The Vietnamese cuisine
If you are traveling or moving to Vietnam, you are probably at the very least curious about the cuisine and wondering what to expect.
Vietnamese cuisine is well-known and loved around the world, and for good reason. The food is typically 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 flavours, textures, and balance. Comprising of starch, protein, and fresh vegetables, it is no wonder that Vietnamese cuisine is regarded as a relatively healthy and fit nation.
Popular flavours found in typical Vietnamese dishes include ginger, lemongrass, mint, coriander, chilli, 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 desserts to top it off!
Depending on where you are, there will be local dishes specific to a region. The north generally has less spicy dishes, with a delicate balance of flavours, and often include seafood such as prawns, shrimp, and crab. With its mountainous surroundings, central Vietnam is where you’ll find the spiciest and most colourful food in the country. Meals are complex and often include chilli peppers and shrimp sauce. The south is home to an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as livestock. Dishes in the south tend to be sweeter relative to the rest of the country, and this is often due to the use of coconut milk.
Wherever you go, expect rice to be a part of the meal. A lot of it!
Vietnam has an eccentric drinking culture and this is seen as an innocent pastime of both locals and expats alike. Walk past any lake in Hanoi in the afternoon, for example, and you will find groups of men drinking the light beverage at Bia hơi establishments and playing a board game. Vietnam also produces strong rice wine, as well as whiskey made from sugarcane.
If you are vegetarian or vegan you might be wondering whether you will struggle when travelling 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.
Tips for vegans
Other animal products to watch out for are fish sauce, small shrimps that get added to some meals, as well as fried/boiled eggs. Dairy does not feature often.