If you are ready to embark on a flavorful adventure, look no further than the vibrant and diverse flavors of Vietnam.
Vietnamese cuisine is renowned for its harmonious blend of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy tastes. From the fresh mint in traditional dishes like pho to the rich coconut milk used in curries, every ingredient plays a crucial role in creating mouth-watering flavors that will tantalize your taste buds.
The flavors of Vietnam reflect the country’s rich culinary heritage and are influenced by its various regions and climates. Whether it’s the tangy fish sauce used in southern dishes or the aromatic herbs found in northern cuisine, each bite tells a story of tradition and culture. Don’t be fooled by their simplicity; even breakfast staples like banh mi or flavorful sausages like cha lua bo features an explosion of taste that will leave you craving for more.
We have spent more than 4 months in recent years travelling though Vietnam and working our way through the various traditional dishes each region has on offer. However, due to our love of food and wanting to taste it as soon as it is served, we often only think about taking photos of the dishes once we have finished
So, for this post, we have asked fellow bloggers to contribute their favourite Vietnamese dishes along with photos so you can not only read about the dishes, but also get a visual of how the dish is served and presented.
So, buckle up and get ready to explore a taste of Vietnam. From refreshing fruit-filled desserts to savoury noodle soups, there’s something for everyone to savour in this gastronomic journey through Vietnam’s culinary landscape.
Planning your trip to Vietnam last minute?
Below are some of the top tours, hotels and more! Don’t forget to plan ahead when visiting Vietnam and nearby!
TOP ACTIVITIES AND TOURS IN VIETNAM:
1. HALONG BAY CRUISE (#1 selling Vietnam tour!)
2. MEKONG DELTA (another top-seller!)
3. CU CHI TUNNELS IN HCMC (great for history lovers!)
4. VIETNAMESE COOKING CLASS (for the foodies!)
5. HANOI STREET FOOD TOUR (come hungry!)
TOP HOTELS IN VIETNAM:
1. LA SIESTA CONTRAL HOTEL & SPA IN HANOI (we stayed here and recommend it!)
2. LYS HOMESTAY IN NINH BINH (we also stayed here – recommended for budget travellers!)
3. INTERCONTINENTAL DANANG SUN PENINSULA RESORT (great for a splurge!)
Experience the Flavours of Vietnam
Get ready to embark on a culinary journey through the vibrant and diverse cuisine of this Southeast Asian country.
The Cultural Significance of Vietnamese Flavours
Vietnamese flavors are not just about taste; they carry a deep cultural significance that reflects the country’s history and traditions. Food plays a vital role in Vietnamese culture, with meals being more than just sustenance. They are a way to connect with loved ones, celebrate special occasions, and honour ancestors.
Vietnamese cuisine is influenced by various factors, including geography, climate, and historical events. The flavors found in Vietnamese dishes reflect the diverse influences that have shaped the country over centuries. From Chinese and French influences to indigenous ingredients and cooking techniques, Vietnamese cuisine is a melting pot of flavors.
Regional Variations in Vietnamese Cuisine
Vietnamese cuisine varies significantly across the different regions of the country, with each region having its own unique flavors and dishes. The differences in flavors and dishes can be attributed to various factors, including local ingredients, historical influences, and cultural traditions.
The Northern Vietnamese food is heavily influenced by Chinese flavors and cooking techniques. The dishes are often characterized by lighter flavors and a focus on fresh ingredients. One popular dish in this region is Pho, a flavorful noodle soup made with beef or chicken broth, rice noodles, and various herbs and spices. Another famous dish is Bun Cha (one of our personal favourites), which consists of grilled pork served with rice noodles, herbs, and a dipping sauce.
Central Vietnamese food is known for its spicy and bold flavors. The region’s cuisine has been influenced by the royal cuisine of the ancient city of Hue, resulting in dishes that are rich in flavors and colours. One iconic dish from this region is Bun Bo Hue, a spicy beef noodle soup that is often garnished with herbs, lime, and chili. Another popular dish is Banh Xeo, a crispy pancake filled with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, and herbs, which is typically wrapped in lettuce and dipped in a sauce.
Southern Vietnamese cuisine is characterized by its vibrant and sweet flavors. This region has been influenced by the Khmer and Cham cultures, as well as by the French colonial period. One well-known dish from the south is Banh Mi, a French-inspired sandwich filled with various ingredients such as grilled pork, pate, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs. Another popular dish is Com Tam, which is broken rice served with grilled pork, a fried egg, and various accompaniments.
5 Spices Used in Vietnamese Cooking
One distinctive aspect of Vietnamese cuisine is its emphasis on balance and harmony in flavors. Traditional Vietnamese meals aim to incorporate five fundamental tastes: spicy (hot), sour (sour), bitter (bitter), salty (salty), and sweet (sweet). This balance creates a harmonious blend that tantalizes the taste buds.
The use of different condiments such as fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, herbs like mint and cilantro adds depth to dishes while maintaining this delicate balance.
Predominant Flavors in Vietnamese Cuisine
Sourness from Lime or Tamarind: Sourness is a key component of many Vietnamese dishes, adding a refreshing tang that elevates the flavors. Whether it’s the zesty squeeze of lime juice or the tartness of tamarind, these ingredients bring a delightful acidity to balance out other flavors. From the iconic pho to the vibrant spring rolls, sourness plays an essential role in creating a harmonious taste profile.
Fish Sauce: Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine and is often referred to as the “secret weapon” for adding depth and richness to dishes. Made from fermented fish, this pungent condiment brings umami flavors that enhance the overall taste experience. It acts as a savoury base for soups, marinades, and dipping sauces, infusing every bite with its distinctive character.
