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5. Lau (Hot pot)
The lau (hot pot) comes from China. It is a turban-shaped pan containing stock, in the middle of which is a charcoal stove (now alcohol fuel is used). The stock is kept simmering throughout the meal. The lau is placed in the middle of the table, around which is a variety of foods, including rice vermicelli, pig's heart, liver and kidneys, goat meat, eel, onion and vegetables. The less adventurous might opt for shellfish, river fish or chicken. Put as much food as you would like to eat into the pot, give it a stir, and in about five minutes you are ready for dinner. Keep replenishing the pot as you go. It is rather like fondue, and it is just as convivial and fun. Depending on the ingredients used, it might be called lau de (goat meat), lau luon (eel meat) or lau thap cam (with many different kinds of meat).

6. Bánh xèo
Of Hue origin is bánh xèo, akin to a paper-thin crepe filled with goodies then folded. The Vietnamese make it with eggs, rice flour and coconut milk, and fill it with meat and shellfish, as well as vegetables. The finished product is wrapped either in rice paper with herbs or salad leaves. Bánh xèo is often referred to in English as a Vietnamese "pancake". We think this is an unsatisfactory translation, but there seems to be nothing we can do about it.

Locals will always hit the restaurants that specialise in a single dish, and the renowned spot of Banh Xeo 46a has some of Ho Chi Minh City's best bánh xèo. Or try Ban Xeo Muoi Xiem part of an emerging bánh xèo chain, which offers more than 35 varieties.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Oc hap bia are snails were stewed (not steamed) in beer. The use of coconut milk and sugar cane were incorrectly described as speciality dishes of Vietnam's south. This has been fixed.

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© 2010 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Vietnamese food for beginners’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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