I once read in a magazine that as an unwritten golden rule, one shouldn't pass up the chance to try a good local dish in every foreign country you visit. Not only will you only get to eat that particular unique delicacy in that country, but each local dish carries that country's history. Each food has a simple story that tells a bit of their motherland's everyday tale.
It particularly holds true with Vietnam's scrumptious exotic dishes. For one, Com (boiled rice) is eaten at the main Vietnamese meals of the day. In the recent years, urban dwellers bean to go out for lunch at the food stalls on the street. Such clamor for a well-served lunch with com catered to the boom of temporary food stalls along many sidewalks and public places in the cities. Some stalls are open until early in the morning to accommodate to regular customers. In the afternoon, when there are no more customers, owners begin to remove all the wooden furniture, so the place returns to their original look. Com (grilled rice) is mostly served during fall. Grilled rice can be found all over the place in Vietnam, but the best com is found in Vong village, 5 km from Hanoi. People in this village still use traditional secret recipes. People eat grilled rice with eggs, bananas, or sapodillas.
Banh Chung (sticky rice cakes) is a Vietnamese traditional dish that every family place on their altar as offerings to their ancestors. According to the legend, under the reign of the Hung Kings, Prince Lang Lieu created sticky rice cakes and presented them to his father. Bang Chung won high acclaims from the King who awarded the prince his throne.
As for those looking for real rare dishes only in Vietnam, then Cha Ca and Gio Lua is the food for you. Cha Ca, or grilled minced fish, has been served in Vietnam for more than 100 years. The Doan family of Cha Ca Street in Hanoi first invented the dish, which can be spiced up by your favorite condiments like coriander, mint, dill, shallots, and more. Gio Lua (lean pork meat) is available in Vietnam only and has different names throughout the country.
Banh Tom (crispy shrimp pastry) is available almost everywhere in the country; however, it is at its best at the Nha Hang Ho Tay (Ho Tay Restaurant) on the banks of Truc Bach Lake, close to Ho Tay (West Lake) in Hanoi. One can enjoy the scenic lake and landscapes offered the vast expanse of water from West Lake and the tree-lined Thanh Nien Road while waiting the arrival of the hot fried shrimp pastry. The dish should be eaten as soon as it arrives at the table. To remind you of the local shrimping business, waiters will often tell you that the shrimps that you have ordered for your meal have just been netted in nearby West Lake. This will be a memorable meal that will ensure that you remember your stay in Hanoi.
Vietnamese fried spring roll is called Nem Ran by northerners and Cha Gio by southerners. In Hanoi, the introduction of Nem Ran dates back to a time when Cha Ca had not existed. Although it ranks among Vietnam's specialty dishes, Nem Ran is very easy to prepare. Consequently, it has long been a preferred food on special occasions such as Tet and other family festivities.
When Hue natives living outside the city return to their homeland, they usually have Tom Chua (Hue Sour Shrimp). Tourists also make sure to buy some jars of sour shrimp before leaving Hue. Because of the national reputation of this dish, some cooks and merchants specialize in making sour shrimp. In the past, people made this dish at home, but now it is easier to buy it at the market.
Canh Chua (Fish Sour Soup) originated from the Mekong Region, more specifically from Dong Thap Muoi. Canh chua is a fish sour soup made with fish from the Mekong River. This dish is mostly served when the so dua flower first blossoms at the end of the rainy season. A feast is organized and the fish sour soup is among the delicious meals prepared for this event. Fish sour soup must be eaten very hot. It must also be eaten all at one time since the taste is altered when the soup is reheated.
The list is endless, but it sure is worth it. Next time you're in Vietnam, be sure to fill your stomach with their exotic dishes which represent not only their way of life, but also their diverse and colorful culture. Happy eating!