Regional Distinction of Vietnamese Cuisine: Phở

 “Why does your Phở tastes different than mine?”- a conundrum that both northern and southern Vietnamese have been trying to solve for generations. Is there any legitimacy in believing that each region of Vietnam has a unique palate of taste? Which city can claim to have “the best”, “the most authentic”, or “have invented” a Viet’s cuisine? By taking the most iconic Vietnamese food – Phở, then closely examine the unique taste, preparation, and presentation from each region, we’ll see how diverse and distinctive Vietnamese culinary truly is.

Hanoi is an intersection for Chinese, French, and Indochina cuisine, but the city still has a deep connection to its’ Vietnamese traditions. Phở might not have originated from Hanoi, but its popularity is derived from famous Phở restaurants, whose recipes are well-kept family secrets. Phở Hanoi is easy to make, its ingredients are bountiful: phở noodles, chicken stock, fresh spring onions, and white chicken meat. Phở Hanoi is often accompanied by sliced lime, white vinegar, and mild hot sauce – it’s condiments highlight Phở’s already soulful ingredients.  But each bowl of Phở somehow tastes uniquely different, every small step in making Phở requires precision and creativity. Questions like: How long to boil the broth, what kind of phở noodles to use, what season of spring onions is being used…? Still, Phở Hanoi always revolves around these ingredients, with these cooking methods, bringing a taste that is both refreshing and delicious.

Moving along to Central Vietnam, where the hills are always green, and also the dishes. Phở Hue might not be as glamorous as Hanoi’s, but it proves itself as a wholly unique experience. Hue, with it’s bountiful green hills and tea farms, cooks its Phở with beef instead of chicken. Every part of the buffalo is used in making Phở, creating a wide variety of options through combining types of meat: tenderloin, rib, sirloin…. In contrast with Northern Vietnam’s dedication to simplicity, mostly because of its’ limited access to ingredients compared to the lush environment of Central Vietnam, Hue’s cuisine is always colorful, exotic, and varied.  It’s almost impossible to name all of Hue’s famous cuisine, because each dish is small and the people here eat several dishes per meal. Phở Hue is always served alongside several different vegetables, and 2 different cups of sauce – fish sauce and shrimp sauce. Diversity of flavors is key, and Central Vietnam is not lacking. It’s almost like Central culinary is making a bold statement, proudly asserting itself within the Vietnamese culinary scene.

Saigon, Vietnam’s most economically developed city, is the cultural center of Vietnamese cuisine. A crossroad for international travel and heavily influenced by French and American colonialism, Saigon has not lost its’ Vietnamese culinary essence, but somehow manages to improves it. In Saigon, Phở was in brought by Northern Vietnamese, and underwent years of culinary experimentation from colonialism. Phở Saigon might not be considered a regional icon, but Phở Saigon still represents the best aspect of Southern cuisine – creativity. There’s no correct way of making Phở Saigon. Like a portable all-you-can-eat buffet, Phở Saigon relies on its consumer to mix the ingredients to their own tasting. Always a handful of freshly boiled bean sprout and green leaves nearby, Phở Saigon delivers a wholly distinctive taste on each bite. Saigonese are also know for their affinity for spicy foods. Perhaps it’s because of the tropical weather, ideal for chili peppers, but in every Phở vendor you’ll find a bottle of bright red hot sauce, hot enough to make you sweat just by looking at it. Phở Saigon is an explosion of flavors, a rollercoaster ride of tastes. Contrast with the benign nature of Phở Hanoi, Southern Phở screams personality, a wild beast of Vietnamese cuisine.

