Food: Vietnamese cuisine is very varied. There are around 500 different traditional meals, varying from exotic meats like cobra or bat flesh, to fantastic vegetarian dishes. The basis of a typical Vietnamese dish is steamed white rice (óm). Soup (phó), vegetables (rau), meat, fish (cà), herbs and sauces are served with steamed white rice (óm), the basis of any traditional dish. Soup is eaten with almost every meal. Meat, shrimp (tom), crab (cua) and fish play an important role in Vietnamese cuisine, especially in the South. Fish is the most important source of protein for many Vietnamese. Pork, chicken (g-), beef (bó), duck and pigeon are widely used, plus a large variety of vegetables and tropical fruits, such as coconuts, papayas, pineapples, apricots, apples, lychees and mango. Unusual fruit include the delicious pink dragon fruit, the purple mangosteen, the pungent durian fruit and the water apple. Baguettes are remnants of the French colonial period and are available throughout the land. On the streets you can buy baguettes with pâté and cheese. Spring rolls and steamed rice pancakes are popular snacks. Spring rolls are named nem Saigon in the North and cha gio in the South. They are made of crabmeat, pork, mushrooms, shrimp, rice, Chinese noodles and bean sprouts, rolled in a thin layer of rice paper and deep fried until crispy. An outstanding soup traditional to the South of Vietnam is called ho tieu. This soup is usually made using shrimp, crabmeat and pork. Bun bo is another popular and spicy soup, made with mint, bean sprouts and lemon juice. A third popular soup is canh chua, made with fish, pineapple, star fruit and fresh herbs. There are, for more adventurous eaters, speciality restaurants where tortoise (con rua), snake (trang/ran ho), eel (uon), frog (ech), dog (thit cho), bat (con doi/doi qua), and other exotic meats are served. Vegetarian dishes are available everywhere, but don’t expect perfection in this field. ‘Toy an chay’ is the translation for ‘I am a vegetarian’. The best vegetarian dishes are bamboo soup, cooked mushrooms or a vegetarian soup called s-p rau. The Vietnamese have adopted the Chinese custom of eating with chopsticks. You take some rice in a bowl and fill the rest of the bowl up with meat, fish or vegetables from the communal dishes. You then bring the bowl up to your lips and begin to eat. Never plant your chopsticks upright in the rice; this is seen as a sign of death due to the similarity with how incense sticks are placed in a pot on an altar at a funeral.
Drinking Water: Tap water in Vietnam is not suitable for consumption. Mineral water (nuoc suoi) is a safer option and available everywhere. However, make sure that the bottles have their original seals intact. Ice cubes are also a bad idea; although the ice is made from distilled water, it is transported unhygienically.
Drink: Tea (nuóc tr- in the South, nuóc chè in the North) and coffee (c-phe) are the most popular drinks. Vietnamese coffee is of a very high standard. Tea is the traditional welcome drink and is usually green. You can also request Lipton tea (regular tea bags). Soft drinks such as cola, 7-up and fruit juices are available in Vietnam, and fresh lemon juice is deliciously refreshing. Fresh coconut is also very tasty. Beer (bia) is available in more than adequate supply and is often served with ice-cubes. Alongside the international beers there are also local beers. Good quality Vietnamese beers include ‘333’ (ba ba ba), ‘Saigon’ and ‘BGI’. Imported spirits are expensive, but Vietnamese vodka is reasonably priced. Vietnamese rice wine is called ‘ruou’.
Restaurants: Both Vietnamese and Western meals are served in the restaurants of the big hotels in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It is also nice to visit small local restaurants. Pay attention to the busy places and the places where native Vietnamese usually eat. The food in such places is fresh and appetising. Stalls on the side of the road with the sign ‘óm/phó’ (rice/soup) sell extremely cheap food, often of a high quality. A good tip for restaurants where the waiter does not speak good English is to just point to dishes that other diners are eating.