Vietnam is known for its rich culture and history, beautifully diverse landscape, and vibrant, bustling cities. Perhaps one of the top things it’s known for though, is the cuisine; an exciting street food scene, intriguing culinary delights, and world-famous dishes that dazzle hungry travelers.
The Southeast Asian country is a feast for the senses, with exotic flavors and scents woven into the exciting food culture. Dive into the best Vietnamese dishes through a cooking class, food tour, market meanderings, and street food grazing.
Indulge in unique spices, taste regional meals such as Hoi An’s banh bao vac, and Da Nang’s well-loved mi quang. Try famous favorites like pho or get adventurous with your taste buds, sampling trung vit lon (fertilized duck egg).
Get in touch with the country’s rich culture through some of the best food in Vietnam.
The comforting noodle soup of pho is known around the world as one of the best Vietnamese dishes. This traditional soup is found almost anywhere in the country and is a prime example of culinary beauty in simplicity.
A mixture of broth, rice noodles, fresh herbs like ginger and green onion, and either chicken (pho ga) or beef (pho bo) warms the stomach, and the soul.
Historically made popular as breakfast in the northern region of the country by rice field workers, pho has evolved to be a well-loved dish globally, enjoyed any time of day.
From street food stands to higher-end restaurants, you’ll have no problem finding a delicious bowl of pho while visiting Vietnam.
Explore regional differences in spice and flavor, depending where in the country you travel; Saigon serves up a spicy-sweet version while the north uses wider noodles and has a spicier flair.
Another Vietnamese staple enjoyed around the world, banh mi is the country’s famous sandwich. With the beloved French baguette, it’s a blend of the two cuisines, originating in the city of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).
Served on crisp baguette bread, this is a versatile combination of meat, cheese, fresh and pickled vegetables, butter, and chili sauce. Creative variations are served throughout the country as a very popular street food item, ideal as a snack or a quick meal, any time of day.
In Hanoi, you’ll find a simple version of the banh mi, while in Ho Chi Minh City, the sandwich is a little heavier on the sauces.
Also known as Vietnamese summer (or fresh spring) rolls, goi cuon is one of the most popular Vietnamese dishes and delicacies. This healthy snack or appetizer is satisfying without being too filling.
Fresh vegetables, shrimp, pork, thai basil, chinese chives, rice vermicelli, and lettuce are all packed into rice paper and rolled up.
Dip your spring roll in some mam nem (fish sauce) or tuong den (thick soy sauce) for the full experience. Goi cuon can be ordered almost anywhere in the country, from restaurants to market stands.
Some of the best are found in Ho Chi Minh City markets, such as Tan Dinh Market and the Ben Thanh Market.
Indulge in authentic, savory banh xeo, Vietnam’s crispy crepe or pancake-style dish stuffed with shrimp, pork, herbs, onion, and bean sprouts. Named after the sound emitted when the batter hits the hot pan, this “sizzling cake” is a treat considered one of the best foods in Vietnam.
The batter consists of rice flour, turmeric, coconut cream, and water, and when cooked, resembles an omelet, though it doesn’t include eggs. It’s usually cut into slices, wrapped in lettuce with herbs such as mint and cilantro, and dipped into nuoc cham, a special fish sauce that compliments the flavors perfectly.
Originating in Central Vietnam, mi quang is a broth based dish with noodles, served as street food throughout the country.
The comforting meal rivals the ever-popular pho, consisting of ladles of pork broth, yellow-rice noodles, cu nen (a garlic-like vegetable), protein such as beef, pork, fish, or shrimp, and topped with turmeric, egg, peanuts, and/or rice crackers.
Mi quang manages to mix the best of both soup and salad for a deliciously satisfying meal. Variations are found throughout Vietnam, such as with sucking snails (oc hut), frog, or quail eggs.
Other toppings include mustard greens, scallions, lettuce, coriander, banana flower, and chili. You can tailor your mi quang to your liking, with a wide variety of choices.
Noodle shops and street food vendors in Hoi An or Da Nang, as well as restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City offer mi Quang. But it’s such a celebrated meal that you shouldn’t have a problem finding it while exploring some of the best places to visit in Vietnam.
This fried fish dish from the city of Hanoi is so popular that a street was named after it. Cha ca has historic importance in the Vietnamese culinary world as well, dating back more than 100 years.
It’s a fish similar to catfish that’s marinated in a sauce made with turmeric, garlic, dill, shrimp paste, chili, and ginger before being grilled. It’s then dished up in a hot pan and served at your table with vermicelli noodles, peanuts, and fresh herbs such as dill and basil.
Cha ca is more often found in restaurants, rather than as street food, and is a northern Vietnamese delicacy that can’t be missed.
Hailing from the northern Vietnamese city of Hoi An, cao lau is a noodle dish with pork, adorned with wonton-style crackers. It’s the city’s best-loved meal; a historic culinary delight said to date back more than 100 years, tied to an ancient legend.
