Exploring Vietnamese Cuisine

Growing up in multicultural Toronto with parents who immigrated from Vietnam, delicious Vietnamese food surrounded me both in and out of my home.

Composed largely of soul-warming noodle soups, Vietnamese food is characterized by its abundance of spices, fresh herbs, and marinated, flavourful proteins. And, though I love a bowl of Pho or a toasted Banh Mi sandwich as much as the next person, there’s so much more to authentic Vietnamese food than these popular but highly-westernized dishes.

Here, I feature and de-construct a few of the best, most under-appreciated aspects of Vietnamese cuisine.

  1. Bun Bo Hue is a spicy beef noodle soup that originates from Central Vietnam. Composed of vermicelli noodles (slightly thicker and chewier than those used in Pho), Bun Bo Hue features fragrant lemongrass, slow-cooked and tender beef, and a savoury shrimp paste-based broth. Personally, I love Bun Ho Hue more than its much more popular cousin Pho. Its rich and spicy broth, refreshingly paired vegetables, and slow-cooked beef shank that falls apart effortlessly in your mouth —   make for a delicious meal.
  1. Goi Cuon Tom Thit (Fresh Summer Rolls with Shrimp and Pork) is a refreshing and light dish often eaten as an appetizer or snack. Consisting of pork, shrimp, vermicelli noodles and a variety of vegetables wrapped in chewy rice paper, Goi Cuon Tom Thit is often served with a peanut-and-hoisin-based dipping sauce. Feeling extra adventurous? There are an infinite amount of variations of this dish that include ingredients like Chinese sausage and egg, grilled pork, and more!
  1. Thit Kho To (Pork Stew in a Claypot) is a common dish served family-style for dinner. One of the quintessential Vietnamese comfort foods, this dish features caramelized pork belly slow-cooked in savoury fish sauce and sugar. Often times served with hard-boiled eggs but always served with rice, Thit Kho To is traditionally cooked in a clay bowl that imparts a subtle, earthy flavour into the dish. Personally, I think the dish is best enjoyed (and shared!) on a cold day.
  1. Goi Du Du Bo Kho (Papaya Salad with Jerky Beef) is a refreshing salad made from shaved green papayas (which are actually just under-ripe papayas). Despite its status as a fruit, the green papaya isn’t very sweet at all, and instead acts as a crunchy vessel for the delicious soy sauce and vinegar dressing. It’s also  served with savoury pieces of beef jerky and topped with toasted peanuts and tons of fresh herbs. Goi Du Du Bo Kho is shared as an appetizer to start a meal.

While some of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Philadelphia can be quite a trek from Penn’s campus, I assure you it’s worth the effort. Next time you find yourself eyeing up that Banh Mi sandwich, take a risk and try something new!