Aromatic Spices: Vietnamese cuisine is renowned for its aromatic spices that contribute layers of flavor to every dish. Lemongrass adds a citrusy note with hints of floral undertones while ginger provides warmth and earthiness. Garlic adds its unmistakable pungency and depth to various preparations. Star anise brings its distinct licorice-like flavor adding complexity and depth to savoury recipes. These spices are often used together to create a fragrant base for soups and stir-fries, giving Vietnamese cuisine its unique identity.
Fresh Herbs: Fresh herbs are another integral part of Vietnamese cooking that brings vibrancy and freshness to each bite. Mint leaves provide a cool burst of flavor while cilantro adds brightness with its citrusy aroma. Thai basil contributes an anise-like sweetness that complements savoury dishes perfectly. These herbs are commonly used as garnishes or mixed into salads and noodle dishes for an added layer of complexity.
Of all the aspects of Vietnamese food, the fresh herbs are what we love most about Vietnamese cuisine!
Popular Vietnamese Foods / Dishes
From savoury soups to flavourful sandwiches, the food in Vietnam offers a delightful culinary adventure. Let’s explore some of the most popular Vietnamese dishes that will surely tantalize your taste buds.
Bánh Bèo – Vietnamese Steamed Rice Cakes
Contributed by Hanit at ‘Gotta Love New York’
Banh Beo is an appetizer that originated in Hue, a historical city in Central Vietnam. It is a steamed rice cake served in a small shallow ceramic dish topped with dried shrimp and crispy pork fat, and served with a sweet and savory dipping fish sauce.
The rice cake batter is made with rice flour, tapioca flour, salt and water, which is steamed in small ceramic dishes. The steamed dishes are rested for a few minutes before they are topped with dried shrimp and crispy pork fat before serving. Some versions also add scallions and / or scallion oil for more flavor. It is accompanied by a fish dipping sauce made with fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic and chilies.
Banh Beo is served family style on a tray with the fish dipping sauce. The fish sauce is spooned over the rice cake with the spoon you eat it with. The tiny dish packs a punch with contrasting flavors and textures coming together perfectly in every bite, and is a must try on a trip to Vietnam.
You Can Try It Here: Hanh Restaurant, 11-15 Đường Phó Đức Chính, Phú Hội, Thành phố Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế
Bánh Căn – Vietnamese Mini Pancakes
Bánh Căn can are small, round cakes made out of rice flour, turmeric, and water, and topped with green onions, chicken egg, quail egg, beef, seafood, or pork. They’re baked in a clay pan with circular moulds or dome-shaped terracotta pots. The cooking in the pot gives the outer layer of the cakes a crispy texture.
When the banh can are done cooking, they’re placed on a plate and served to diners. Diners also receive a bowl of sweet and salty dipping sauce such as fish sauce, fish soup, fried onions, shredded mango, and meatballs (depending on the place). To eat it, take a piece of banh can, dip it in the sauce, and then eat.
While the banh can portion size looks small, it is a satisfying amount. It’s recommended to share with others whether you’re eating it for breakfast, a snack, or dinner.
The origin of banh can is unknown but it may have originated from the Cham people, an ethnic minority group from Central Vietnam.
You Can Try It Here: Ban can is available throughout the country. If you’re visiting Phu Quy Island, try it at Cô Chín Bánh Căn (Bánh căn, 53 Hai Bà Trưng, Xã Ngũ Phụng, Phú Quý, Bình Thuận). Or at Bánh Căn Nhà Chung in Dalat (1 Đường Nhà Chung, Phường 3, Thành phố Đà Lạt, Lâm Đồng).
Nem Nướng Cuon – Grilled Pork Spring Rolls
Contributed by Brandon at ‘Zimmin Around the World’
Nem Nuong is a sausage dish that originated in Khanh Hoa Province in the Vietnamese town of Nha Trang. Goi Cuons a Vietnamese spring roll that is found throughout the country. The dish Nem Nuong Cuon is a sausage spring roll famous throughout Vietnam and especially in the capital of Hanoi.
Nem Nuong Cuon is a spring roll typically made with rice paper. The ingredients are usually spread out on a platter where the guest can create their own spring roll. The main ingredients that make up Nem Nuong Cuon are pork sausage, rice paper, lettuce, cucumbers, perilla, vermicelli noodles, and other fresh vegetables and spices.
Nem Nuong Cuon makes for a great appetizer and finger food. The best part about this dish is that it is relatively easy to cook and assemble. Besides the pork that needs to be cooked, the vegetables should be bought fresh.
The ingredients can be laid on a platter or large plate and assembled to anyone’s liking. Everyone gets a personal dish or can create their spring rolls right off of the platter.
When eating Nem Nuong Cuon, take the rice paper and add any of the ingredients to your liking and simply roll up the rice paper like a spring roll. Usually there is a dipping sauce, so the spring roll can be dunked in the sauce provided.
You Can Try It Here: Nem Nướng Nha Trang Quế Hoa, 23 P. Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Bánh Cuốn – Vietnamese Rice Spring Rolls
Contributed by Catherine at ‘Nomadicated’
Banh Cuon, a Vietnam classic, are steamed rice rolls found in nearly every food market. It is light, flavourful, and affordable, making it a beloved traditional favourite.
Bahn Cuon traces its roots back to Northern Vietnam. All the way from Hanoi to the famous Ha Giang Loop excursion, this region is known for its rice cultivation, the main ingredient for this dish. A thin sheet is made from a fermented rice batter and traditionally filled with seasoned ground pork and mushrooms. Some variations may include other fillings.
To cook Bahn Cuon, the rice batter is gently steamed until it forms a delicate and slightly translucent sheet. This sheet is filled with the cooked meat mixture and carefully rolled to create the final product.
When served, Bahn Cuon is presented as a plate of these light, rolled cakes. The dish is accompanied by a dipping sauce, typically made from fish sauce, lime, sugar, water, and fresh herbs. A garnish of crispy fried onions provides a nice crunchy texture on top.
