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Forget Banh mi: if you haven't already tried pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup whose U.S. craze has all but boiled over in the past decade, then do yourself a favor and hop on the bandwagon. For those converted and itching for more Vietnamese culinary revelations, then a trip to Vietnam might be just the thing to sate your appetite.
Fresher, lighter, brighter
So what exactly is all the fuss about Vietnamese cuisine?
"Vietnamese cooking is fresher, healthier, lighter, and brighter than, for instance, Chinese or Indian or French," according to Peter Lindberg of Travel and Leisure. "After the wonder that is Vietnamese produce, the stuff back home seems like a recording of a recording of a cassette that was left out in the sun."
Vietnamese food seems catered to making you feel good about yourself, which - along with inexpensive prices - might help explain its recent popularity. Pho, a staple of any Vietnamese's diet, is a noodle soup comprised of vegetables, rice noodles, herbs and a protein (usually beef), all in a broth that seems to warm the cockles of your soul. Throw in some of the hot sauce served at local restaurants, and it'll just as easily clear your sinuses.
Sampling the spectrum
Soups are a prominent part of the cuisine, and pho is just one part of the equation. Try ga tan, a chicken broth soup that is good for what ails you, or lau, a communal dish served in an oversized pot that's filled with anything from "tofu to frogs," according to CNN Travel.
If you're looking for something a little more healthful, try goi cuon, a mini salad with coriander wrapped into a papery spring roll. These are perfect for dunking into fish sauce, another pillar of Vietnamese cuisine.
Speaking of salads, nom hoa chuoi is Vietnam's answer to the question of the same-old romaine and iceberg concoctions. Carrots, cilantro and papaya complement the thin slices of the scruffy, purple banana flower featured in this dish, which is then topped with - you guessed it - fish sauce.
Topping it off
One of the great aspects of eating in Vietnam is that the best food is often found in markets and street vendors, perfectly designed for convenience and efficiency. That doesn't mean you should pass up on Vietnamese egg coffee, or the icy sweet concoction of coconut milk, fruit and bean jelly that is Che. There's always time for a little dessert.
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