They’re creative, they’re unique, and, despite how they sound, they’re all delicious.
Vietnamese food (and drink)
mashups you MUST try
1. Pho Beer, FURBREW (Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City)
While it’s certainly not the kind of beer you’d want to drink all night (“It’s a good beer to drink when drinking good beer,” as Bilgram puts it), Bia Pho is much more than a marketing gimmick; don’t expect it to come with a side dish of beansprouts. Instead, each element has been carefully considered. It’s a standout beer in its own right, with deep, evolving and beautifully aromatic pho-inspired flavors.
“It took me three months to make the right recipe,” adds Bilgram. “We play with Vietnamese flavors often. We have a lime leaf wheat ale on tap right now, and we just made a beer with lemongrass, ginger, black garlic, and tamarind.”
Pho Beer. Photo by Tim Scott
For those in Ho Chi Minh City, FURBREW regularly ships barrels to BiaCraft Artisan Ales in Districts 2 and 3.
2. Fish sauce gelato, Ralf’s Artisan Gelato (HCMC)
But it’s Ralf’s nuoc mam gelato that everyone’s talking about, and for all the right reasons: It’s amazing.
“Can we try your famous fish sauce flavor?” asks one young American-Vietnamese couple who have come to Ralf’s shop especially. “I have a nuoc mam fetish,” says the girl, her nose pressed to the glass of the freezer cabinet as our host scoops them up a small spoonful each.
Your regular frozen dessert is getting boring? Try this fish sauce gelato in Saigon
“People often say, ‘Oh, it really tastes like fish sauce’,” says Ehresmann. “But no, it doesn’t taste like fish sauce, it is fish sauce! I use only the very best ingredients so I can serve only the very best gelato.”
3. Chicken skin nachos, BiaCraft Artisan Ales (HCMC)
“We wanted to put nachos on the menu,” says BiaCraft’s co-founder Mark Gustafson, “but everyone in town uses expensive imported tortilla chips. We tried to make our own but they just didn’t work. My business partner, Tim [Scott], was pushing me to come up with something. ‘I know you can do it,’ he said.”
Taking inspiration from a Thai snack, and using readily-available chicken skins—an ingredient more commonly used in Vietnamese stocks and soups—Gustafson and his head chef set about creating what is now perhaps the best drinking snack the city has ever seen.
“I put together a plate of the nachos and sent it up to Tim in the office,” he adds. “‘We need to put this on the menu!’ came his response.”
Chicken Skin nachos. Photo by Simon Stanley.
“We call them our ‘carb-free nachos’,” says Gustafson with a grin. “I wouldn't recommend that you eat them every day, but everyone loves them.”
4. The goi cuon sandwich, Journeys Sandwich Cafe (HCMC)
Summer rolls (goi cuon) are one of Vietnam’s tastiest (and healthiest) exports. Taking the traditional fillings of pork, prawn, fresh leaves, aromatic herbs, and a sticky peanut hoisin sauce, native New Yorker Nagle has swapped the rice paper pancake wrapping for a crispy Vietnamese bread roll to create the banh mi goi cuon. And it is divine.
Goi Cuon Sandwich. Photo by Simon Stanley.
Likewise, Journey’s banh mi bun bo Hue, made with layers of tender braised beef and drizzled in a traditional bun bo Hue broth, is worth an honorary mention here. Wow.
5. The Pho burger, East West Brewing Co. (HCMC)
Opened in January 2016, this downtown spot is, as the name suggests, a mashup in itself. With all beers made onsite, their spacious industrial-chic bar and dining area is overlooked by the stainless steel stills and steaming pipework of a fully-functional microbrewery. And they’re not just about liquid invention here. Taking influence from all over the world, the food menu is full of inventive combinations, but there’s one item you really need to try, like, right now.
The pho burger. Oh. My. God. The beef patty alone is standout, cooked thick and juicy and with a subtle blushing of pink at its core. Then come the pho-inspired toppings: Hoisin sauce, spicy sriracha, white onions, fresh basil, cilantro, and crispy beansprouts. Proving that all successful mashups work well in their own right, this burger kicks ass. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the flavor combo is heavenly. The spice is just right: not too weak, not too strong, but enough to warrant more than a few sips of East West’s signature “Far East” IPA (a recommended pairing).
Pho burger. Photo by Simon Stanley
“I just made a pandan leaf gelato,” said Ralf Ehresmann when asked about what crazy flavors he has lined up for the future. “But it was not good. I threw it away.”
Story by Simon Stanley