EAT LIKE A LOCAL - 5 TIPS TO ENJOY LOCAL DELICACIES IN VIETNAM
Some words of advice on not what to try, but how to go about trying Vietnamese dishes and enjoy the experience like a true blue local.
Know the norms. It helps to have small change ready, and payment is usually made after finishing the food (don’t see the locals not paying beforehand and get confused), and in well-known food joints that serve a single specialty, there might not be a menu since almost all diners know what they’re there for. Many stalls might also be open at only certain times of the day e.g. noon for various reasons.
Cha-grilled meat noodles or bún chả is a lunchtime favourite especially in Hanoi, thus many stalls may only be open at noon.
Know the dish itself, since one can have many variants. In the case of beef phở in particular, the meat can be done specifically to one’s preference: rare or medium, of certain cuts, with more tendons and so on.
3 out of the many possible meat variations of phở bò. Have it your way, indeed.
And then there’s regional variations too, so don’t be puzzled when your authentic Hanoian beef bowl doesn’t come with bean sprout as you thought it should, because that’s how Southerner eat and not Northerner.
Know the add-ons. It helps to know what is included in your order, since Vietnamese dishes always come with lots of garnishes by default, and some of it such as spring onion aren’t to everyone’s liking.
Bún bò Nam Bộ (Southern style beef noodles) for example contains peanuts, a potential allergen for many.
It also helps to know how to handle the optional condiments on the table e.g. lime wedges, garlic vinegar and such. If researching beforehand isn’t your thing, taking cues from fellow local diners is always a good idea.
Follow the crowd. Comes in handy when famous food stalls spawn various “clones” along the same stretch of road, confusing even the locals not in the know.
The small street Tố Tịch in Hanoi, crowded with dozens of similar fruit cocktail stalls.
It might help too, to include Vietnamese keywords like địa chỉ (address) while googling to sieve out locals’ recommendations. This especially applies for the less well-known delicacies such as miến lươn (eel vermicelli)…
Know your preferences while ordering. If you feel uncomfortable with anything, you can always ask the stall owner to leave it out. True, it might feel less of an authentic culinary experience doing so, but then again not everyone, locals included, can appreciate the taste of certain ingredients.
Case in point, the infamous mắm tôm or shrimp paste (bowl in the middle). For the uninitiated, it’s something like the durian of condiments: foul-smelling, but tasty.