North Vietnam is considered the cradle of Vietnamese culture. And north of Vietnam is also where many of the classic Vietnamese dishes derive from. Pho (rice noodles), banh cuon (rolled cake) and other famous Vietnamese food can find their roots here. Perhaps the most famous Vietnamese dish, Pho is originated here. Food there is less spicy.
Central Vietnam has a distinct flavor of cuisines. Being the Vietnamese Emperors' region brings more fun to the dining table. Instead of one or two dishes being served for a meal, a number of small dishes will be offered. This dining style doesn't change much nowadays, and eating like a king or queen is absolutely something interesting!
South Vietnam Cuisine has been influenced by the world outside. Thanks to the richness of the Mekong Delta, food there is a little sweeter in taste and richer in ingredients. What borrowing from French, Indian, Cambodian and Thailand food makes the southern cuisine a candy for both your eyes and mouth.
Pho: An omnipresent noodle soup, usually with meat.
Nem: Spring rolls with pork, noodles, eggs and mushrooms wrapped in rice paper, sometimes fried and served hot.
Banh chung: Sticky rice wrapped in large leaves and cooked for up to 48 hours, to be eaten cold at any time.
Nuoc mam: Fermented fish sauce, widely used.
Bun cha: Grilled pork with cold rice noodles and a big bowl of salad leaves.
Banh bao: A steamed dumpling typically stuffed with onions, pork and other ingredients.
Com hen: Rice served with clams. Popular in Hue.
Lau: Vietnamese hot pot.
Bia hoi: Fresh beer produced daily and served cold in small, local bars. It is not particularly alcoholic but very refreshing.
Coffee: Vietnam is the world’s second largest producer of coffee and the local brew is usually served with condensed milk.
Tap water is not safe to drink in Vietnam – since bottled water is both cheap and widely available, you shouldn’t need to take the risk anyway. Avoid drinks with ice or those that may have been diluted with suspect water.
Tea and coffee
Tea drinking is part of the social ritual in Vietnam. Small cups of refreshing, strong, green tea are presented to all guests or visitors: water is well boiled and safe to drink, as long as the cup itself is clean, and it’s considered rude not to take at least a sip. Although your cup will be continually replenished to show hospitality, you don’t have to carry on drinking; the polite way to decline a refill is to place your hand over the cup when your host is about to replenish it. Green tea is also served at the end of every restaurant meal, particularly in the south, and usually provided free.
Coffee production has boomed in recent years, largely for export, with serious environmental and social consequences. The Vietnamese drink coffee very strong and in small quantities, with a large dollop of condensed milk at the bottom of the cup. Traditionally, coffee is filtered at the table by means of a small dripper balanced over the cup or glass, which sometimes sits in a bowl of hot water to keep it warm. However, places accustomed to tourists increasingly run to fresh (pasteurized) milk, while in the main cities you’ll now find fancy Western-style cafés turning out decent lattes and cappuccinos. Highland Coffee has become Vietnam’s very own Starbucks-style chain, while out in the sticks you’re best off going for cafés with a Trung Nguyen sign.
In Vietnam, drinking alcohol is a social activity to be shared with friends. You’ll rarely see the Vietnamese drinking alone and never without eating. Be prepared for lots of toasts to health, wealth and happiness, and no doubt to international understanding, too. It’s the custom to fill the glasses of your fellow guests; someone else will fill yours.
Bia Hoi - Roughly forty years ago technology for making bia hoi (draught beer) was introduced from Czechoslovakia and it is now quaffed in vast quantities, particularly in the north. Bia hoi may taste fairly weak, but it measures in at up to four percent alcohol. It’s also ridiculously cheap – between 5000VND and 10.000VND a glass – and supposedly unadulterated with chemicals, so in theory you’re less likely to get a hangover. Bia hoi has a 24-hour shelf life, which means the better places sell out by early evening, and that you’re unlikely to be drinking it into the wee hours. In the south, you’re more likely to be drinking bia tuoi (“fresh” beer), a close relation of bia hoi but served from pressurized barrels. Outlets are usually open at lunchtime, and then again in the evening from 5pm to 9pm.
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