Mekong DeltFood is an integral part of our lives. The way we eat food also tells a lot about our culture. It is said that the best way to learn about a particular culture is to explore their food. For a special place like the Mekong Delta, tasting local food is the perfect way to dive into the Mekong Delta and make you feel like a local.
With a system of interlaced canals, the soil in the Mekong Delta is very fertile, ideally suitable for agricultural cultivation. That explains why the Mekong Delta is considered the rice bowl and also the fruit bowl of Vietnam. Thanks to these unique advantages, the Mekong Delta has a very rich cuisine culture reflected in a variety of dishes that can appeal to any visitor who has ever visited.
When touring or cruising through the Mekong Delta, you should try one of the following 11 best dishes in Mekong Delta:
1. Bun Mam (Vietnamese Gumbo)
Bun Mam (Bún Mắm) is a robus delta soup originating from Cambodia. Nonetheless, instead of being cooked with Khmer prahok sauce (crushed, salted fermented mudfish sauce), Mekong Delta’ Bun Mam is cooked with the sauce made from moustached danio or snakeskin gourami. That is why the aroma is not as strong as the original version and easier to eat. A bowl of noodle soup contains rice vermicelli topped with a couple of chunks of crispy pork, some slices of squid, raw veggies, a juicy prawn, white thick noodles and herbs, and covered in the pungent Mekong fish sauce to serve the gourmets. Fishy, pungent, sweet, dark, sour, vibrant, crunchy and silky, this soup challenges your taste buds.
2. Lau Mam (Fermented Fish Hotpot)
Speaking of the best dishes in the Mekong Delta, those with seafood ingredients are often related. Lau Mam – Mắm Hotpot is well-known for its mixture of seafood, veggies, and special sauce. If you are that kind of person, who loves different choices at a time and want to have food together with your friends during your trip, then Lau Mam will surely address your idea for this concept.
The main ingredient of this dish is macerated siamese mud carp or artificial fish from Chau Doc, An Giang province. The broth is cooked from pork bone, macerated fish and coconut water; and seasoned with spices, sugar, and some coconut milk. Some other Mekong featured ingredients are also added such as Gio Mung (Dropwort), “Điên Điển” flower, bean sprouts, straw mushroom, and spinach water are also added to the boiled soup. For this reason, Lau Mam is also considered as the ideal dish for vegetable-lovers.
3. Hu Tieu My Tho (My Tho Noodle)
Hu Tieu My Tho (Hủ Tiếu Mỹ Tho or Hủ Tíu Mỹ Tho) is considered to be a cuisine symbol of the Mekong Delta. It was first introduced to the South of Vietnam as an age-old Chinese noodle soup from the 17th and then has become a popular dish to the locals in My Tho, Tien Giang province since the 1960s. Overtime, the name Hu Tieu My Tho became a well-known specialty of Tien Giang, known by many travelers.
This dish is apparently similar to Bun Bo (beef noodles), Pho, or other types of noodles as the main ingredients are noodles, the broth and toppings. However, this dish features a distinctive recipe, with the use of the best noodles made from the local rice named Go Cat from My Phong commune located in the Northeastern suburb of My Tho city. This rice makes clear, tougher and crunchy noodles than the other types of noodles, yet still not as tough as vermicelli.
Toppings are varied, ranging from lean meat, seafood, barbecue pork, quail egg, pig’s liver, etc. that customers can freely choose from. Also, the side dishes as well as seasonings of Hu Tieu My Tho are very special, namely lemon, chives, bean sprouts, pure fish sauce, soy sauce, and fresh vegetables and herbs.
The most attractive component making Hu Tieu My Tho one of the best dishes in Mekong Delta is the rich broth. The sweetness of pork bone plus the salty taste of dried shrimp, dotted with mild sweetness of radish, all create a soothing feeling on the tongue upon eating.
Hu Tiu My Tho is a very popular Vietnamese street food and boat in Vietnam’s southwest region.
4. Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Pancake)
Banh Xeo (Bánh Xèo), a type of Vietnamese fried pancake, is made from flour, water, turmeric powder, eggs and stuffed with special preference. This dish has many versions throughout the country, among which, Banh Xeo is Saigon, Mekong Delta is the biggest version. The attractive thing about the Mekong Delta pancake is the thin crispy taste. When tasting this dish, you will feel pieces of banh xeo melt in your mouth. The stuff inside is often a combination of bean sprout, ear mushroom, minced pork, veggies and minced pork. It is usually served with sweet fish sauce, fresh vegetables and herbs, garlic, pepper, or even grilled beef or Nem Lui.
Due to the big size of the Mekong Delta’s Banh Xeo version, you had better share your meal with friends.
5. Banh Khot (Mini Rice Pancake)
Banh khot (Bánh Khọt) is a popular dish in southern Vietnam. This crispy pancake tastes amazing with special fish sauce and fresh herbs.
Banh Khot is cooked in small round moulds, with ingredients like mung beans, pork, coconut milk and shallots. The dish is the closest relative to Banh Xeo, so many restaurants in Southern Vietnam add them to their menu and serve as a pair.
The rim should be slightly burnt to add flavor to the tasty treat. Similar to Banh Xeo, when served, Banh Khot is rolled in fresh veggies before dunking in fish sauce.
In Southern Vietnam, Banh Khot has two versions, among which the Mekong Delta one is thicker, softer, and often more yellow due to the presence of turmeric powder while the Ba Ria – Vung Tau version is crunchier, flatter, and white with shrimp and shrimp powder as toppings.
