Southern food is sweet and succulent, but it would be a sin to neglect these delicious northern novelties
Vietnam's three major regions are as different as earth, wind and fire.
The people, landscape, weather and yes, even the food, change in almost every province, but the most pronounced differences come between the northern, central and southern regions.
Southern food is often sweet and filled with fruit while central food is known for being spicy and a bit salty.
But northern dishes are known for their subtlety and are often prepared in a minimalist way without losing out on flavor. Northern chefs concentrate on freshness and focus more on vegetables and pure fish sauce rather than on fruits and sugar like in the south. Spice is added to dishes by diners, not by the cooks.
Ho Chi Minh City has a cornucopia of restaurants from every region and sub-region in Vietnam and the world and many locals frequent northern eateries to get the rawer, simpler flavors of Hanoi and its surrounding areas.
Banh cuon (rolled rice cake) is one of the most popular northern dishes in HCMC.
The meal, which is often taken for breakfast, starts with a thin sheet of freshly cooked rice paper. Though these are normally prepared beforehand in HCMC, in the north they are made fresh to order. The papers are super-thin, sticky, wet, stretchy and chewy.
Skillfully rolled in the silky smooth paper is a delicious combination of ground pork and spices.
The cake is placed on the plate and sprinkled with tiny shrimp, chopped peppermint and coriander for a dash of freshness. The rolled cake is served with fish sauce and two kinds of Vietnamese cold-cuts: cha lua (lean pork paste) and cha que (roasted cinnamon pork paste). Northern banh cuon is served with a straight fish sauce, while southern eateries mix the sauce with sugar. Diners can add red-hot chilies to the sauce if they like.
Other northern foods popular in HCMC are pho ga Ha Noi (Hanoi chicken and rice noodle soup), banh da cua (rice pancake with crab soup), cha muc (squid cake), bun rieu cua (shrimp crab tomato soup with rice noodle) and canh bun (round noodle crab soup).
Many people in HCMC love eating canh bun with rau nhut (water mimosa) and rau muong (water spinach). The green, crispy leaves blend perfectly with the sharp broth and savory crab meat. This soup is also often a breakfast dish.
Other popular northern meals not usually taken for breakfast include canh cua rau day (jute plant crab soup) and ca phao muoi (salted egg-plant), which is served with mam tom (shrimp paste).
To get a taste that brings you back to the old historic streets of the northern capital, try the dishes listed above or go for ga rang muoi (fried chicken with salt), rau lang luoc (boiled sweet potato bud), and ca ro kho tuong ban (stewed anabas with bean paste) at any of these HCMC eateries specializing in northern delicacies:
Goc Ha Noi Restaurant
24/8 Pham Ngoc Thanh Street, Ward 6, District 3
Huong Xua Restaurant
222 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1
Dang Xua Restaurant
33 Cao Thang Street, District 3
23 Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1
Bun Cha Hoang Tuan Restaurant
T11 Hong Linh Street, Bac Hai Quarter, District 10
Banh Cuon Restaurant
127 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, District 3
Reported by Nguyet Anh