Pick up the soft, delicate rice rolls with your chopsticks and dip them in the accompanying sauce before enjoying the flavour. The dish can be enjoyed at any time of the day, but it is most popular for breakfast.
You Can Try It Here: Bahn Cuon Ba Hoanh – 66 P, Tô Hiến Thành, Bùi Thị Xuân, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hanoi
Nộm Hoa Chuối – Banana Blossom Salad
Contributed by Annelies from ‘Travelers & Dreamers’
Banana blossom salad is a dish that can be found throughout Vietnam and also in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. The exact origin of banana blossom salad is not pinpointed to one specific region of Vietnam or Southeast Asia. However, dishes made from banana blossom are generally more associated with the southern and central regions of Vietnam since banana trees grow abundantly there.
A banana blossom salad is a simple dish. The main ingredients of a banana blossom salad are shredded banana blossoms and a dressing mainly consisting of lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and chili. It also often consists of peanuts and fried shallots and even shrimps or peppers can be added depending on the region you are visiting in Vietnam.
Banana blossom salad is a raw dish. The banana blossoms are sliced and soaked first and then mixed with other ingredients.
It is served on a plate or a shallow bowl often garnished with fresh herbs like cilantro. Vietnamese people eat it with chopsticks but ask for a fork it you don’t want to use chopsticks.
Rau Muong Xao Toi – Stir-fried Morning Glory
Contributed by Annelies from ‘Travelers & Dreamers’
Stir-fried Morning Glory is a simple and savory dish that can be found throughout Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries like Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar. It is a great dish for plant-based foodies traveling through Vietnam as it is considered a vegan-friendly Vietnamese dish with a lot of vitamins and antioxidants.
The exact origin of stir-fried morning glory in Vietnam is not clear. Water spinach grows abundantly in the water-rich regions of Southeast Asia and has been eaten for centuries.
Fried Morning Glory is easy to make since it contains only a few simple ingredients. Water Spinach is first cleaned and cut into lengths before being tossed into a hot frying pan with oil, garlic, and chili. Oyster sauce or fish sauce is added for additional flavour. As a vegan or vegetarian, you can ask to leave out the Oyster sauce or fish sauce.
Morning Glory is served hot, straight out of the frying pan, and is considered a Vietnamese side dish, eaten with rice and other small plates of vegetables, meats or chicken.
You Can Try It Here: Father’s Cooking, Tam Coc Bich Dong, Ninh Hải, Ninh Bình, 430000, Vietnam
Lá Lốt – Vietnamese Betel Leaf Wrapped Beef
Contributed by Annelies from Travelers & Dreamers
One of the most delicious dishes in Vietnam are Betel leaf-wrapped beef skewers that go by the Vietnamese name of La Lot. This dish is traditionally associated with the southern region of Vietnam, particularly in and around Ho Chi Minh City, however, there are some great places to try it in the north, especially around Mai Chau and Tam Coc.
The main ingredients of this dish are betel leaves, beef or pork, and aromatics like lemongrass, garlic, shallots, fish sauce, and pepper.
The meat is first seasoned with the above-mentioned herbs and spices and then mixed until it becomes a homogeneous paste. Small amounts of the mixture are then placed on the betel leaves, which are rolled up afterward, similarly to dolmades in Greece. Once this is done, the wrapped leaves are grilled over charcoal until slightly charred.
Lao Lot can be eaten as a street food snack on a skewer or as a part of a larger Vietnamese dinner table accompanied by other dishes. Vegan versions with tofu instead of meat are also easily found.
Bánh Xèo – Crispy Vietnamese Rice Crepes
Contributed by Zhen at ‘Greedy Girl Gourmet’
Banh Xeo is one of the most popular Vietnamese street foods, consisting of a golden pancake / crepe that is folded in 2, with a savory filling inside and a dipping sauce on the side. The origin of Banh Xeo is still debated but most people agree that these sizzling golden pancakes originated from somewhere in central Vietnam.
The batter is made using rice flour, coconut milk and turmeric (for the golden colour), although sometimes tapioca flour or cornstarch is added to make it extra crispy. Inside the folded crepe, you’ll find mung bean sprouts, prawns, green onions, and pork belly strips.
Some people will serve the golden crepes with fresh herbs either inside the folded crepe or on the side. The batter is first swirled into the pan, before adding the filling, and cooking till the pancake becomes crisp. The cooking method is somewhat similar to Jiaozi, in that you cover the pan to fully cook the filling before uncovering to crisp up the base – don’t forget to be generous with the oil!
To eat, you pinch off some of the pancake and herbs then dip them in the all-important dipping sauce! You can get the complete Banh Xeo recipe here.
You Can Try It Here: Bánh xèo bà Dưỡng, 280/23 Hoàng Diệu, Bình Hiên, Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng 550000, Vietnam
Gỏi Cuốn– Vietnamese Fresh Rice Paper Rolls
Submitted by Adriana at ‘Wanderlicious’
After spending one month in Vietnam, one of my all-time favourites has to be the fresh summer rolls, known as “Gỏi cuốn” or “Nem cuốn” in Vietnamese. It’s a firm favourite in Vietnam and eaten by tourists and locals alike, and you’ll find them on almost every single restaurant menu.
These rolls are a staple of Vietnamese cuisine, particularly during the hot summer months, as they are light, very fragrant and a healthy alternative to heavy, cooked meals. They are not too dissimilar from spring rolls, but where spring rolls are deep fried, summer rolls are fresh and light.
