With over 500 national dishes in Vietnam, many originating from Imperial kitchens serving Vietnamese emperors, there is a wealth of choice and something for every budget. The simplest is a beef or chicken broth Pho served 24 hours a day that is garnished with mint leaves, beansprouts and lime juice. Spring rolls (Cha Gio), rice noodle dishes topped with grilled beef (Bun Thit Nuong) and sour soup (Canh Chua) are all favorites.
Famous for its pungent aroma, fermented fish sauce, Nuoc Mam, serves as the quintesential Vietnamese condiment, served with all meals, even breakfast, it doesn’t always strike a chord with westerners. (Much like the much despised durian fruit which is widely enjoyed in July and August).
With so much of the food in Vietnam influenced by Chinese culture, many exotic meats such as shark’s fin, field rats, dog and cobra are eaten to increase virility, cure colds or increase blood circulation. Many of Vietnam’s forests have been decimated of wildlife to cater to these markets, so it pays to be educated before eating.
Though Vietnamese cuisine doesn’t include a western style ‘dessert,’ fresh fruit is widely available and is cheap and makes an excellent travelling snack. The Vietnamese coffee industry began during the French colonial period, and continues to grow in the Central Highlands. Served thick and hot, its often slathered with equal parts sweetened condensed milk before being poured over a glass of crushed ice.