A walking tour around Ngon Villa Hanoi

Ngon Villa Hanoi restaurant is situated in Hanoi’s main hub for street food Tong Duy Tan. But what to do after you’ve experienced all of Vietnam’s diverse cuisines? Here are a few of Hanoi’s iconic attractions right outside your doorsteps:

Vietnam Military History Museum: A 10-minute walk from Ngon Villa Hanoi lies one of Hanoi’s most prominent historical landmark. Vietnam Military History Museum captures the atrocity of war and conflict in Vietnam over millennia, with its’ most iconic red flag flying over the infamous Flag Tower of Hanoi, built in the 19thcentury. War planes and tanks are displayed prominently in the courtyard. Shockingly, a crashed fighter jet seems frozen in time, a shocking remnant of the past. Within, rows of wartime equipment stretches across the hall, from camouflage uniforms to bomb shells and torpedoes.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: Located in Hung Vuong street, the mausoleum is another short 5-minute walk from the Military Museum. Here you’ll find the resting place for Vietnam’s founding farther, Ho Chi Minh. Adoring called Uncle Ho by Vietnamese ever since the country’s liberation, Ho Chi Minh is a symbol for Vietnam’s future, and a close reminder of its’ heroic past.

Imperial Citadel of Thang Long: Take a right near the History Museum and you’ll immediately see a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, right in the middle of Hanoi. What used to be the citadel city of 11thcentury Vietnam, Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is know being excavated and restored to its’ former glory. Witness where a vibrant empire once stood, see the outlines of a city that was bursting with life hundreds of years ago.

Hoa Lo prison: A 8-minute walk from Ngon Villa Hanoi lies one of Hanoi’s darkest memory of a world long passed, Hoa Lo prison represents this country’s resiliency in the face of colonialism and invasion. Built by French soldiers to capture and imprison Vietnamese activists, Hoa Lo prison has now been restored to showcase the atrocities that the people of Vietnam had to endure. Cold and dark prison cells, disturbingly hollow and empty, will send chills through your spine, as you walk the path that so many before had unwillingly taken.

Hoan Kiem lake: Take a 10-minute drive or a 20-minute walk from Ngon Villa Hanoi. The myths and legends of this lake has been passed down from one generation of Vietnamese to another. Ask anyone walking by this historic lake and you’ll get the exact story of an old Vietnamese King, a magical sword bestowed by the gods, and a mythical turtle, the god protector of Vietnam. Hoan Kiem lake is surrounded by historical sites, the old quarters, and traditional pagodas. To walk around Hoan Kiem lake is to walk through the historical cycle of Hanoi city.

Chefs’ top 5 and guests’ top 5 at Ngon Villa Hanoi

Vietnamese cuisine is blessed with a broad range of choices, but this can often be a little intimidating for anyone visiting on holiday. Fortunately, we’ve got an all-you-can-eat menu available, where diners can try as many dishes as they like, with small portion sizes to ensure you can indulge in Vietnam’s variety. If that’s still too intimidating, however, we present a shortlist of our finest dishes handpicked by our chefs and our customers.

Chefs’ choice

Southern deep-fried spring rolls

It’s true that no two dishes are the same in Vietnam, but the difference from north to south is staggering and although often subtle, the minor alterations to classic recipes make all the difference. We’re yet to find a more poignant example of this than the delicate and crisp southern style spring rolls, which make for an excellent variation on the northern classic.

Grilled oysters with spring onion salsa/with salted egg

Our grilled oysters have a unique smoky taste, which, combined with the flavors of spring onion salsa or salted egg, creates an essential dish for our all-you-can-eat menu.

Caramelized clams with crispy garlic

Our world-class chefs have chosen their indulgent, succulent caramelized clams as one of their favorite dishes, and we can see why. Paired with crispy garlic, this unique dish shows off the culinary skills of our kitchen in a fusion between tradition and modernity.

Char-grilled prawns

A dazzling array of traditional herbs and spices are added to this favorite of Vietnamese cuisine. Particularly popular throughout the country on hot days, but delectable any time of the year, the char-grilled prawns are a must.

Sweet and sour banana blossom salad with shredded chicken

The unique flavors of banana blossom lend themselves perfectly to the diverse taste of shredded chicken. Once you taste it, you’ll find yourself aching for more banana blossom salad – a delicacy native to Vietnam.

