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Exploring the Culinary Side of Vietnam

Vietnam has been fortunate to experience an increase in international tourists as the numbers of savvy travelers seeking out cultural adventures continues to grow each year. Located on the eastern part of the Indochinese peninsula, Vietnam is a cultural goldmine with China to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west, the East Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the east and south. Food and travel just go together naturally, leading to many travelers today looking beyond the standard luxury destinations and accommodations; and instead insisting on the opportunities that can also provide an enriching culture experience. Cooking alongside local chefs is a great way to understand the cuisine through their eyes, and an integral part of these culinary tours being offered throughout Vietnam.

Vietnamese cuisine has continued to grow in popularity, and while restaurants around the world are serving their own versions of these unique dishes, the locals throughout Hoi An, Hue, and then ending in Hanoi. Each of these destinations have their own traditions when the local cuisine is concerned, and each dish provides a ‘taste’ of Vietnam’s culture and heritage. Touring through the villages and tasting local favorites; enjoying dinner at a royal home and a colonial mansion; learning about traditional artistry from local families; and even a street-food tour on the back of a vintage Vespa can be a reality in these fascinating destinations.

SAIGON

More often referred to as Ho Chi Minh City today, this metropolitan area is the most populated city in Vietnam, which moves at a very fast pace, and stimulates the senses with all of the sights, sounds, smells and buzz happening all around. However for the locals, they will forever know their home to be named Saigon and don’t often recognize their city being referred to as Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnamese

Cooking alongside local chefs is a great way to understand the cuisine through their eyes, and an integral part of these culinary tours being offered throughout Vietnam.

Vietnam have the local ingredients and traditional methods to produce deliciously simple, yet complex dishes. With emphasis being placed on healthy food options today, Vietnamese food is still considered one of the healthiest cuisines worldwide. Traditionally, this cuisine is recognized for its fresh ingredients, minimal use of oil, and the abundance of fresh herbs and vegetables; including fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruits, vegetables, lemongrass, ginger, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander, Saigon cinnamon, bird’s eye chili, lime and basil leaves.

Going far beyond the standard Vietnam that tourists often see when visiting, these culinary tours provide a complete emersion into the local culture by spending quality time with the locals. There is no shortage of high-profile Vietnamese chefs who provide interactive cooking classes that tap into all the senses; allowing for a complete Vietnamese experience and one that will be forever remembered by the travelers.

Beginning to comprehend how famous many of these chefs are within Vietnam that associate with these bespoke culinary tours, Tamar Lowell of Access Trips explains, “I was just back in Vietnam and when I mentioned to the hotel’s receptionist about our chef in Saigon, Ms. Nguyen Dzoan Cam Van, the receptionist looked at me in awe and told me that Ms. Nguyen is her idol.” These chefs are ‘rock stars’ in their home country.

Starting in the southern city of Ho Chi Minh – Saigon, this culinary exploration moves north through Vietnam, featuring colonization of this fishing village began back in the 17th century, and after a rich history involving Dynasties, French colonization and the Vietnam War, this dynamic city has a story to tell.

Blending in with the locals is simply part of the experience, and joining all ages and economic classes to savor the local flavors from the street food is a perfect solution. These outdoor restaurants serve seafood such as crabs, mussels, frog’s legs, clams and snails; and also the more traditional street food, such as banh xeo (Vietnamese pancakes filled with pork and seafood), deep fried spring rolls and fresh spring rolls. End the night as the locals do by taking-in some live music and gathering with friends at one of the local coffee houses. This is the “real” Saigon.

HOI AN

Along the South Central Coast of Vietnam lies Hoi An, which is actually a very well-preserved town that was an active trading port between the 15th and 19th centuries. As with many of these vital ports of this time, many nationalities settled in this region, including those from China, Japan, India and beyond; leading to Hoi An being a very ethically diverse destination today. It was 1999 that UNESCO declared Hoi An as a World Heritage Site due to the importance it had as a South East Asian trading post.

 
The pride of Hoi An is clearly Chef Duc Tran, who is an Overseas Vietnamese, meaning that he lived overseas before returning to his homeland. However, as Tamar Lowell of Access Trips explains, Tran’s story is much more complex. “When he was 15 years old, with just two hours notice, his parents put him on a refugee boat out of Vietnam – alone and afraid, he spent a year in refugee camp in Malaysia, before being taken in by a family in Texas.” Chef Duc Tran spent the next two decades living and cooking around the world, honing his innovative culinary skills before returning to his homeland to reconnect with family and open his wildly successful fusion restaurants in this ancient town of Hoi An. Today, Tran’s worldly knowledge and appreciation of global cultures is seen and tasted in each dish he skillfully creates.

HUE

Arriving to Hue is like stepping back into time; though it’s the capital city of the Th?a Thiên–Hu? Province, it was also the imperial capital of the Nguy?n Dynasty between the years of 1802 and 1945. Today, Hue is a very religious city where Buddhism is taken very seriously, and is the location of the most monasteries in the country. Much of the population here is vegetarian, which is very evident by the number of vegetarian options when dining in this city. Much like Hoi An, Hue doesn’t have that big city vibe, but these two both offer a glimpse into Vietnam’s past, and a beautiful way to delve deeper into the local heritage.

HANOI

Clearly a night-and-day difference from Hoi An and Hue, Hanoi is located on the right bank of the Red River; and more than a thousand miles away from Saigon. Starting in the largest city in Vietnam, with several stops off the beaten path in beautiful Hoi An and Hue, Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital, and the second largest city in the country. Here, modern skyscrapers mesh with historic relics across Hanoi’s skyline; and it is evident that culture, politics, religion, art and overall city excitement come together harmoniously to create an unmistakable Vietnam experience. However, at the heart of this city is still the traditional Vietnamese cuisine, and is even recognized as the home of pho ph?. It’s having access to opportunities that explore these culinary curiosities, while also allowing for time with the locals along the way, that make these culinary adventures such a popular option for luxury travelers today. Though it’s always disappointing to leave the welcoming people of Vietnam, travelers have a deep-rooted appreciation for the local cuisine and culture after these extraordinary journeys.
?n ngon mi?ng!

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