When traveling in Vietnam, it's good to have an idea of what you can eat and buy as you go from town to town. Vietnamese cuisine is extremely well-known, so ask your guide to introduce some popular dishes. In terms of souvenirs, you could purchase many inexpensive traditional wares and toys, but perhaps in terms of quality, you might want to invest in some top-notch tailoring instead, or take home a piece of world-class art.
Food: Vietnamese food is mostly based on rice and noodles, like most other Asian countries, but the flavors here come from herbs and spices such as lemongrass, mint and even curry powder. An everyday meal will consist of a bowl of rice with some side dishes of meat, vegetables and soup, but the Vietnamese also enjoy some unique dishes.
The most popular and famous of Vietnamese dishes is Pho, a hot rice noodle soup made with a beef broth boiled from large bones. It is served with slices of filet mignon together with ginger, although you can also order your pho with chicken or vegetables. Cha Ca is another classic Vietnamese street food, made by mixing minced fish with spices like coriander and dill. They are then grilled or fried, and served with hot dipping sauces.
For something more unique, try the Hue Mussel Rice. This spicy rice dish is served cold, unlike regular rice dishes, and the reason is because it is meant to be made with leftovers. It is flavored with mussel broth and spices so hot that it will make your eyes water.
Coffee: Since being introduced by the French, coffee has become an essential part of Vietnamese culture, and Vietnamese iced coffee is particularly unique for its brewing style and taste. It is brewed using fresh Vietnamese roast coffee and a French drip filter, then sweetened with canned condensed milk and poured over ice.
Traditional Wares: Traditional goods made and sold here include lacquerware, ceramics, dolls and the conical hats worn by men and women everyday in Vietnam to protect from the sun. Silver goods are also made in Vietnam and you can find beautiful jewelry made using secret techniques passed down through the ages.
Art: Vietnamese art is a rising star in the international art world, and collectors are now actively purchasing and investing in Vietnamese art. Before coming to Vietnam, do a little research on the art scene, then spot a masterpiece and bring it home as your own investment.
Clothes: Forget about fast, throwaway fashion, because it's custom-made tailoring you want to get in Vietnam. Vietnam is well known for its superb bespoke tailoring of suits and dresses, and the best part is that you can get complete outfits for a fraction of the price anywhere else, even in Asia. If you work in business, you can get all your suits made here to last you a lifetime, and if you are a lady, you can make yourself a beautiful 'ao dai' or a western-style dress. Language is a barrier though, so make sure you bring a guide to interpret and bargain on your behalf.
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