Guest’s choice

Marinated green papaya and dried beef salad

You’ll find green papayas in abundance throughout Vietnam, but this pairing is quite unique to Ngon Villa. While it does contain dried beef, the salad remains light and moreish, bringing not just a blend of flavors, but also textures to this popular classic.

Sweet and sour stir-fried red tilapia

Our fresh water fish dish takes on typical Vietnamese flavors while it’s fried with a mix of herbs and spices.

Grilled oysters with spring onion salsa/with salted egg

We grill our oysters fresh from the sea, waiting patiently for them to pop open. This ensures the smokiest of flavors, which in turn pair wonderfully with our spring onion salsa or salted egg.

Smoked beef in a clay pot

Cooking meats in a clay pot and harboring the flavors of many meals within is a traditional cooking technique in Vietnam. The smoked beef is almost caramelized, so tender you’ll barely need a knife and so delicious you may want to consider ordering two.

Crispy rice pancake with local herbs

This dish is popular with everyone in Hanoi, and because it was inspired by French cuisine, you’ll find crispy rice pancakes cooked everywhere from street food stalls to high-end restaurants. We still add a unique touch to ours though, making it a sure-fire success for anyone with taste buds.

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Top 3 Desserts at Ngon Villa

When it comes to desserts in Vietnam, people will often get stuck on the idea of che – sometimes translated as “sweet soup” – but there’s a lot more to the nation’s sweet tooth than this.

While che, with all its coconut milk and bean varieties is great, Vietnam’s tumultuous history has provided inspiration for a few desserts with a touch more imagination. Over time, these have slowly gone on to become an ingrained part of Vietnamese cuisine.

At Ngon Villa, our all-you-can-eat concept will allow you to try a variation of traditional dishes, including some of our decadent dessert options. While che may not be on the list, each option utilizes traditional Vietnamese ingredients.

We join the elements of tradition and modernity using Vietnamese recipes and fruits, with French techniques to make some mouth-watering meal-finishers.

1.     Pink pomelo platter

A Vietnamese staple, but a rarity in most of the world, Vietnam’s pink pomelos mostly come straight from the Mekong Delta. While most people may associate a pomelo with the grapefruit often found in western countries, there are some distinct differences between the two, particularly with the pink pomelo.

The taste of a pink pomelo is a bit different from your average pomelo, it doesn’t pack such a kick, but is sweeter instead. Our pomelo platter not only makes a very attractive, colorful dessert, but also serves as a fresh, fruity and delicious end to a meal.

2.     Pineapple flambé served with vanilla ice cream

You’ll find pineapple to be a one of the more popular fruits sold by street vendors across Vietnam, the skin sliced off and the fruit cut into ribbons. This dish, however, finds more French inspiration than Vietnamese. Though it is soaked in rum, our flambé remains light, while the ice cream adds an indulgent twist that perfectly soothes the fruity tang of the pineapple.

3.     Deep fried banana with sticky rice

Warm and filling, this dish is good for colder days and irresistible on hot days. Whole bananas are dipped in batter for this delectable dessert, fried until they have a crumbling crisp coating then served with a side of sticky rice for a signature Vietnamese approach. The crunch of the outer shell leads to a warm, sweet and caramelized center.

All You Can Eat Concept Arrives in Saigon – But How Does It Work?

Vietnamese cuisine is vast, eclectic and unique, where specialties vary through different provinces. Hanoi in know for its Bun Cha, Hoi An for its Cau Lau My and Danang for its vast array of fresh seafood.

For many people visiting Vietnam, this can be justifiably intimidating. You may wonder how you’ll go about trying all of the food that you want to eat, or where to find the best possible version.

Fortunately Ngon Villa have decided to launch their revolutionary dining concept in Saigon, sharing their broad range of traditional Vietnamese cuisine further south of the country.

Up until now, Ngon Villa could only be found in Hanoi, Danang and Hoi An. Due to the overwhelming success of our unique dining style, we’ve decided to share the wealth with Saigon. Ho Chi Minh locals will recognize two more restaurants from the Viet Deli family, Home Finest and The Chopsticks. We’ll be bringing the high standards set within these restaurants to Ngon Villa, using the finest in locally sourced ingredients.