6. Bun Nuoc Leo (Rice Noodle Cooked with Fish Broth)
Originated from Cambodia, Bun Nuoc Leo (Bún Nước Lèo) is a specialty of the Khmer ethnic group in Tra Vinh. When the Khmer split into the South of Vietnam, they brought this dish along with them. The Khmer recipe consists of fish, prahok (mudfish paste), prawn, while the Vietnameses love to add peeled tiny shrimp and roasted pork into their plate.
One can taste different versions of Bun Nuoc Leo and the most popular is from Soc Trang.
The most important part of this dish is “mam pro-hok” (fermented fish sauce), which then is used to cook the broth “nuoc leo”. Noodles served in Bun Nuoc Leo should be made from fragrant rice harvested in the autumn season in Mekong Delta. For the best taste, the rice should be soaked overnight prior to being ground up to make skinny noodles.
Apart from the fermented fish sauce, this broth is also spiced with finger root plants in order to neutralize the fish smell of the fish sauce and add fragrance. Coconut water will then be added to further enhance the sweetness of the broth.
7. Bun Goi Da (Soc Trang Goi Da Noodle Soup)
As a folk song in Vietnam say:
“My Xuyen has Goi Da noodle soup
Let’s eat and feel the taste of the hometown”
Bun Goi Da (Bún Gỏi Dà), one of best dishes in Mekong Delta, is popular in Soc Trang. This dish is made from rice noodles, vegetables, pork, and shrimp. Literally, “bun” means noodles, “goi” means spring roll, “da” means eating in Vietnamese slang. Firstly attracted by its strange name, this dish comes from a spring roll recipe of which the ingredients are also pork, rice noodles, shrimp, and veggies. From the same ingredients
Locals have modified the recipe slightly. Cooking and serving Bun Goi Da is an art. It is not nice looking but good tasting. The clear, sour, sweet and rich broth is the highlight of Bun Goi Da. The buttery taste of the pork combined with the fresh, sweet, and crunchy taste of shrimps, dotted with the fragrance of fresh vegetables and sour tamarind sauce, become a perfect harmony.
8. Bun Ken (Island Broth)
Bun Ken (Bún Kèn) is originally a specialty of Phu Quoc island, off the southwest coast of Vietnam, belonging to Kien Giang province. Bun Ken is a rich, crunchy, fishy, sweet and sour concoction which makes use of seafood and tropical fruit. The broth is fish based and consists of lemongrass, coconut milk, giving it a thick consistency, a distinctive tang, and amber color.
In addition to the main ingredients, some herbs, cucumber, banana flower, shredded papaya, and bean sprout are placed on top. People can add more fish sauce or lime juice, chilli, according to their preference. The dish is often served as breakfast inn the morning.
9. Banh Pia (Bakpia/Hokpia)
Banh Pia (Bánh Pía – Pia Cake), which is Vietnamese for bakpia or hokpia, is the most popular during the moon worship in Southern Vietnam. The origin of Banh Pia could be traced back to the Teochew refugees in Vietnam. This dish is called the dreamy moon cake alternative with a side of Teochew history. Sometimes called Banh Bia or Banh Lot Da, Banh Pia is structurally similar to Cantonese mooncake, yet differs in the kind of filings and crust. The flaky crust resembles a puff pastry, except the outer layers are chewier and thinner. Making the crust requires the combination of two types of dough stitched together: bot dau (oily dough) and bot nuoc (wet dough).
The fillings of Banh Pia are often made with glutinous rice flour, mung bean pate mixed with caramelized larz, and durian flesh. These ingredients make the pastry more creamy and tender.
10. Banh Bo Thot Not (Baked Honeycomb Cake)
While baked honeycomb cake is easy to find in Vietnam, the version using palm sugar could just be retrieved in An Giang province. Going to Chau Doc, An Giang, through Tri Ton and Tinh Bien districts, etc. you can easily find Thot Not tree everywhere. It can be said that Thot Not is a characteristic of the An Giang people and a multi-purpose tree of the mysterious That Son region.
Banh Bo Thot Not (Bánh Bò Thốt Nốt) is made a little bit laboriously. From the stage of fermenting the dough, you have to regularly watch it out since if the weather is too dry, the cake will not have a spongy taste, if the dough is too wet, it will lose the softness.
This cake has a natural yellow color, the fatty and sweet taste of coconut milk and fragrant aroma. Main ingredients include rice flour, palm powder, palm sugar sugar and coconut milk, and all of them have to follow the right process. Palm sugar has been scientifically proven to be very beneficial for human health, so do not hesitate to try this food when you happen to be in An Giang.
11. Bo Bia Ngot (Sweet Popiah)
Last but not least, when it comes to the best dishes in Mekong Delta is Bo Bia Ngot (Bò Bía Ngọt – Sweet Popiah). It is easy to satisfy your craving for sugar when you are traveling to the Mekong Delta. Simply look out for the bikes stopping at the roadside, carrying white boxes with the letter Bo Bia Ngot (sweet summer roll) marked in red. Bo Bia Ngot originates from China and then becomes popular in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
This is a snack reminding Vietnamese people of their childhoods. It contains two pieces of lumpia wrappers, stuffed with blocks of crispy sugar candies, a good sprinkle of black sesame seeds and shredded coconut meat. Prior to wrapping, the seller added some drops of grapefruit flower extract. The roll wakes all of human senses as it is sweet, fragrant and crispy. The rice paper or crepe wrapper is made from wheat flour and some sugar, yet it is still different from the one used in spring rolls. The crepe must be thin but strong so as to be able to hold all the fillings. The coconut must be shaved from mature coconuts so that it will be buttery and crispy.
To be honest, it is not a coincidence that the Mekong Delta is regarded as one of the major food capitals of Vietnam. Whether you are a foodie or not, these dishes in Mekong Delta should be considered to add into your itinerary, and you may become one after the trip.