I was given a chance to go on a trip to Vietnam for the first time for my Retail Marketing class back in 2016. It is one of my cherished trips as, (1) it was my first out-of-the-country trip without any family member around, (2) though short-lived, I got to experience Vietnam’s rich and intact culture but most important of all, (3) I’ve had authentic and sumptuous Viet food!
I’ve always been a fan of their cuisine, partly because of my exquisite experience dining in Bawai in Tagaytay and the loads of videos and recipes I’ve read and watched about it, so actually getting to experience the authentic taste was such a thrill. Now, from time to time, I would crave for that fresh, light and herby, healthy taste of Vietnamese cuisine that is distinct from its neighboring Asian countries.
Here are 5 food facts I learned from my visit:
Coffee culture. Vietnamese coffee is known for the rich aroma and deep, roasted taste that is simply enjoyed either on its own, with sweetened condensed milk or interesting things like eggs and even mangoes. Their coffee can be served hot or cold, sometimes even with a coffee drip but one thing’s for sure: it’s freshly brewed. Similar to some of its neighboring Asian countries, their coffee culture involves lounging in little plastic chairs out on the streets in the afternoon and spending a good long hour or two just chatting away with their friends as pastime.
It is so easy to find coffee to bring home as there’s lots of shops selling beans by the bulk; they even sell cheap coffee drips for your personal use. They categorize their coffee by the number, depending on the darkness of roast and bitterness of coffee. If you cannot commit to coffee beans, their G7 instant coffee mixes are just as good. Trust me.
Cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine has so much to offer than what you typically see in commercial restaurants, especially if you live outside of the country. If asked to describe what it is like, I would say it’s the kind of cuisine with a flavor profile that’s not too overwhelming, just enough heat, very refreshing but just enough of everything that’ll make you love it.
One thing you’ll notice and definitely enjoy is the freshness of the ingredients, whether that would be the vegetables or seafood. The preparation is not that complex, but they make sure that each flavor of the components are pronounced. It is always never too salty or too oily. Vietnamese love their spices as well – don’t be fooled by that bowl of sliced chilis on the side; it really packs a punch but takes your whole food experience to another level.
Seafood. One thing I will never forget from my trip to Vietnam is that seafood spread we had when we visited Ha Long Bay. We were seated on the side of the road in those plastic chairs enjoying the winter air and the server just put down a plateful of oysters fresh off the grill. It tastes heavenly and was really juicy that you almost literally taste the sea. We partnered our piping hot bowl of steamed rice to plates of grilled fish, crabs and shrimps, clam soup…and it was just amazing. I could honestly say I haven’t had any better seafood feast than that. It’s really fresh, big and flavorful seafood that’s served simply with just a side of lemon and chili. Aside from the taste, you’ll also enjoy it because it’s relatively cheap, especially if you come in groups and try out different dishes together.Street Food. Like anywhere in Asia, street food IS always the interesting part. It is the cheap, fast, readily available fried little things that you can enjoy while doing just about anything. What makes street food in Vietnam unique is that it is diverse – from fried spring rolls with glass noodles and hints of vegetables and meat, bowls of rice noodles with beef flanks and herbs, french baguette with meat and other savory fillings, to cut up fresh fruits sprinkled with chili, lime and salt. It is a beautiful marriage of fried and fresh things together that you almost don’t feel like you’re eating the classic definition of street food that is deep-fried and jacked up in saturated fat, sodium and whatever. Good food AND guilt-free? Count me in!
Souvenir Treats. Of course, every trip wouldn’t be complete without anything to bring home as giveaway to your family and/or friends, or simply for your own pleasure. From my experience, Vietnam isn’t really that big on specially-packaged or ‘export quality’ souvenir treats aside from packed banana or vegetable chips, or chocolate-covered dried mangoes. They are more on the typical touristy things like shirts, hats, fridge magnets, key chains and whatnot. What you should look out for however are the local goodies like dried/preserved fruits and nuts, coffee beans, local tea blends, spices and/or instant Vietnamese rice noodles. It’s available almost anywhere, in any shop. But if I actually had a choice, and if only possible, I would bring home bags and bags of their sweetened plain yogurt.
My takeaway? Vietnam is one of those South East Asian destinations you’d go for for the cuisine. It’s just so different to experience the authentic one. The ones I’ve had back home were just lacking or overdid something as it is fine tuned to the flavors of the local crowd. But definitely, go to Vietnam to experience something nice and new. I know I’ve only touched on minimal things and in only one region, so coming back there to try out other regions’ delicacies and specialties is on my bucket list, no doubt.
- I noticed that some Vietnamese people get a little annoyed when you converse and try to haggle with them and you end up not buying so fair warning, if you’re not really interested in the item, maybe it would be best not to ask (BUT DO HAGGLE IF YOU ARE TO GET THE BEST PRICE).
- In the same vein, Vietnam is littered with lots of outlet shops or class A things. What you find in one shop to be a bit pricier will be much cheaper in the other. Aside from food, another thing I loved from my take-home souvenirs was this really light printed cloth pants which you can definitely haggle in bulk.
- Motorcycles are literally everywhere. Be extra, extra careful around them as they will get past you any time and have no problem crossing very narrow ways.
- Be smart when it comes to taking cabs. They’re kinda known for taking advantage and jacking up the price especially when you don’t know where you’re heading to.