Table of Contents
One characteristic of Vietnamese cuisine is the “chopsticks culture“, Vietnamese have long created many dishes to suit the use of chopsticks. With thousands of years of civilization cultivating wet rice, from rice grains, the people have “transformed” into many different dishes. Typically rice noodles, there are dozens of names on this list, such as Pho, Hu Tieu, Mi Quang, Cao Lau, Bun Bo, Bun Ca, Bun Mang, Bun Thang, Bun Mam and many other types of noodles. Not only that, but Vietnam also has many other delicious dishes, are you ready to explore this list of Vietnamese food?
The first place on the list of Vietnamese delicacies, the dish that you can find anywhere in this S-shaped country, is Pho. Pho has been serving as the “cultural ambassador” to promote Vietnamese cuisine throughout the years. One cannot say they have visited Vietnam without trying a bowl of Pho. It is no exaggeration to say that cooking Pho is a form of art for all the complicated steps and dedicated ingredients. Anyone who has eaten Pho has to admit that the hot steaming broth is the soul of the dish which has many layers of flavor added to it. A qualified broth has to fulfill three strict criteria: first, the broth has to be clear to guarantee the visual attractiveness; second, it has to come with the subtle sweetness extracted from the pork bones slowly cooked for hours; and third, it has to bring up the herby aroma of cinnamon, anise, ginger and so much more.
Originating from Hanoi, Pho is far beyond its home border, you can enjoy a bowl of Pho anywhere. Not only do you get to try one of the best soups in the world, but also to appreciate the quintessence of Vietnamese cuisine.
2. Banh Mi
Vietnamese cuisine has witnessed the rise of many “bests” in which Banh Mi is one of. Having received high praise from both eaters and critics, it is described as “a symphony in a sandwich” by the former professional chef Anthony Bourdain.
Adapted from the French baguette, Banh Mi is a crunchy bread stuffed with a wide range of fillings which are often seen as meat, eggs, carrot pickles, and herbs.
Banh Mi is absolutely easy to go for as you can choose what to add in according to your preference. It can be found in any corner in Vietnam and suitable to eat at any time of the day due to its high nutritious value and also its money value. For only 10.000 VND (less than 0.5 $), you will have a quality and delicious meal.
Banh Mi is often known as one of the best Vietnamese street food. The creation of Banh Mi is unlimited, there are hundreds of versions of Banh Mi out there which prove the awesome creative spirit of those Vietnamese street vendors.
3. Goi Cuon
The third place on the Vietnamese food list is Goi Cuon, a dish of Vietnamese street food that you can enjoy in every corner in Vietnam.
Goi Cuon (fresh spring rolls) is another street food that could come in both vegan and non-vegan versions. Goi Cuon is not only filling but also portable which makes it super convenient to eat on the go. Each roll is wrapped inside rice papers, stuffed with green veggies such as lettuces and Vietnamese basils; rice noodles, and carrots.
For meat-eaters, rolls can be added with sliced pork and shrimp. Its appearance is already catchy and vibrant with all the colors, the taste is lit when dipped in soybean paste sauce topped with grinded peanuts or sweet and sour plus chilli and garlic fish sauce. This summery snacks should not be missed when you are in Vietnam.
4. Bun Bo Hue
The name indicates its origin which is from the Emperor City – Hue, in the Central of Vietnam. It is spicy beef noodle soup with the iconic color of annatto oil and the savory fragrance from lemongrass saute. The cooking process of this noodle soup is time-consuming and requires not only cooking skills but also patience. The noodles used for this soup are unmatched: it is round and thicker than the usual rice vermicelli; the taste is extra due to the addition of sliced onions. This Vietnamese food is served in a bowl with side vegetables such as banana flowers, bean sprouts, and a touch of lime juice.
Nowadays, you can enjoy a bowl of Bun Bo Hue anywhere, but a proper bowl must be enjoyed at a roadside restaurant near Trang Tien Bridge, Hue, where there are ” hundred-year-old heirloom” eateries.
5. Mi Quang
At No. 5 is a dish that brings all the essence of Central Vietnamese cuisine: Mi Quang. Mi Quang is a specialty which originated from Quang Nam – a province owns 2 treasures of Vietnam: Hoi An Ancient Town and My Son Sanctuary.
Unlike other kinds of Vietnamese soup, the broth is not filled to the edge of the bowl but is particularly savory and fresh. It has all kinds of proteins that you could think of. For a “special” bowl of Mi Quang, there are sliced pork, shrimps, and quail eggs. Mi Quang is not complete without a handful of green herbs, crispy “Banh Da” – a type of rice paper which is thick, cracky and added sesames, and broken peanuts. It can also come with your preferred protein, ranging from chicken, fish, or even young chicken eggs. Mi Quang is not just a dish. It is a convergence of different cultures in which you could find a hint of Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese cuisine blended together.
