Within tourist areas, a wide range of food acceptable to the international palate is freely available, restaurants are usually clean and menus often have English translations. Elsewhere, the variety is far less, dishes and menus are often unrecognisable and preparation and eating areas are a long way from international standards of hygiene. Having said that, few visitors seem suffer food-related illnesses during their stay!
Apart from the most expensive establishments, hotel food is nearly always offered as a buffet with a mixture of Asian and international dishes. Although the quality may be good, the variety is often unimaginative. Haivenu usually leaves you to your own devices in the evening so that you can choose the type of food and level of restaurant that you prefer. We also offer an 'eat street' alternative in Hanoi, whereby you can sample the bewildering array of specialist street 'cafés'. Our staff will be pleased to accompany you to the places where the locals eat - the food will be wholly authentic, delicious and cost a fraction of restaurant prices. Don't expect Western-style 'hygiene' though - however, we've taken plenty of our guests to 'eat street' without a single stomach uset! On tours including meals, we use the best available restaurants. In remote areas without suitable restaurants, picnic meals will be provided.
Vietnamese food is mostly nutritious and healthy. Cooking methods are confined to grilling, frying, boiling and steaming, as ovens are not used. The staple is rice, either as grain or flour. The cuisine varies according to the region. In the north, it is comparatively bland, with a strong Chinese influence. Food in the Hue area is spicier, with some French touches. In the south, dishes with hot spices proliferate. Each area has its own local specialities.
Vietnam has wide range of soft drinks, ranging from ‘Coke’ and ‘Pepsi’ produced here under licence to locally produced fizzy drinks and ‘energy-boosting’ concoctions. Fruit juices are ubiquitous, ‘nuoc trang’ (water, lemon juice and sugar) being very popular. Fresh orange juice and other sweet fruits are sometimes served with added sugar or salt – watch the person making it and stop them if necessary. Also very popular with visitors are fruit ‘shakes’: chopped fruit blended with ice, water and milk in a blender.
Vietnamese coffee is mostly grown in the Central Highlands. Robusta is the usual variety served in Vietnamese establishments – black, thick, and very strong. The minority of Vietnamese people who drink coffee usually mix it with condensed milk – definitely an acquired taste for most foreign visitors. In the cities, smoother Arabica coffee and fresh milk is becoming popular. A curious, and expensive, variety is ‘Weasel Coffee’: Arabica beans are fed to a weasel, pass though the animal’s digestive system, excreted whole, and then collected. Its passage through the creature’s intestines is supposed to create a more mellow flavour. For Vietnamese coffee cafés look for the sign 'Trung Nguyen' - they are very common throughout Vietnam. For Western-style coffee, visit the tourist areas.
Vietnamese tea is mainly green, sometimes with flavourings, and drunk without milk or sugar from small handle-less cups. This is the drink traditionally offered to people visiting families, friends, offices, shops and so on. Black tea is also popular, but drunk without milk. If you want a traditional cup of tea with milk, stick to the tourist areas - elsewhere you're likely to end up with lukewarm water with a teabag and condensed milk.
The range of alcoholic drinks in Vietnam is limited. Apart from expensive imported wines and spirits, most drinks available are domestically produced variations on rice wine, or lager-type beer. Rice wine is drunk neat, often direct from the fermentation jar via a bamboo straw, or distilled into a spirit, usually mis-labelled ‘vodka’. The wine is also used as a base for the addition of plants, barks or animals. These are usually drunk for their ‘medicinal’ purposes – snake wine is very popular with men who believe it enhances virility.
In the north, 'medicinal' wines and spirits can sometimes be found - definitely worth a tasting session. In Hanoi, there is a restaurant that specialises in fruit wines and liqueurs from the hill tribe villages - our staff will be pleased to escort you and help you to return to your hotel.
Beer comes as variations of French-style lager, and as ‘bia hoi’. Also known as 'fresh beer, it is relatively low in alcohol, produced daily, and served ice-cold. It’s cheap, ubiquitous and delicious on a hot day!