Read David Farley’s story on cao lau, shown above. 

Wherever you travel in Vietnam you find seemingly infinite varieties of noodle concoctions. Each region boasts its own specialties, using different kinds of noodles and local herbs and spices. Here are six prominent favorites.

Pho (soup)
Origin: Hanoi, northern Vietnam
Noodle type: banh pho (flat rice noodles)
Primary spices: star anise, cloves, and cinnamon, plus fish sauce and sugar
Meat: thinly sliced eye of round beef brisket or flank
Served with: hoisin and chili sauce, green and white onions, Thai basil, lime wedges, been sprouts, and coriander

Bun Bo Hue (soup)
Origin: Hue, central Vietnam
Noodle type: bu’n (round rice noodles)
Primary spice or herb: lemongrass, plus mam ruoc (fermented shrimp paste), pineapple, and pig’s blood
Meat: beef shank, pig’s feet, and steamed pork loaf
Served with: lime wedges, cilantro sprigs, onions, and thinly sliced banana blossom

Bun Thit Nuong (noodles)
Origin: uncertain
Noodle: thin rice vermicelli
Meat: grilled marinated pork chop (small pieces of pork meat in the south, ground pork in the north); marinade includes fish sauce, ground pepper, salt, sugar, minced shallot, garlic, and vegetable oil
Served with: a bed of fresh mixed vegetables (bean sprouts, lettuce, Vietnamese basil, mint), fish sauce, toasted peanuts, and green onions

Mi Quang (noodles)
Origin: Quang Nam (south central coast)
Noodle type: la mi (wide yellow turmeric noodle)
Meat: seasoned pork chops, chicken, cha (pork sausage), or sautéed shrimp
Served with: sesame rice crackers, roasted peanuts, fresh herbs, hard-boiled egg, banh trang (rice cracker), Vietnamese coriander, basil, and water mint This spring/summer specialty, served slightly warm, is famous for its sharply contrasting flavors

Bun Rieu Cua (crab and tomato soup)
Origin: northern Vietnam
Noodle type: bu’n (round rice noodle)
Meat: blue crab, pounded, sometimes with chopped shrimp and chicken broth
Served with: lime wedges, chili sauce, and shrimp sauce

Cao Lau (noodles)
Origin: Hoi An (south central coast)
Noodle type: cao lau (rectangular rice noodles)
Primary spices: lemongrass, Chinese five-spice, soy sauce, garlic, coffee sugar, and mild red chili
Meat: thinly sliced pork loin (marinated and pan-fried)
Served with: blanched bean shoots, basil, coriander, mustard sprouts, chrysanthemum, deep-fried cao lau croutons, and a chili sauce