While traveling to a new country, such as Vietnam, one of the most exciting experiences is trying new cuisine. You may wonder, “Will I like their food? What will be my favorite?” If you’ve been wondering what natives eat in Vietnam, get ready to whet your appetite.
Family meals are part of Vietnamese culture. Each person gets a bowl of rice and then shares a communal bowl of food in the center of the table. Rice is an important part of almost every meal and a main agricultural product for Vietnam.
Most Vietnamese people eat breakfast in food stalls as they make their way to school or work in the morning. At lunch time, while people can order food from street vendors or restaurants, most people go home to have lunch with their families.
Of course, it is usually the wealthy who can afford meat with their meals. In the average home, you will find mostly noodles, vegetables, rice and possibly seafood or meat paired with fish sauce.
Northern Vietnam is more salty, and tends to use more soy sauce than other parts due to their proximity to China. Central Vietnam is more spicy, and Southerners love the sweet. However, typical dishes from all over include stir-fried or boiled pork, fish, and vegetables. A dipping sauce is always included with a meal, as is a soup.
Vietnamese food is extremely healthy and full of variety. Here are some of the best street foods in Vietnam.
- Pho: A noodle soup served with beef or chicken that takes 10+ hours to create the broth base
- Nem Nuong Xa: Meat grilled with lemongrass skewers
- Banh Mi Thit: A sandwich made of a Vietnamese baguette filled with ham, Vietnamese bologna, pickled carrots, cheese, and canned sardines
- Che: This dessert is made from a pudding of sticky rice and beans
For vegetarians, there are endless options of fresh green vegetables and fruits for you to enjoy such as limes, lemongrass, coconut milk, and hot chili. Water spinach, also called morning glory (rau muong), is used often in Vietnamese food in a sautéed form or into thin cut chips eaten raw.
Cabbage is one of the main veggies served in colder weather, while cucumber is an ideal summer vegetable used in Vietnamese sandwiches and salads.
Styles of Cooking
Like many countries, Vietnamese use a variety of styles to cook their food. Many meats are deep fried and then mixed together in a stir fry with vegetables. Grilling the meat over bamboo tubes and often wrapping it in banana leaves and topping with melting lard, peanuts, and onions is another popular method.
When they use a steaming method, food is placed in a steamer-woven bamboo or metal tray for a delicious and healthy meal. Likewise, boiling and stewing meats and vegetables creates fresh soups to easily feed families.
Travel isn’t only a time to try new foods but also new drinks. Green tea is the most common drink. However, for beer lovers, Saigon Special and Hanoi Lager are good choices because imports are pretty expensive.
If you love wine, you have several choices. Ruou is a popular rice wine and contains pickled snake, which is believed to have health giving properties. Fruit wines are easily found in flavors such as orange, apricot, and lemon. Some high country regions like Da Lat, have vineyards and do make their own wine.
The popular dishes served during Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, include:
Banh chung: This is a square rice cake that is rooted deep in Vietnamese culture. It symbolizes gratitude to the Vietnamese ancestors and to sky and earth. The making of banh chung is a slow process that brings families together to tend the fire and spend time together in the process.
Thit kho trung: This braised pork and egg dish represents goodness and happiness. Cooked in a pot for hours, the pork is mixed with garlic, fish sauces, coconut water, and sugar.
Melon seeds: Bite these seeds with your front teeth and get out the delicious middle!
Gio cha: Also called Chả lụa, guests unwrap the banana leaves and find this pureed mean of pork, fish sauce, and black pepper in the center.
Cu Kieu: Fermented vegetables and leeks are created to make pickles which are deliciously paired with braised pork and eggs with fish sauce. Prepared weeks in advance of Tet, it is a traditional food for the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.
Bitter Melon: Often served with fried eggs, but most popularly in bitter melon soup served during the Tet holiday as a sign that happiness will come after the bitterness.
Vietnamese Family Meal Etiquette
In each culture, there are always unspoken rules that are considered respectful and proper. In Vietnam, make sure the oldest person sits and is served first, and make sure you let a family member tell you where to sit.
Always pass the bowls with two hands, and don’t place your chopsticks on the bowl. Make sure you put the spoon in your left hand when you eat soup. It is also polite to eat all the rice on your plate, but leave a little bit of the food.
Eating with chopsticks is a cultural experience, just make sure that you don’t tap your bowl with them as you eat as it is considered rude. Likewise, don’t stick your chopsticks straight into your food and into the air, as this is similar to the way incense is burned for the dead and considered bad luck. Make sure you take small quantities of food for your bowl at a time as overfilling the bowl may be perceived as greedy.
While it is appropriate to always thank your host for a wonderful meal, make sure that if you are the inviter to a meal, that you are prepared to pay for your guest. Keep conversation polite and make sure to listen more than you speak.
If you were wondering what you would eat while in Vietnam, the answer is everything. From soups and sandwiches to authentic Vietnamese rice bowls and grilled meats, you will certainly find multiple options that you love. Be prepared to ask for seconds!