There are multiple claims for the origin of this dish, but it is mostly thought to have originated in Northern Vietnam because of how hot it gets in the summer. Fresh summer rolls are made by wrapping a variety of fresh, raw ingredients in rice paper wrappers. You’ll usually find rice vermicelli noodles, crisp and vibrant vegetables such as lettuce, sliced carrot, mint leaves, and your choice of protein: shrimp or chicken or tofu.
These rolls are often served with a side of dipping sauce: you might be served hoisin sauce, peanut sauce, soy sauce… you name it! Whilst it sounds like a fairly short ingredient list, it makes for some of the most fragrant and fresh food you’ll ever come across.
Cơm Tấm – Vietnamese Broken Rice
Contributed by Markus at ‘The Roaming Fork’
Com Tam, literally broken rice, originated in the rice farming region of the Mekong Delta but was made famous in the city of Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City. Rice farmers invented the dish as a way to use broken rice grains that were not suitable for selling.
Along with the broken rice, Com Tam restaurants will include other ingredients such as grilled pork chops (suon nuong), shredded pork skin, egg ‘cake,’ fried egg, and pickled vegetables.
A small bowl of nuoc cham (a dipping sauce with fish sauce as the main ingredient) is served on the side.
The grilled pork chops (and fried egg if ordered) are generally cooked to order. It is easy to spot a small Com Tam restaurant by the grill sitting outside its front door, with the aroma of grilled pork chops as a welcoming sign to customers. The other ingredients are usually already prepared ahead of service.
The freshly grilled pork chops are then served over the broken rice with the other ordered ingredients on the plate. To eat, either drizzle some of the nuoc cham over the meat and rice or use it as a dipping sauce for the meat.
You Can Try It Here: Com Tam Ba Ghien, 84 Dang Van Ngu Street, Phu Nhuan, HCMC
Bún Thịt Nướng – Vietnamese Grilled Pork with Rice Noodle Salad
Contributed by Us at ‘Exit45 Travels’
Bun Thit Nuong is a Vietnamese dish that originated in the southern region of Vietnam, specifically in Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. This dish encapsulates everything we love about Vietnamese food – vibrant and fresh flavours.
The main ingredients of Bun Thit Nuong include grilled pork, typically marinated in lemongrass, fish sauce, and a medley of aromatic spices. The dish also features vermicelli rice noodles, fresh herbs like mint, cilantro, and basil, as well as crisp bean sprouts, pickled daikon, and carrots. It’s often garnished with crushed peanuts and fried shallots.
To prepare Bun Thit Nuong, the marinated pork is grilled to perfection, infusing it with a smoky, savory aroma. The vermicelli noodles are cooked until tender, and the fresh herbs and vegetables are washed and prepared.
The dish is traditionally served in a bowl, with a layer of vermicelli noodles at the base. The grilled pork is placed on top, and the bowl is garnished with the fresh herbs, bean sprouts, and pickled vegetables. The final touch includes a generous sprinkling of crushed peanuts and fried shallots.
To enjoy Bun Thit Nuong, drizzle some dipping sauce (or a lot like we do), typically made with fish sauce, sugar, and lime, to add a tangy and sweet contrast, and mix all the ingredients together. The result is a mouth-watering explosion of tastes, from the smoky pork to the freshness of the herbs and the crunch of the peanuts.
You Can Try it Here: Bun Thit Nuong Chi Tuyen in Ho Chi Minh City.
Bún Bò Nam Bộ – Vietnamese Beef Noodle Salad
Contributed by Us and ‘Exit45 Travels’
Bun Bo Nam Bo finds its origins in the capital city of Hanoi, in the northern region of Vietnam. This dish is a true testament to Vietnamese culinary ingenuity, offering an amazing mix of flavours and textures. This was the first dish we tried upon arriving in Hanoi in January 2018 and it has been our favourite ever since!
The main ingredients in Bun Bo Nam Bo include tender slices of beef, fresh herbs like mint and cilantro, finely sliced green papaya, crushed peanuts, fried shallots, pickled carrots and daikon, and rice vermicelli noodles. The beef is typically marinated and stir-fried with lemongrass, fish sauce, and a mix of aromatic spices, giving it a rich, savory flavour.
To prepare Bun Bo Nam Bo, the marinated beef is quickly stir-fried until it’s tender and infused with the aromatic lemongrass and spices. The rice vermicelli noodles are cooked to perfection, and the fresh herbs and vegetables are meticulously prepared.
The dish is traditionally presented in a bowl with a base of vermicelli noodles. The stir-fried beef is placed on top, and the bowl is garnished with the fresh herbs, green papaya, pickled vegetables, crushed peanuts, and fried shallots.
To enjoy Bun Bo Nam Bo, you need to mix all the elements together. The freshness of the herbs, the crunch of the peanuts and shallots, and the tender beef are all brought together by the tangy and slightly sweet nuoc mam sauce, traditionally made from fish sauce, sugar, lime, and chili.
You Can Try It Here: Bun Bo Nam Bo in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Chả Cá – Hanoi Fried Fish with Turmeric and Dill
Contributed by Us at ‘Exit45 Travels’
Cha Ca is a beautiful Vietnamese dish with its roots firmly planted in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. This iconic northern specialty showcases the rich and diverse flavours of Vietnamese cuisine.
The main ingredients in Cha Ca revolve around delicate white fish, commonly the firm-fleshed snakehead fish, marinated in a medley of turmeric, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and a touch of garlic. The marinated fish is then pan-fried to perfection, creating a tasty balance of flavours and a crispy exterior.
The fish is typically served on a sizzling platter. It features chunks of fragrant, golden-brown fish accompanied by an array of fresh herbs such as dill, scallions, and cilantro on the side which can be added as preferred. Cha Ca is also traditionally served with vermicelli rice noodles, crushed peanuts, and a zesty dipping sauce made from fish sauce, lime, and chili.
If you love dill, cilantro and seafood as much as we do, this is a dish you must try!
