When I decided to move from Cambodia to Vietnam in June 2019, Jollibee played a major part. I’ve always been a “batang Jollibee" (Jollibee kid), a term Filipinos fondly call diehard fans of the beloved fast food brand. Jollibee was my personal comfort food growing up in the Philippines, and knowing that I could easily grab its signature fried chicken in Saigon anytime I wanted helped make this adjustment smoother.
Ironically, I admit Jollibee was also the reason I took a while to try authentic Vietnamese food (not even banh mi!) in my first year here. The generous serving of spaghetti and that oh-so crispy chicken were enough, I thought. I didn’t think too much about my Vietnamese colleagues’ shocked faces when they learned I hadn’t eaten anything Vietnamese yet. Until one day, I finally realized that calling Vietnam my new home meant I needed to embrace everything about it — especially the food.
So I began my journey of Vietnamese food hunting — one plate in a local eatery at a time. I got my first bowl of bun rieu (noodle soup with crab and tomato) last December from a little open-air restaurant in Binh Thanh District and my first bite of banh mi cha ca (Vietnamese sandwich with grilled fish cake) just in February this year from a small stall at Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street. It’s then I discovered that Vietnamese and Filipino cuisines have a lot in common. Both make use of the freshest ingredients and are packed with a variety of flavor components, not to mention both cuisines are a feast for the eyes, with the abundance of vegetables, herbs and spices in different colors.
While Filipino food is heavily influenced by Spanish cuisine and Vietnamese food has some French influence, we’ve both also proudly adapted Chinese-inspired flavors — like most countries in Southeast Asia. Our intense love for all kinds of noodles, steamed buns and dumplings can attest to that. Beyond the foreign influences, what I believe connects Filipino and Vietnamese cuisines is the fact that they’re traditionally home-cooked, which connotes the passion and love poured into every dish, and how the foods are centered around sharing with family and friends.
Below I listed five Vietnamese dishes that bear resemblance to Filipino foods in terms of flavor, look and texture. Each of these dishes, in more ways than one, reminds me that I am, indeed, home.
Pho & Batchoy
Many Filipinos call batchoy the Filipino-style pho, and I can see why. Both are great soups for the cold weather, and their flavorful broths are to die for. Traditionally, batchoy features round noodles, pork organs, crushed pork dumplings, shrimp, vegetables, chicken stock and beef loin. Its origins can be traced to La Paz, Iloilo City, so it’s more formally called La Paz Batchoy. Pho, meanwhile, is made of bone-beef broth, noodles, thinly sliced beef, bean sprouts and a lot of fresh herbs.
Like pho, batchoy varies in ingredients and flavor profile depending on which part of the Philippines it’s made. Both hearty noodle soups are seasoned generously — fresh herbs for pho and locally concocted condiments for batchoy — and are best served hot. To enhance the color and flavor of the two soups, boiled eggs are always a welcome addition.
Thit Kho Trung & Adobo
Eating thit kho trung was definitely the turning point in my growing attachment to Vietnamese food — and this is undoubtedly my favorite food of all time. This savory dish of braised pork and egg is practically the “long-lost twin” of the Philippines’ unofficial national dish adobo; it’s hard to know the difference at first glance. But while thit kho is traditionally prepared during Tet, adobo is almost an everyday viand, and is a ubiquitous dish in every single celebration.
Both dishes taste very similar, except that we add vinegar to give adobo that perfect blend of sweet and sour flavors. For thit kho trung, the savory, salty and slightly sweet taste comes from fish sauce and sugar. Adding hard-boiled eggs in adobo is also optional, while for the Vietnamese version, the eggs are pretty much a major ingredient.
The two dishes also use the same cuts of pork — typically pork belly with the bones (though adobo can also use different kinds of protein, like chicken or tofu) — that are slow-cooked until tender. For adobo, some variations keep the sauce; others prefer it dry.
And because both thit kho and adobo’s flavors get richer with each day (when the sauce settles and gets deeply infused in the meat), they can be stored, reheated and paired with rice for days.
Goi Cuon & Fresh Lumpia
Goi cuon looks as refreshing as it tastes — that’s for sure. With all the fresh vegetables, pork, prawns and rice vermicelli wrapped tightly in thin rice paper, anybody who’s eating it would beg for more. I did.
It’s probably because it’s very similar to the Philippines’ very own fresh lumpia — fresh spring rolls. Like goi cuon, fresh lumpia features different kinds of stir-fried vegetables, shrimp and minced pork. The latter is, however, wrapped in soft crepe paper or thin pastry skin and smothered in sweet and savory peanut sauce.
Both are incredibly appetizing, and can either be eaten as healthy 10 am snacks or a meal in itself. What makes goi cuon and fresh lumpia the real deal in the spring roll family is that they both involve only easy methods to build all of its components — just lay all the ingredients on the rice paper/crepe paper, roll nicely and then voila. One would need a little patience, though, as rolling can be a little tricky and messy on the first try. The final product will be worth the effort, I swear.
Bo Kho & Mechado
Bo kho, Vietnam’s local version of beef stew, is undoubtedly an epic dish. Its complex range of flavors that delight the tongue can be likened to mechado, a dish that’s well-loved by Filipinos across all ages. They’re those kinds of dishes you’d want any day, no matter the weather.
Both bo kho and mechado have fork-tender meat, carrots and potatoes cooked in a thick tomato paste or sauce. The beef is slow-cooked and simmered — the longer the beef is cooked, the softer it gets. The root veggies, as well as onions, some ginger and Asian spices, will give the dishes that defined texture.
The difference between the two? Bo kho is mostly paired with egg or rice noodles or freshly baked baguette, while it’s nearly impossible to enjoy mechado without hot rice.
Che Ba Mau & Halo-Halo
Of course, nothing else can better complete this list than dessert. Che ba mau and halo-halo are both colorful and refreshing treats during summertime (or any day actually). These desserts are made of crushed ice, soft beans and sweet cream.
Che ba mau, which translates to three color dessert, is part of the traditional Hanoian “che” family that offers light taste, and just the right note of sweetness to wash down a hearty meal. The Philippines’ halo-halo almost looks the same, but other important ingredients are added to it, making it more of a solo snack, rather than an after-meal dessert. Halo-halo is a mouthwatering layers of jellies, flan, macapuno, palm seeds, red beans, ice cream, fresh fruits and toasted coconut flakes that are then mixed and swirled together — after all, halo-halo literally means “mix-mix.”
Every serving of che ba mau or halo-halo is an adventure for the taste buds, with all the elements playfully playing in a tall glass or wide bowl, offering different flavors, textures and crunch that make these desserts all-time favorites in Vietnam and in the Philippines.