Low-end dining in Vietnam is lots of fun!

.

If you’re planning a visit to Vietnam or you’re already here and curious to become more familiar with local offerings and eating atmosphere, here are a few ideas about how to get into the low-end food scene.

The biggest challenge with humble eating in Vietnam is not the food or the service, it’s those darned kiddie stools! I wish you heartfelt luck squatting down far enough to sit on the stools found at most street stalls and simple restaurants in Vietnam.

Insider’s tip: Stack a second (and third if needed) matching stool on to the original stool before starting the Vietnamese limbo dance. Vietnamese people are cool – they get it.

There is enough variety in Vietnamese cuisine that we could eat something different every day for months on end, so you’ll never get bored. 

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:SimSun; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

If you can’t try Vietnamese food in your home country, there are endless foodie channels and free clips and articles about Vietnamese food on the Internet. 

You may already be sick of hearing pho analyzed ad nauseum in every food blog around but out of respect for tradition, pho is the place to begin. The classic beef noodle soup served with flat white rice noodles and an array of fresh greens has put Vietnam on the international food map over the last 20 years. 

But pho is just the start….

Some of the most common dishes you’ll easily find anywhere in Vietnam include bun bo Hue, mi Quang, bun rieu, bun cha, cha gio also known as nem ran, bun thit nuong, plus any other dishes from a list a mile long, and good old-fashioned mixed rice dishes such as com tam and xoi – the former is steamed rice and the latter sticky rice, both served with various meat and vegetable goodies.

Bun rieu cua – crab with tomato noodle soup
Bun rieu cua – crab with tomato noodle soup

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:SimSun; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

Then come specialty dishes such as lau (hotpot) that contain any of a myriad of options, meats, vegetables, seafood, broths or oils, and cooking styles depending on which part of Vietnam you’re in. You could easily eat a different type of hotpot every day for weeks on end.

Banh xeo, the delightful turmeric-based fried pancake also deserves mention. It’s usually served with pork, shrimp, mung bean, and bean sprouts. Banh xeo is eaten in bit-sized chunks wrapped in lettuce and dipped in fish sauce.

I could fill a book with all the various Vietnamese dishes – there are nearly 3,000 of them!

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:SimSun; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

Search on the Internet to create your own list of dishes you want to try but be careful to include the accents on the Vietnamese letters so that people will understand if you show the words to them. Just one little slip and that “duck noodle soup with bamboo shoots” will come out as “cement duck noodle”!

For handy access, copy and store photos on your phone of each everyday dish that you think you’ll like. 

Check out snacks and quick “back-up” meals that you can go to when you don’t have a lot of time or choice within reach: banh bao (steamed bun), banh mi sandwiches, various grilled delights such as bap dai (sweet corn), khoai lang (sweet potato), and banh trang nuong (sausages, cheese, hot dogs, shallots, and goodies barbecued on a sheet of rice paper that resembles pizza).

Bun mang vit – duck noodle soup with bamboo shoots
Bun mang vit – duck noodle soup with bamboo shoots

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:SimSun; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

You don’t have to worry about the degree of spiciness as is often the case with Asian cuisines because Vietnamese food usually features chili and fish sauces served on the side, so you can use at your discretion.

Next up is to scope out the restaurants during your trip to Vietnam. The low-end places don’t serve all day long without interruption as do the tourist-oriented higher class establishments.

One vendor will rent the premises or set up shop in an alley or on a side street and serve the early shift, from 6:00 am until the mid-morning or beyond. That vendor will sell out, clean up, and pack up so all is ready for the next vendor who would typically start selling in the early afternoon until the late afternoon or early evening. 

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:SimSun; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

Often the vendors share the rent to keep costs down, or sometimes the landlord rents out individual shifts. Other sellers just camp out in a convenient area right on the street and spread those kiddie stools around them.

It makes for a great, intimate atmosphere! Make no mistake about it: the locals will be thrilled that you’re joining them, so don’t be shy.

It’s easy to spot the cream of the crop as you wander around: the vendor sits near a large cauldron or grill surrounded by bowls, noodles and vegetables that are served with their dish. 

The seller has prepared the dish fresh at home and transported the cauldron to the street stall or restaurant, so it couldn’t be fresher if it came off your mother’s stove.

The second telltale sign is there is usually a contingent of locals getting their fix.

A typical informal Vietnamese restaurant
A typical informal Vietnamese restaurant

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:SimSun; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

Above is a textbook example of the type of operation you’ll be looking for. The woman running the place is on the extreme left barbecuing pork for bun thit nuong while her second dish is a soup in a large cauldron just inside the door.

She begins serving those two dishes daily at 1:00 pm or a bit earlier if I appear with tongue hanging out.

Usually only one item is served, sometimes two as in the above example. When someone makes a living from cooking and serving just one thing, you know it’s going to be good! 

If that cauldron or grill is nearing empty, you’ve come along a bit late. Doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the remaining food, but you’ll get the freshest earlier in the shift.

Ignore garbage that may be strewn around under tables – that’s normal in Vietnam wherever there is popular food, a large turnover, and a limited serving schedule. You’re not eating off the floor anyway, so let it slide.

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:SimSun; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

Ideal is a sink with soap but don’t always count on that because most of the street stalls don’t have a water supply. But if you do go into a proper restaurant with a toilet and a sink without soap, keep going, it means neither customers nor staff are washing their hands.

Wipe utensils and chopsticks with a napkin for good measure, avoid tea out of shared glasses – the locals can tolerate a lot more bacteria than we can. If you order a drink in a bottle it should always be served with the top sealed – if not, don’t accept it.

If you’re on a short visit to a new destination armed with your hit list of dishes to try you won’t have the luxury of wandering around for days or more to find the tastiest options. Get networking with that receptionist, driver, or local friend and they’ll be delighted to show you where you can find the best versions of your favourites.

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:SimSun; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

Some visitors get a mildly upset stomach because the water used to wash the meat and vegetables is not tolerated by the uninitiated Western metabolism. Those tummy upsets often subside within a few days or a week as your system becomes accustomed.

Food poisoning is riskiest when eating cooked or raw food that has been exposed to the heat or simply kept too long. Within a few hours in hot temperatures most foods are mildly contaminated and can cause minor stomach upsets, and from there it only gets worse.

This risk is minimized by observing the serving schedule and getting food first and freshest plus by eating food that is cooked fresh and served hot as opposed to lying around on stands and steam tables exposed to the elements. 

Also, avoid uncooked vegetables and meats, chili sauces and other condiments that you aren’t used to, and only eat fruit that is peeled.

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:SimSun; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

Before you enjoy your meal, take a photo of it and of the related page in the menu if there is one along with the address.

Oops, one more thing: I forgot to mention that getting up off those stools can even be more difficult than sitting down on them, but by now you already know it was all well worth it!

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:SimSun; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

-->
Nguồn: tuoitrenews.vn