You Can Try It Here: Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Vit Quay – Vietnamese Roast Duck
Contributed by Taylor at Culture Craving Couple
Vit Quay is a magical combination of juicy meat with crispy, spiced skin, and is a must-try when you visit Vietnam! While China is most commonly known for roast duck, the Vietnamese version of this delicious meat is just as good, if not better.
Born out of the French influence on the country, Vit Quay is commonly cooked whole on a spit over coals. It’s typically seasoned with shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, five spice, oyster sauce, soy sauce, honey, and annatto oil.
You’ll see and smell it as you walk down many of the streets in Vietnam! The dish is typically served cut into large pieces with the crispy skin on top and it’s usually alone on the plate, to keep the focus on the juicy meat!
It’s best eaten with a dipping sauce such as hoisin with rice and Vietnamese greens. Or, you can roll in rice paper with herbs, cucumbers, and carrots. Both are equally delicious!
You Can Try It Here: Family Restaurant, Ninh Hải, Hoa Lư District, Ninh Bình 43000, Vietnam
Bánh Mì – Vietnamese Sandwich
Contributed by Shweta at ‘Zest In A Tote’
The French introduced the baguette to Vietnam at the start of their imperial rule. It was in Saigon in the 1950s (or Ho Chi Minh City) that a Vietnamese style of sandwich became popular as a street food. Banh mi is a baguette that is split lengthwise and filled with savoury fillings, and it is served as a sandwich.
It is usually a fusion of meat and vegetables. Banh mi can have many savoury fillings: Vietnamese sausage (or deli-style chicken), cilantro, pickled carrots, pickled daikon, mayo and a French dressing is the classic version. For a vegetarian version, sausage can be easily replaced with marinated tofu.
You Can Try It Here: You can enjoy delicious banh mi in any major city in Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh, Hue, Hanoi, Hoi An, Da Nang, Da Lat etc. The late Anthony Bourdain recommended Banh Mi Phuong in Hoi An, which sells about a 1000 of them each day. Hoi An makes for one of the best day trips from Da Nang. The Banh mi served in the capital is super-loaded and large. One of the best spots to enjoy a banh mi in Ho Chi Minh is Banh mi Huynh Hoa. But be prepared to queue up at both these places.
Cao Lầu – Vietnamese Noodle Bowl
Contributed by Guillem from ‘Feast of Travel’
Cao Lau is a noodle dish that originates in the beautiful town of Hoi An in Central Vietnam. The dish has become a staple of the region because it encapsulates the region’s unique culinary and cultural heritage within its ingredients and flavours.
Cao Lau is made with thick, chewy rice noodles, tender slices of pork, fragrant herbs, and crispy rice crackers. What makes it truly special is that the water used to prepare the noodles comes from Hoi An’s ancient Bá Lễ well and is mixed with wood ashes from plants in the Cham islands (known as lye water), which give them their distinctive taste and texture.
To prepare this dish, the noodles are soaked in lye water and then served with bone broth with onions and shallots and barbecued pork marinated in five-spice and soy sauce, and it is topped with crunchy rice crackers made from the noodles as well as lettuce and fresh herbs.
This amazing combination of ingredients and textures culminate in an interesting, aromatic and heart-warming dish that could be in everyone’s comfort food list. To fully savour Cao Lau, mix the noodles, herbs, and pork with the sauce in each bite. It’s an absolute must-try for anyone visiting Hoi An!
You Can Try It Here: Cao Lầu Không Gian Xanh (687 Hai Bà Trưng, Phường Minh An, Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
Bún Bò Huế – Vietnamese Spicy Beef and Pork Noodle Soup
Contributed by Jenelle at ‘Happy Little Rover’
If you’ve never tried the flavoursome and spicy Bún Bò Huế, you’re in for a treat! Originating in the ancient royal city of Huế (hence the name), these steaming bowls of delicious noodle soup are the pride of the city. The rich, red broth is flavoured with lemongrass, fermented shrimp paste over a base of pork and beef broth.
Simmered for hours over a low heat to bring out the depth of umami flavour, each restaurant has their own secret recipe. Each bowl hides a bounty of springy, round rice noodles, tender beef and pork slices, even pork or crab meatballs and many restaurants will bring out a plate of additions like bean sprouts and fragrant herbs for you to mix in.
Some may also provide sauces like hoisin, sriracha and fermented shrimp paste, it’s considered polite to try the broth first and then add small amounts of the condiments if you’d like.
To enjoy your noodles, use your spoon in your left hand to scoop up the delicious broth and your chopstick in your right to pick up the rice noodles and meat.
You Can Try Them Here: Madam Thu Restaurant – Taste of Hue at 45 Võ Thị Sáu, Phú Hội, Thành phố Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế 530000, Vietnam.
Mì Quảng – Vietnamese Quang-Style Noodle Dish
Contributed by Sophie at ‘Delightful Plate’
Mi Quang is a signature noodle dish of the cuisine in Central Vietnam, particularly in the Quang Nam Province, where it originated. This delicious dish attracts diners with its complex layers of flavoUrs, textures, and aromas.
Unlike other Vietnamese noodle soups such as pho or bun bo Hue, which are served with plenty of broth, mi Quang is served with just enough broth to barely cover the flat and wide rice noodles. The savory broth is typically made from a base of chicken or pork and Vietnamese baby onions (called “củ nén” in Vietnamese).
Various proteins can be used in mi Quang, including chicken, shrimp, pork, or fish. These are often marinated and then simmered before being added to the dish. Other components of a bowl of mi Quang are fresh vegetables and herbs, crispy rice crackers and roasted peanuts.
If you visit the Central region of Vietnam, mi Quang is one of the must-try dishes. Da Nang and Hoi An are among the best places to try it for travellers.
