Vietnam is the land of noodles. In the markets, noodles come in varying shapes, lengths, colours and sizes, all for specific purposes. My favourite came to be rice noodles (in Bun Thit Nuong), but all the noodles are pretty tasty. Sometimes it was a case of ordering ‘one noodle’, and seeing what came, other times you got an entire menu of noodle madness. Here are some of the big dishes…
Cau Lau is something found mostly in the south, and is centred around Hoi An. It’s thick chewy noodles, wheaty like brown pasta, sitting in a little sauce. It’s then topped with crispy rice crackers, shreds of pork and lots of greens. James wasn’t a big fan but I love thicker noodles, and the sauce was damn saucy.
Pho is the internationally celebrated national classic. These are available all over Vietnam, but mostly in the north. The base is a light stock of who knows what, then there are noodles and sometimes a meat. On the side, are your flavours. This usually comes in the form of a massive basket of leaves, sometimes with nuts, lime and occasionally sugar. Add cinnamon basil, lemon basil, Thai basil, mint, bean sprouts, green onion and all kinds of leafy flavours. The final product is a healthy, filling, incredibly morish dish.
Fresh & Fried spring rolls
Forget the spring rolls in your weekly Chinese takeaway, Vietnamese spring rolls are entirely different. Instead of the brown crispy paper, they use translucent rice paper, which is thinner and softer. The filling varies too, with most of them being noodle, pork and simple veg combinations. The rolls are either fried, to give a hot crispy roll, or made fresh. The fresh ones are slightly chewy, with a clean delicate taste. Expect prawns, pork, rice noodles, and leafy greens. Add a peanut soy dip and voi-la, Vietnamese snacking perfection.
Beef noodle soup
A breakfast staple, with many alterations, the beef noodle soup is everywhere. It does what it says on the tin really. Noodles sit in a delicious stock, topped with herbs, slices of beef and served with a pot of chilli on the side. Beef (not always sure it was actual beef), doesn’t sit well with me most days, let alone in the morning, but eating around it the soup is surprisingly breakfast. It’s savoury, but the right kind, with noodles that fill you for the mornings activities. Speaking of noodles, here they tend to be ordinary white noodles, but vary a lot.
Not a noodle fan? This pancake is made of rice milk, rice flour, sauces and spice. Slow cooked on a high heat (it doesn’t burn, really), it’s crispy but not greasy, with all the flavours melting together. An added surprise, the salas is folded into the cooked pancake, and then the whole thing is wrapped in dry rice paper. Good for those who are noodle-full, and bloody good food for everyone else.
White Rose (wantons)
These are generally found in the central region, particularly in Hoi An, and resemble a Chinese wanton. Instead of the pork or fish flavour, these parcels are a complex mixture of swet salty sharp and smooth, and in typical Vietnamese style they delicate and delicious. Try your chopstick skills on these!
A baguette? A ban mi? Same same but different. A ban mi is a bread loaf, roll, or baguette, filled with all the beautiful flavours of Vietnamese cuisine. It usually includes a barbecued meat, some salsa leaves and then seasoning. Sometimes the meat is a pate type thing instead of barbecue, sometimes the mi is soft not crispy, and sometimes there’s a surprise ingrdient unique to the chef of that little stall (I had mint once, mmm!). A ban mi is Vietnamese tradiation, mixed with a hint of its French past, giving both delicate moreish flavour and the oh so good baguette.
Noodle roll soup dip
The dish is deconstructed into three parts, similar to some noodle soups, where the noodles are dipped into the liquid yourself. The noodles here weren’t noodles, they were sheets of unshredded noodle, pulled from a hot pot of steam. It was spread flat, filled with mushroom bits and rolled like a giant pancake. They were then cut into sausages and paired with the soup. I only had it once but it was unforgettable. The noodle sausages were fresh while the soup dip was intense.