Food & Drinks

Tuck into a bowl of beef pho and experience what some may consider the country’s national dish by Aaron Joel Santos Take me there

With its alluring blend of bold seasonings, savoury sauces and slow-simmered stocks, Vietnam’s cuisine has garnered legions of fans from around the globe. Many of the most cherished recipes are closely guarded family secrets that derive their heady fragrance from fistfuls of herbs and spices—Thai basil, culantro, bird’s eye chilies, black cardamom and Vietnamese cinnamon—grown in the fertile countryside.

Unlike many nations, where customs dictate that dishes must adhere to stringent rules, Vietnam’s regional divisions have produced an astonishingly varied cuisine, as well as some fierce culinary rivalries. The most famous perhaps is phở, the national noodle dish with a global following and countless variations. While Northerners tend to prefer a sparingly garnished dish with a richly spiced soup, Southerners toss in fistfuls of herbs, additional sauces, and Chinese rock sugar for a caramel-like sweetness. Purists will argue passionately for either style, while inventive modern cooks abandon both in favour of inspired original riffs.

The distinctions don’t stop there. On afternoons in the capital, you’ll find locals dining on bún chả with slices of pork belly, while Saigonese might be seen scarfing down bánh xèo (crispy pancakes). Over in the former Imperial capital, Hué, tuck into meaty bún bò Huế noodles in a deep, dark, collagen-rich broth, or head to Hội An for cao lầu, toothsome noodles topped with crunchy wonton crackers. Dishes on the isle of Phú Quốc pack an umami punch courtesy of the world’s finest fish sauce, an amber elixir smooth enough to sip, while residents of Sapa pride themselves on their thắng cổ, braised horse meat seasoned with a dozen spices. Even bánh mì, that addictive combination of Vietnamese seasonings, cured meats, and crispy baguette left over from French-Colonialism, varies by town. Which region boasts the best eats is a hotly contested topic, but one thing is for certain: it would take a lifetime to explore all this delicious diversity.

Food & Drinks