A Guide to Vietnamese Food

by Bach Pham

Once a rare find, Vietnamese food seems to slowly, but surely be finding a place among the vast landscape of American restaurants. With Pho Viet becoming a solid foundation in Columbia, SC, and well… a bunch of random places serving pho in Greenville, NC, it seems like a good time to pull out a bit of a beginner’s guide for a new generation of pho eaters out there. Read on to get a taste of the traditional dishes you can expect to find in a typical Vietnamese restaurant.

“Pho”, more than just a cup of noodles.

Essentially Vietnam’s national dish, this noodle dish is served in a delicious, savory slow cooked broth of soup bones, ginger, and various spices. Usually a choice between thinly cut slices of beef or chicken, this is definitely the dish to judge any Vietnamese restaurant on. You should look for a hot (as in fresh off the stove) sweet, savory broth. Cold broth’s are an instant no-no! Garnish with fresh bean sprouts and fragrant basil for a comforting dish at any time of day. Pho, though simple in principle, easily is one of the hardest dishes to make and compare. No one person does it the same way, using different spices, seasonings, and even methods. Some even have paid thousands for an award-winning recipe for their restaurants.Fun fact: Pho is traditionally a breakfast item in Vietnam.

“Bun Thit Nuong”, pasta the Vietnamese way.

Thin slices of pork marinated in a bit of something sweet and grilled, served on top of noodles with pickled carrot/daikon (white radish), fried onion, and a sweetened fish sauce, bun thit nuong sounds like a heavy dish on paper, but is actually a wonderfully refreshing dish that fits the bill any time of the year. It comes in a ton of variations, sometimes adding shrimp or egg rolls to the mix. This is one dish that’s all about the meat though. Some places are a bit heavy on the sugar, either making it burn or just too sweet. The right balance, however, makes this dish a winner. My personal favorite.

“Goi Cuon”, fresh, fast, and fun.

The freshest of ingredients wrapped in rice paper, this Vietnamese appetizer is a classic starter at any restaurant. In the household, a few of these can easily become a meal any night of the week. There’s a beautiful art with goi cuon, one that separates the winners from the losers. A pour wrap can spoil the whole show, leaving you in an ugly mess. A nice, tight wrap makes all the difference here. The second biggest key to this whole app is the sauce. Usually a hoisin sauce cooked down and sometimes combined with a little peanut butter and topped with chopped nuts, the sauce definitely makes this a killer app when done right (and should always be considering how easy it is to make!).

“Banh Mi”, the king of sandwiches.

It’s sweet, it’s sour, it’s salty, savory, fresh, crispy, and crunchy, a Vietnamese sandwich is just everything you look for in a great sandwich. It starts with a smear of pate on one side of a beautiful baguette, and then a slatter of butter on the other end. In goes various Asian cold cuts, including pork belly and Vietnamese ham, followed by a volley of veggies including the carrot/daikon mixture, cilantro, and a few jalapeno slices. Sometimes grilled pork is used instead in all its glory. Either way you serve this dish up, it’s a real eye-catcher.It can be a little tricky to find though. In the United States, they often are best out of sandwich shops rather than restaurants.

“Com Tam”, the national rice dish.

Though it can come in a million different way, shapes, and forms, com tam is a traditional item featuring a special short grain rice served with a grilled pork chop, pickled carrots and daikons, a special baked meat/egg dish similar to a quiche, and fish sauce to tie things together. More traditional plates often include “bi”, or pork skin. This is a bit of a bolder dish for those looking to try out Vietnamese food, but you’ll should see it on most menus. There’s so many factors that go into a great “Com Tam”. The egg in particular can go wrong a million ways (I’ve even seen it blue on occasions. Blue!), and the pork chop can be dry in seconds if not served quickly. The fish sauce also is key in a great “Com Tam”. If you want to play it safe and get a more surefire bet, try the dishes above first to make sure they get your seal of approval before venturing out for this dish.

Hopefully the next – or first – time you try out a Vietnamese restaurant, you can sink your teeth into some of these fantastic dishes. Thanks for reading!