We believe that the unique concept behind Ngon Villa is fundamentally lacking in Ho Chi Minh City. This concept gained a lot of attention in Ngon Villa throughout Vietnam’s three other major cities. This is why we’ve decided to take it further south. Our all-you-can-eat concept gives diners a chance to try as many of our traditional Vietnamese dishes as they like. This is not an all-you-can-eat buffet, however. All dishes will be made to order and brought to the table, making sure you get the freshest meals available.

Ngon Villa sets itself apart from other restaurants by offering the chance for diners to try such a large array of Vietnam’s unique cuisine. Each dish is smaller than your average meal, meaning that you’ll be able to try a larger range of traditional Vietnamese cuisine, at the price of a single meal.

Like our restaurants in Hanoi, Hoi An and Danang, we’ll offer local specialties on our menu that you won’t be able to find throughout the rest of the country, cooked with the usual Saigon touch. To book a table in our newly opened restaurant, have a look at our Ngon Villa website, where you’ll find the prices for our all-you-can-eat menus.

Meet Executive Chef Thien, The Master Chef Behind Viet Deli

Chef Thien is a young man passionate about his culture, and, more than anything, the cuisine that is so deeply embedded within it.

“We want to introduce the world to Vietnamese culture,” Chef Thien explains, “it’s a culture that has its own unique, traditional traits.”

Thien continues to explain that, rightly or wrongly, people have a certain idea of Vietnamese cuisine that he is looking to change. “The view from international guests and customers,” he states, “is that they perceive all Vietnamese cuisine to be street food, but it can be incredibly simple, incredibly diverse and, also lively and exciting.”

Guests will often want to experience Vietnamese cuisine like a local, to gain an authentic experience, and this is something that Thien is trying to encourage. He explains that he wants their experience “to be like a close friend visiting our home” and to show them the connection between culture and cuisine. Thien believes this is “how they can enjoy food in a traditional way.”

Thien explains that, for him, this is one of the many benefits to working with Viet Deli. A major part of Viet Deli’s mission is to share an unmatched passion for Vietnamese cuisine. “That’s what makes the company so unique,” Thien explains, “the company’s goal is to spread this traditional food across the world.”

This is, he believes, what makes Viet Deli the ideal working environment for him to embody the values of traditional Vietnamese cuisine. “The company’s vision is to promote traditional Vietnamese products,” Thien explains. “After three years of working here, I can see that it’s a dynamic company, which provides the ideal working environment for young people like me, who have a different idea of hospitality, particularly restaurants and customers.”

Thien admits that this is a part of the challenge for the company. It’s a highly ambitious idea, to promote traditional Vietnamese cuisine across the world, whilst trying to support a young and dynamic work force, with chefs like Thien. As Chef Thien admits, however, it is a worthwhile goal.

In Conversation with Chiến, Manager at Ngon Villa Hoi An

At just 22, Chien, originally from Hanoi, has become one of Viet Deli’s youngest and most essential cogs. “I’ve only been working at Viet Deli for two years and six months,” Chien explains, “I was just a student when I came to Ngon Villa in Hanoi, looking for a part-time job to support myself through my studies.”

Though he may have only been young at the time, Chien’s ambition and charm caught the eye of Ngon Villa, and later Viet Deli’s, management team. It was clear that Chien wanted more than just a part-time job, but a chance to develop and learn at the same time. “I was given the opportunity to develop my skills,” Chien explains, “along with a chance to improve my language abilities, develop my knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine, and making new friends along the way.”

Following two successful years at Ngon Villa in Hanoi, where Chien’s ambition shone through in everything he did, he was put forward for the position of Assistant Manager at Viet Deli’s new Ngon Villa project in Danang. “Though initially I was happy to receive the role, I felt nervous, and unsure as to whether I would be able to succeed in this position. I knew, however, that I would have to embrace some of the energy of my youth and come at the role with a bit of tenacity.”

