Pho - ©

Street Food Discoveries: Vietnamese Essentials

You’ve no doubt heard of some of the most popular Vietnamese street foods we’re going to profile today. But others will probably be new to most readers. And that’s the way we like it on our international culinary expeditions! Come with us and discover the street food of Vietnam…

Bun Cha - © eatlittlebird.comBun Cha: Not the most famous Vietnamese street food outside
the country, but the number-one favourite inside!

A lot of working class and middle-class Vietnamese eat on the go through the day, as a long-established habit. So it should come as no surprise that the streets of every urban centre of any significant size are lined with thousands of food stalls. There are dozens of dishes that can be found on just about every block, and hundreds of versions of those depending on where in the country you find yourself dining.

Many of Vietnam’s classic street foods are simple sandwiches or soups, but others involve many ingredients and require some careful preparation.

As with more-formal southeast Asian foods, Vietnamese Street food features a relatively short list of key ingredients which should already be familiar to most of us: rice paper, dumpling wraps, and lettuce leaves for rolling; green onions, daikon radishes, pickled cabbage, and other crispy mainstream Southeast Asian (SEA) veggies; chicken, beef, pork, pork liver paté, and eggs; sticky rice, long-grain rice, and vermicelli noodles; and rich, long-simmered salty broths.

Fresh herbs such as mint, basil, perilla, betel leaf, sorrel and coriander are popular. Fresh chilis are always on hand, but are usually added according to the individual diner’s preference.

On our menu today

Bun Cha: Not the most famous Vietnamese dish outside the country, but the top favourite inside. The stars of this show are tiny little, spoon-sized grilled pork patties served in a steaming bowl of vinegar-laced fish (Nuoc Cham) broth with crispy pickled cabbage.

Pho: Pronounced ‘fuh’, it’s beef or chicken noodle soup served over vermicelli noodles (see photo, top of page). It’s dosed with lots of fresh herbs herbs and served with hot chili sauce, lime, garlic and sweet vinegar on the side, to be added by the diner as desired. Pho is eaten all day long, from breakfast to late night.

Bahn Mi: A classic blend of French colonial traditions and native Vietnamese flavours: A standard French-style baguette is stuffed with pickled vegetables, shredded daikon, slices of cold meat…

Bahn Mi - ©

…pork liver paté, hard-boiled eggs, mayo, and ever-present chili sauce. It’s the go-to, grab-and-go meal in your hand across Vietnam.

Bun Bo Nam Bo: A whole, balanced, hearty meal in a bowl: A bed of fresh crispy lettuce topped with thin rice noodles, beef slices, bean sprouts, green onions and fresh herbs. A ladle of sweet broth based on Fish Sauce is added overall, and the bowl is garnished with chopped roasted peanuts and toasted shallots.

Nem Ran (AKA – Cha Gio): Vietnamese Spring Rolls. Mushrooms, ‘glass’ noodles, and just about anything else you might fancy are rolled up in rice paper wraps deep fried and served with Nuoc Cham for dipping. I could hang around a Nem Ran stand and eat them all day!

Pho Cuon (AKA – Goi Cuon): Not to be confused with Pho soup, above. They’re actually quick and easy ‘fresh’ Spring Rolls. Fresh rice paper (Cuon) is used to roll up a simple mixture of meat or seafood, julienned or shredded crisp vegetables and fresh herbs.

Goi Cuon - ©

Again, you get the ubiquitous Nuoc Cham for dipping. You can get addicted to this sauce, dipping everything Vietnamese in  it!

Banh Goi: A sort of Asian-inspired ‘Pizza Pocket’. Thin, light pastry is stuffed with a mixture of mushrooms, glass noodles, minced pork, small-diced veggies and fresh herbs – then deep fried. A great crunch and flavour burst of a bite! Once again, a little bowl of Nuoc Cham is always provided for dipping.

Banh Xeo: A simple pancake of rice flour and beaten egg is folded over while still warm to form what you might call an Asian taco shell. The shell is stuffed with a mixture of pork shrimps and bean sprouts.

Bahn Xeo - ©

A side plate of fresh herbs, chiefly mint and coriander, is offered for garnishing. Another to-go meal in your hand.

Banh Trang Nuong: No list of favourite SEA street foods would be complete without Vietnamese Pizza! The crust is a large round sheet of rice paper toasted on a hot griddle. It can be topped with just about anything you like, from shrimps to sausages, accompanied by herbs, fresh or dried chilis, shallots or green onions.

Just a representative selection…

Don’t forget what I said earlier about the dozens of dishes and hundreds of variants you’ll find on a typical Vietnamese food street! And feel free to change-up ingredients to suit pour particular taste. But whatever else you do, do try any or all Vietnamese street Foods that strike your fancy! Just one more reason to change the way you eat through the day! And, with all that lean meat and fresh veggies and herbs, a healthier way to crush your cravings…

~ Maggie J.