The best food in Vietnam

The best food in Vietnam

Although it is still highly conservative in matters of LGBTQ equality, this shouldn’t put gay couples off visiting the country and sampling the best food in Vietnam. Gay rights in Vietnam are making small but notable advances: 2015 saw homosexuality legalised by the back door after national legislation outlawed any ban on same-sex activity, while some commentators have ranked Vietnam higher than the US for its progress on gay issues. Gay hotspots tend to thrive in the biggest cities – Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City among them – where, luckily for you, the country’s rich broths and crunchy local vegetable dishes are at their most accessible.

A great place to begin any exploration of traditional Vietnamese cuisine is Nén, located in the coastal city of Danang, midway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Named after an obscure local hybrid of garlic and shallots, which only grows in the countryside around Danang, this restaurant aims to celebrate Vietnam’s underrated ingredients and techniques. Producing many of these ingredients in-house in its ground and rooftop vegetable plots, the result is fresh and balanced authentic flavour combinations with a contemporary twist. But Nén isn’t the only restaurant that whips up unusual flavours: Royal Saigon Restaurant Bui Vien in Ho Chi Minh City combines local herbs such as Vietnamese balm, shiso (beefsteak plant), and sawtooth, enhancing its plates of traditional home cooking.

Nen Restaurant

Nen Restaurant

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Boasting an effortless French style in its décor, La Villa’s menu equally leans toward the Francophile

Opus Saigon can also be found in Ho Chi Minh City (still referred to by its former name of Saigon by many of its residents). It promises the highest quality Asian fusion cuisine, within a simply staggering multi-storey edifice of wooden fretwork design. La Villa’s stunning surrounds act as the perfect backdrop to the city’s most practised fine dining menu. Boasting an effortless French style in its décor, its menu equally leans toward the Francophile; fois gras terrine, whole Brittany lobster, and roasted French pigeon are notable inclusions on recent a la carte menus. Elsewhere in the city, Hum Vegetarian Lounge and Restaurant offers such impressively fresh and well-balanced dishes in its laid-back dining space that you probably won’t even notice the absence of meat. Prepared from scratch on site, each dish is simple, nutritious, and free from any artificial additives such as MSG.

Vietnam

Photo: Ruslan Bardash

Vietnam

Photo: Stephan Valentin

For local cuisine in the most historic of locations, try Chopsticks, housed within the former Saigon residence of Tran Van Huong, Vice President (and President for a whole seven days) of South Vietnam prior to unification and the end of the country’s long civil war. This restaurant highlights the villa’s original features in its interior décor, and authentic Vietnamese flavours in its menu choices of, for example, crab and coconut hot pot, and tofu with herbs and chilli rock salt. Fusing traditional Vietnamese ingredients in a wholly innovative list of dishes, while steering clear of ‘fusion’ foods, is Hoa Túc (Poppy). The result of its year-long recipe testing is a destination widely regarded as Ho Chi Minh City’s first restaurant for contemporary Vietnamese cooking. Offering a relaxed place to eat in one of the region’s most hectic cityscapes, Hoa Túc invites you to choose between indoor seating within an old Saigon opium refinery, or outdoor seating in a secluded garden. Should a meal here pique your own culinary interests, Hoa Túc also offers a range of cooking classes, beginning at the local market and ending at the tasting table.

Hoa Túc Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

Hoa Túc

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Red Bean is dedicated to serving its diners authentic Vietnamese flavours in an innovative way

The Red Bean chain of restaurants in Hanoi has a similar ethos, dedicated to serving its diners authentic Vietnamese flavours in an innovative way. To do so, its chefs have looked to the red bean, a key ingredient in the country’s cuisine as a result of its versatility, availability, and approachability of taste, as well as its cultural role as a symbol of love and romance. The result is a lovingly created menu of national classics, including grilled pork, marinated prawns, and pho noodle soup, twinned with a striking array of cocktails and mocktails. With various locations around Ho Chi Minh City, Quán Bui Bistro serves home-style cooking amid colonial-era décor in order to bring together families to enjoy Vietnamese comfort foods such as spring rolls, hot pots, and noodle dishes.

The journey to Chuon Chuon Bistro & Sky Bar in Duong Dong on the island of Phú Quốc shouldn’t put you off a visit to this hilltop restaurant and bar, whose sublime views stretch across the Gulf of Thailand. An ideal location to catch the uninterrupted glory of the sunsets here, Chuon Chuon is also one of the best places in Vietnam to head for authentic Italian cappuccinos, flash cocktails, and staples from both Vietnam and around the world, whatever the time of day.

Chuon Chuon Duong Dong Vietnam

Chuon Chuon

Vietnam

Photo: Steve Douglas

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