Words and Photos by Tiffany Ang
The first time I traveled to Ho Chi Minh City was my first experience with Vietnamese food. From that point on, I was obsessed. I knew I had to go back to visit, so after seven years I returned to visit this summer.
One thing I absolutely love about Vietnamese cuisine is its focus on simple and refreshing flavors. At the same time, with the generous servings of herbs and vegetables, the taste is incredibly complex. The most memorable dishes I had during this trip was the Chả Cá, Bánh cuốn, cơm gà Hội An, and, of course, pho!
Chả Cá is a famous Hanoi dish consisting of pieces of catfish or carp marinated in turmeric and fried with generous portions of dill and spring onion. You eat this with a combination of rice noodles, peanuts, and fish sauce. The fish is so tender and really soaks up the flavor of the herbs that make it incredibly fragrant.
If you are familiar with dim sum's chee cheong fun, Bánh cuốn will definitely remind you of it. Filled with ground pork and mushroom, these rice noodles are topped with fried shallots and herbs such as mint and spring onion. When you dip them in fish sauce, these filled rice noodles are sweet and become extremely addictive.
Although I have never been to Hoi An in Vietnam, now I know I have to make a trip after eating Com ga Hoi An. A specialty of Hoi An, this chicken rice is so fragrant due to the crushed onions, garlic, pickled carrots, and coriander in this dish. The chicken is shredded to soak up the chili sauce and is covered with fresh papaya and shallots. While some may think that chicken is bland and ordinary, this dish packs a punch unlike any other.
In most Vietnamese restaurants in America, the beef pho we are more accustomed to is from the South. Usually when Americans order pho, on the side there would be a pile of bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, lime, and chili, which creates a lighter broth. In Hanoi, which is located in the north of Vietnam, the soup has a rich taste due to toppings such as green onions, lime, and chili. One thing that really blew my mind was that no matter where you go in Hanoi, pho is always served with Bánh quẩy, also known as youtiao. This is basically fried dough and is often referred to as "the Chinese doughnut.” Having Bánh quẩy with pho really soaks in the flavour of the soup and gives a satisfying new texture due to the crisp outside of this breadstick. In my opinion, northern and southern pho are both delicious in their own ways; however, having Bánh quẩy with pho took the experience to the next level!
If you love Vietnamese food, definitely come to this food paradise! No matter which side street you wander off to, you will always encounter delicious new food.