Pho, Banh My, Bun Cha, or any other household names that shine the spotlight for Vietnamese cuisine are definitely not everything that Vietnam can offer for your culinary discovery. To make you feel like a real local, there are so much more for you to try, especially the weirdest ones. Some people even consider those dishes bizarre and challenging to taste but I can guarantee you, once you get used to it, it is will be your next favorite culinary delights, just like how durians have captured many hearts and souls worldwide. With such affordable price, these should definitely be put in your bucket list.
1. Bun Dau Mam Tom (Rice Noodles with Fried Tofu and Fermented Shrimp Paste)
The first nominee goes to Bun Dau Mam Tom which basically includes fresh rice vermicelli (Bun), fried tofu (Dau), and fermented shrimp paste sauce (Mam Tom) as its name has suggested.
What makes the dish a must-try for daredevils is the pungent shrimp paste (Mam Tom) sauce that would be a terror for foreigners for its “stinky” smell. It is made from shrimp and salt through the process of fermentation to create the unique taste and color. The dipping sauce for the dish is usually made with fermented shrimp paste, a pinch of sugar, some lime or kumquat juice and a bit of sliced chili to create a sweet and savory flavor combined with spiciness. In case you cannot stand the extreme taste of the sauce, you can always opt for fish sauce instead.
Another star of the dish is the deep fried tofu (Dau) with the golden color on the outside and the white and juicy filling inside. The common shapes are squares, circles, or rectangles. Obviously the next ingredient is the fresh rice vermicelli which is round and soft. What special about Vietnamese cuisine is that we almost always have with us fresh fragrant herbs such as shiso, marjoram, basil and lettuce, etc. as side dishes. This will definitely upgrade the flavor and make it more scrumptious.
Besides those main ingredients, nowadays each proportions can also be added with Cha Com (a kind of green rice pork nugget), Nem Ran (spring rolls), Thit Luoc (steamed pork), or Long (steamed pig offal).
2. Chao Long (Pig’s Offal Rice Porridge)
In some culinary traditions, piggy odds and ends are usually thrown away but in Vietnam they will be put to good culinary use. For Westerners, it would be weird to eat up almost every part of an animal but Vietnamese regard it as normal not to waste anything. Indeed, we turn those pork intestines into extraordinary offal porridge (Chao Long) that will win your heart right away.
“Chao Long”, which literally means pig’s offal porridge, is cooked from the broth made from braising pig’s bones and innards and rice. The filling for the porridge includes pig’s liver, tubular innards et al for the meaty experience. This dish used to be very common to the people working hard from dawn to dusk in the past, thanks to its cheap and affordable price. Now it has become a daily dish loved by Vietnamese all across the country, from the North to the South. It is very easy to spot sidewalk eateries that sell it on the street.
The porridge serves as a typical Vietnamese dish because it stays true to the country’s culinary tradition of wasting next to nothing. The spotlight of Cháo Long probably goes to “dồi” which looks like western sausage but its filling is a mixture of cooked blood pudding, ben sprouts and herbs.
It may not have an aesthetic presentation, but its flavors and textures will win your heart right away.
3. Cut Lon Xao Me (Half-hatched quail eggs in tamarind sauce)
Many western tourists might have been familiar with half-hatched duck egg which is a nutritious and popular food in Southeast Asian country namely Vietnam and the Philippines. While Filipinos called it “balut”, Vietnamese called it “Trứng Vịt Lộn”.There are tons of vlogs and blogs about the experience for this distinct dish. Hence, today we will get to know a dish which is similar to it but with a more sophisticated dish: The half-hatched quail eggs in tamarind sauce.
This is another weird but freaking yummy street food of local Vietnamese which comes with the special sweet, sour and greasy taste. The pungent smell of quail eggs are suppressed and harmonized with the aromatic scent of tamarind, garlic, chili, pepper, ginger, peanuts and laksa leaves on top.
It usually appears on snail restaurant menus and is favored for the delicious and nourish feature. If you want to find a dish to hang out with friends for beer night, this one will be a perfect choice.
By Nguyen Thu Thao, ASEAN Correspondent from Vietnam