The mythical origins of bánh chưng, a traditional Tet food in Vietnam, go back to the sixth Hung King, whose son created the recipe for the steamed cake in a bid to become his father’s only heir. The green leaves that encase a bánh chưng represent the earth, reflecting the green forests, mountains and meadows of Vietnam. Inside the cake, hidden beneath a thick layer of sticky rice, are beans and pork, which are symbols of the earth’s plants and animals. During Tet, families make bánh chưng and offer them to their ancestors, and share them with friends. This year, you’ll know exactly what you’re biting into – a piece of Vietnamese heritage.
You know that Autumn has finally arrived when you see cốm for sale on the streets of Hanoi’s old quarter. Cốm is young rice, harvested early, pounded within an inch of its life, and served in a lotus leaf. Much tastier, sweeter and chewier than conventional rice, cốm is best eaten slowly and, believe it or not, tastes great when eaten with ripe bananas.
Here’s the vocab you need to sound like a professional next time you’re at a Vietnamese seafood restaurant:
hải sản: seafood
ốc biển: sea snails
cá hồi: salmon
Lẩu: hot pot
Lẩu cá: fish hot pot
Cháo cá: fish congee
Mực nướng: grilled squid
When visitors call into a Vietnamese house during Tet, they will very likely be offered some Mứt Tết, or special dried food snacks that are always eaten during the Tet period. Mứt Tết are usually displayed in a segmented tray or bowl (pictured above) and they’re totally delicious.
If you’re wondering what type of food gifts you can give a Vietnamese person, we suggest you give them something that they can add to their Mứt Tết bowl, such as:
Mứt dừa – sweetened dried coconut strips – absolutely addictive!
Hạt sen – lotus seeds
mứt gừng – candied ginger
The above can be purchased from any Vietnamese supermarket and in the foyer of Dong Xuan Market in the Old Quarter.
Drinks are also a hit at this time of year. We recommend the following as appropriate Tet gifts:
Trà Ô Long – Oolong tea
Imported vodka, scotch, wine or brandy
Now that winter has arrived, it’s time to sample Hanoi’s best winter street foods.
Sweet potatoes, roasted in their jackets, are now on every second street corner in the capital. Ask for them by the “cu” or piece – usually sell for 8,000 vnd each, depending on the size
Banana fritter stalls have just popped up this week in response to the cold weather.
Sticky rice sellers are on the streets regardless of the season, but now is the best time of the year to enjoy a hot breakfast of xoi lac (sticky rice with steamed peanuts). The price is 10,000 vnd for one parcel or “goi”. Be sure to ask for “vung” or sesame seeds when you order.
This Sunday 20th August, come visit the Tay Ho Artisan Bites Food Market at Emporium, featuring locally-made, organic (or close to organic) products!
The market’s mission is to provide a platform to support existing, up-and-coming businesses as they sell their homemade, or handmade foods within the local community.
It’s all all about community and we want to invite you to sample new products, give direct feedback and purchase your favorite artisan bites to enjoy at home.
Join us for the inaugural market on August 20th from 9am to 3pm in front of the Emporium at 172 Xuan Dieu Street.
One of Vietnam’s most bizarre-looking fruits, qua mit or jack fruit tastes like a cross between pineapple & banana and does have a fairly odd smell. It’s in season at the moment & just a few pieces of this fruit can give us our daily fibre essentials. Eaten in its unripe state, in a curry or casserole, jack fruit is tipped to be the next big meat substitute because it has a chewy consistency. Notoriously difficult to prepare, it’s best to buy jackfruit already shucked from its prickly outer.
Here’s the essential vocab list before you leave home:
thịt gà: chicken
thịt lợn: pork
thịt bò: beef
thịt cừu: lamb
thịt dê: goat
To know the price per kg, ask:
Bao nhiêu tiền một kilo?
If you don’t know what type of meat you’re looking at:
Thịt này là gì?
If you’re worried the meat may not be tender, ask:
Thịt này có mềm không?
Cooking tip: Vietnamese beef can be a bit chewy. To make it tender, marinate it in a bowl of egg whites for 30 minutes before cooking.
First, let’s translate the sign so you can read what’s on the menu. Xôi means sticky rice, and on the right hand side of the photo is a list of alternatives:
Thịt = meat (usually pork or chicken)
Xéo = sprinkled with green beans, animal fat and fried spring onions
Lạc = steamed peanuts
Ngô = corn
Đỗ xanh = cooked with green beans
Đỗ đen = cooked with black beans
Now to the sprinkles in the 3 plastic bags: to the left are fried spring onions (hanh); centre are sesame seeds, crushed peanuts & salt (vừng); right is shredded animal fat – usually pork or chicken (thịt)
How to order? Sticky rice is served in a bundle (gói) – wrapped up in a leaf. Prices range between 5,000 vnd and 15,000 vnd, depending on how much rice you want and what condiments you add. Ask for một gói xôi lạc ,có vừng, không thịt (1 bundle of sticky rice with peanuts, with some sesame sprinkles, but no meat)
- Eat at well-patronised street stalls in lanes, not on main roads. The vendors who sell to local householders will make more of an effort with hygiene because they rely on repeat business. The same goes for food sold in markets – local markets are way safer than tourist markets.
2. Eat earlier rather than later. Some lunch stalls are open from 11am to 2pm. In the summer months, ingredients like bun (rice noodles) don’t handle the heat well.
3. Uncooked herbs and salad vegetables pose the biggest e-coli risk because they may not have been washed. If these items are part of the street food, take them home and wash them yourself.