It quickly became clear that Chien’s concerns were unfounded, as he excelled in the role, clearing the way for ever greater challenges. Following just six months of working as Assistant Manager for Ngon Villa in Danang, Chien was promoted to Manager at Ngon Villa in Hoi An. “The promotion was fantastic,” Chien tells us, “I gained a new level of excitement for my job, really boosting my happiness.”

Chien concludes by explaining that he’s taken a lot from each destination he’s worked in, “by changing my environment every now and then, I’ve managed to learn a lot. Each destination has its own culture, I’ve made lots of friends and learnt many lessons along the way too.’”

At such a young age, having already achieved so much, it’s exciting to see what more Chien will be bringing to Ngon Villa, and what else he may achieve in the future.

Chef Tùng: “I owe a lot of my experience to my family”

Chef Tung, in many ways, has the most challenging job at Viet Deli. Tasked with overseeing quality control and reporting to the board of directors, Tung is responsible for not only ensuring Viet Deli’s restaurants maintain a high standard, but for spreading the word of Vietnamese cuisine throughout the outside world.

“This incredible ambition was initially intimidating, despite me having more than 30-years of experience in kitchens,” Tung admits.

“This high pressure, did, however, rekindle my passion for traditional Vietnamese cuisine, spurring me on with the aim of introducing an abundance of traditional foods to everyone throughout the country.”

Chef Tung explains that, to him, the success of Viet Deli’s ambition is obvious, even after just three years. “This isn’t just in Home Finest,” he explains, “but across all of the Viet Deli restaurants, where the quality of the service and the food satisfy the customers every time.”

This is something that Tung comes back to throughout our interview, the “quality of the food” being produced by himself and the team. Tung explains that, he aims “to ensure that each dish is marinated with traditional aromas and spices. We aim to take your basic herbs and spices, found in any market across Vietnam, and create something new and original, yet heavily embedded in the past.”

When asked how Tung and Viet Deli plan on achieving recognition from the rest of the world, he explains that they want to introduce something new, “not only to the Vietnamese” he explains, “but to tourists too. We want people visiting Vietnam to understand the copious amounts of flavors available in Vietnamese cuisine, along with all of the fresh ingredients used.”

As a leading figure in traditional Vietnamese cuisine, Chef Tung has a range of experiences that have shaped his career, but first and foremost he says, “I owe a lot of my experience to my family.”

He goes on to explain, “I’ve learnt a lot from my wife just from the everyday food. She creates simple, delicious meals daily that make me appreciate the most ordinary ingredients.”

Chef Tung explains that this is the idea he and Viet Deli are trying to replicate, to get to the heart of Vietnam’s home cooked meals. “You’ll find most of our dishes to be inspired by Vietnam’s street food,” he explains, “which are really all family run businesses anyway. This is what we want to introduce the world to, the soul of Vietnamese cuisine within home-cooked food.”

Exploring Saigon: The Neighborhood Around The Chopsticks, Home Finest, and Ngon Villa

While District 3 may only be a stone’s throw from central District 1, it can often feel remarkably different, with a far slower pace, smaller crowds, and a more relaxed atmosphere. Stunning colonial architecture, temples, and parks are placed sporadically throughout the neighborhood, along with a range of shopping options.

If you’re in the area, be sure to check out The Chopsticks, Home Finest, or Ngon Villa Saigon for a taste of the city’s well-preserved colonial architecture and traditional cuisine.

Turtle Lake

Public space is something of a rarity in Saigon and while it might be a little bit of an exaggeration to claim that Turtle Lake is actually a lake, it is, at least, a moderately green, moderately watery area in which to rest. You’ll find this public area to be a melting pot of youth culture in Saigon. Young people park their bikes here and hang around for dates, meet their friends, and play games. All you’ll need to do is sit around and watch the interesting scenes unfold.

