Cuisine in Vietnam

Vietnamese cuisine
Updated 2023-11-19 11:15

If you are traveling to Vietnam, sampling all the delicious cuisine should be a top priority. Read on to discover what to expect and how to navigate dietary restrictions while abroad.

An overview of the Vietnamese cuisine

Vietnamese cuisine is well-known and beloved outside the country for many good reasons. Vietnamese food is regarded as tasty, light but satisfying, and gentle on the stomach. There is generally very little use of dairy and oil, and dishes offer a multitude of flavors, textures, and balance, consisting of starch, protein, and fresh vegetables. It is no wonder that the Vietnamese are considered a relatively healthy and fit nation.

You'll find a lot of dishes comprising ginger, lemongrass, mint, coriander, chili, and Thai basil leaves. A typical Vietnamese meal would include rice or noodles, fish/meat/tofu (grilled, boiled, or stir-fried), raw or pickled vegetables, broth or soup, and fresh fruit or pudding as a sweet finish!

Depending on where you are, there will be local dishes specific to the region. The north generally has less spicy dishes and will take inspiration for more soups, stews, and porridge for their colder weather. Weaving a delicate balance of flavors, you'll enjoy prawns, shrimp, crab, and pork regularly.

The mountainous central landscape of Vietnam is where you'll find the country's spiciest and most colorful food. Meals are complex and often include chili peppers and fish sauce. The central region is one of the only places where you will eat bun bo hue, consisting of a gelatinous square of cow blood.

In the south, fresh fruits and livestock are in abundance. Dishes in the south tend to be sweeter than in the rest of the country. This is attributed to people in the South adding more sugar to their broths or recipes and their coconut milk panache. If you have diabetes, make sure to check your blood sugar regularly, as you may ingest more sugar than you're aware.

Drinking and dining in Vietnam

Vietnam has an eccentric drinking culture, and it is common at any time of day to walk past Wes Lake in Hanoi in the afternoon and find groups of men drinking beer at Bia hoi establishments and playing a board game. The same can be said in the South, where long lunches or team dinners keep BBQ and hot pot restaurants busy every night of the week.

The craft beer scene in Vietnam has exploded in the last decade. You will be able to taste crisp lagers, refreshing red ales, and a mixture of every locally-made brew. There is definitely a craft brewery in almost every large city of Vietnam, and we highly recommend going to check one out. Most of the time, brewers can be found at their tap houses, and you'll get a good drinking buddy if you offer to buy the next round.

Mainly in the North, Vietnamese love to produce their own rice wines, ranging from ingredients like snakes or traditional herbs. The preferred method is to drink this by doing shots, but be warned that the standard proof is higher than 40%.

Vegetarian and vegan food options in Vietnam

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you might be wondering whether you will struggle when moving to Vietnam. The good news is that it is definitely possible to find vegan and vegetarian-friendly options around most of the country.

By nature, there are a number of traditional Vietnamese dishes that do not contain animal products. These are typical dishes that would have meat, but tofu is used as a substitute. In addition, because meat is just part of a meal (and not the hero of the dish as in many Western cuisines), you can simply ask for meat to be left out of a dish, and you will still have a filling meal that remains. In all towns and cities, there will be restaurants and supermarkets catering to the Western diet, too, so you will have plenty of options.

When ordering drinks, specify what you can't have instead of assuming you and the restaurant will have the same understanding. While dairy is not often used in traditional Vietnamese recipes, condensed sweetened milk is a staple. Stay vigilant with coffee orders and smoothie recipes to avoid any surprises.

There are many foreigner-friendly vegetarian and vegan restaurants in the main cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, including iVegan or Kiez Vegan. Do a quick Google search or use Facebook to your advantage and join groups promoting this specific lifestyle in Vietnam.

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