It's Sunday—family day—and grandma is cooking up a feast in the kitchen. The sweet aroma of peppercorns, lemongrass, chili, and garlic fill the surrounding air. Pots of boiling goodness are dancing on the stove. Your mouth begins to water and your stomach begins to growl. "What are these eclectic mixtures of Vietnamese dishes?” you ask. Let me take you on a journey through Vietnamese cuisine.

1. Phở 

Phở, the ultimate Vietnamese comfort food, is a necessity for the soul. Made with smooth rice noodles soaked in chicken or beef broth and topped with your choice of meat, Phở is a hearty dish and a main staple in Vietnamese cuisine. Phở is typically eaten for breakfast, but can be eaten at any time of the day.  This comfort dish is accompanied by fresh basil, cilantro, lime, and bean sprouts for extra brightness. 

#SpoonTip: Try adding a dash of Sriracha and hoisin to your bowl of Phở for extra flavor.

2. Bánh xèo

If grandma sets a plate of this delectable Vietnamese pancake on the dining room table, you know it's a special day to eat with family. Also known as a "crispy sizzling Vietnamese cake," Bánh xèo is a savory fried pancake made with rice flour, turmeric powder, and water. It is cooked in a hot skillet and comes out crispy on the edges and soft on the inside. This childhood favorite is typically filled with shrimp, pork, mung bean sprouts, and jicama and served with a bowl of fish sauce for dipping. Finally, the crispy pancake is garnished with a mix of lettuce and mint leaves for a pop of freshness.

#SpoonTip: The proper way to eat Bánh xèo is to wrap your lettuce and mint leaves around a torn off piece of your Bánh xèo. Dip it into your bowl of fish sauce, and you're good to go!

3. Bún riêu

One of the most underrated Vietnamese dishes, Bún riêu is a must-try if you want to take a break from your usual Phở. Bún riêu is a traditional vermicelli rice noodle soup made from a tomato and crab based broth. Paired with tofu, steamed crab cake patties, pork, and tomato, this unique dish will have your taste buds dancing on the roof of your mouth with its tangy and savory broth. Bún riêu is served with a variety of fresh mint leaves and Vietnamese herbs, lime, and fermented shrimp paste—all of which are must-adds to your bowl. 

4. Bánh mì

Bánh mì, translated as bread in Vietnamese, is an airy baguette sandwich—crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside. This French inspired staple is transformed into a Vietnamese favorite with a light spread of homemade pâté and mayonnaise, a filling of cured pork, pickled daikon and carrot, jalapeños, cilantro, thinly sliced cucumber, and black peppercorn. Bánh mì is a simple and delicious sandwich that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, so next time you’re thinking of venturing to Subway for lunch, think again and try the Bánh mì!

5. Canh Chua

Grandma's traditional dinner is incomplete without this nostalgic and heartwarming soup. Canh Chua is a tamarind based soup, attributing its sweet, sour, and tangy flavors to the pod-like and tart fruit, tamarind. This "sour soup" is accompanied by fresh fish, tomato, pineapple, bean sprouts, and rice paddy herbs. Canh Chua is meant to be eaten family style: a large bowl of communal soup is placed at the center of the table and each person has a bowl of rice to accompany the soup. 

With its diverse ingredients and enticing flavors, Vietnamese cuisine is exotic for some, and nostalgic for others. The combination of special herbs and uncommon ingredients makes Vietnamese cuisine one-of-a-kind. On your journey through my grandma's kitchen, I hope I have given you the confidence to go out and experience the Vietnamese dishes and culture on your own.