Known as the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta has long-lasting agricultural traditions. Slow-moving waterways are alive with shrimp and river fish, while all year round, the fertile soil yields an abundant crop of fruit, rice, and vegetables; everything is amazingly fresh with outstanding diversity and subtle fragrances.
The local fare brings its own unique twists and flavors to the traditional cuisine of Vietnam and has a natural sweetness, which is one of the characteristics of Mekong Delta food. You can look forward to noodle soups, rice paper rolls stuffed with lettuce, banana, pineapple, and basil, pate and minced pork wrapped in banana leaves, or pancakes with coconut milk. When touring and cruising through the Mekong Delta, you simply must try these:
Elephant Ear Fish is classic Mekong food, served liberally to travelers passing through the Delta. The whole fish is fried to perfection and served upright, having the appearance of an elephant’s ear, so that the succulent flesh can be easily peeled off and rolled with pickles, cucumber and herbs in rice paper and then served with a special dipping sauce made from minced garlic, fish sauce, tamarind sauce, sugar, lemongrass, and chili.
These pork meatballs are made with minced pork that’s kneaded until chewy, then seasoned and chargrilled on the sidewalk. The smoky scent from the grill entices passersby to pull up a stool. The assembly for Nem Nuong is a bit like a burrito, with fresh herbs, rice noodles, pickles, cucumbers, and grilled pork rolled firmly inside a whole rice paper.
This savory donut is made from mung beans, shrimp, baking powder, onions, spices, and rice flour. Once prepared, the batter is poured into a mold and then deep-fried in hot oil until golden brown. The cake is traditionally served on a lettuce leaf with sweet & sour fish sauce, and garnished with herbs and pickles. Popular in Can Tho and Soc Trang, it makes a perfect afternoon or evening snack.
This dish looks like Japanese udon but the taste is very different because the Vietnamese use rice and tapioca starch as ingredients. To make the broth, the vendor chooses the sweetest coconut with the thickest meat. The juice is used together with the boiled baby clam water to make the broth, and the coconut meat is ground to extract the milk. When the broth is almost done and seasoned, the noodles are mixed in, then the heat is lowered to add the coconut milk. The mixture is then poured into a bowl, the stir-fried baby clams are added along with seasoning to create a buttery, fragrant, savory and sweet dish.
This is a popular soup in Southern Vietnam, especially in Long An Province. It is characterized by its contrasting sour, sweet, and savory flavors. The soup comprises seafood (eel, shrimp, snakehead, catfish), with tomatoes, okra, spring onions, chilies, pineapple, tamarind, bean sprouts, and a variety of herbs and tamarind leaves for its sour flavor. Traditionally, canh chua is served either with rice vermicelli noodles or with a side of steamed jasmine rice.
This traditional delicacy is prepared with chicken pieces marinated in lemongrass, turmeric, salt, sugar, garlic, shallots, and fish sauce, then stir-fried in oil and simmered in coconut water until tender. Typically served with hot rice or noodles.
Originating from the Kiên Giang province, this broth is made with either a whole snakehead fish or a rich stock derived from pork bones. It is then combined with shrimps, fish sauce, onions, sugar, garlic, pickled leeks, hot chili peppers, eggs, paprika, rice noodles, mung bean sprouts, scallions, Vietnamese coriander, cucumbers, and catfish or tilapia fillets.
Pop rice is crispy puffed rice made with a decades-old technique. Whole grains of rice with their husks intact are poured into a large pot filled with black sand from the Mekong River. As the mixture is stirred over a fire, the rice begins to puff and pop, and it is later filtered twice through a mesh in order to remove the black sand and the remaining husks. The crispy rice is then placed into another wok-shaped pot and mixed with a syrup consisting of sugar and water. The syrup can be additionally flavored with anything from coconut milk, green tea, and caramel to peanuts or ginger. While still hot, the rice and syrup mixture is flattened with a rolling pin and cut into squares before being sold to hungry customers.
A specialty from the Soc Trang province, Banh Pia is a moon-shaped cake with a sweet, rich flavor. The cake’s crust is made from both tapioca flour and wheat flour, and its filling is made from sticky rice flour, mung bean paste, salted duck egg, and pork fat. Durian fruit is often added for additional flavor.
Some of the Mekong Cruises offer a cooking class or demo, there are also cooking classes in the area – if you’re a big-time foodie, not only will you love tasking the local Delta flavors, but why not also give it a try and learn how to make some of the dishes yourself?
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