Less than a week until I leave for my big two-week trip! I’m heading to Vietnam for a week with my girlfriend and then off to South Korea for a week on my own and I seriously might come back like 10 lbs heavier! I can’t believe how much amazing food there is in these two countries. I mean, I can, but wow am I excited and honestly a bit overwhelmed. If my time here is even half as yummy as my time in Thailand and Cambodia a few years ago I’m in for a real treat! So as always, I thought I would share my foodie itinerary and plan with all of you so if you’re planning a trip anytime soon you have a head start by using my research. I usually focus a lot more on specific restaurants, but in SE Asia it’s more about the street food and cuisine than any particular restaurants so this time I’m mostly just highlighting the must-not miss foods. Where I do have specific restaurant suggestions, I’ve listed those first under each meal category and in the order of my travel plans…which are Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay. Clearly I’m not going to be able to try everything listed below in my limited time…although my girlfriend and I can really pack it away so we’re going to give it our best shot!
- Phở – this one is obvious, but also one that I am most excited about because I LOVE pho! I have to be honest, I didn’t know this was mostly eaten for breakfast in Vietnam but I can’t wait it! I’ve heard one of the best is at Pho Thin, 13 Lo Duc, HaiBa Trung District, Hanoi so I’ll likely try to make it there during my short stay in Hanoi. Pho Bo (rare beef) and Pho Ga (white chicken meat) are my two favorite versions.
- Bánh Xèo – a sizzling savory crepe that is named for the sound it makes when hitting the pan. Sounds like a perfect breakfast!
- Xôi – sticky rice with different toppings is the other most popular Vietnamese breakfast and can be found along almost any street in the mornings by simply spotting someone carrying a basket covered with banana leads and advertising their Xoi as they walk or bike by.
- Bánh cuốn – rice flour steamed rolls with a special dipping sauce (Cha Que) made only for this dish sounds like something I definitely have to try!
- Bánh (Gio, Khuc, Te, Duc, etc…) – there are a million varieties of these little breakfast cakes all with different fillings but they’re often savory and often include mung beans in the filling. These will be pretty easy to find from street vendors so I’m sure I’ll try quite a few throughout the week.
- Trứng Vịt Lộn (Balut) – Oh, I don’t know if I’m going to have the courage to try this. I’m very adventurous but I’ve seen these here and I’m just not sure I can do it…it’s a duck embryo going through fertilization within the egg and boiled. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. We’ll see!
- Cháo – while I’m not super into porridge I do find that Asian versions of porridge are usually quite interesting and this does fit in with breakfast a bit more traditionally for us Americans so there may be one day where I’m in the mood for this.
- Bánh tráng phơi sương -‘m not sure if this is technically eaten as breakfast, but since the rice paper is left out overnight to collect the morning dew seems a reasonable assumption. That rice paper is then piled with thinly sliced pork, pickles, bean sprouts and lots of fresh herbs. Yum!
- The Lunch Lady – if you’ve done even the littlest bit of research about eating in Ho Chi Minh City you’ve heard about the food stall run by the “Lunch Lady”! It was on No Reservations years ago and it left a lasting impression on me even then. I’m really hoping that press hasn’t completely ruined it, but I have to go check it out for myself…it’s definitely a must for me. Her soup and the whole atmosphere looks absolutely to die for…23 Hoang Sa St., District 1 | Phuong Da Kao, District 1 (Quan 1), Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- “Broken Rice” at Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn – this is a bit of entertainment along with your food since they throw the claypot the rice is cooked in across the restaurant to break it out and serve it. Sounded a little cheesy to me but after quite a bit of research (and an emotional Anthony Bourdain recommendation for the now deceased proprietress) it actually sounds like it’s a pretty great spot for lunch. Other dishes people seem to like are their fried spring rolls and most of their seafood dishes. (19 Tu Xuong | District 3, Ho Chi Minh City 55555)
- Canh Bun – crab and morning glory soup with varying noodles…might be a nice change from all of the meat soups I know I’ll be eating! Sounds like you just look for handwritten signs with crowds around lunch time in Ho Chi Minh City for this one.
- Bánh Mì – I love Vietnamese sandwiches and it sounds like they’re pretty different depending on the region of Vietnam so I’m going to need to squeeze in a few. Two spots I’ll try are:
- A baugette vendor (it’s all about the bread!) that sets up beside the Cherry mini-mart on DoQuang Dao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
- Madam Khanh’s (known as the Banh Mi Queen!) Stand at 115 Trần Cao Vân, tp. Hội An
- Bún chả – it sounds like this pork noodle soup is even more popular than Pho in Hanoi…and you know how I feel about Pho, so this is a must eat for me! A friend recommended Bún Chã Dãc Kim, 1 Hang Manh Str, Hanoi, Vietnam for the best he’s had. He also warned that there’s an imposter with the exact same restaurant name to the left of the real one so to make sure to go to the right one (yellow/red sign with address right below the name)!
- Cha ca – this sounds like a must to try while in Hanoi where it is practically revered…fried fish with garlic, ginger, tumeric and dill.
- Nom Hoa Chuoi – Banana flower salad with what sounds like papaya salad and chicken mixed in. It will be pretty hot while I’m there so this sounds like a perfect light lunch in between all of my noodle soups!
