Food Innovation Safari: Vietnam

Fresh from a grand food trip across Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Egg Soldiers highlights five interest areas for potential UK restaurant dish development
Vietnamese food trip
For the past few months, Egg Soldiers has been tackling Vietnamese cuisine, which is known for its complex, aromatic flavour combinations, its focus on fresh ingredients, and its expert balancing of salty, sweet, sour and spicy elements.

When it comes to Vietnamese dishes in the UK, Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup, is among the most recognizable to consumers, while the likes of Banh Mi baguettes and Vietnamese coffee are also starting to make waves, not only here but also in the US.

It’s clear that regional and lesser-known Asian cuisines are breaking new ground in the West, with opportunities for broader dish development fast emerging in line with evolving consumer palates.

So, together with London’s leading Vietnamese grab-and-go restaurant operation, HOP Vietnamese; Egg Soldiers has unearthed a plethora of flavour-forward Vietnamese NPD as part of a bold, multi-layered menu expansion for HOP’s growing armada of outlets.

A key part of the project saw HOP founder Paul Hopper and Egg Soldiers creative director Toph Ford make the 12-hour trip to Vietnam for an almighty food tour across both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to discover potential avenues for modern Vietnamese dish development, with Toph leading this special edition of our Food Innovation Safari series to highlight five of the many areas of interest from the trip.

Quẩy (Fried dough sticks)
"We first came across Quẩy while eating dinner in Hanoi. A big plate of them came with the Pho we ordered (mine, incidently, contained beef cooked in red wine, which made the broth a rich red colour).

"Quẩy are deep-fried dough sticks perfectly designed for all manner of dipping scenarios. They're popular with rice porridge during breakfast, are regularly eaten as a street food snack with various dipping sauces, and (in my case that evening) can be used to soak up pho broth.

"What's so great about Quẩy (which are known as Youtiao in other parts of Asia) is that they're so versatile. With the pho that evening, the Quẩy were savoury, served with a wedge of lime. But they're more than capable of being a sweet addition, dipped into coffee or hot chocolate.

"We came away huge fans."

Nước chấm (Vietnamese dipping sauces)
"We practically lost count of how many brilliantly complex dipping sauces we had during our week's trip, with many incorporating sweet, sour, salty and spicy elements designed to blow your mind.

"From fermented and blended chilli options with sugar, garlic, fish sauce and vinegar, to 'bitty' lemongrass, chilli and garlic dips and the ubiquitous Chin-Su hot sauce; we really were spoilt for choice on almost every table.

"And then, in Ho Chi Minh City during what was a particularly spectacular dinner of fresh lobsters, a DIY fresh dipping sauce (pictured) stole the show.

"Arriving split between three bowls before you mix them together at the table, this sauce was calamansi juice, roasted black pepper and salt, and fresh chilli with fish sauce.

"It was ridiculously good. A kick-ass, punchy chilli dip!""
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Vietnamese Coffee
"Vietnamese coffee - a creative, vibrant arena powered by the Robusta bean and chock-full of different styles and ingredient combinations - it was a real area of interest for us before we'd even stepped foot on the plane.

"And Vietnam's coffee artisans did not disappoint, with new generation Vietnamese coffee houses catching our eye.

"One of our stops was Mono Coffee Lab in Hanoi where we had their Cheese Coffee (espresso, oat milk and cream cheese); the Cold Brew Chanh Nướng (with homemade lemon jam and a grilled lemon slice); and the Another Amer (an Americano coffee with homemade salted cream).

"The Vietnamese coffee scene is booming in the US, and while the UK could soon follow suit, it is worth noting that some coffee styles may not immediately hit the mark, such as traditional cà phê trứng (coffee with a whipped raw egg top).

"Still, all food for thought!"

Bánh Mì Pâté
"The iconic Bánh Mì (Vietnamese sandwich) is a staple lunch and snack option across the country.

"We saw them everywhere during the trip, often spelt 'Bánh Mỳ', peddled by street food stalls, restaurants, cafés and even coffee shops. And such variety!

"In Ho Chi Minh City, we hit Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa, which is said to be the oldest bakery in the city. Its signature Bánh Mì comes with all manner of cold meats, including sausage, ham and beef patties, with pickles on the side as an optional extra and the baguette smothered in fresh butter and pâté.

"The pâté really stuck with me. Made with either pork or chicken livers and a mix of herbs and spices; the rich, flavourful, coarse pâté blended beautifully with the butter, giving the baguette that little bit extra moisture.

"While it's fair to say a few consumers might be a little unsure when it comes to first trying authentic Vietnamese Bánh Mì Pâté, there's clearly an opportunity here for the UK market, in line with evolving consumer palates and increasing demand for flavour-forward, globally-inspired eating experiences."

Cơm tấm (Broken rice)
"Com tam is a traditional Vietnamese dish of 'broken rice', namely fragments of rice grains broken during the milling process.

"We had com tam with marinated pork belly and ribs in a food market in Ho Chi Minh City, and it got me thinking.

"While a cheaper grade of rice, and historically considered inferior; there's nothing actually wrong with fractured rice grains, with com tam now a culturally significant foodstuff in Vietnam, particularly in southern regions.

"Opportunities for com tam on the UK market could stem from a sustainability angle, namely the idea of choosing broken rice to save on potential food waste.

"It's only really seen as an industry ingredient in Europe and the US, but with upcycling strategies all the rage among consumers, who's to say com tam wouldn't work as part of a zero waste set menu offering?"
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