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Vietnamese Cuisine: The Rich Food Culture of Different Regions in Vietnam

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Vietnam has an incredibly rich food culture that is famous all over the world. Many travel to the country just for a taste of Vietnamese cuisine. Its unique flavors, textures, and smell are results of Vietnam’s rich culture, history, and geography.

Behind the variety of delicacies, is a deep-rooted philosophy that emphasizes a balance of the five elements of taste, sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy. You’ll surely feel the charm of Vietnamese cuisine for yourself on your Vietnam tour. This article will introduce you to Vietnam food culture, characteristics and specialties of different regions.

Vietnamese Food Culture

Vietnamese food culture is deeply rooted in the country’s history and social practices. Meals are not just sustenance. They are communal events where family and friends get together. To prepare and to have Vietnamese foods involve lots of traditions that have been around in Vietnam culture for a long time.

Vietnam cuisine is famous for use of fresh ingredients. There is little use of dairy and oil. You’ll see lots of herbs and vegetables in many dishes. Common ingredients include rice, noodles, fish sauce, soy sauce, fruits, and fresh herbs grown in local areas, such as lemongrass, ginger, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander, Saigon cinnamon, bird’s eye chili, Thai basil leaves.

Usual cooking methods are grilling, stir-frying, and boiling, to keep natural flavors and nutrients of the food.

Vietnam may not be big, but there are many specialties and different culinary traditions across regions. Different cuisines in Vietnamese regions have their own flavors and ingredients.

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Northern Vietnam: Subtle and Balanced Flavors

Northern Vietnamese cuisine is characterized by subtle and balanced flavors. There is a focus on freshwater fish, seafood, and vegetables. Because of the cooler climate in the north, the food there is heartier and less spicy. You’ll see lots of fresh herbs and light broths in the dishes.

1. Pho

Pho is probably the most famous cuisine in Vietnam. This noodle soup is made with clear beef or chicken broth, rice noodles, and a number of herbs. The broth is simmered for hours with bones, ginger, cardamom, until it’s rich and flavorful. There is also vegetarian options with tofu.

Pho is topped with fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, green onions, and comes with lime wedges, chili, and bean sprouts. It has a delicate balance of mixed mild flavors of the meat and herbs. It epitomizes northern Vietnamese cuisine.

2. Bun Cha

Bun cha is a traditional Vietnamese food from Hanoi. They are grilled pork patties and slices over vermicelli noodles together with herbs like mint, basil, lettuce. And the dipping sauce is made from fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and chili. The smoky smell of grilled pork comes together nicely with fresh herbs. The locals like to have bun chas with crispy spring rolls.

3. Cha Ca La Vong

Cha ca la vong is another celebrated Vietnamese cuisine from Hanoi. It’s turmeric-marinated fish pan-fried with dill and spring onions. People usually have it with rice noodles, peanuts, herbs, and a dipping sauce. The combination of dill and turmeric gives it a flavor distinct to northern Vietnamese cuisine.

There are many other dishes from northern Vietnam, include Nem (spring rolls), often filled with minced pork, mushrooms, and vermicelli, and Banh Cuon, steamed rice rolls filled with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms, together with fried shallots and fish sauce. For an authentic food culture experience in northern Vietnam, you can go on a Vietnamese street food tour and try all of these delicacies.

Recommended Northern Vietnam Itineraries:

9 Days North Vietnam Tour with Angkor Wat

9 Days Northern Vietnam Tour to Sapa & Ninh Binh

Central Vietnam: Bold and Spicy

If you’re one for spicy foods, then you must try central Vietnamese cuisine when you travel to Vietnam. It is known for bold flavors and generous use of chili and spices.

This region, particularly the former imperial capital Hue, is famous for a rich culinary heritage and elaborate dishes that reflect its royal history. These dishes include some of the best Vietnamese cuisine. They are usually more complex with strong spicy, salty, and sour flavors.

1. Bun Bo Hue

Bun Bo Hue is a spicy beef noodle soup from Hue. It is complex, flavorful, spicy, very representative of central Vietnamese cuisine. It is made with meaty broth, plenty of lemongrasses, shallots, garlic, fish sauce, and chili oil made from two kinds of spices. And the rice noodles are thick, cylindrical, and round. The beef is tender, and herbs add more freshness to the soup.

2. Banh Beo

Banh beo, or water fern cakes, are small steamed rice cakes topped with minced shrimp, scallions, and crispy fried shallots. These bite-sized treats are enjoyed with nuoc cham (fish sauce-based dipping sauce). It is Vietnamese snack and appetizer. The soft, slightly chewy texture of the rice cakes come together perfectly with the flavors of savory toppings. It’s an important part of Vietnamese street food culture.

Banh Beo Vietnam Food
Bot Chien – Pan-Fried Rice Flour Cakes

3. Mi Quang

Mi Quang from Quang Nam province is known for its turmeric-yellow noodles. People cook it with a bowl of flat rice noodles with flavorsome oils, shrimp, peanuts, quail eggs. Sometimes crunchy roasted peanuts or toasted sesame rice crackers are added. Mi Quang typically comes with fresh greens and a wedge of lime, embodying the central region’s preference for complex flavors.

Central Vietnamese cuisine also includes dishes like Com Hen, a rice dish with baby clams, and Banh It Tran, sticky rice dumplings filled with mung bean paste and pork. Along with spicy and savory flavors, you might also encounter some of the weirdest food in Vietnam here.

Recommended Central Vietnam Itineraries:

7 Days Central Vietnam Tour of Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang

Southern Vietnam: Sweet and Vibrant

Southern Vietnamese cuisine is characterized by common use of sugar and coconut milk. Their diet reflects the region’s tropical climate and abundance of produce. The dishes are often sweeter and more colorful with herbs and vegetables. You’ll also notice influence from Cambodian, Thai, and Chinese food cultures.

1. Hu Tieu Nam Vang

Hu Tieu Nam Vang is a noodle soup with clear and savory broth made from pork bones. The broth has to be simmered for hours for a rich base. In it, is chewy rice noodles usually topped with many ingredients such as shrimp, squid, ground pork, and quail eggs. Fresh herbs and lime wedges are often added too to for a more complex flavor.

2. Banh Xeo

Banh Xeo are savory Vietnamese crepes with a crispy layer of rice batter plus sometimes turmeric powder made on a hot pan. It is filled with shrimp, pork meat, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs. It is a combination of crispy, savory, and fresh.

Vietnam Food - Banh Xeo
Chao – Vietnamese Rice Porridge

3. Com Tam

Com Tam, or broken rice, is a street food in Ho Chi Minh City. It contains protein like grilled pork, beef, or prawns, together with pickled vegetables, cucumber, a fried egg, crispy spring rolls. Make sure you try it with a sauce which is made of fish sauce, garlic, red pepper slices.

Other southern Vietnamese cuisines include Goi Cuon (fresh spring rolls) filled with shrimp, pork, herbs, and vermicelli, and Ca Kho To, caramelized fish in a clay pot. They all speak to the region’s preference for sweet and savory combinations.

Recommended Southern Vietnam Itineraries:

7 Days Classic South Vietnam Tour with Beach Break

9 Days South Vietnam Tour with Mekong Delta & Angkor Wat

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