British cuisine is generally considered to be terrible. While recent memories of Christmas mean I must acknowledge that my homeland can produce some dishes worth savouring like roast dinner and Christmas cake, even as a proud Brit I have to broadly agree that the only thing we excel at foodwise is blandness. Yet the food you find in Britain is often pretty good. That might sound like a contradiction but it isn’t. British people can eat good food because we are eating progressively less British food. Instead we’ve turned on mass to Italian, Indian, Chinese, French, Thai, Spanish and Japanese cuisine. Imports have thus been the salvation of British palates.
Nonetheless, there remain gaps in the culinary UN that Brits now eat. These tend to be countries to which we rarely go on holiday and have received few migrants from. Perhaps the most obvious absence, especially when you compare the UK to the US, is Mexican food. However, the gradual spread of Chipotle may go some way to addressing that.
Also missing is Vietnamese food. While Britain does have a decent sized Vietnamese community it’s a lot smaller than those in America, France and Australia, and it’s not been enough to really been large enough to give its cuisine much of a presence in the UK.
This is a shame because Vietnamese food is pretty damn good. It’s tasty while still being remarkably healthy. It’s not as rich as Thai and Indian food and makes much less heavy use of spices and thick sauces. Instead it relies a lot more on the strength of its basic ingredients.
The most common dish is phở (pronounced ‘fuh’) which is basically noodle soup. Eating this while perched on a small stool in a pavement cafe and not throwing it down myself has been a constant challenge while I’ve been in Hanoi. That, however, does not detract from the fact that it’s a pretty good way to get lunch.
That said if you’d rather a sandwich then that’s pretty easy to come by. French colonialism made few positive contributions to Vietnamese culture and society but baking was one of them. One can buy what gets called bánh mì: essentially very elaborate baguettes. And, somewhat contradicting what I said earlier about Vietnamese food being healthy, the cakes and pastries are seriously good.
As you’d expect from a long thin country with a resultingly long coastline seafood places a big part in Vietnam’s diet.
However, my favourite Vietnamese dish has to be the spring rolls. Chinese takeaways had given me a very fixed idea about what these were. But in Vietnam they take a very different form. The wrapping is generally a lot thinner and in some cases can just be raw rice paper. That makes it a whole lot easier to savour the fillings and in my humble opinion is a pretty big improvement.