There are few countries in the world that have ingredients and ways of preparing dishes as diverse as Vietnam. The unique features of the culinary culture of each region, each ethnic group are the factors that create the unique, attractive, and sometimes “weird” foods in the eyes of diners. So how many of the weird foods in Vietnam have you tasted?
1. “Trứng cút lộn” – Quail balut
Quail balut is one of the popular dishes and can be easily enjoyed at restaurants on Vietnamese streets from North to South. Not only in Vietnam but in some other Asian countries such as China, the Philippines, and Cambodia, they are very popular because of their special taste and high nutritional value.
These special eggs are made from fertilized quail eggs when the embryo has just developed into shape. Because the eggs have a small size, the embryo of the baby quail is not as clear as that of ducks, so the food is less “horror” than duck baluts. However, for first-time visitors, this is still a weird food in Vietnam.
Depending on the taste of each person, the “age” of eggs can be from 9 to 11 days old. The most traditional cooking method is to boil, then peel the shell and serve with salt and pepper, laksa leaves, sliced fresh ginger, and chili vinegar.
Today, to make traditional food more flavorful, quail balut has many other ways of processing such as stir-fried with tamarind, fried with butter, fried with fish sauce, or used as ingredients for hot pot.
2. “Tiết canh” – Blood soup
Like many countries in the world that have specialties from animal’s blood, Vietnam has blood soup or blood pudding. This dish has been popular since ancient times in Vietnamese cuisine, especially in the North, but has never been seen in the cuisine of any other place in the world.
Blood soup is made from the blood of animals such as pigs, ducks, and lobsters; mixed with a little fish sauce or lightly salted water, then added into it minced meat, viscera, and cartilage to solidify the mixture. When eating, people often enjoy it with roasted peanuts, herbs, and add a little lemon juice to reduce the pungent smell of blood.
Besides eating raw, many people choose to have boiled blood with vermicelli soup. An amount of water is poured into the blood bowl to thin the liquid out. After the blood is solidified, it is cut into pieces and cooked in boiling water. A bowl of hot blood pudding which is soft as jelly dipped in fish sauce and accompanied with a bit of herb is a masterpiece of the winter of Northern Vietnam.
3. “Thịt chó – mèo” – Dog and cat meat
Until now, the Asian dishes of dogs and cats are still controversial because in many countries, eating their meat is taboo. However, in Vietnam, a lot of people still think that dog and cat meat is just a source of food.
Dog meat is famous for 7 familiar dishes (AKA “cầy tơ bảy món”) which has become the signature of many dog meat restaurants and eateries across the country. These dishes are steamed dog meat, grilled dog meat, dog meat cooked with wine, dog sausage, stir-fried dog meat with bamboo shoots, fried dog meat, and dog meat stew with galangal root.
The indispensable spices in the meat dishes are galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, chili, and especially, Skunkvine and shrimp paste are the most important part because they are the soul of the dish.
4. “Mèn mén” – Steamed cornmeal
The traditional dish of Mong people in the Northwest has left an impression on many visitors not only by its taste but also by its cultural value. “Mèn mén” is not an expensive delicacy but will make it hard to forget when tasted.
The dish is made from plain cornmeal, which is steamed after being mixed with water. Although the ingredients are simple, the process of making a delicious and easy-to-eat bowl of “mèn mén” is extremely laborious, requiring an experienced cook in the family. In Mong families, the dish is often eaten with rice as the main food. The sweet, fleshy, aromatic taste of corn blended with the softness of rice has remained deeply in the mind of many generations of the Mong. At the district market, people also eat this food with Pho or noodles.
Nowadays, when the quality of life is better, Mong people could have more delicious dishes, but “mèn mén” still has a certain meaning to them. On Tet holiday, “mèn mén” appears on Mong peoples’ food plates as a way to remember the difficult days.
5. “Thắng cố” – Horse stew
This is a typical traditional dish of the Mong people, originating from China and then introduced to Vietnam. The way to cook “thắng cố” is very simple: stew the bones, meat, and all kinds of edible offal of the horse together.
The special thing that creates the rich flavor is the spice, so despite being present in many places, “thắng cố” in Ha Giang province stands out the most. The spices in this broth are made from 12 different flavors such as cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, etc. All of which are the typical herbs of the Northwest mountains.
A delicious “thắng cố” pan requires the cook to be very attentive to the fire, season with proper spices and cook for hours. Therefore, “thắng cố” is usually made only on important occasions such as festivals, swearing-in ceremonies to protect the forest, village festivals, or fairs. Along with “mèn mén”, let’s add “thắng cố” to your must-try dishes list when visiting Ha Giang province.
