One of the delights of visiting Vietnam (AdventureWomen's Vietnam and Cambodia Adventure) is its amazing cuisine, superbly prepared and uniquely flavored. Eating plays a huge role in Vietnamese society, and a time honored Vietnamese proverb says, "learn to eat before learning to speak."
Although Vietnam's cuisine has been subject to the colonial influences of the Chinese and French, the country is almost totally self sufficient in its ingredients: an abundance of fresh vegetables and herbs; the dominance of rice; the proximity to the sea for fresh fish and seafood; and the use of a uniquely Vietnamese fermented fish sauce, nuoc mam.
We never have to look very far for good food in Vietnam. Restaurants are plentiful, and food is inexpensive. Dishes are usually listed according to their main ingredient. Spring rolls are very popular, and are made of rice paper and filled with minced pork, crab, vermicelli, onion, mushrooms and/or eggs. Other popular dishes are steamed rice dumplings; rice vermicelli with vegetables and roasted pork; filleted fish broiled over charcoal; rice with mushrooms, chicken, and finely sliced pork flavored with ginger; and Vietnamese hot pot served with fish or vegetables. Rice is a staple of Vietnam and is dressed up with a plethora of vegetables, meat, fish, and spices. The most common Vietnamese restaurant is known as com-pho, which means rice and noodle shop. Another common restaurant is called com binh dan, which offers an array of fresh meats and vegetables served with steamed rice. Being a vegetarian is not a problem here.
AdventureWomen eat at a well-known rustic restaurant, Cha Ca La Vong, the best "cha ca" restaurant in Hanoi, and the oldest continually operating restaurant of any kind in Vietnam! "Cha ca" is grilled fish that has been boned, cut into bite-size pieces, smothered in greens, and marinated in saffron-infused oil, turmeric, and other spices. Fantastically fresh food, straight from the pan onto our plate! Eaten with fresh herbs on a bed of rice noodles with sauce, you find that it is one of the BEST dishes in town! That opinion is based on AdventureWomen's "first hand" experience!
Vietnamese dining is a communal experience. A selection of dishes is put on the table to be shared by a small group. You generally use your own chopsticks to serve yourselves. The proper way to eat Vietnamese food is to take rice from the large shared dish and put it in your rice bowl. Once you have the rice, use your chopsticks to take meat, fish, or vegetables from the serving dishes. Never pour dipping sauces directly into your bowl! Transfer all food to your rice bowl before eating it, and never use your chopsticks to pierce food on communal plates. Hold your rice bowl near your mouth (don’t leave it on the table and feed yourself from table to mouth), and when passing or taking something, always use both hands and acknowledge the transaction with a small nod.
*** For more detailed information and a great resource book about Vietnamese cuisine, buy and take to Vietnam the Lonely Planet’s little book, World Food Vietnam, a compact, informative guide to the culinary delights of Vietnam. This book is a treasure, and a wonderful companion to any other guide book you take along.