Tan Dinh Church

Not only is Tan Dinh Saigon’s largest church, it is also, undoubtedly, its pinkest. Built in 1876, Tan Dinh is a Romanian-style church that reaches 60 metres in height. It has two massive bell towers to ogle, along with Italian marble altars. For anyone that might be curious, the answer is yes. It’s pink on the inside, too.

Temple of the Buddha’s Relic

Temple of the Buddha’s Relic, also known as Xa Loi pagoda, is Buddhism HQ in southern Vietnam, making it a little bit more than your average pagoda. The area itself contains a library, bell tower, a shrine, a room selling Buddhist books, and other rooms with monks. A lot of monks. The pagoda officially opened in 1958.

War Remnants Museum

Much of Vietnam’s history has been strikingly violent, as highlighted by Saigon’s War Remnants Museum. As you might have guessed by the title, the museum is made up of leftover parts from different wars. There are the ‘tiger cages’, used by the South Vietnam government to keep their political prisoners; a guillotine, used by the French and South Vietnam government until 1960; a helicopter, a tank and plenty of ghastly photos of those who suffered by the hand of ‘Agent Orange’. Not for the feint-hearted.

Southern Women’s Museum

The role women have played throughout Vietnam’s history is prominent and obvious. From a matriarch grandma at a family gathering to the significance women played during the wars, the important role of women in Vietnam is undeniable. Learn about all that and more at the Southern Women’s Museum.

Exploring the Neighborhood Around Ngon Villa, Danang

Ngon Villa graces one of Danang’s most beautiful neighborhoods. Sandwiched between the ocean and the Han River, it makes a great central location to explore the serene streets of Danang. You’ll come across an abundance of the city’s heritage buildings when exploring Danang by foot. Historic pagodas and old French colonial buildings are found throughout the city, along with natural highlights like Danang’s tranquil beaches and lush protected forests.

My Khe Beach

Sitting around the corner from Ngon Villa is the stunning white sands and crystal-clear waters of My Khe Beach. Once listed in Forbes Magazine as one of the world’s ‘most luxurious beaches,’ My Khe caters to everyone, from sun-seekers to water sports enthusiasts.

East Sea Park

Many cities across Vietnam have little to offer in terms of greenery, but Danang boasts a variety of verdant, open spaces. East Sea Park is a great example of this. Nicknamed ‘Love Park’ for reasons that are obvious as soon as you step inside, Easy Sea Park is one of the many breathable parts of Danang, where you can, for a moment at least, forget you’re in a city of 1.1 million people. It’s a great place to sit and enjoy the sun or take part in one of life’s natural forms of entertainment: people watching.

Love Bridge Danang

Just because the previous park was known as ‘Love Park’ and this bridge is known as ‘Love Bridge’, it doesn’t mean that Danang is an exclusively romantic destination. Though it does look exceptionally nice at night and few can fail to feel the weight of love that hangs in the air on summer evenings in Danang.

Like bridges in Paris, Moscow, China and parts of the US, this bridge has become a destination for ‘love locks’, where couples ‘safeguard’ their love by attaching a lock to the bridge. If you’re with someone you love, come along and attach a lock. If you’re not, come along and scowl and those who are. Either way, it’s a nice bridge and well worth the walk.

Dragon Bridge

While it may be a bit of a walk away from Ngon Villa, it is a must-see attraction in Danang and you’ll want to make your way over there. Measuring 666 meters in length and resembling a very long golden dragon, Dragon Bridge has already captured the hearts of many an Instagrammer.

The bridge is a great place to visit any time of day, though for a particularly spectacular visit, you should head there in the evening. When it gets dark, the bridge is lit with LED lights and on weekends and during festivities the dragon breathes fire or spits water from its mouth from at 9pm.

Cham Museum

Though the Cham Museum is a little further away from Ngon Villa, if you’ve made your way across the Dragon Bridge, you’re right around the corner from it, in which case, it’s worth a visit. The Cham people, an indigenous culture to Vietnam, have roots dating back to 192 AD. The Cham Museum is a space dedicated to showcasing this culture and houses the largest exhibition of Cham sculptures in the world.