6 Vietnamese dishes to love that aren't phở or bánh mì
On my first trip to Vietnam almost 7 years ago all I knew about its cuisine was phở, bánh mì, bánh xèo, spring rolls, broken rice, and a dish of rice noodles with sweet stewed meat that I don't know the name of. I was returning to my hostel (oh how long ago!) late at night and chanced upon a street vendor selling it. Didn't like it very much so this isn't the story of how I went hunting a magical dish. Occasionally someone will get me to try the barbecued foods by the road. Me: "oh wow, it smells great, what is it?" Local: "Rat." Since then, though rat remains off my "must try" foods, I've discovered a few more underrated Vietnamese dishes that deserve more international love!
1. Phở Xào Giòn
Ok so it starts with a pho, but it's unlike the soup version you're familiar with. The noodles are fried like a pancake and topped with sautéed beef and vegetables. Personally, I much prefer the soup version but then again, I always love soup.
2. Op la
Op la roughly translates to fried eggs, and this is a breakfast meal consisting of eggs, homemade meats, fried gluten (the thing that looks like tofu), pickled achar and baguette.It's a little like a deconstructed bánh mì with a focus on the eggs, just the way I like it. Done best at Hoa Ma Quan, go around 8am or 9am to avoid a sell-out.
Although it's a little on the pricey side, the BBQ at 3T is worth it for the deliciousness. Skip the seafood and go straight for the meats. Try the wild boar, deer and goat, marinated in five spice, or lemongrass and chilli.
Like proper grill places you're missing out if you're not also enjoying the condiments that come with the dishes. Here, they line it up for you: salt and pepper with a squeeze of lime, a dab of chilli in mayo, and soy. The service here is impeccable and it's very popular with the locals for its chill rooftop atmosphere. We've recommended this place countless times to friends over the years and it's never failed to impress.
4. Crab Vermicelli Noodles
The soft shell crab is marinated in a tamarind sauce and deep fried. It's the perfect accompaniment to the vermicelli, which is tossed with luxuriously thick chunks of crab meat in a light sauce. Quan 94 in District 1 does it best.
5. Bánh Canh Cua Tôm
I discovered this dish at the celebrity Lunch Lady stall in Ho Chi Minh when it was all the rage following Anthony Bourdain's visit. Back then I didn't realise that it wasn't pho every day and was pleasantly surprised when this was served up. It's a thick broth of intensely flavoured crab and shrimp, with thick rice vermicelli noodles.
6. Hu tieu Bo kho
I love this dish and didn't see it as often as I did bánh mì vendors. It's a beef stew with carrots and egg noodles. Even though beef noodles don't taste vastly different from culture to culture throughout South-East Asia, this one definitely tasted more "Vietnamese", I think because of the use of fish sauce and annatto seeds? It wasn't often that I came across Vietnamese dishes with egg noodles either over the ubiquitious rice noodles.
What are some of your little known Vietnamese favourites?
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