- Bánh ướt thịt nướng – loosely translated as “wet cake barbecue” but it sounds more like deliciously marinated beef (chili, lemongrass and fish sauce just to name a few ingredients!) wrapped in rice paper is a common street food found in central Vietnam which I’ll definitely be on the lookout for in Hoi An
- Bánh Bao – it sounds like steamed buns aren’t traditionally Vietnamese…but when I heard the slightly more expensive (good) ones have a quail egg and minced meat or Chinese sausage inside it still made me want to try them. Sounds like the old quarter of Hanoi is a good spot to get them.
- Rau Muóng – this is likely more of a side dish than a snack, but it’s stir-fried morning glory with garlic. Sounds simple, but I had stir-fried morning glory for the first time in Thailand a few years ago and immediately fell in love, so I’m looking forward to trying the Vietnamese take on it!
- Spring Rolls! I’ll be making sure to try both the traditional fried (Chả giò/ Nem rán) and the fresh (Gỏi cuốn) while visiting, although here in the US I typically stick to the fresh spring rolls only.
- Bánh khot – a smaller, more dainty Vietnamese pancake that sounds just perfect as a snack. Often made with coconut milk, shrimp, mung beans and scallions, this sounds right up my alley!
- Ga Nuong – honey marinated grilled chicken legs, wings and feet…sound like the perfect street food snack!
- Bột Chiên – rice flour dough fried crispy and served with egg, papaya, scallions and shallots? Holy yum that sounds like a perfect midnight snack!
- Bánh gối – I read somewhere that these were like the Vietnamese version of a Samosa and I was in immediately.
- Com Cháy – ok, these sound fun…like rice crispy treats but with meat instead of marshmallow. What? Exactly why I need to try one!
- Saigon Snail Street – wander down this street (Nguyen Thuong Hien Street) in Ho Chi Minh City and sample fresh snails from stalls as well as fresh water crab or other delicious seafoods and street-food eats!
- Bún bò Huế – this is a thicker, meatier noodle soup than most found in Vietnam. Sounds like it’s found more in Central Vietnam but that Tib Express (162 NguyenDinh Chieu, District 3, HCMC) in Ho Chi Minh City also makes an excellent version.
- Cao Lầu – this is a unique pork noodle soup from Hoi An that has Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese influences. The fact that the noodles in this soup are thicker like udon will likely be a nice change of pace from the many thinner noodles I expect to be enjoying in Vietnam. I’ll definitely be getting a local recommendation for a place to grab this dish while in Hoi An…but I’ve heard it’s pretty awesome in the town market.
Bún bò Nam Bộ – stirred beef vermicelli with sauce instead of broth (like Pho), this is a very popular dish in the south but I’ve received a personal recommendation from someone I trust for a great spot in Hanoi. It’s actually called Bun bo Nam Bo and is at 67 Hang Dieu street in the old quarter in Hanoi. Definitely going to try to hit this one up!
- Phở xào – fried pho with vegetables? I’ve never heard of this…but sounds right up my alley!
- Mì xào bò – stir fried egg noodles with beef, tomato and morning glory and it sounds delicious!
- Đậu phú sốt cà chua – this might be a nice change of pace from all of the noodles… deep fried tofu in a tomato and herb sauce that I’ve heard from a few places is pretty amazing despite sounding a bit boring.
- Hoa quá đốm – technically this cup of tropical fruit could be a healthy dessert, but it sounds like the only way to get it is with condensed milk mixed in…gotta eat the way the locals do!
- Cà Phê Trứng – Vietnamese egg coffee…sounds thick and decadent, but perfect for those nights where we plan to stay up late!
Activities and Excursions:
So what else are we doing while in Vietnam, besides eating?! By the look of the list above, we certainly don’t have time for much else, do we? Have no fear though, we’ll work some of the activities below around all of our foodie excursions…
- In Ho Chi Minh City we actually have a friend of a friend guiding us around most of the time so lucky for us we’re not thinking much at all in this city and just leaving ourselves in his capable hands. I’ll report back on what we find!
- Next we’re off to Hội An , which I’m really excited about. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is a very well preserved ancient city right on the water. There are handcrafted lanterns that light up the streets at night, amazing temples and rice paddies right outside of the town and some great cooking schools that they’re known for as well.
- While in Hội An we are taking a cooking class…I know a few people who have taken the class by Morning Glory Cooking School and taught by Ms. Vy.
- Next we’re off to the capital city of Hanoi, although our purpose of going up north is to take an overnight boat tour of Hạ Long Bay on a Syrena Cruise boat. This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and I adore being on the water so I’m pretty excited about this part of our trip!
- While in Hanoi, I’m going to make sure to check out Tong Duy Tan & Cam Chi (Food Streets!) for some of my yummy treats, but I think with our food list above we likely will find ourselves there pretty naturally!
- We’ll also do a lot of walking around and general exploring since Hanoi is known as the “Paris of Asia” and is supposed to be pretty beautiful! The Old Quarter (Hoan Kiem District), the French Quarter (Ba Dinh District) and Hoàn Kiếm Lake are supposed to be just beautiful.
I have to say, one of the things I love the most about writing these posts before I travel is how excited it makes me for my upcoming trip! Of course, I hope it’s also helpful for those of you who may be planning a trip to Vietnam anytime soon and are looking for foodie tips as well, but stay tuned for my posts upon my return which will be chock full of pictures and even more personalized recommendations for you!