The food in a country is only as complex as its history – and in Vietnam, it shows. Signs of French influences are as clear in their food as they are in elaborate cathedrals and pastel-hued block houses in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Pâté chaud (savoury pastry filled with meat), bánh flan (similar to crème caramel) and bánh mì (a pork pâté sandwich using the French baguette) are dishes of Vietnamese pride but showcase the French’s penchant for technique.
Of course, regional variations appear within Vietnam itself. Up north, the cooler climate means more heat in the form of black pepper, but the food is well-balanced in sweet, salty, sour and bitter notes. Central Vietnam sees more use of spices and a focus on presentation, while the South is dependent on ingredients like coconut milk and palm sugar. If there’s one thing that ties up Vietnam’s cuisine, it’s that it’s generally fresh. Most street food are quick-cooking and don’t require long hours of simmering or braising.
Fish sauce, lemongrass, coriander, mint and ginger are commonly used to spruce up beef and pork broths. The Vietnamese don’t skimp on greens; a basket of herbs and leaves is often served beside hot broths and typically eaten the way we eat ulam – raw.
Pho – rice noodles in beef broth topped with fresh beef – is inescapable for any visiting tourist. But it’s bun cha that truly grips the palate – grilled pork and noodles that are dunked in nu’ó’c châm, a salty-sour-sweet dipping sauce. Bánh cuón are rice noodle rolls similar to chee cheong fan, but filled with pork, shallots and wood ear mushrooms. But you haven’t truly been to Vietnam if you haven’t had a Vietnamese coffee – watch it slow-drip onto sweetened condensed milk or have it mixed with raw egg.
Where to eat
Don’t let the restaurant’s generic name fool you – this Puchong hideout is where nearby Vietnamese workers drop by for their fix of bánh mì, fresh spring rolls and hearty noodle broths. The coffee is arguably the best of the Vietnamese kind you’ll find in the Klang Valley – it’s made from a blend of organic civet coffee and a local Vietnamese roast. Order it warm.