Food is at the very heart of Vietnamese culture. Almost every aspect of social  and family life revolves around the procurement, preparation, and shared pleasure of nourishment. Markets are on every corner, food is on every wayside. A sneeze elicits the blessing cơm muối, or “rice with salt.”

The food is beautiful to behold, if only for the colors alone: turmeric-yellow crepes, sunset-orange crabs, scarlet-red chiles, deep-purple shrimp paste, and endless jungles of vivid green. Vietnamese cooking is fresher, healthier, lighter, and brighter than, for instance, Chinese or Indian or French, three of its closest relations.

Hanoi

When Hanoians here crave a particular dish, they usually visit a particular street vendor. The best way to see Hanoi is to think the city as one buffet, moving from one street to another to eat everything.

 

Hue

Hue is renowned for its elaborate cuisine, developed by the skilled cooks of the royal court. You coule be knocked out by Hue’s specialties, from cơm hến (a spicy clam-and-rice concoction) to bún bò (beef noodles). Bún bò Huế is the city’s signature dish: broth of beef bones, suffused with lemongrass and stained red from chiles, ladled over a bowlful of umami: paper-thin strips of beef, crab-and-pork meatballs and pig’s trotters.

Hoi An

Hoi An still evokes Vietnam’s long-ago like few places can, especially at night, when the lanes are finally quiet and silk lanterns glimmer like rainbows off the river. Like Hue, Hoi An has a fine culinary tradition, including some dishes that are only made (or made well) here. One is the soup known as cao lầu, whose thick noodles are cooked in water from one of five local wells. Any other water, people tell you, just won’t work.

 

to be continued…