You Can Try Them Here: In Hoi An, Morning Glory Restaurant is a great place to sample the traditional foods of the town, including mi Quang. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi also have restaurants that offer Central Vietnamese cuisine where you can find delicious mi Quang.
Bún Chả – Northern Vietnam Grilled Pork with Rice Noodles
Contributed by Lavina at ‘Continent Hop’
Bun Cha is a dish which originated in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. Bun Cha primarily consists of grilled fatty pork (commonly belly or shoulder), rice vermicelli noodles and fresh herbs like mint and cilantro. It is served with a dipping sauce that often comprises fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and occasionally lime.
It is a beloved street food in Hanoi. The pork is marinated in a combination of fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and pepper before being cooked over a charcoal fire. This dish is recognised for its smokey and somewhat burnt flavour.
Bun Cha generally comes with a plate of fresh herbs on the side and a cup of dipping sauce. The grilled pork is served on a separate platter, alongside rice noodles. A bowl of pickled veggies is also served to complement the flavours.
The best way to eat Bun cha is by taking some rice vermicelli noodles and herbs, dipping them in the delicious sauce, and then combining them with a piece of grilled pork.
You Can Try Them Here: Bun Cha Obama Hanoi (Bun Cha Huong Lien) located in Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi, Vietnam, serves delicious and authentic Bun Cha.
Bò Né – Vietnamese Steak And Eggs Dish
Contributed by Lauren at ‘Neverending Footsteps’
Bò né is one of the lesser-known Vietnamese dishes amongst foreigners, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying. This hearty breakfast dish is believed to have originated in the city of Vung Tau, located along the southern coastline of the country.
Each restaurant offers up its own take on the dish, but there are several ingredients that remain consistent throughout.
Thinly-sliced strips of beef intermingle on a hot plate with fried eggs and a rich garlic-tomato-butter sauce. Occasionally, sausage or meatballs are added to the plate and, if you’re lucky, a dollop of pate. Add soy sauce into the mix, along with a generous serving of herbs, and you’ve got yourself the perfect way to start a day.
Funnily enough, the translation of bò né is “dodging beef” – the dish is served on a sizzling cast-iron pan that comes with a (low) risk of spattering oil: don’t wear your favourite outfit when you’re heading out to try this particular item!
The best part of bò né is the fresh, crispy baguette that is always served on the side. Vietnam is home to some of the best bread in the world, so there’s nothing better than tearing a small piece of bread off, dipping it in the sauce, and sampling all of those rich flavours at once.
Vietnam isn’t an expensive country to travel in, so the prices of bò né are very reasonable. You’ll be looking at paying 55,000 VND ($2) for the meal.
You Can Try It Here: Bò né is particularly popular in the coastal city of Da Nang, where most breakfast cafes will have a different version to try. The best in town is served at Bò Né Lan Hương (110 Nguyễn Chí Thanh, Hải Châu 1, Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng 550000, Vietnam) – popular with locals and visitors alike, this bustling spot is crowded for a reason.
Phở – Vietnamese Noodle Soup
Contributed by Joanna at ‘The World in My Pocket’
Pho is the national dish of Vietnam. But it’s cooked differently, depending in which part of the country you are in. The pho made in the South, is one of the staples of the food in Saigon. The warmth of the beef broth simmered all day with spices such as cinnamon, star anise and cloves make your entire body and soul feel happy.
Pho is a clear soup, with thin and long noodled made with rice flour. They are cooked separately, added to the soup bowl, and covered with the aromatic broth. The beef tenderloin, typical to the South of Vietnam, is then added, raw. The meat cooks enough to be medium-rare, in the hot broth. The soup is served alongside a plate of different herbs such as cilantro, sweet basil, mint, and bean sprouts.
You can eat pho for breakfast, for lunch, and for dinner. There is always a good time for it, and you will find locals cooking it on the side of the roads in Vietnam, at almost every corner.
You Can Try It Here: The lady selling it in front of 207 Bui Vien Street in Ho Chi Minh City
Kem Bơ – Vietnamese Avocado Ice Cream
Contributed by Simon at ‘Backpack Moments’
Kem Bo is a Vietnamese avocado ice cream from Da Nang in Central Vietnam. The story tells of a legendary store called Cô Vân Bắc Mỹ An that invented the dessert in 1991. It’s located in one of the traditional markets in Da Nang – Chợ Bắc Mỹ An, not too far from the well-known Dragon Bridge. It has been serving Kem Bo to both locals and tourists alike for more than 30 years now. Today, you can find Kem Bo all across Vietnam.
If you are to literally translate Kem Bo, the result is “buttercream”. It makes total sense when you learn that it consists of a base of creamy avocado mousse topped with a ball or two of vanilla ice cream. At the bottom of the tall glass it’s served in, there are small chunks of ice. All of it is then topped with dried toasted coconut flakes.
It’s all beautiful to look at and almost makes you not want to ruin it with your spoon.
You Can Try It Here: What makes Cô Vân Bắc Mỹ An the best place to try it is that they make the mousse from fresh avocados! It is incredibly affordable too at only 15,000 VND (60 cents) per portion!
Ca Phe Trung – Vietnamese Egg Coffee
Contributed by Katie at ‘KatieCafTravel’
Originating in Hanoi, Vietnam, Vietnamese Egg Coffee, or ca phe trung, is a unique coffee blend made with condensed milk, espresso, and egg yolks. This specialty drink boasts an exceptionally thick foam that’s famously enjoyed with a spoon rather than sipped.
During the French War in Vietnam, a milk shortage led to the use of canned condensed milk in coffee, a practice still prevalent throughout the country. In 1946, bartender Mr. Nguyen Van Giang, inspired by Italian Cappuccino, created the frothier Vietnamese version by combining egg yolks, sugar, and condensed milk.
