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A culinary journey through Asian metropolises – Vietnam, Hanoi

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Swiss food blogger and cook book author Nadia Damasio has been travelling to Asian metropolises for SWISS, where she tasted her way through traditional and unconventional dishes.

In her third post about her travels, she’ll introduce you to the culinary highlights of Vietnamese cuisine.

Vietnam, Hanoi

If I had to name the country whose food I like best of all, then I would instantly reply Vietnam, Vietnam and Vietnam again! I have rarely eaten so much, so well and so fresh, and so well (have I already mentioned how good the food is?). If you want to take a trip to a veritable paradise of vegetables, herbs and fruit, then head for the Land of the Dragon People! But why is Vietnam called that? According to one legend, the people of Vietnam are descended from 50 women and 50 men who were born to a dragon. And according to another one, the dragon flew from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay, where it laid 2000 eggs. “Ha” means “to land”; “long” means “dragon”, and “bay” means “bay”. In other words, the “Bay of the Landing Dragon”. And if you go to Vietnam, you simply mustn’t miss Ha Long Bay! Two thousand rocks, standing in the water as if they were sunbathing. Something I had never seen before, and something you can really only understand when you see it with your own eyes! The food in Vietnam is something else that you have to try for yourself to realise just how good it is! But with such a tremendous selection to choose from, what should you eat in Vietnam? Here are my favourites, which you can be sure will not disappoint:

  • BANH XEO – rice pancake made from rice flour, coconut milk and turmeric, filled with plenty of vegetables and served with salad leaves, herbs and “nuoc cham”, absolutely the best dressing made from fish sauce, water, sugar, lime or lemon juice, garlic and chilli. So simple, and yet so delicious!
  • BÁNH CUỐN – my favourite! Steamed Vietnamese rice flour pancakes filled with vegetables, tofu, shrimps and so on as desired, and also served with “nuoc cham”
  • RAU MONG – cooked water spinach that is tossed in lots of garlic and a little oil! If I could grow water spinach myself, I would do so in a heartbeat – that’s how good it is!
  • PHO – rice noodle soup with fresh herbs, vegetables and tofu, shrimps or whatever as desired
  • BUN RIEU – rice noodle soup with crab, tofu and tomatoes – fabulous!
  • GOI CUON – fresh spring rolls in rice paper (not deep-fried), filled with vegetables and shrimps etc. as desired. Often served with a sweet peanut sauce
  • GOI – the Vietnamese word for “salad”. Usually made with green mango, papaya or pomelo. There are lots of different versions, but the secret is in the sauce, and every single salad was simply – WOW!!

 

Not to be missed

  • Hoi An – a tiny artists’ town on the coast, 600 km south of Hanoi with exceptionally good food, a large market and the best iced coconut coffees! Be sure to try the speciality “White Rose”, a kind of dumpling. 1 hour flight from Hanoi + 30 minutes by taxi, easy to do in a day from Hanoi.
  • Ha Long Bay- UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 2000 rocks in the water. Breathtakingly beautiful!A bus ride from Hanoi (about 31/2 hours). Usually booked as part of a 2-day trip with a night on a boat. But be aware-> Ha Long Bay is extremly touristy!
  • Flying over Ha Long Bay in a seaplane. It costs about CHF 120 for 25 minutes, but is worth every cent! Seeing the rocks in the water from the air is simply amazing.

 

It’s important to know that …

  • … The cuisines in the north and south are entirely different. Dishes in the south are much sweeter and spicier, whereas in the north they’re saltier and a little more sour.
  • … Whenever you can, walk. That’s not only the way to see the most of everything, but it will also help you to work up an appetite and make more room for all the fabulous food!
  • …It’s normal to hear lots of horns on the roads, so you’d better get used to it.
  • … Vietnam is extremely cheap! Getting around won’t cost much at all, especially if you mainly eat street food (which is far and away the best anyway).
  • … As many people will understand “How are you?” as people at home understand Chinese. In other words, hardly anyone. So it’s a good idea to learn a few stock phrases such as “Hello”, Thank you”, “Please” and “How are you?” off by heart. This will help to break down the language barrier and win people over.

 

Text: Nadia Damaso
Bild: Nadia Damaso & Tanja Wüthrich


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