Viet­nam cui­sine is sim­ple, yet com­plex, and al­ways ex­quis­ite


Go on, say it: Viet­namese cui­sine. Just think­ing of it makes you feel good. Fresh herbs, spices, fra­grant aro­mat­ics and the ubiq­ui­tous fish sauce – nuoc cham – can end up in a pot of pho or wrapped into a cha gio (spring roll). Gin­ger, lime leaves, lemon­grass; ev­ery­thing from gar­lic chive leaves to the com­plex­ity of a per­illa leaf with its green top and pur­plish un­der­side and hints of lemon, licorice and mint.

Re­gard­less of the re­gion or prov­ince, you’ll find some­thing that they do bet­ter there than any­where else. In the south, in the sprawl­ing Mekong Delta, a labyrinth of ir­ri­ga­tion canals and float­ing mar­kets, it’s co­conut candy. Known as keo dua, it’s made from mix­ing malt and co­conut milk which, when thick­ened, is put over a wooden mould then cov­ered with co­conut oil be­fore be­ing cut into mouth-wa­ter­ing, bite-sized pieces.

Co­conuts are best picked when they’re turn­ing dry, guar­an­tee­ing a greasy, sweet milk. And you’re never far away from one of the delta’s co­conut candy work­shops where you can eat it while it’s still warm! Ex­otic vari­a­tions in­clude can­dies flavoured with choco­late, pan­danus leaves, or even the much-ma­ligned durian.

The river­side mar­ket in the an­cient trad­ing port of Hoi An, along the banks of Thu Bon river on the cen­tral Viet­nam coast­line, is a heady mix of vis­i­tors and mer­chants where you can be as con­ser­va­tive or ad­ven­tur­ous as your taste­buds can han­dle.

Here you can munch on 21-day-old duck em­bryos – ba­lut – ei­ther boiled or steamed and eaten di­rectly from the shell; or the more aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing banh bao vac, the ex­quis­ite and al­most weight­less white rose, a pa­per-thin dumpling made from two


small mounds of rice pa­per with a tiny spoon­ful of ei­ther shrimp or meat and topped with a sprin­kling of crispy shal­lots. When steamed, the edges of the rice pa­per be­gin to warp and take on a del­i­cate flower-like ap­pear­ance. You’ll want to eat them by the dozen.

The white rose is the city’s sig­na­ture treat, and at the Hoi An mar­ket you can take cook­ing classes in how to make them.

Also in this town known for its pro­fu­sion of tai­lors and its French colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture you need to try won­tons, whether fried with shrimp, pork, herbs and onions or served as a soup with noo­dles. For­get that the won­ton ac­tu­ally orig­i­nated in China (as in­deed did steam­ing, stir-fry­ing,

Take your taste­buds on a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery ex­plor­ing the de­lights of Viet­namese food.

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