Before I write about Hue and Ho Chi Minh City, I wanted to make everyone hungry. I traveled to Vietnam ready to eat and I had a list of recommendations from Princeton in Asia fellows living in country, so I was ready to go (see the end of this post for a full list of restaurants and addresses).
Vietnamese food is full of fresh herbs and vegetables, so it was a terrific break from the deep fried fare of Indonesia. On our first day in Hanoi we stopped by Quan An Ngon (18 P Phan Boi Chau). This was a wonderful place to sample many different street foods without the potential dangers that come with eating on the street. Up first was a delicious Vietnamese version of papaya salad topped with plenty of peanuts and a nice tangy dressing with hints of fish sauce. I’ll be trying to recreate this dish at home.
Next we tried a lotus root dish. Lotus root is meaty and when combined with shrimp and other ingredients in a sweet dressing it’s hard to distinguish it.
Any trip to Vietnam isn’t complete unless many portions of spring rolls are eaten. We tried streamed rolls (below) and wrapping our own rolls (photo at the top of the post). The fresh spring rolls we wrapped included pieces of star fruit and banana as well as shrimps, greens and a nice dipping sauce. Most American grocery stores now carry spring roll wrappers in their Asian food sections.
For dessert we were inspired by the young trendy Vietnamese girls sitting next to us. They had all ordered an iced chestnut dessert drink with plenty of jellies mixed in. It was a good choice and the creaminess of the coconut milk and ice worked well even on such a humid day.
I wanted my parents to try some “alcoholic” rice at some point during their trip and I was delighted to find out that Vietnam has a version as well. In Indonesia the rice tends to be fine grain and dyed a pastel color and it’s heavy on the booze. The Vietnamese version was heartier and it packed an even greater punch. Doesn’t it look so innocent?
We finished our meal off with a sticky rice pancake. This dish was not very sweet so it was a nice final pick.
Vietnam’s French colonial past is echoed throughout Hanoi. From the buildings to the food, the French managed to leave their mark. When I saw the menu at Green Tangerine (48 P Hang Be), I was intrigued by the combination of Vietnamese ingredients and French recipes. The meal was the most expensive we had in Hanoi (around $15 each) but it was worth it. I had a local fish cooked in a passion fruit sauce that was placed on a bed of risotto which had been cooked in a local rice wine and then wrapped in local greens. All I can say is wow. And the atmosphere isn’t bad either.
Another restaurant we enjoyed in Hanoi was the chain Highway 4 (3 P Hang Tre). We ordered the catfish spring rolls which were stuffed with dill and a little bit of creamy filling. They came with a heavier sweet soy dipping sauce and they were quickly gone.
We tried a banana flower salad. But with the dressing, it was hard to really taste the flowers. The dried beef bits on top were delicious.
Fried rice is one of those dishes that is completely different in every country in Asia. We tried a vegetable fried rice with cabbage and it felt light and it was very tasty. Very different from Indonesian fried rice and more Chinese fried rice I had in Hong Kong.
Squid? Pineapple? Peppers? I say yes to all three and you should too if you are ever in Vietnam.
Pho is one of the better known Vietnamese dishes in the US. The soup is a popular breakfast choice in Vietnam and the flavorful broth, noodles and meat make for a filling dish but you still feel good after. Every pho is different. Hanoi pho was different from Hue pho (pictured below). In fact all the food in Hue was unique because there once lived a very picky emperor who had dishes made to suit his tastes, so the cuisine differs from the rest of Vietnam and I had never encountered any of the versions in the US.
Anh Binh (65 D Vo Thi Sau) was recommended by Lonely Planet as a great place to try Hue cuisine. I’m not sure if the restaurant wasn’t the best, if I’m not a huge fan of Hue cuisine, or if it was a combination of the two, because to me noting really stood out. We ordered the Hue version of steamed banana leaf shrimp rolls and they were very greasy.
The noodles with shredded crab were decent, but again I wasn’t going crazy over any of it.
Ho Chi Minh City
Luckily the next day we arrived in Ho Chi Minh and headed to Nha Hang Ngon (160 D Pasteur). This was another great place to try many different dishes so we went at it starting with some traditional shrimp spring rolls:
Next we tried broken rice with pork. The rice used actually has broken granules. The pork was well cooked and the sauce that came with it added a nice zing.
Oh, Vietnam. You do coffee and you do it well. Who knew I would love condensed milk so much?
Delicious banana cake:
Black rice with coconut cream — I could eat this every day:
After many days of full on Vietnamese food, we decided to go for a classic French dinner at Augustin (10 D Nguyen Thiep). The duck in a ginger spice sauce was delicious and after so many months in Indonesia it was a blessing to see goat cheese again.
And if you want a sweet bite, there are plenty of bakeries in Ho Chi Minh. Including one with delicious passion fruit cheese cake right across the street from Augustin.
The hustle and bustle of markets always makes me feel at home and makes me want to cook. So I leave you with some shots from the streets of Vietnam. Happy eating!
Where to Eat
-Quan An Ngon (18 P Phan Boi Chau). A great place to try street food from all over Vietnam in a restaurant setting. Open for lunch and dinner.
-Green Tangerine (48 P Hang Be). Set in the courtyard and inside an old French colonial house, this place has plenty of old Hanoi charm and a delicious French-Vietnamese menu. On the pricier side.
-Highway 4 (3 P Hang Tre). Tasty Vietnamese fare, plus they make their own alcohol.
-Anh Binh (65 D Vo Thi Sau). Lonely Planet recommended place to taste Hue cuisine, wasn’t very impressed.
Ho Chi Minh City:
-Nha Hang Ngon (160 D Pasteur). Terrific place to sample many different Vietnamese dishes.
-Hoa Tuc (74/7 DL Hai Ba Trung). Modern take on Vietnamese dishes with fresh ingredients in a cool little courtyard area that was a former opium den.
-Augustin (10 D Nguyen Thiep). Traditional French cuisine with some Vietnamese spins.