by Bach Pham
Once a rare find, Vietnamese food seems to slowly, but surely be finding a place among the vast landscape of American restaurants. With Pho Viet becoming a solid foundation in Columbia, SC, and well… a bunch of random places serving pho in Greenville, NC, it seems like a good time to pull out a bit of a beginner’s guide for a new generation of pho eaters out there. Read on to get a taste of the traditional dishes you can expect to find in a typical Vietnamese restaurant.
Thin slices of pork marinated in a bit of something sweet and grilled, served on top of noodles with pickled carrot/daikon (white radish), fried onion, and a sweetened fish sauce, bun thit nuong sounds like a heavy dish on paper, but is actually a wonderfully refreshing dish that fits the bill any time of the year. It comes in a ton of variations, sometimes adding shrimp or egg rolls to the mix. This is one dish that’s all about the meat though. Some places are a bit heavy on the sugar, either making it burn or just too sweet. The right balance, however, makes this dish a winner. My personal favorite.
“Goi Cuon”, fresh, fast, and fun.
The freshest of ingredients wrapped in rice paper, this Vietnamese appetizer is a classic starter at any restaurant. In the household, a few of these can easily become a meal any night of the week. There’s a beautiful art with goi cuon, one that separates the winners from the losers. A pour wrap can spoil the whole show, leaving you in an ugly mess. A nice, tight wrap makes all the difference here. The second biggest key to this whole app is the sauce. Usually a hoisin sauce cooked down and sometimes combined with a little peanut butter and topped with chopped nuts, the sauce definitely makes this a killer app when done right (and should always be considering how easy it is to make!).
Though it can come in a million different way, shapes, and forms, com tam is a traditional item featuring a special short grain rice served with a grilled pork chop, pickled carrots and daikons, a special baked meat/egg dish similar to a quiche, and fish sauce to tie things together. More traditional plates often include “bi”, or pork skin. This is a bit of a bolder dish for those looking to try out Vietnamese food, but you’ll should see it on most menus. There’s so many factors that go into a great “Com Tam”. The egg in particular can go wrong a million ways (I’ve even seen it blue on occasions. Blue!), and the pork chop can be dry in seconds if not served quickly. The fish sauce also is key in a great “Com Tam”. If you want to play it safe and get a more surefire bet, try the dishes above first to make sure they get your seal of approval before venturing out for this dish.
Hopefully the next – or first – time you try out a Vietnamese restaurant, you can sink your teeth into some of these fantastic dishes. Thanks for reading!
Olive Hanoi Hotel – 22 Hang Be Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Hotline: (+84) 972004080