6. “Nậm pịa” – Young manure soup
This “weird” specialty is a dish of the Thai ethnic group in Son La province, which originated from Guizhou, China. The main raw material of “nậm pịa” is “pịa” or the “gelatinous fluid” in the small intestine of herbivorous animals such as buffaloes, cows, and goats. According to the Thai people’s concept, the fluid is the quintessential, most delicious part – when the food is transformed into nutrients and prepared to be absorbed through the blood vessels to nourish the body. Therefore, Thai people in the Northwest consider this a natural nutritious dish.
Raw materials include: solidified blood, cartilage, meat, tail, and viscera of buffalo, cow, or goat. After the bones are well simmered, people pour “pịa” and other ingredients into the pot and simmer until it’s clammy. Besides , a portion of raw “pịa” was taken out separately to make a dipping sauce for grilled meats. People mix the “pịa” with herbs, “mắc khén” seeds, garlic, chili, and coriander.
“Nậm pịa” is served in a bowl while still hot, with vegetables. It is not an easy-to-eat dish for many people. But after overcoming the initial challenge from the appearance, the bitter taste of intestines, “pịa”, bitter leaves, and the unpleasant scent, you can feel the sweetness, creaminess in the throat, which is the attractive point of this dish.
Although for many people, this dish is somewhat unappealing, for Thai people, “nậm pịa” has an irresistible taste. This food is not always available, locals are usually only made during festivals, banquets, or used to invite special guests.
7. “Thịt chuột đồng” – Grilled field mice
The dish can startle many people when hearing and seeing it because, in our impression, rats are unclean animals since they often live in damp places, sewers… In fact, rats used for processing are edible. It is very nutritious, even better than chicken, pig, and cow meat.
Currently, people only eat field mice, which mainly eat natural foods such as rice, cassava, corn, crabs, and snails. That’s why the specialty of field mice is mainly found in provinces specializing in growing rice such as the Mekong Delta, Hai Duong, Bac Ninh, Bac Giang, etc. Besides grilled dishes, field mice also attract diners with dozens of other variations such as boiled (and pressed with lemon leaves), pan-fried, roasted with salt, grilled, fried, etc.
8. “Sá sùng” – Peanut worm
In the sea areas of Van Don, Mong Cai in Ha Long, Quang Ninh, the peanut worm is typical seafood and a gift that nature bestows on this place.
Peanut worms are served in dishes in both dried and fresh forms. Dried one is dehydrated after being caught and washed, which can be preserved for a long time before being used to process dishes such as roasted peanut worm (enjoyed with salt and pepper) and peanut worm porridge. Especially, dried peanut worms are key ingredients to make Pho broth because it has a rich, attractive sweetness, which is perfect for a scrumptious pot of broth.
Another way of eating worms is to use them fresh. Fresh peanut worm has a lumpy, crispy, sweet taste that is extremely delicious. Peanut worm soup, peanut worm stir fry with kohlrabi, and peanut worm fried in bread crumbs are foods that have attracted many tourists when coming to Quang Ninh province.
9. “Thịt rắn” – Snake meat
With this strange dish, in addition to its nutritional value and unique taste, it also has many feng shui and spiritual meanings. According to the Asian conception, enjoying snake meat brings them much luck and power.
Not everyone can make delicious dishes from snakes because it requires a lot of techniques and knowledge about each kind of snake. That’s why snake meat is mainly served by chefs at restaurants but rarely at home. Besides the salty, slightly chewy, and fishy taste, the special meat has a sweet taste. Contrary to what many people think, snake meat is even more delicious and healthier than chicken.
With each accompanying ingredient, snake meat is processed into a different dish: grilled, fried with chili pepper, braised with soy sauce, grilled with salt and pepper, shredded snake salad, hot pot, and sausage.
A famous destination for snake meat specialties is Le Mat village (Long Bien, Hanoi), also known as “snake village” with a tradition of more than 200 years of raising and making food from this animal. If you love to experience it, come here for a thrilling and eye-catching culinary adventure with snakes.
10. “Chả rươi” – Ragworm fritters
Delicious and greasy ragworm fritters – a gift from the autumn of North Vietnam will make many people startled when they see the ingredients.
Ragworms belong to the family of polychaetes, living in brackish water in the Northeastern and North Central regions, especially in Kinh Mon and Tu Ky district in Hai Duong province. The zigzag shape and scary color of the ragworms make many people fear to try dishes from them. However, unlike its appearance, after being pureed, mixed with minced meat, herbs, a few slices of tangerine peel, and eggs, it is fried into a delicious pancake that everyone wants to try.
