The Expert’s Guide to Choosing a Great Vietnamese Restaurant

You’re at the proper place if you’ve never eaten Vietnamese food before. We invited James Beard Award winner and cookbook author Andrea Nguyen, the queen of Vietnamese cooking, to break down the tastes and dishes that those unfamiliar to the cuisine should try.

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It’s absolutely time to include Vietnamese cuisine in your culinary arsenal if you don’t already eat it frequently. It’s easy to fall in love with Vietnamese cuisine, especially if you’re a fan of Thai food. This is due to the fact that although the national meals of these two South Asian nations are remarkably diverse, many of the components are used in both.

You’re sure to find something to satisfy your appetite, regardless of whether you’re a soup slurper, noodle addict, or just enjoy eating a big pile of rice.

Anticipate Some Funk—but in a Good Way

The term “umami” is frequently used by chefs, culinary enthusiasts, and would-be foodies. In addition to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, some people also classify it as the fifth fundamental taste. It is an ineffable savory flavor that gives food depth and richness.

Fish sauce, which is used in stir-fries, soup broths, dipping sauces, and everything in between, is the cornerstone of Vietnamese cuisine’s umami-building process. Spicy chilies and raw, fresh herbs like Thai basil and cilantro frequently break up the umami.

According to Nguyen, “Those basic ingredients of Vietnamese cooking often surprise people who are unfamiliar with it.” “But it’s what really sets Vietnamese food apart from Thai food, which is bold and sensual, and makes Vietnamese food resemble a succession of soft, lovely rolling hills.”

Elect for a Hot Bowl of Pho

Vietnam is known for its pho, a noodle soup that Nguyen claims is ideal for those who are unfamiliar with the country. “This dish is delicious and highly adaptable, making it an excellent starting point.” After adding your choice of protein (beef, chicken, seafood, or tofu), bean sprouts, basil, mint, cilantro, onions, and occasionally other vegetables, rice noodles are dropped into a clear but flavorful broth. If you like your food spicy, squeeze some lime over the top and add a squirt of Sriracha or other chili sauce. But don’t overlook Vietnam’s other beloved soup—try bun bo hue!

Snap a Banh Mi.

This one’s for you, carb lovers: banh mi is a traditional Vietnamese sandwich that’s a fantastic starter meal and quite addictive. Then, pickled vegetables (usually carrots and daikon, a mild type of radish), cucumber, chiles, cilantro, and whatever protein you’re craving—we’re talking decadent pork belly, roasted or minced pork, or even chicken, sardines, or tofu—are heaped onto a soft-on-the-inside, crusty-on-the-outside baguette.

Summertime Doesn’t Only Mean Summer Rolls

In America, goi cuon—also known as summer rolls—is a savory, light dish that is usually served as an appetizer but is good enough to eat for lunch or supper. According to Nguyen, “chewy, translucent rice paper typically encases thinly sliced shrimp, pork, or tofu, lettuce, and herbs.” They are frequently served with a peanut or sweet chili dipping sauce (which, of course, includes fish sauce), depending on the establishment.

For the Fans of Rice…

You should try a variety of Vietnamese rice recipes. When you first start out, seek for meals that include tender meats that have been grilled or barbecued and are served with a mountain of rice or a pile of thin, vermicelli rice noodles that resemble angel hair. Other typical accompaniments include pickled vegetables, fresh cucumber, and herbs.

Unable to Select a Restaurant? Follow This Guideline

Nguyen suggests, “Look for a focused, relatively tight menu.” “A restaurant that has a lengthy menu—more than two pages—is usually overly ambitious.” If the restaurant has a specialty dish, she advises testing it out as well; if it lives up to the hype, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Don’t be afraid to have fun and enjoy the experience!

Savor Vietnamese cuisine however you see fit. There aren’t many guidelines; you may use chopsticks, spoons, forks, or your hands, depending on the cuisine, she explains. “Never be embarrassed to seek assistance from others when you are unsure about something. Vietnamese people take great pride in their food, so as you learn something new, you’ll quickly make friends.


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