Vietnamese food is well known as one of the best foods in the world. You might have heard of Phở (Vietnamese noodles), Bánh mì (Vietnamese baguette), and Nem (Vietnamese spring rolls). Besides the delicious dishes, some Vietnamese foods still challenge most Westerners. Do you dare to try them one day when traveling in Vietnam?
Shrimp paste - as the name suggests - is made of fermented shrimps, unlike fish sauce which is made when they ferment fish with a lot of salt for a period of time. Although shrimp paste is not a dish, it is a critical dipping sauce in many Vietnamese cuisines such as Bún đậu mắm tôm (a combination of vermicelli noodles, fried tofu, boiled pork, herbs, and shrimp paste), and Bún thang (a noodle soup with noodles, sliced fried eggs, tared chicken, herbs and sliced Vietnamese sausage), etc.
Shrimp paste is notorious for having a particularly pungent smell, which put off a lot of people on their first try, especially non-Asian people. However, once you've acquainted with the smell, you will learn to enjoy shrimp paste with a myriad of Vietnamese food and appreciate why many locals fall in love with this exotic dipping sauce.
Balut is called Trứng vịt lộn in Vietnamese. It may look like a harmless boiled egg on the outside, but there's actually a duck embryo inside. For those who are unfamiliar with Vietnamese, eating a baby duck inside an egg may not sound so appetizing.
Vietnamese people believe that balut is incredibly nutritious, and the locals can casually have balut as a snack or make it into an entire dish. People usually eat balut with some salt, sliced ginger, and Vietnamese coriander (or Persicaria odorata). Others would prefer to elevate the dish a bit more by making some tamarind sauce or a herbal-infused broth to cook with balut. Balut is also seen in a great many of Vietnamese hotpots.
If you're curious enough to try the dish, lucky for you, balut can easily be found at street vendors at a fairly low price. To build up your courage to try balut, you can consider going with a Vietnamese friend or a local guide.
Contrary to the mentioned dishes, dog meat is not widely consumed in Vietnam, but some people enjoy it as a drinking food.
They usually boil the dog meat, cook with some herbs like ginger, galangal, chilis, or cook soup with bamboo. Shrimp paste is an important ingredient for dishes made from dog meat because as compared to pork and chicken, dog meat has a stronger flavor.
Dog meat consumption has always been a heated debate among Vietnamese. For dog lovers, it is so disheartening to see their dog friends are killed and cooked. On the other hand, dog meat consumption has always been a piece of Vietnamese culinary culture. Therefore, there's no need to feel pressured into trying the food if you don't want to, but it is advisable to respect that dog meat is an option for food among some Vietnamese.
Coconut worms served in fish sauce is a special dish in the South-East provinces in Vietnam, such as Ben Tre or Can Tho. In case eating bugs doesn't sound terrifying enough, you'll also have to eat the worms when they are still alive. The worms usually live inside coconut trees and live off the tree's nutrition, so it is completely safe to eat, but the idea of eating worms alone is what most Westerners cannot get behind. For a less "lively" version of the food, coconut can also be grilled or fried with butter before eating.
If you are a person who loves exploring the life of local people and eating their local food, you should learn some Vietnamese because not many people can speak English. Don’t let the language barrier stop you from having the best experience in the country. You can learn Vietnamese online with the help of native speakers or download a learn Vietnamese app and bring it with you during your trip. If you are brave enough, remember to try the dishes mentioned in this article and share with your friends how you feel.
© Written by Kim Pham for i Tour Vietnam