Five Things You're Doing Wrong with Vietnamese Food

Maybe we're just overly sensitive because we live in a paradisiacal county where Vietnamese restaurants outnumber Chinese restaurants, where a bánh mì is easier to come by than a pastrami sandwich, where happy hour not only means cheap drinks but $2.99 phở. That doesn't stop people from making mistakes, though, so as part of our continuing series on how not to look like a schlemiel in various restaurants, here are five common mistakes people make with Vietnamese food.

5. Adding fish sauce to your phở.

On the left is fish sauce, on the right is soy sauce; neither belongs in your soup.
On the left is fish sauce, on the right is soy sauce; neither belongs in your soup.

Every table in every Vietnamese restaurant in America has a set of bottles on it. Pickled chile paste, sriracha ("rooster") sauce, and a mysterious and very, um, fragrant cruet that contains fish sauce. Fish sauce is a wonderful thing and adds a certain tang to most foods--but it does not belong in phở. It will completely take over the phở and you will think you're eating noodles swimming in a lake of krill.

4. Eating phở in a restaurant that doesn't specialize in it.

Five Things You're Doing Wrong with Vietnamese Food
Edwin Goei

There's so much more to Vietnamese food than beef noodle soup, yet it's common to see people walk into a restaurant specializing in, say, Central Vietnamese pounded-rice dishes (bánh bèo, mmmm...) and getting frustrated that there's no phở. Phở is served in restaurants that specialize in it; if it doesn't have "phở" in the name of the restaurant, chances are you should look at the other tables and see what others are eating. Otherwise, you risk looking like the guy who demands a hamburger at a barbecue shack.



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