(http://foragingfoodies.blogspot.com/2010/11/hunters-manual-guide-to-vietnamese-food.html)

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Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080

Email: kellyyouthhostel@gmail.com

25 essential tips for travel to and in Hanoi

By James Durston  (CNN GO)

Ditch the guidebooks and grab your passport. Here’s all you need to know for a trip to Hanoi, so what’re you waiting for?

 

1. Visa — You can pre -arrange a visa on arrival online but you run the risk of waiting up to 90 minutes in Hanoi airport while the visa officers decide whose turn it is to do some work. Better to get it sorted before you leave, through your local embassy or travel agent.

2. Flights — Don’t book your flights too soon, but don’t leave it too late either. Airlines tend to jack their prices up six months before the travel date, slowly bring them down until two to three weeks before travel, then start to raise them again.

long bien bridge hanoiLong Bien Bridge — the SSG Barnes of the transport world.3. Booking — When you do book, best options from Hong Kong can be found at these carriers:

Air Asia: www.airasia.com

Cathay Pacific: www.cathaypacific.com

Dragon Air: www.dragonair.com

Hong Kong Airlines: www.hkairlines.com

Vietnam Airlines: www.vietnamairlines.com

4. Taxis — Hanoi cabs are cheap and pretty decent. A ride into town from Noi Bai airport costs around VND 350,000 (US$17) and a 10-minute ride in-city around VND 30,000. Your hotel may also arrange a pick-up and drop-off service from and to the airport.

Most reputable cab companies are Hanoi Taxi (+84 (0)4 3853 5353), Taxi CP (+84 (0)4 3826 2626) and Mai Linh Taxi (+84 (0)4 3861 6161).

5. Shuttle buses — Are cheaper: VND 40,000 (US$2) from the airport to the Old Quarter, but drivers may try to persuade you into staying at “their cousin’s hotel” by saying a typhoon in Halong Bay means your chosen hotel is still full. Don’t believe them.

6. Buses — Are cheaper still, VND 5,000 (US$0.25) from the airport to the Old Quarter, but they won’t take your baggage unless you offer a small “luggage fee.” In town a ride costs a standard fare of VND 3,000.

scooter in HanoiIt must have been coupon day at the fizzy pop store.

7. Scooter taxis — The best way to experience the rush and blur of daily Hanoi life, just make sure you are equipped with a helmet. And as they don’t have meters make sure you know what you’re paying before you set off. A typical 10-minute ride should cost around VND 10,000-15,000 (US$0.50-0.75).

8. Communication — Most locals speak a few phrases of English, but don’t count on it. You could try your luck with a Vietnamese phrase book, but it’s a tonal language and so your pronunciation may not be quite up to it. Best bet is to hire a personal tour guide or just wing it with the international language of wild bodily gesticulation.

9. Tours — Everywhere offers guided tours, but one of our favorites is an innovative concept from a student-run NGO: Hanoi Kids Tours. The idea is for tourists to get a flavor of the city by being shown around by local children. www.hanoikids.org; hanoikidsvn@gmail.com;

10. Currency — There are around 20,000 Vietnamese dong to one U.S. dollar, so don’t freak out when the bar tab comes along. U.S. dollars are also widely accepted.

11. ATMs — Cash is king and cash dispensers are everywhere. International ATMs include HSBC and ANZ Bank but many have a maximum withdrawal of VND 1 million (US$50). If you need more head to the ANZ ATM near Hoan Kiem Lake, which has a limit of VND 9.9 million.

12. Climate — An intolerable mix of heat and humidity in the summer (June-August) reaching 40 C, a pleasant shower-splashed spring (March-May), a gorgeous walking-in-the-park-every-day fall (September-November) and a cold yet humid winter (December-February).

13. Vaccinations — Travelers are always advised to get themselves protected against the most common diseases, including: Hepatitis B, tetanus-diphtheria and typhoid. Also wise to take anti-malarials if you’re spending long periods outside the major urban areas or traveling in the hot and humid months.

tofu lady HanoiHer tofu dessert was almost as sweet as her smile.

