Shaped like a giant ‘S’, Vietnam curls from the lush hills of the north and the capital Hanoi, down the central coast and historic Hoi An, to the southern curve surrounding Ho Chi Minh city.
Home to 63 provinces, Vietnam is bordered by China, Laos, and Cambodia, as well as the East Sea and the Pacific Ocean, creating a land of various climates and culinary inspirations. For an overview of this dynamic nation, read our guide to the various cuisines of Vietnam, from its Northern, Central, and Southern region.
Northern cuisine strikes a balance between salty, spicy, sweet, bitter, and sour. Essential flavourings include fish sauce and shrimp paste, and black pepper is used in place of chillies to produce ‘spicy’ flavours. Due to its cooler climate, Northern Vietnamese cuisine uses fewer herbs and vegetables than the southern regions, and preferred cooking techniques include stir-frying and slow-braising, to inject more warmth into the meal.
Signature dishes of Northern Vietnam include:
• bun cha (rice noodle with grilled marinated pork),
• pho ga (chicken rice noodle soup)
• chả cá Lã Vọng (rice noodle with grilled fish patty).
• bun rieu cua (pork, crab and noodle soup)
• banh cuon (handmade rice noodles filled with pork and wood ear mushrooms)
• nem cua be (fried crab spring rolls)
• squid patties
The food in the Central region is characterised by its hot and spicy flavours. The former imperial capital of Vietnam, Hue boasts a culinary heritage that is steeped in the tradition of Vietnamese royal cuisine. Chillies, black peppercorns, and shrimp-based sauces are among the most widely used ingredients, and due to their intensity of flavour, dishes are served in small portions.
Signature dishes of Central Vietnam include:
• Bun bo Hue (spicy beef soup with rice noodles)
• Cao lau (udon-style noodles with pork and herbs)
• Com hen (tiny steamed clams with rice)
• Steamed pork with rice paper
• Banh Hue (savoury steamed cakes)
• Hoi An style chicken rice
The southern cuisine has been significantly influenced by diverse food cultures from all directions and factors. Thanks to its warm weather and fertile soil, the south has a bountiful supply of fruits, vegetables, and livestock. Dishes in Southern Vietnam are often seasoned with garlic, shallots, and fresh herbs, and the locals prefer their dishes to have more sugar than in the other regions, which can be seen in the widespread use of coconut milk. Due to its proximity to the coast, seafood plays an indispensable role in Southern cuisine.
Signature dishes of the South include:
Banh xeo (crispy pancake with pork and prawns)
Goi cuon (rice paper rolls)
Pho bo (beef noodle soup)
Bahn mi (Vietnamese baguette)
Bo la lot (beef wrapped in betel leaves)
Hu tieu muc (squid noodle soup)
Com tam (broken rice)
Caramelised fish in claypot
Stay tuned for more Vietnamese cooking inspirations and give the various cuisines of Vietnam a try!
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