Street Food Vendors
Viết Nam is full of snackers who are never far from a quick bite. Because the country is lacking in entry-level jobs, and because there is a huge food market cooked outside the home (most home kitchens are poorly equipped or very cramped), people start their own ad hoc businesses, including food stalls. The entrepreneurial spirit drives cooks to the streets, where they master the art of making a single dish: sticky rice, banana fritters, green papaya salad. The cooks employ every technique – deep-frying in make-shift pots set over open fires, stir-frying in big works over high flames, steaming in giant lidded bamboo baskets balanced atop rickety propane burners – to make snacks that are served and eaten on the spot. Even talented home cooks don’t make these dishes at home. Yes, space is at a premium, but an attitude persists too: why try to make something at home that you can so easily and cheaply purchase from someone who has perfected the recipe?
Street food offers a direct connection between the cook and the eater. Part of what makes the food so appealing is that it’s super-fresh. You’re literally watching the dishes being made, start to finish, in front of your eyes. It is Viết Nam’s answer to fast food, only it is far more interesting, varied and well prepared.
Unlike a full-service restaurant, street vendors usually make only one or two items. That means they’ve perfecting their recipe, customizing their equipment, sourcing the best ingredients. After trying an excellent bite from a vendor, I’ve often asked for the recipe. Not a single cook has ever given me on. The recipe, and the practised technique, is as much a commodity as the food they’re selling you.
The three common denominators that help identify the best vendors: they’re usually stationary, serve a single dish or one ingredient prepared in a few different ways, and they’re always crowded.
In Viết Nam, the foods you buy from street vendors aren’t categorized as hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, or main courses, though some items are traditionally served at a certain time of the day. Rice porridge and soup are found in the morning and are rarely eaten after lunch. Sweets stall might open for only a few hours each morning. A soup vendor might pop up for a few hours during the morning commute, then pack up until the next day.
Must-Try Vietnamese Street Food Dishes & Snacks:
Arguably Vietnam’s most famous dish, a visit to Vietnam would not be complete without sitting down to a steaming bowl of Phở (pronounced ‘fuh’). Put simply, Phở is a noodle soup served with herbs and either chicken (Phở Gà) or beef (Phở Bò).
Along with Pho, Bánh Mi is the go-to meal for backpackers and regarded by many travellers as the best street food in Vietnam! Bánh Mi simply translates as bread and is a poignant, lasting symbol of French colonialism. In Vietnam, these baguettes are given a local twist by stuffing them with pickled vegetables, shredded daikon, slices of cold meat, egg, mayonnaise, chilli sauce and pork liver paté.
Widely considered as the best Vietnamese street food out there, Bun Cha is a Hanoi speciality and a must-try when visiting the capital. This dish is often found at speciality food stalls, who serve nothing else but this one dish.
Nem Ran (also known as Chả Giò) are fried Vietnamese spring rolls and can be found all over the country, usually only costing 10,000 VND per sizeable piece. There are lots of variations on classic Nem up and down the country, meaning it is advisable to try as many as you can!
Bánh Xeo is a regional speciality from Hoi An, in the middle of Vietnam. Bánh Xeo is made using rice flour batter and beaten egg to make the outside, which is folded in half to make a casing, similar to a taco shell. Turmeric is sometimes added for colour. The filling is a mix of shrimp, pork and beansprouts.