6. Banh Xeo
Banh Xeo is probably another name that is all the rage among the Vietnamese street food check-list. The name came from the sizzling sound when the turmeric yellow batter poured in the hot pan. Banh Xeo comes in all shapes and sizes depending on the region: it is thinner, bigger, and less oily cooked in the South compared with the central version which is more oily but at the same time crunchier.
Due to the popularity it has gained among the foodies from all over the world, the fillings have been added to maximize the dining experience. Authentically, however, Banh Xeo is stuffed with pork belly, shrimp, bean sprouts, and mung beans. The “right” Banh Xeo batter is mixed with coconut milk, added garlic chives, and has to be fried in pork fat. The locals wrap Banh Xeo in big mustard lettuces together with other herbs and dip the roll in sweet and sour fish sauce. Banh Xeo is no good as take-away food as what makes it really stand out is the dining vibes: the constant sizzling noise on the background, the scent of coconut milk, and turmeric powder as well as the vibrant talking of the eaters who gather to share not only food but stories.
7. Nem Ran
7th place on the list of best Vietnamese food is Nem Ran (or Cha Gio in the South).
Vietnamese eating culture is all about gathering and sharing food. That’s why a host of our food comes in rolls which are easy to distribute. And Nem Ran is one of those treats which could be found at any Vietnamese traditional celebrations as an appetizer.
The filling for Nem Ran is actually not fixed, but basically, it is crammed with a paste of minced pork and shrimp, bean sprouts, chopped glass noodles, diced carrots, mushrooms and taros inside a rice paper which is later deep fried to get the caramel look and crunchy texture. We are always aware of the principle of Yin and Yang, especially in our eating routines. Therefore, these deep-fried dishes are always accompanied with lots of green herbs and vegetables. Nem Ran can also be served in a bowl with noodles which is known as Bun Cha Gio, a dish that brings out the best flavor palettes of the fried spring rolls.
8. Banh Cuon
The name means the “rolled cakes” (although they are not really cakes). Banh Cuon is thin spreads of steamed rice batter stuffed with ground pork and chopped wood-ear mushrooms, presented on a bed of fresh cucumber, Vietnamese basils, and blanched bean sprouts. Although the ingredients are simple, the cooking process is incredibly mesmerizing which requires the cook to be aware of the perfect timing and skillful technique to lift off the steamer maintaining its perfect shape.
What tells the difference between one from another Banh Cuon are the homemade Vietnamese sausages (Cha Gio) and the dipped sauce. This is a light dish which explains why it is traditionally eaten as breakfast. However, over time, because of its flavorful and healthy treat, Banh Cuon is served all day as an easy-going snack.
9. Bun Cha
At No. 9 is Bun Cha, a famous dish of Hanoi. Bun Cha is a quite different dish by the way it is eaten. Basically, it is caramelized grilled pork and meatballs bathed in a vinegary broth. That may sound simple but it is actually eye-popping good as the meat requires absolutely sophisticated seasoning techniques. It has to be pork shoulders with thin layers of fat so that it will not be too dry when grilled. On the side, pork is minced to make pork cakes in little circular shapes which are later grilled on coal fire. The broth is the star itself which has a hint of the vinegar sourness added with texture and flavor by the pickled carrots and green papayas. The dish is served with fresh vegetables of your choice.
The deliciousness of Bun Cha helps it cross the border of Hanoi to become a popular dish throughout the territory of Vietnam. A perfect bite comprising a bit of noodles, a slice of grilled pork, and pickles wrapped in some green leaves then well dipped into the sauce. Bun Cha definitely wakes up all your senses by a graceful balance of sweetness and sourness of dipping sauce and the freshness of rice vermicelli noodles and veggies.
10. Cha Ca
Grilled fish (Cha Ca) is a famous dish of Hanoi. MSNBC has put the Cha Ca La Vong restaurant in Hanoi in the 5th place among ten places to know before you die along with nine other famous places and festivals worldwide. That is enough reason for you to try this Vietnamese dish.
Cha Ca is made from hemibagrus fish, a freshwater fish with little bones, and fresh meat. People can also use semilabeo notabilis fish to make it. Cha Ca is served with vermicelli, coriander, scallion, basil, dill. All together creates an unforgettable taste for anyone who has tried it once.
11. Cao Lau
At 11th place is a dish considered as the soul of Hoi An: Cao Lau. It took the form of My Quang which has very little broth making it more like a dry noodle dish than a soup.
The noodles used for making Cao Lau are unique which are udon-sized thick and ivory-ish. The color comes from the special tree bark ash particularly found on Cham Island, a small island off the coast of Hoi An. It is served in a bowl with green baby mustard leaves and other herbs and char siu pork which really adds flavor to it.
