I love traveling to Vietnam for three reasons: its laidback vibe, majestic French colonial architecture, and healthy cuisine. Of the three, the closest to my heart is the food, of course! After all, the way to a traveler’s heart is through her stomach, right?
Eating Vietnamese cuisine is a cultural experience in itself. Photographing Vietnamese food is such a joy, too! A lightweight and compact mirrorless camera is great for taking beautiful food shots minus the hassle.
I’m obsessed with healthy diet, which is why I’m very much interested in Vietnam’s healthy lifestyle. Since the country has a low obesity rate, you’ll rarely see a local who’s overweight, and most Vietnamese people are lean and slim. Eating healthy is a way of life in Vietnam—whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Even the street food is healthy!
What makes Vietnamese cuisine one of the healthiest in the world? It uses a lot of vegetables, seafood, herbs for flavoring (such as cilantro that aids in digestion), and cooking methods that use water rather than oils.
Are you in for a virtual Vietnamese food tour? Let me share with you some of the healthiest foods I found during my 5-day visit in Hanoi, Vietnam.
What it is: A delicious noodle soup with herbs (cilantro, mint, basil, etc.), bean sprouts, meat (chicken or beef), fresh lime, and rice noodles
Why you must try it: A bowl of steaming pho is so comforting, you’ll love slurping the soup and soft noodles. Phontastic!
Why it is healthy: Experts say it’s one of the most balanced dishes ever. It’s filling but not calorie loaded. You’ll get fibers, antioxidants (from the lime and spices), vitamins and minerals (from the veggies and herbs), and proteins (from the meat). Its broth is clear and not as rich and salty as other types of noodles such as ramen.
What to avoid: Instant pho noodles, which can be bought from convenience stores and cooked by just submerging them in hot water, are artificially processed and flavored. While they may be as flavorful as an authentic pho, they can be made with harmful ingredients such as MSG that’s bad for the heart. Go for the traditional pho instead.
What they are: Vietnam is known for its tropical fruits such as durian, pineapple, guava, and starfruit, among many others. The various colors, shapes, and textures of the fruits peddled on the streets make them perfect for delicious food photography.
Why you must try them: Since you can buy them on the streets, fruits are accessible when you just want to have some light snacks during your trip.
Why they’re healthy: They’re loaded with vitamins and minerals. Need I say more?
Fresh spring rolls
What they are: Pieces of shrimp with vermicelli noodles, herbs, and vegetables rolled in rice paper.
Why you must try them: They’re great appetizers. You can help yourself with a lot of fresh spring rolls without the guilt.
Why they’re healthy: Fresh spring rolls are light to the tummy (since they’re not fried) yet packed with nutrients. They’re a healthy alternative to the deep-fried Chinese spring rolls. Also, it’s said that the rice paper used to wrap Vietnamese rolls can help you lose weight.
What to avoid: Eating too many deep-fried spring rolls, as they’re fatty and loaded with oils. Also avoid thick dipping sauces made of peanut paste.
Bun bo nam bo
What it is: Bun Bo Nam Bo is served as a bowl of mixed raw vegetables, bean sprouts, grilled beef, steamed vermicelli noodles, roasted peanuts, fried shallots, cilantro, and sauce that’s salty, sweet, and sour.
Why you must try it: It’s flavorful and filling. I love its nutty taste! This dish is so popular that a small eatery (along Hang Dieu Street in Hanoi Old Quarter) that serves it is often packed with foreign customers.
Why it is healthy: Who says a local street food cannot be healthy? In every bowl, you’ll get proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
What it is: Also known as the Vietnamese baguette, banh mi is a sandwich with meat (chicken, beef, or pork), vegetables, and cheese.
Why you must try it: It’s a light, yummy snack—perfect to eat during long walks.
Why it is healthy: Banh mi is a good source of proteins, carbs, vitamins, and minerals. Also, the bread is made of rice flour, so it’s light and not as filling as noodles and rice.
What to avoid: If the cheese looks like it’s processed, you can ask the vendor not to include it in your sandwich.
Eating healthy in Vietnam entails not just picking the right food but also being mindful of how you eat. So you can digest food and absorb nutrients better, try multiple dishes, share your food with your travel companions, and use chopsticks. These techniques will make you eat more slowly and chew your food thoroughly.
Have you tried the local cuisine in Vietnam? Did you like it? Please share your experience in the comments below!
Author Bio: Liz Pekler
I am a travel photographer with more than 10 years of experience in the field. Being a freelance blogger enables me to help photography beginners and enthusiasts to tell wonderful stories of their travels as seen through their lenses. It also allows me to share my thoughts about another advocacy of mine: social equality and change.