Vietnamese cuisine is nothing short of diverse, and it’s a shame that thousands of years of culinary innovation has been boiled down to a bowl of beef noodle soup.
There are plenty of lesser-known dishes that deserve some love, and here are five you should check out.
Bánh đúc nóng (hot)
This dish truly shows off the variety on offer in Vietnamese cuisine, as it’s a dessert in the south and a savoury snack in the north of the country. In the capital Hanoi, the rice flour-based dish is often served hot (though there is a lesser-known cold version with a peanut sauce dip) and with minced pork, mushrooms, onions and coriander, while in the south the rice flour is boiled and then cooled into a gelatinous substance before being cut into blocks. Luckily, the southern version is typically dyed green using a lead extract, so you won’t mix them up easily!
The northern version is a perfect snack for a cool day and is typically served up at street food stalls quicker than you can say, “Only VND20,000!”
Head to 28 Hang Be Street in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem District to try bánh đúc.
Bánh tráng trộn
A salad made using bar snacks? Colour me intrigued. This southern meal consists of rice paper cut into bite-sized bits, beef jerky, dried squid, herbs, quail eggs and green mango shavings.
Okay, so maybe salad isn’t entirely accurate, but bánh tráng trộn defies easy definition. This strange hodgepodge of a dish is served cold and simply stuffed into a bowl, meaning even I could rustle up a serving in a few minutes. The green mango is crucial, as the crunchy and sour fruit helps balance out the sweetness of the beef jerky and stops the squid overpowering everything else.
A serving goes for VND20,000 at 86 Hang Trong Street in Hanoi.
Vietnam’s very own dumpling is somewhat reminiscent of a Cornish pasty, but you won’t find any bánh gối for sale in Greggs.
As a comfort food, it makes sense that bánh gối translates as ‘pillow cake’, and eating one certainly feels like you’re snuggling up in bed. Featuring pork, glass noodles, quail eggs and various vegetables, this deep-fried concoction is a hearty snack, perfected with a spot of fish sauce with green papaya and vinegar.
Quan Goc Da has been serving bánh gối from the same spot at 52 Ly Quoc Su Street since 1983 and each one goes for only VND10,000, so there’s no reason not to give it a try.
Phở chiên phồng
Okay, so this one does have pho in its name, but trust me it’s a whole different kettle of fish (metaphorically) than its cousin dish.
Instead of the rice noodles being cut into long strips, Phở chiên phồng features squares cuts folded on top of each other and then fried, creating a delectably crunch parcel. The parcels are served on a plate heaped with beef, greens and a rich gravy. The result reminds me of a British roast dinner, with the pho parcels acting as Yorkshire puddings, and they go just as well with a healthy dollop of the gravy.
The Truc Bach area in Hanoi has plenty of options for Phở chiên phồng, but a personal favourite is Hung Ben, located at 33 Ngu Xa Street.
Let’s finish with some dessert made from one of Earth’s most versatile foods – tofu.
Countries all across Asia have tofu-based desserts and Vietnam is no exception, with tào phớ a light snack served hot in winter and cold with ice in summer. The dish features tofu, sugary water, grass jelly, green jelly, coconut water and both dried and fresh coconut. The result is a gloopy, sweet kind of soup that makes for a great end of the day snack, or even a lunchtime dessert if you’re feeling indulgent.
For a traditional version of tào phớ, check out Nghia Tan market at 24 Nghia Tan Street, Cau Giay District.