11. “Mắm tôm” – Shrimp paste
Shrimp paste is one of the traditional condiments of Vietnam, especially the North region. Over thousands of years of culture, despite many changes, shrimp paste has always kept a small corner in the kitchen of every Vietnamese family.
For many foreign tourists and even locals, this is a very strange condiment because of an unpleasant smell. But for the other half, this paste has a special aroma. When it comes to shrimp paste, they even have an irresistible craving for it, and a whole list of dishes with this fermented paste would come up in their minds. Above all, the paste is still considered the “national soul of the nation” because of its unique taste.
Shrimp paste is used as a seasoning for soups, stews, stir-fries, or as a dipping sauce. In particular, it is the soul that creates the attraction of “Bún đậu mắm tôm” – the quintessential food of Hanoi cuisine. When served with “Bún đậu”, shrimp paste will be seasoned with a little sugar, a few slices of chili, lemon, and a little hot oil. When all of them are mixed until frothy, “Bún đậu mắm tôm” is ready to be enjoyed.
12. “Thịt ba ba” – Softshell turtle meat
One more dish from reptiles comes to the list of the weirdest Vietnamese food. There are many delicious and nutritious dishes made from softshell turtles. This food has many nutrients that are good for health. Moreover, it is tender and sweet, so just once you try it, you will never forget it.
The simplest way to cook softshell turtles is by grilling them. Tortoise’s meat after being marinated with spices will be grilled with charcoal to keep ít tenderness and flavor. The other popular dish from the turtle is the one braised with banana and tofu. When having this food, the diner will immediately feel the softness and nuttiness of green banana and tofu, the aroma of fried garlic and green onions.
Some other sophisticated softshell turtle dishes often found in restaurants are roasted with salt, steamed with lotus leaves, grilled with guise leaves, which are also delicious.
13. “Nòng nọc” – Tadpoles
This is a typical dish of the K’ho – an ethnic group living in the Central Highlands. Tadpoles with the size of an index finger (caught in streams), K’Ho people use a razor to cut out the intestines and then wash them with salted water. Small tadpoles (caught in the field) only need soaking with salt and then washing underwater. After that, people let the water drain, then prepare their favorite dishes.
Because it is food in the daily rice tray, K’Ho people process simply tadpoles into braised dishes, stir-fries, soups, etc. Among them, tadpole soup is the most popular dish. The soup does not have many sophisticated spices, just including tadpoles, shallot leaves or scallion, chili, monosodium glutamate, and some other common spices.
The dish is prepared very simply, but because the number of caught tadpoles is small and not always available, tadpole soup is a specialty to the K’Ho people. In addition, the dish also has a lot of cultural meanings. In the past, when people were still in poverty, they often caught tadpoles in the fields or streams, then cooked them into daily dishes. Nowadays, when life has become more prosperous, many K’ho people still go catching tadpoles because to them, this is not simply finding food, but a culture.
14. “Đuông dừa” – Coconut worms
Coconut worms are insects living mainly in the trunk of coconut trees. They are as big as the index finger or big toe of an adult and their whole body is pale yellow. Because the larvae only eat coconut tree trunks, their meat is very clean and fresh. The aroma of coconut blending with the buttery taste of the larvae forms a one-of-a-kind flavor.
Dishes from coconut worms are divided into two main groups: raw and cooked. If eating raw, the most popular way is to serve it directly with chili fish sauce. This way, the most complete taste and nutritional value in coconut worms are kept, but it is a huge challenge for most diners.
For those who are less brave but still want to try the taste of coconut worms, we have fried coconut worms, grilled coconut worms with salt and pepper, boiled coconut worms with coconut water, coconut worm salad, or even coconut worm pizza.
Due to the characteristic of coconut worms living in the trunk of a coconut tree, Ben Tre – The Coconut Kingdom of Vietnam will be one of the ideal destinations if you want to enjoy this unique dish.
15. “Dế chiên” – Fried crickets
For people of the Mekong Delta, a plate of deep-fried crickets or fried with fish sauce often appears in daily meals or drinking parties. Fried crickets are considered a specialty of the Southwest region that if you travel through Vietnam, try once time and you will never forget the delicious taste.
Crickets are best served when deep-fried. You will immediately feel the aroma, crunchiness, sweetness, and richness of them on the first try. Like other kinds of food in Vietnam, crickets are also transformed into many different dishes to attract the taste of many diners: cricket with salt and pepper, fried with butter, grilled crickets, braised crickets with pepper, cricket salad, etc.
If enjoying delicious food at each destination is great, experiencing one-of-a-kind “strange” dishes will be the perfect highlight for your journey. Hopefully, the above 15 weird foods in Vietnam will be an inspiration for your exciting trips in the future.