Northern Vietnamese Cuisine: An elegant taste of age-long culture

One thing that makes Vietnam stand out across the globe and leave a distinct mark on the worldwide tourism map is its rich culinary art. Every dish made intricately does not only taste remarkable but holds meaningful spiritual values as well. And of all regions along the country, Northern part represents most completely the soul of Vietnamese cuisine.
 


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1. How a country’s traditions are preserved by food

Overall, Vietnamese cuisine is based greatly on balance rules, which always have five elements in terms of taste, organs, nutrients and colours. While fundamental tastes & colours are created from 5 factors that make life: spicy/ white (metal), sour/ green (wood), bitter/ red (fire), salty/ black (water) and sweet/ yellow (earth), the rules for organs & nutrients aim for healthiness: gall bladder, small intestine, large intestine, stomach, and urinary bladder; powder, water or liquid, mineral elements, protein and fat respectively.

Traditionally conformed, Northern Vietnamese cuisine signifies an equitable combination of the ingredients. The culinary work here is not bold in any particular taste or colours. Neither it has any dominant ingredient. Most Northern Vietnamese foods feature light and balanced flavors, resulting from subtle combinations of many different flavours.


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After years of development, Northern Vietnam dishes have maintained the age-long taste when being innovated to hold these key characteristics:

  • Freshness: Most meats are only briefly cooked. Vegetables are eaten fresh; if they are cooked, they are boiled or only briefly stir-fried. The dishes vary in regions because they take the available ingredients right in each place. For instance, one signature dish of Sapa is com lam, that of Ha Long is cha muc and those of the Red River Delta are things made from rice…

  • Presence of herbs and vegetables: Herbs and vegetables are essential to many Vietnamese dishes and are often abundantly used. They can be eaten raw, rough boiled, in broth or sauté.

  • Variety and harmony of textures: In order to maintain a proper balance, Northern Vietnamese dishes are usually the mixture of crisp and soft, watery and crunchy, delicate and rough.

  • Elaborate making process: Subtle as it may present, food of Northern Vietnam is usually made through numerous steps so as to refine the unessential parts and take the most valuable ones. Take Pho as an example, its broth is cooked so thoroughly that it takes hours stewing to get the soup.

  • Attractive presentation: The condiments accompanying Northern Vietnamese meals are usually colorful and arranged in eye-pleasing manners. The food may be cooked from such simple ingredients, but it has to appear elegant.

2. Signature Dishes of Northern Vietnamese cuisine

The following list includes the most famous and original food that will bring a whole Northern Vietnam to your senses. At Lang Lieu, these dishes are meticulously made to preserve the traditional taste. For more information, please have a look at our full menu.

2.1. The famous Pho

A favourite dish of the Vietnamese people, the pho noodle soup, has been recommended as a "bowl of heaven" by The Huffington Post, a US newspaper website.


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The online newspaper lists the dish as one of the most delicious foods people should discover while travelling abroad. Pho is soup consisting of broth of Beef or Chicken, Rice noodle or called bánh phở, slice of Beef (all different cuts) called Pho bo. Chop Chicken with bone and chicken broth called Pho ga. the broth with a few herbs or no herbs (depending where the Pho cooked), Pho is a popular street food in Vietnam where it found almost a century ago from the northern Vietnam. It is ranked 11 out of the list of top 12 foods.

"Pho is a specialty of Ha Noi. You can taste it in other places. But the pho is better in Ha Noi than anywhere else." It says.

It's not simply the recipe here that makes Hanoi Pho outstanding but also the spiritual meaning it has. For its long history, Pho is the witness of time flow, the evidence of national development, and a food of a cultural category.

2.2. Bun Cha

Bun Cha - a classic Hanoi dish, is a great combination of savory and fresh flavors. It has a vibrant color and the harmony of the meat and vegetables is incomparable. When taking Bun Cha as your meal, you will be served with a plate of vermicelli (bun), a bowl of broth with grilled pork, and a basket of fresh greens.

Bun, the vermicelli noodles, are served on a separate plate. To make a decent bowl of bun cha, the vermicelli has to be thin, soft, and chewy.

Cha is the meat of this dish, served in a bowl. The meat is made from pork and cooked in two styles: cha vien (ground pork) and cha mieng (grilled thin sliced pork). It is served with the broth.


The highlight of bun cha is definitely the broth (or dipping sauce). To make the sweet and sour soul of this dish, the cook mixes fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar together. The ingredients might sound simple but the taste varies from one shop to the next because every Hanoin has their own ratio they follow. Diners can tell whether their bun cha is good or bad by the flavor of the sauce.

Without vegetables and herbs, Vietnamese dishes are not complete. In the big basket of greens on the table, there are often fresh lettuce, Thai basil, cilantro, fish mint, banana flower, and coriander.

2.3. Banh cuon

Banh cuon is made from a thin, wide sheet of steamed fermented rice batter filled with a mixture of cooked seasoned ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, and minced shallots. Sides for this dish usually consist of cha lua (Vietnamese pork sausage), sliced cucumber, and bean sprouts, with the dipping sauce which is fish sauce called nuoc cham.