His creation gained immense popularity, leading to the establishment of Giang Cafe in Hanoi, where visitors can still relish this coffee. It is extremely popular not only amongst tourists, but also Vietnamese visiting from other parts of the country. As such, it can get really busy so be prepared to wait for a table!
The main ingredients for Vietnamese Egg Coffee are condensed milk, espresso, and egg yolks. A rich and frothy topping is crafted by whipping egg yolks and sugar, with the heat from the espresso helping to “cook” the egg yolk.
To enjoy, use a spoon to savour the thick foam before sipping the hot espresso underneath.
You Can Try It Here: For an authentic experience, visit the original Giang Cafe in Hanoi at 39 P. Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội.
Nước Mía – Sugarcane Juice
Contributed by Jackie and Justin at ‘Life of Doing’
Sugarcane juice is a refreshing and affordable drink in Vietnam to enjoy at any time of the year. Sugarcane is grown mostly in the Mekong Delta, South Vietnam, due to the fertile lands. But there are smaller yields grown in North and Central Vietnam. There isn’t a specific origin for this drink as it’s available throughout the country.
The best way to enjoy sugarcane juice is to visit a vendor on the sidewalk or at a local market. The drink will cost between $.40 to $1 USD. Vendors place raw peeled sugarcane into the pressing machine, and the natural juice is collected in a bucket. They often do multiple passes of the sugarcane through the machine to get as much juice as possible.
In Ho Chi Minh City and areas in South Vietnam, vendors add a kumquat or orange along with the sugarcane for extra flavor. Afterward, they add ice to a single-use plastic cup and then pour the juice.
Enjoy the drink on the sidewalk while sitting on the squatty plastic chairs, or takeaway and drink elsewhere. It’s a fantastic beverage to cool off from the heat and humidity.
You Can Try It Here: It’s recommended to visit any sidewalk vendor away from the main tourist area that sells sugarcane juice. The price will be cheaper. Otherwise, vendors around Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (Đ. Lê Lai, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh) will sell it.
How to Immerse Yourself in the Authentic Flavors of Vietnam
Vietnam is a country known for its vibrant and diverse cuisine, and immersing yourself in the popular flavors of Vietnam is a must-do for any food lover. From street food to local markets, there are plenty of ways to experience the true essence of Vietnamese cuisine. By trying traditional dishes like pho and banh mi, exploring the bustling street food scene, taking a cooking class, and visiting local markets, you can fully immerse yourself in the rich and flavorful culinary traditions of Vietnam.
Exploring Local Markets
Exploring local markets is an excellent way to discover the authentic ingredients used in Vietnamese cooking. These bustling markets are a feast for the senses, with vibrant displays of fresh produce, aromatic herbs, and exotic spices. You can interact with friendly vendors who are more than happy to share their knowledge about these ingredients and how they are used in traditional dishes.
Sampling street food offers an immersive experience into the true flavors of Vietnam. From fragrant bowls of pho (a savory soup) to crispy banh mi sandwiches filled with flavorful meats and pickled vegetables, street food showcases the diverse culinary heritage of this beautiful country. The best part is that you can try a variety of dishes at affordable prices, allowing you to indulge in a gastronomic adventure without breaking the bank.
Try Regional Specialities
Trying regional specialties is another must-do when exploring the different flavors of Vietnam. Each region has its own unique flavor profiles influenced by local ingredients and cooking techniques. In the south, you’ll find dishes like “ca kho to” (caramelized clay pot fish) and “banh xeo” (Vietnamese savory pancakes). In central Vietnam, “banh beo” (steamed rice cakes) and “mi quang” (turmeric-infused noodle dish) are popular choices. And in the north, don’t miss out on trying “cha ca” (grilled fish served with dill and vermicelli noodles) or Hanoi-style beef pho.
Take a Vietnamese Cooking Class
Engaging with locals provides insights into traditional cooking techniques that enhance flavor. Join a cooking class to learn first-hand about the secrets behind Vietnamese cuisine. You might discover how to make a rich broth for pho or master the art of rolling fresh summer rolls filled with herbs, shrimp, and pork.
Interested in taking a Vietnamese Cooking Class? We took THIS cooking class in Hanoi and loved it! Once choosing the 3 dishes we were going to cook (Bun Cha, Pho Bo/Ga, Hanoi Fresh Roll) we went to the nearby local market to buy fresh ingredients for the class. This was a great way to learn more about Vietnamese cuisine, the foods they use, and how to use them.
Go On a Vietnamese Food Tour
Joining a food tour is an exciting way to immerse yourself in the best flavors of Vietnam. These tours offer a unique opportunity to explore hidden culinary gems and indulge in wide variety of authentic local dishes. Experienced guides on food tours are not just knowledgeable about the flavors; they also provide valuable insights into the history and cultural significance behind each dish.
Engaging in a Vietnamese food tour offers more than just a culinary adventure; it’s also an opportunity to connect with fellow food enthusiasts from around the world. Sharing a meal together creates a sense of camaraderie and fosters new friendships. However, the biggest advantages of joining a Vietnamese food tour is the chance to discover hidden culinary gems that you may not find on your own.
When we were in Ho Chi Minh City, we did this food tour by scooter at night. The food was amazing, but we recommend you go very hungry!
Food Safety in Vietnam
When travelling in general, it’s important to prioritize food safety and hygiene. While street food is a popular choice for many visitors, it’s crucial to be cautious and take certain precautions to ensure a safe culinary experience. Here are some of ‘Exit45 Travels Top Tips’ for eating safely in Vietnam.
