour noodles, with pork-rind croutons and bean sprouts, all in a soup lightly flavoured by star anise and mint, with thin pork slices, and a topping of thin crispy rice paper or grilled rice-flour crackers.
Whichever Vietnamese dish you choose to try, you’re sure to be in for a superb taste sensation that is distinctive and extremely memorable.