Although nowadays Cao Lau could be found anywhere, eating Cao Lau by Thu Bon River in the heart of Hoi An would be a truly authentic Cao Lau experience that you cannot miss.
What could be better than enjoying one of the best Vietnamese food in the most beautiful old town in Vietnam?
Made from glutinous rice, Xoi has long been known as a “national” food of Vietnam. Every Vietnamese growing up have eaten a load of Xoi wrapped in banana leaves. There are various types of Xoi as you can imagine. Generally, the ingredients included in making Xoi are varied yet often combined with the vibrant natural coloring and flavoring such as pandan leaves, gac fruit (which is a reddish melon), and magenta leaves. Xoi is also combined with all kinds of beans: green beans, black beans, peanuts, and so on.
A more nutrition-packed version is known as Xoi Man – a savory dish loaded with toppings on the bed of jasmine-scented sticky rice. It is a perfect balance of pork flosses, dried baby shrimps, Vietnamese salami, salted white carrot, fried onions, quail eggs, and smashed peanuts that burst with flavors. Xoi is sold from big, steamy pots on the side of the streets. You cannot miss the sight of a puff of scented smoke rising from colorful steamers and it is absolutely worth putting in your must-try list.
Along with Banh Mi, Xoi is the soul of Vietnamese street food, the food that every Vietnamese person loves. And you?
13. Hu Tieu
If Pho is a typical dish of North Vietnam, Hu Tieu is the brainchild that is raised from alluvial soil in the Mekong Delta: rice. Used to be praised by the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay as the best broth he’s ever tasted, its broth is slow-cooked with pork bones and ribs on a beehive-coal fueled oven to get that elegant and light sweetness.
When being ordered, the cook blanch Hu Tieu noodles in a separate pot of boiling water before presenting them in the bowl with blanched bean sprouts, lettuces, and sliced pork. It sometimes could be seen topped with minced pork, meatballs, and quail eggs. Each then seasons the bowl of Hu Tieu in their own way, but normally with a touch of lime juice and chilli sauce.
14. Cafe Sua Da
Believe it or not, you would happen to say this word at least once when you are in Vietnam since who will ever miss this refreshing drink especially on a hot day during the humid climate in Vietnam. Cafe Sua Da is basically iced black coffee mixed with condensed milk. Its popularity has probably surpassed the traditional black coffee as it is a little sweet and creamy while still having a good caffeine kick.
Cafe Sua Da is using Vietnamese coffee (usually used Robusta coffee) with a small metal Vietnamese drip filter (Phin coffee). Add about 1-2 teaspoons of coffee to Phin, then pour about 50-100ml of hot water, the Phin releases drops of hot coffee into a cup. Vietnamese people (especially Saigon) often drink coffee with milk instead of sugar, they usually add 1-2 tablespoons of condensed milk.
A “right” cup of Cafe Sua Da must be enjoyed at a small cafe on the sidewalk of Saigon, sip (because coffee is relatively strong), surf Facebook, and don’t forget you always have a glass of iced tea “always full”!
15. Cafe Trung
The last position on the list of top 15 Vietnamese food is Cafe Trung. Everyone knows that Vietnam is the land of coffee beans and coffee shops. But we had brought coffee to the next level with the egg coffee – a cup of hot black coffee topped with rich and creamy whipped egg yolks. It is probably not easy to picture egg and coffee together, but this is a real treat that has a subtly sophisticated balance as Vietnamese black coffee is often pretty strong so the egg form layer is intended to sweeten it in a gentle way.
You can enjoy egg cafe in many places in Vietnam, but a cup of coffee at Giang Cafe will be a great choice if you are in Hanoi, where you can find an original taste of egg coffee.
A few notes
Above are the top 15 must-try Vietnamese dishes, most of these dishes are available everywhere in Vietnam, but the flavor may vary from region to region:
- Northern Vietnamese cuisine focuses on Yin and Yang and the Five Elements; You can see the same Pho but in the North, it is more flavorful and elaborate than the other regions.
- The food in Central Vietnam is relatively salty and spicy than other regions, typically Mi Quang and Cao Lau.
- For the South, especially the Mekong Delta, the dishes here are usually sweeter as sincerity and warmth of the people of the Delta.
Should you tip at a restaurant in Vietnam?
To be honest, in Vietnam we don’t have (or very little) “tip culture”. So if you eat in small or medium eateries, don’t worry, just pay the right amount on the menu and the server is happy too!
Big restaurants usually applied 5 – 10% of service fees into your bill, therefore, actually there is no need to tip.
However, if a dish or service exceeds your expectations, the tips about 2 – 5$ are okay, right?
Discovering Vietnamese cuisine is a wonderful experience that any other traveler should try, so in each destination, we have the local delicacies column, at each dish, we have recommended restaurants that we surveyed. Please refer to Destinations and discover Vietnam your way!
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