Be Mindful of Street Food Hygiene: Vietnam is renowned for its vibrant street food scene, offering an array of mouth-watering dishes that showcase the country’s culinary heritage. However, with street vendors operating in open-air environments, it’s essential to be mindful of hygiene practices. Opting for busy stalls or vendors with high turnover can provide reassurance about the freshness and quality of the food being served. These bustling stalls often attract a steady stream of customers, indicating that the ingredients are likely to be replenished frequently.
Choose Bottled Water for Safety: Drinking water is an essential aspect of any travel experience, but in Vietnam, it’s advisable to opt for bottled water instead of tap water. While efforts have been made to improve tap water quality in urban areas, there may still be potential health risks associated with consuming untreated water. To avoid any issues during your culinary journey, make sure to purchase sealed bottles from reputable sources. This simple precaution can go a long way in safeguarding your well-being.
Basic Hygiene Practices Matter: In addition to being mindful of where you eat and what you drink, following basic hygiene practices adds an extra layer of safety while enjoying Vietnamese cuisine. Washing your hands thoroughly before meals helps eliminate harmful bacteria and reduce the risk of contamination. If soap and water are not readily available, carry hand sanitizers or antibacterial wipes as convenient alternatives.
Look Out for Clean Preparation Areas: When selecting a place to dine or buy street food from, pay attention to the cleanliness of the preparation area. A tidy and well-maintained workspace indicates that the food is likely to be prepared in hygienic conditions. On the other hand, if you notice unclean surfaces or improper handling of ingredients, it may be best to find an alternative option.
Seek Recommendations and Reviews: To further ensure food safety during your culinary adventure in Vietnam, seek recommendations from locals or fellow travellers who have already explored the country’s gastronomic delights. Online platforms and travel forums such as Trip Advisor can provide valuable insights into reputable vendors and establishments known for their adherence to hygiene standards. By relying on the experiences of others, you can make informed choices about where to indulge in Vietnam’s flavors without compromising on safety.
FAQ’s: Exploring the Flavors of Vietnam & the Best Vietnamese Dishes to Try
Now that you have explored the flavors of Vietnam, you might still have a few questions. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Here are some frequently asked questions about Vietnamese cuisine.
What is Vietnam’s national dish?
Pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup made with beef or chicken broth, is considered Vietnam’s national dish.
Why is Vietnamese food popular?
Vietnamese food is popular for its fresh ingredients, vibrant flavours, and healthy cooking methods. It offers a unique blend of sweet, sour, and savoury tastes.
Is Vietnamese food spicy?
Vietnamese cuisine is known for its delicate balance of flavors rather than intense spiciness. While some dishes may have a hint of heat from chili peppers, it is generally milder compared to other Southeast Asian cuisines.
Is Vietnamese food healthy?
Yes, Vietnamese food is generally considered healthy due to its emphasis on fresh ingredients, vegetables, and herbs. It is low in fat and often includes lean proteins like fish or tofu.
What is the best Vietnamese food in the world?
Pho is considered the best Vietnamese food in the world. It is a flavourful and aromatic soup with noodles, herbs, and meat, usually beef or chicken.
What are 3 traditional foods in Vietnam?
Three traditional foods in Vietnam are pho (noodle soup), banh mi (baguette sandwich), and fresh spring rolls.
What are 5 popular street foods in Vietnam?
Banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), pho (noodle soup), banh xeo (savoury pancake), goi cuon (spring rolls), and com tam (broken rice) are popular street foods in Vietnam.
What are the flavor principles of Vietnam?
The flavor principles of Vietnam include a balance of sweet, sour, salty, and umami flavors, with an emphasis on fresh herbs and spices.
What spices is Vietnam known for?
Vietnam is known for its use of spices such as lemongrass, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, star anise, cinnamon, and fish sauce in their cuisine.
What are the common flavoring ingredients in Vietnamese food?
Common flavoring ingredients in Vietnamese food include fish sauce, soy sauce, shrimp paste, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, and herbs like cilantro and mint.
Are there vegetarian options available in Vietnamese cuisine?
Absolutely! While Vietnamese cuisine often includes meat and seafood, there are plenty of vegetarian options as well. Dishes like vegetarian pho, tofu stir-fries, and banh xeo (savory pancakes) can satisfy even the most discerning vegetarian palate.
Are there any food safety concerns when trying street food in Vietnam?
While street food is an integral part of Vietnamese culinary culture, it’s essential to be mindful of food safety. Look for vendors with clean and hygienic preparation practices, opt for cooked-to-order dishes, and observe locals to identify popular and trustworthy stalls.
Can I find authentic Vietnamese ingredients outside Vietnam?
Yes! With the growing popularity of Vietnamese cuisine worldwide, many authentic ingredients can be found in local Asian markets or specialty grocery stores. Look for staples like fish sauce, rice noodles, lemongrass, and Vietnamese mint to bring the flavors of Vietnam into your own kitchen.
In Summary – Exploring the Flavours of Vietnam & Best Vietnamese Dishes
From the cultural significance of these flavors to the aromatic herbs and spices that make Vietnamese cuisine so unique, you’ve gained a deeper understanding of what makes this culinary tradition truly special.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to immerse yourself in the authentic flavors of Vietnam. Whether you’re planning a trip to this beautiful country or simply want to try your hand at recreating some traditional dishes at home, let your taste buds be your guide. Let each bite transport you to the bustling streets of Hanoi or the serene landscapes of Ha Long Bay.
Trip Planners For Vietnam: Related Blog Posts
Want more info to help you plan your Vietnam holiday? Check out all the articles we’ve written on travel in Vietnam below and continue planning your trip.
- 68 Tips For Travelling Vietnam For First Timers
- 24 Best Places In Vietnam To Visit In 2023
- Is Halong Bay Worth Visiting? 7 Reasons You Should To Visit In 2023
- Tam Coc Boat Tour: Your Ultimate Guide For 2023
Essential Travel Planning Resources for Vietnam
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