14. Eating — You can’t come to Hanoi and not eat pho ga (chicken noodle soup). In fact, you can’t avoid it. Other “delicacies” such as cobra blood wine and dog meat get written about a lot, but aren’t common and are mostly avoided by locals.

Some great eateries worth checking out:

Verticale, 19 Ngo Van So St., +84 (0)4 3944 6317; www.verticale-hanoi.comFrench-Vietnamese fusion.

Cam Chan Quan, 108 K1 Giang Vo St., +84 (0)123 259 7696. Singapore-oriented fare

La, 25 Ly Quoc Su St.,, Hoan Kiem;+84 (0)4 928 8933. Western bistro.

Joma Bakery Café, 21 Dien Bien Phu, & 54 To Ngoc Van. Fairtrade organic café.

La Badiane, 10 Nam Ngu, Cua Nam, Hoan Kiem; +84 (0)4 3942 4509. French experimental.

15. Drinking — You can’t come to Hanoi and not find yourself at least once sitting on a tiny plastic seat that feels like its about to buckle under you sipping on a mild beer in a frosted glass. Hanoi’s bia hoi are about drinking beer, and that’s it. Best to arrive at 5 p.m. as they tend to run out of beer around 8 p.m.

 

night time HanoiHanoi can actually seem to get busier at night.

16. Sleeping — There’s a wide range of accommodation in Hanoi. Here are a few select options:

17. Shopping — Hanoi’s old Quarter is lined with various fashion stores, souvenir stalls, snack and trinket sellers. But if you’re looking for an air-conditioned mall experience head for the Vincom City Towers where you’ll find luxury brands, a cinema and a colorful gaming area. Vincom City Towers, 191 Ba Trieu St., Hai Ba Trung.

18. Doing — Various popular tourist activities include Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum/Museum, the Hanoi Hilton prison (officially called Hoa Lo Prison), Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre and “green” city tours on electric carts. They’re all worth a peek, and you could do all these in one afternoon.

Don’t miss the night market in the Old Quarter, from 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturday. More about strolling around aimlessly than shopping.

And make sure you check out Long Bien bridge, an awesome spectacle bolted together by history.

19. Coffee — If Hanoians aren’t drinking beer, they’re drinking coffee. Check out Café Pho Co, a café hidden behind a home hidden behind a souvenir shop, and one of the best places to get a view across Hoan Kiem Lake. 11 Hang Gai, Hanoi; +84 (0)4 3928 8153

20. Don’t bother with — The one-pillar pagoda. A hut on a cement column is just a hut on a cement column, no matter how old.

21. Internet — If scooters are the most obvious Hanoi quality, Internet cafés come not far behind. They’re everywhere. All hotels have connections too.

22. Traffic — When Hanoi people move they tend to do it on scooters. And if you wait for a break in the flow of scooters when trying to cross the road, you may miss your flight home. Walk out with intent, and they will avoid you. We promise.

Halong BayHalong Bay — four hours away but a world apart from Hanoi.

23. Day trips — Trips out of Hanoi are easily arranged via hotels or tour agents. If you want to check out Halong Bay (and you should) spend a night on a boat there too. It’s too far for getting there and back comfortably in one day and this way you can explore some great caves and do some kayaking too.

Or take a trip to the Perfume Pagoda 60 kilometers away. It’s a great way to get some fresh air and chill out on a boat ride for a day.

For a longer getaway, consider a trip to Sapa for a few days. You can travel the 350 kilometers from Hanoi by train and minibus and it has some amazing mountain treks. Hiring a guide is essential.

24. Photography — You’ll be tempted to snap away at everything so photogenic is Hanoi, especially the Old Quarter. But many locals find it rude to be photographed, especially the older ones, so be polite and ask first.

25. Don’t be scared — Hanoi can overwhelm you, but that’s what’s great about it. Try everything, go everywhere, and if you do get lost, physically or mentally, just ask someone for help. A smile can solve anything in this city.

{http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/escape/cnngo-tv-london/25-essential-tips-travel-and-hanoi-632641)

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Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080

Email: kellyyouthhostel@gmail.com