The vastness of Vietnamese cuisine can be surprising. When thinking about how large the country is in terms of land, it really doesn’t seem like that big of a place… until you think about the fact that it a densely populated country of over 95 million residents, plus a healthy number of visitors who arrive from around the world every single year. People often talk about the diversity of cuisine in China and India, but Vietnam, though far smaller in both population and size, is quite different depending on the region you are in. For example, com ga tam ky, which is Vietnamese style chicken and rice, is really found everywhere mostly in Quang Nam province, or in its city by the name of the rice type, Tam Ky. Pho has regional differences between the north and the south. Bun bo hue, or spicy lemongrass beef noodle soup with pig’s feet, is a Hue dish, but much beloved throughout the entire country. In Northern Vietnam, you can find goose (well, they call it goose, but I read that it’s technically called Muscovy duck, which can be likened to goose in terms of what they eat and how they live). In Southern Vietnam, the banh mi cold cuts are far more varied than in the south due to historical reasons — since in the past, meat was more readily available in the south vs. the north.
During this trip, I’ve been surprised by a number of dishes we’ve come across. We tried the grilled muscovy duck, which was delicious, rich, and fatty. We also had a dish I’d never heard of before called pho chien phong, which is basically flat squares of fresh rice noodle battered, then deep fried, and tossed with stir-fried greens and beef slices. Rice is the king here in Vietnam, whether it’s in pure rice, broken rice, or rice noodle form, and here was just another way of eating it. We could hear each component being prepared as we waited for our food. The fried squares of rice noodle, beef, and vegetables came on a plate that was nearly towering over. It was a hearty and filling dish, one that overwhelmed Chris. The fried noodle cubes were like poofy little pillows, hollowed out when you bit into them, revealing the light and soft rice noodle square inside.
This is one of those dishes that seems like it’s Chinese, but given the use of rice noodle in this manner, is most definitely Vietnamese. The amount of preparation to cut each of the noodles into shapes like these and then to batter each is only a Vietnamese thing given how painstaking it was.