The story says that cao lau can only be cooked using water from the archaic Ba Le well in the city. This is, of course, not true. The dish is celebrated for the perfect balance of textures and flavors that complement each other in an ideal fashion.
Char siu is the main ingredient, barbecued or roasted pork seasoned in spices that create a mouth-watering marinade. The unique but subtle smokey flavor of the noodles combines with herbs such as basil, mint, coriander, Vietnamese fish leaf, and more, creating a rich broth.
With thick noodles, warming broth, fresh herbs, and chili jam, this pleasing meal can be enjoyed from markets, street food stalls, and restaurants.
The ultimate comfort food, bo kho is one of the best Vietnamese dishes to try. The hearty beef stew pleases any appetite with pieces of meat and vegetables that are slow-cooked in Asian spices, causing them to fall apart easily.
Enjoy this satisfying meal with a Vietnamese baguette, sopping up the delicious broth made with fresh herbs such as lemongrass, star anise, cilantro, mint, scallions, and cinnamon.
Carrots, and sometimes turnips or potatoes are added to the simmering stew, before it’s served over rice or noodles, and of course, paired with a crusty baguette.
Travelers interested in sampling this soul-warming Vietnamese dish can expect to find it on restaurant menus all over Ho Chi Minh City.
Ca Kho To
A quintessential Vietnamese dish, ca kho to is a caramelized and braised snakehead fish (or sometimes catfish) prepared and served in an authentic clay pot.
The fish is cooked in a rich caramel sauce called nuoc mau, where fish sauce, soy sauce, coconut juice, garlic, shallots, and white pepper are the main marinade ingredients.
Served with steamed white rice and vegetables, the braised fish meal is both sweet and savory. Green onions top this dish, making it equally appetizing and visually appealing. It can be ordered at both restaurants and street food stalls; just look out for the clay pots.
The pork dish of bun cha is a lunchtime favorite in Vietnam, particularly in the capital city of Hanoi, located in the northern region of the country. This comfort food combines seasoned and grilled pork patties (or pork belly), rice noodles, and herbs, completed with a tasty dipping sauce.
The crispy outside and juicy inside of the meatball-like patties are the perfect contrast to the fish sauce and lime broth, lettuce or cabbage, bean sprouts, basil, and rice noodles when eaten together. Although it’s typically eaten for lunch, bun cha is also a popular dinner meal.
When visiting Hanoi, you won’t have to look too hard for this dish; street food stalls everywhere in the city will be serving it up. As a close second to pho, bun cha is something you must try when in Vietnam.
Rau Muong Xao Toi
A well-loved healthy food option, rau muong xao toi is a traditional dish of stir-fried water spinach (morning glory), native to southeast Asia. The leafy dish is a favorite of vegetarians, but also makes a fantastic accompaniment to many meals, such as the beef version (rau muong xao thit bo).
Shoots from the water spinach are blanched (bathed in ice water) before hitting the stir-fry pan where plenty of garlic, sugar, salt, and fish sauce are added for extra flavor. It’s usually paired with white rice, and is also known to be the staple first part of a three-course meal.
Banh Bao Vac
The northern Vietnamese dumpling banh bao vac (white rose dumpling) is a regional delicacy, originating in Hoi An. It’s one of the most famous dishes in the historic city, and it’s worth finding out why first-hand. The name refers to the plating presentation, which is said to resemble a rose.
Two types of dumplings are served together with a deliciously sweet dipping sauce. The first dumpling is banh vac, with shrimp, lemongrass, garlic, and spring onion. The second in the dumpling pair is banh bao, a pork and mushroom combination filling.
Once they’re plated, a garnish of fried garlic tops the dish for the perfect addition of crunchy texture. Order the white rose dumplings at most restaurants, markets or street food stalls while exploring Hoi An and prepare to swoon.
Che Ba Mau
No culinary tour of Vietnam is complete without sampling some traditional dessert items. One of the most popular is che ba mau, meaning “three color dessert.” It’s a favored parfait-style dish with vibrant layers.
A tall glass is served with a long spoon, where colorful layers of yellow mung bean paste, red beans, and green pandan jelly are mixed with coconut cream and topped with crushed ice.
Mix it together for a chewy and crunchy dessert/drink blend that will surprise your tastebuds. The cold, refreshing sweet treat can be found in city markets and street food stalls to enjoy in the warm weather of the tropics.
Another famous street food snack, bot chien is the Vietnamese version of fried dough. It’s usually a late-night treat, purchased while buying Vietnamese souvenirs at night markets, but also enjoyed by students on their way home from school.
Pieces of rice flour dough are thrown into a wok and fried to a crisp in hot oil before an egg is mixed in. It’s then served with sweet papaya slices, green onions, and shallots, and topped with rice vinegar and pickled chili sauce.
The result is a sweet and salty treat that will probably have you coming back for more.
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