A journey to Haiphong through food
Haiphong cuisine wins the hearts of local gourmets for its deliciousness yet simplicity, highlighting the naturally delicious flavor of the ingredients.
Located some 180 kilometers east of Hanoi, Haiphong is famous for its delicious and inexpensive street food.
Thanks to the typical seafood and the meticulous and creative way of preparing dishes, Haiphong cuisine has become a heavyweight of Vietnamese cuisine.
Here are the offerings of Haiphong cuisine compiled by The Hanoi Times. These dishes taste best when they are enjoyed right in the heart of the city.
Banh da cua
(Red rice noodles with crab)
|The wonderful dish of Banh da cua is one among the should-not-to-miss dishes for travelers to Haiphong City. Photo: Hai Phong Ngon
Banh da cua is considered “a signature dish of Haiphong cuisine”.
A bowl of authentic Haiphong’s Banh da cua must meet all five elements, including the dark red color of the noodles, the bright red of chi truong (or made-in Haiphong chili sauce prepared from freshly-chopped chili, tomatoes, and ground garlic, seasoned with a pinch of salt and fermented according to a traditional recipe), the green of cooked spinach, the yellowish color of fried onions and braised crab eggs, and the light maroon of the shrimp.
Similar to Pho bo or Vietnamese traditional noodle soup with beef in Hanoi, Banh da cua is sold all day throughout the city, for breakfast, lunch, a light supper, and dinner. A bowl of delicacy costs just VND40,000 (US$1.7).
| Banh mi cay must be eaten accompanied with chi truong or Haiphong-style chili sauce. Photo: Hai Phong Ngon
Neither sophisticated nor luxurious, banh mi cay or so-called banh mi que or bread sticks satisfy even the most demanding palates.
A tiny loaf just slightly larger than a thumb costs only VND3,500 (20 US cents) but can only be found in Haiphong.
The ingredients are simple, with flour, salt, and baking powder. But to make it crispy outside but soft inside requires the skills of an experienced baker.
The tiny loaves are quite hard to bake right, so the baker must pay particular attention during the process. As they turn slightly yellowish, they are taken out of the oven immediately.
The loaf is just enough for two bites. The addition of pate, coriander, and chi truong makes it a stand-out treat!
|The dish of Nem cua be or Vietnamese spring rolls with crab meat. Photo: Khanh Vy
It would be remiss not to mention Nem cua be when talking about Haiphong’s delicacies. Though prepared under a recipe similar to Hanoi spring rolls, the Haiphong version uses seafood rather than pork.
Nem cua be is carefully and beautifully wrapped in a square shape, with the thick rice paper keeping everything together when frying. The flavor is sure to win over diners from the very first bite!
Nem cua be is available at seafood restaurants on Cat Ba Island, at Do Son Beach, and Cat Bi and Co Dao markets in Haiphong, ranging from VND40,000 ($1.7) to VND70,000 ($3) per piece, depending on whether you try it at a market or a restaurant.
Be be is a type of shrimp that has different names in different regions, such as tom tich, tom bua, and tom thuyen.
The shrimp has a sweet flavor and fragrance, so cooks can prepare a host of delicious and nutritious dishes such as braised shrimp with tamarind, grilled shrimp, and steamed shrimp with ginger. Of particular note is Bun be be.
When visiting Haiphong, food connoisseurs from Hanoi never missed the chance to eat Bun be be. As they said that while most visitors like Banh da cua, they prefer Bun be be as it is deliciously refreshing in summer and warm in winter.
One thing that gives Bun be be its unique flavor is its broth, cooked from shrimp heads and shells.
Cooks skillfully cut the sides of the shrimp, removing the meat intact. The meat is then put on top of a bowl of noodles without any additives or fish sauce for it to retain its fresh taste. A delicious bowl of Bun be be in Hai Phong costs just VND40,000 ($1.7)
|The yummy drink of Thach gang may help diners to balance their tastes after a heavy meal. Photo: Khanh Van
For most people in Haiphong, Thach gang conjures up childhood memories. The fresh softness of the jelly melts on the tip of the tongue. The beautiful green jelly pieces are accompanied by the sweetness of sugar. After enjoying one of Haiphong's many delicious dishes, a glass of thach gang refreshes the palate.
It can be eaten with toppings such as freshly grated coconut or dried coconut. The dish is available at most markets around town for VND10,000 or $4 cents a glass.
In some places, Thach gang is called Thach xanh due to its green color. The gang tree grows wild in the forest, where it is harvested by ethnic minority people and sold in cities.
Cooks must remove all the thorns on the leaves, wash them carefully, and soak them in boiled water. The leaves are then crumpled and their water is filtered through a clean cloth. They are left to stand for a while, and the water then coagulates into a clear green jelly. It looks and tastes delicious.
|Coconut coffee and coconut sweet soup are the favorite desserts of visitors to Haiphong. Photo: Hai Phong Ngon
The drink is made from a popular ingredient: coffee. But Haiphong's coffee tastes completely different from other places.
Coffee powder is well blended with coconut milk and condensed milk. It is topped with crystal jelly, ice, freshly grated coconut, and desiccated coconut before serving.
The drink is said to be perfect for those who like the coffee flavor but hate its original bitter taste.
The price for a gorgeous glass of Haiphong coconut coffee is VND30,000 ($1.2).
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