When people speak of Vietnamese cuisine, two popular street foods often come to mind – pho, a soup featuring broth, rice noodles, a few herbs and some beef or chicken – and banh mi, a baguette cut lengthwise and filled with savoury ingredients.

Traditional Vietnamese recipes often use lemongrass, ginger, mint, coriander, cinnamon, chilli and lime and basil and are known for their use of fresh ingredients.

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The shape and geology of the country – stretching 1,650km (1,025 miles) from north to south, like a distorted letter “s” with a thin centre and bulbous ends – means there are three distinct areas, each with its own culinary specialities.

The climate in the north of the country is cooler, which has restricted the growth and use of spices, so food served there is often not as spicy as in other areas.

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The long, thin, mountainous central area which grows numerous spice crops, is known for its spicy cuisine, while the warm, fertile southern region, with its long stretches of coastline, means seafood is a staple food, served alongside a wide variety of vegetables and fruit – including numerous dishes made with coconut milk.

Here are five dishes from northern Vietnam that you might not know about.

Bun cha

A dish native to Hanoi, bun cha is most similar to the dip ramen of Japan.

The dish consists of rice vermicelli served with pork patties, plenty of vegetables and a dip sauce – made from rice vinegar, green mango, salt, and pepper.

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The best bun cha is made with pork patties that are grilled over a charcoal fire; some restaurants serve them in the sauce, too, so that they soak up some of the oil.

Cha ca

Another Hanoi speciality, cha ca means noodle mudfish.

The mudfish is caught locally and after the bones are removed it is marinated and covered by banana leaves.

The mudfish slices are cooked on a hotplate akin to hotpot without the broth.

It is then served alongside roasted peanuts, various vegetables, and rice vermicelli.

Much like bun cha, everything is served separately and you mix it together yourself.

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Pork wrapped in betel leaves

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This dish – a local household favourite – is also called bo nuong la lot.

Bo means beef, but the northern version favours the use of pork.

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The meat is marinated and rolled inside betel leaves (or lolot leaves), which gives it an extra kick with a slightly spicy taste.

The rolled leaves containing the meat can be fried or grilled and, once cooked, are often served with rice

Bun ca

Bun ca translates as “fish noodle”, which can take on various meanings in different parts of Vietnam.

The northern version is a soup noodle dish served with fried fish.

The fish is deep fried to a crisp and added to the refreshing broth which contains pineapple and a fish base.

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Thit trau gac bep

Moving further north, thit trau gac bep is dried smoked buffalo meat.

This is the staple of the Black Hmong ethnic group, and often served to greet guests.

The meat – which looks dark brown on the outside and red on the inside – is marinated and then hung up and smoked for up to a year.

The meat can be eaten as it is, or cooked again.

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