Bun thit nuong – A wonderful mixture of flavors
11. Bún thịt nướng (bun thit nuong)
Vietnamese cuisine is brilliant for combining a contrast of flavors and textures into a single dish, and I think bun thit nuong, or better yet bun thit nuong cha gio, is a great example of this.
The dish normally begins with a handful of chopped up herbs and lettuce at the bottom of a bowl, then in goes fresh rice vermicelli noodles (similar to Thai khanom jeen noodles), then a few skewers of grilled pork are layered on that, and finally a sweet and salty fish sauce, and a scoop of oily chives and green onions, and pickles are all added on top.
If you get the bun thit nuong cha gio, in addition to everything already mentioned, you’ll also get a fried spring or two chopped up on top, which bumps the delicious-meter up another notch.
The noodles are soft and silky, the pork is tender, salty, and sweet, and the egg rolls (cha gio) add a beautiful crunch to everything.
When I was in Vietnam, I enjoyed dousing my bowl of bun thit nuong with a few scoops of freshly ground chili (which should usually be on your table) to balance out the sweetness and make it fiery.
Bun thit nuong is a dish you should for sure not miss when you’re eating in Saigon.
Banh tam bi – Noodles in coconut milk sauce
12. Bánh tằm bì (banh tam bi)
Bánh tằm bì is a food that’s only available in the south of Vietnam, and if you love the flavor of coconut milk, you’re going to fully enjoy banh tam bi.
Just like banh canh cua (food featured above), banh tam bi is a dish that uses a similar thick noodle – yet the flavor and the toppings are much different.
A plate of banh tam bi often begins with a handful of roughly cut herbs, including lots of sweet basil and Vietnamese coriander on the bottom, topped by a pile of thick sticky rice noodles, a scoop of both finely shaved pig skin and pork meat, a garnish of green onions, and finally a ladle of thick coconut cream sauce.
The noodles are sticky and soft, the herbs add a nice fresh touch, and the gravy is typically sweet and buttery from the coconut milk.
While I did think banh tam bi was pretty good, it’s not a dish I really loved because it was on the sweet side for me, and lacking a strong or spicy flavor.
Nevertheless, it was very enjoyable and I did like it, but it would be more of an occasional dish on my Vietnamese menu repertoire. But again, if you love coconut milk, you should by all means try banh tam bi.
13. Bánh cuốn (banh cuon)
I’m a huge fan of Vietnamese bánh cuốn, and though originally comes from the northern part of the country, it’s extremely popular throughout Saigon.
Banh cuon, which directly translates to rice cakes, are sort of like noodle wrapped, non-deep fried spring rolls, packed full of savory ingredients.
To prepare the recipe for banh cuon, a thin layer of rice and tapioca flour batter is steamed into a noodle like crepe. It’s then filled, often with a combination of lightly seasoned minced pork, small dried shrimp, and wood-ear mushrooms, and served with finely shaved lettuce and blanched bean sprouts on the side.
Finally, you can’t eat banh cuon without dipping it into sweet fish sauce, known as nuoc cham, the stuff many people say is the lifestream of Vietnamese cuisine, and I personally can’t live without chilies.
What I love about banh cuon are the soft fresh noodle wrappers, and since I’m not a huge desserts or sweets lover, I like the salty mix of pork and shrimp on the inside.
When I was walking though local fresh wet markets in Saigon, I noticed banh cuon being made all over the place, especially in small tightly packed alleys. So keep an eye out for banh cuon all over the place.