Attention: open in a new window. PDFPrintE-mail

Com and Pho on the menu

Healthy and tasty Vietnamese cuisine

Two Vietnamese words you need to know to travel to Vietnam: Com, for rice, and Pho, for noodles. You will see them everywhere on signs along the streets. These are the foundations of Vietnamese cuisine and they are served to fit every occasion. With pork, chicken, beef, goat, fish, snails, eel and even tofu; lettuce, cilantro, corn, carrot, cabbage, spinach or morning glory… variety and freshness are guaranteed, even in tiny, improvised restaurants along the sidewalks that can be found anywhere in small villages as well as in larger cities.

On the fruit side, bananas are widespread with melons, durian fruit, jackfruit, papayas and mangoes. And if you see some tiny yellow mangoes, be sure to try them. They are delicious and juicy, with almost no pit.

In Vietnam, everything is fresh and fruits and vegetables are grown locally without artificial fertilizers, including excellent coffee, also grown on site, along with tea and local beer (Hanoi, Tiger, and more.)

In the North

In a fabulous setting of mountains, profound valleys and hills where terraces have been laid out to allow corn, cucumbers, tomatoes and rice to grow, one has to visit a local market. An always-incredible and very colorful show, where you can find locally produced vegetables, fruits, woven and silk products, live animals (goats, cows, pigs, buffalo). Local rice dishes worth tasting are often served at those markets!

In Hanoi

In this bustling city, outdoor markets, restaurants of all kinds and small sidewalk shops offer copious and tasty meals for a few dollars. Here, noodles, yellow or white, narrow or large, dominate the menus.

We enjoyed snails and shells (Oc Hap La Gung) in one of the small shops where the small, low plastic chairs did not meet our idea of comfort, but where the food was just finger licking-good!

Not to mention all of the other soup and noodle dishes we often made a feast of.

In the Centre

As opposed to the north with its lush scenery and mountains, the centre of the country is rather flat and planted with orchards, which explains the abundance of fruit offered in this part of the country.

A delightful experience in Hoi An, a small city with old-fashioned charm, is nestled on the Thu Bon River. Classified as a Unesco cultural heritage site, its narrow pedestrian streets are bordered by houses, some shabby, some impeccable, sheltering clothing and shoe boutiques where modest artisans are busy and there are also cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops. The city is entirely dedicated to tourism.

Very few traces remain of its past as an important commercial harbor and of the diversity of the exchanges and the influence that the Japanese and Chinese had on Vietnamese culture.

At the animated public market along the river, you will be offered flowers, spices, fresh products and fish that still wiggle, a place for many discoveries to be made and in our opinion what constitutes the heart of, and most interesting site in, Hoi An. I still salivate at the memory of the yellow noodles with pork and cilantro we ate there.

Along the Mekong

A pleasant cruise along the canals of this land and water country where rice fields, orchards and gardens color the landscape and where as one would have guessed, fish is king.

Barges and rowboats of all dimensions testify to the hectic life organized around the river: fragile little skiffs with a lone fisherman, small boats carrying whole families to the orchard, commercial barges overflowing with pineapples, mangoes, rambutan, jack fruit, dragon fruit, bananas, sweat potatoes, carrots, rice and fish.

A canal dug through the mangroves takes us to the Cai Be floating market. It is a nice, small local market where conversations fly from one boat to another and where you are greeted with a smile… and a fruit.

A little further away, you can’t miss the Cai Rang floating market. An impressive wholesale market with hundreds of boats offering fruits, vegetables, rice and fish of all kind, to restaurants and hotel owners as well to small merchants who navigate their smaller boats and haggle over the price from boat to boat.

This floating market extends onto the land in an impressive maze of stalls where fresh products are displayed, from the still wiggling fish to the mice… in cages. Yes, you read that right! Raised in the Mekong Delta and fed with rice, they are delicious… provided we dare taste them! Skinned and displayed at the market, they look like quails or pigeon! Personally, I just carefully opted for a fish stew for my lunch, which proved to be a succulent choice.

A secret

We were told that Vietnamese cuisine, in addition to being excellent, also had the ability to help lower blood cholesterol. A fact that we were able to verify back home.

It’s another “plus” to convince you to go and experience this tasty and healthy cuisine on-site, at its freshest, through a tour such as the one offered by Club Aventure.

One last piece of advice

Bring your own wooden chopsticks and keep them with you. This way, you will always be ready to succumb to the temptation of a pho or com dish, wherever you will be!

Christiane Théberge

Street food in Hanoi

Outdoor market in the North

 Hoi An market

Noodles at the market

Cai Rang floating market

Mice at Cai Rang market