Hanoi versus Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam is a country increasingly distinguished by the quality of its cuisine, where pavements are strewn with impromptu eateries wherever there is an appetite to appease.
We took two iconic cities, and asked a simple question: which one would win in a food-fight? In one corner we have Hanoi, City of the Soaring Dragon, schooled in the art of Chinese-Vietnamese flavour sensation. In the other corner, Ho Chi Minh City, Pearl of the Far East, champion of French-Cambodian fusion.
Let the street-food battle commence!
Ding Ding! Round 1:
Hanoi: Pho (noodle soup)
Hanoi wades straight into the encounter with a classic Pho (fuh) noodle soup, sold by every street vendor worth their sea salt. Pho-bo indicates beef and Pho- Ga means chicken. A rich stock carefully crafted from beef bones, flavoured with a suggestion of cinnamon and star anise, is served with rice noodles and Asian greens.
Tip: If you want the best Pho in Hanoi, eat where the locals eat; they are much fussier than you. This fragrant broth is a fine opening gambit to kick any appetite into touch.
Take that Ho Chi Minh City!
Ho Chi Minh: Hu Tieu (pork and seafood noodle soup)
Ho Chi Minh’s culinary counter-attack to the classic Pho, is a Cambodian style surf ‘n turf soup called Hu Tieu. Normally served for breakfast or as a snack, a bowl of Hu Tieu usually contains pork, prawns, lemongrass and chilli. This aromatic broth is a healthy way to start the day and a dent in the hopes of a Hanoi quick victory.
Ding Ding! Round 2:
Hanoi: Bun Cha (grilled pork and noodle)
Hanoi’s signature dish is an epic combination of sweet and savoury called Bun Cha. Small patties of grilled pork are served with rice noodles and fresh herbs. The aroma of spiced pork sizzling over hot coals is unmistakable and irresistible. Sliced papaya and bean sprouts create texture, while a Vietnamese dipping sauce will take this epicurean encounter to the next level.
Ho Chi Minh: Banh Mi Thit (baguette sandwich with meats)
Ho Chi Minh may be reeling on the ropes, but when you have the Champion of Sandwiches in your corner there is always hope. This is no ordinary sliced-white offering, so no raised eyebrows. A soft French baguette is smeared with liver pâté, finely chopped chilli pepper, plus cilantro, cucumber, daikon (aka winter radish or mooli) pickled carrot and various cold meats including thinly sliced pork skin, tofu and char sui pork. A sandwich; yes, but not as we know it. (Try for yourself; I’ve added a recipe below).
Ding Ding! Round 3:
Hanoi: Cha ca la Vong (Grilled fish and dill)
The third and final round and Hanoi has one amazing trick up its sleeve: Cha ca la Vong is one of those signature dishes that can make the gastronomic world sit up and take note. Grilled freshwater fish meets pungent shrimp paste, dill and spring onions, with peanuts for extra texture served over rice noodles. Widely regarded as one of the top foods to try before you die, this little savoury snack is a sensory attack of the highest order. Serve with an ice-cold Bia Hoi beer.
Ho Chi Minh: Banh kep la Dua (Saigonese Coconut waffles)
The final stage of this exciting competition is upon us and coming your way are Saigonese waffles called Banh Kep la Dua. The super light batter is made from coconut milk, flour, egg and sugar. The result is a waffle that is crispy on the outside while macaroon-chewy in the middle. Knock-out blow landed. Your palette has arrived in paradise.
There is clearly only one true winner of the contest and that’s you. So, if you are lucky enough to get a chance to visit the food-centric cities of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, make sure you pack your appetite. Vietnam is an epicurean dream destination.
But just in case you can’t wait, here are some easy recipes to give you a flavour of Asia:
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)
• 1/4 carrot (2-inch piece)
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1/2 cup warm water
• 1/4 cup asian fish sauce
• 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
• 2 tablespoons white vinegar
• 1 red chilli, thinly sliced (2-3 more if you like it hot)
• 1 green onion, chopped
• Peel carrot lengthwise with a vegetable peeler. Stack carrot slices and cut into very fine long julienne strips.
• In a bowl, mash the garlic with the sugar. Add remaining ingredients and carrot slices and mix well.
Vietnamese Sandwiches (Banh My Kep Thit)
• 1 clove garlic, crushed
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1/2 cup carrot, peeled and grated
• 1/3 cup thinly sliced white onion
• 2 tablespoons jalapeno chile, finely chopped
• 1 (16 inch) baguette
• 4 teaspoons low-fat mayonnaise
• 3/4 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked or 3/4 lb pork tenderloin
• 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
• 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
• 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
• With chef’s knife, mash garlic and salt into a paste.
• Transfer to a mixing bowl and add vinegar and sugar, stirring to dissolve.
• Add carrots, onions and chilies.
• Toss to coat, set aside.
• Slice baguette into 4 equal lengths.
• Split each piece horizontally.
• Spread cut sides with mayonnaise.
• Arrange the meat on the 4 bottom halves.
• Sprinkle with lime juice and 5-spice powder.
• Top with the carrot salad and a shower of cilantro leaves.
• Cover with bread tops.
*Recipes courtesy of the Vietnamese Tourist Board
Written by: Clive Wedderburn