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Banh cuon has many varieties, with the most popular one being Egg Banh cuon. Probably taking the most finesse to make, egg bánh cuốn requires the yolk runny, yet not broken. It’s rolled so when you bite into it, the yolk breaks and blends in with the slow cooked pork and all the other ingredients. Served with a rich pork jus, this version gets saucy in a hurry.

2.4. Com (Green rice flakes)

Com is freshly harvested sticky (glutinous/sweet) rice that's been toasted to bring out its delicate flavor. It can be eaten as is and out of hand. Though the grains quickly lose their delicate qualities (around 24 hours), people in the North enjoy them past their prime in other dishes. For example, they can be featured in rice cakes called bánh cốm, which often appear during special events like engagement ceremonies or Tet, made into ice cream, or suspended in a sweet dessert soup. The grains may stir-fried with sugar and oil, a preparation that sounds rich and dandy. They may also be popped and mixed with sugar syrup into a Vietnamese rice crispy treat. In other cases, they can be used as the main ingredient for Cha Com, which is a specialty of Lang Vong - Vong Village (Hanoi).

For northern Vietnamese, particularly Hanoians, Com from Lang Vong has a special place in their hearts. The rice grown in that village is wonderfully flavored and fragrant, a unique artisanal product that's only grown and harvested in autumn by farmers of that village. Super fresh Com from Vong village is considered the best.



 

2.5. Nem (Spring rolls)

Nem is the Northern Vietnamese name for fried spring rolls, made from crispy rice paper wrapped around a mixture of minced pork and/or sea crab, vegetables, mushrooms, glass noodles and egg yolk. Like Bun Cha, what completes Northern spring rolls is the special dipping sauce. It's tradition fish sauce mixed with garlic, pepper, lemon/ vinegar, , chillies and water. The best way to enjoy fried spring rolls is dipping it into abundant sauce while it's just hot fried, which will make your taste boom at the crispiness and amazing flavour.


(Photo: Pixabay)

There's another version of spring rolls that does not require heat - salad rolls (goi cuon). Depending on region, salad rolls were made differently. Some vegetarian families make vegetarian spring rolls rather than meat spring rolls. However, the typical ingredients include slivers of cooked pork (most often cha pork sausages), shrimp, sometimes chicken or tofu, fresh herbs like basil or cilantro, lettuce, cucumbers, sometimes fresh garlic, chives, rice vermicelli, all wrapped in moistened rice paper. A typical salad roll may contain boiled pork, boiled rice noodle, cucumber, carrot and herb only. They are served at room temperature with dipping sauce.

2.6. Com lam (Rice in Bamboo tube)

It is rice, often glutinous rice, cooked in a tube of bamboo, served with salted roasted sesame, grilled pork or chicken skewers. The bamboo chosen should be fresh and young so that the new membrane inside the tube can wrap the rice, adding it a special flavor, fragrance and sweetness. To prepare the rice, first fill the tube with about 80% of rice and 10% of water, in favor of water inherent in bamboo, then adding a little coconut water to make the rice more pleasant; wrap the tube with banana leaves and then burn it on fire until it smells pleasant.

When it is done, the singed skin of the bamboo is removed, leaving a thin cover that is also peeled away when you eat. Sniffing the blending fragrance of fresh bamboo, banana leave, and sticky rice as well as experiencing the sweet flavor of rice, bamboo, and coconut, and the greasy saltiness of sesame, or the great taste of grilled wild boar are certain to induce guests to fall in love with “cơm lam”. A tube of “cơm lam” plus fragrant grilled wild boar taken with a sip of “rượu cần” (literally “straw wine”) is enough for you fall in line with a culture-rich Northern land of Vietnam.


 

2.7. Che (Vietnam tradition sweet desert)

Che is any traditional Vietnamese sweet beverage, dessert soup or pudding. Varieties of Che are made with mung beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, tapioca, jelly (clear or grass), fruit (longan, mango, durian, lychee or jackfruit), and coconut cream. Other types are made with ingredients such as salt, aloe vera, seaweed, lotus seed, sesame seed, sugar palm seeds, taro, cassava and pandan leaf extract. Some varieties, such as che troi nuoc, may also include dumplings. Che are often prepared with one of a number of varieties of beans, tubers, and/or glutinous rice, cooked in water and sweetened with sugar.

The preparations are named with the addition of qualifying adjectives referring to a wide variety of distinct soups or puddings which may be served either hot or cold. Each variety of che is designated by a descriptive word or phrase that follows the word che, such as che dau do (literally "red bean che").


 

In Northern area of Vietnam, che hoa qua - fruit che is the most popular. The particular ingredients may depend on seasons, for example they have lotus seed che during summer.
 


Overall, Northern Vietnam culinary works are subtle, delicate, meticulous and highly refined. They are also reflections of history, by which you can sense the soul of a country. And with your experience at Lang Lieu, a soulful Vietnam can be found right on your plate!

Named after the progenitor of Vietnamese cuisine, we dedicate ourselves to providing a special journey back time so that every guest can fully sense Vietnamese culture-rich history through the food we serve. Our menu presents signature traditional dishes in Northern Vietnam, from the Old Quarter of Hanoi to the mountainous North-West and North-East. Also, located right in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Lang Lieu has such a tranquil vibe that you will immediately find peace the moment you step past the door.