Every day in Vietnam is a food adventure. With such a wide variety of cultural influences, including French, Japanese, Chinese, and more, as well as dishes varying in style from region to region, Vietnamese food is on every foodie’s radar at the moment. Most are familiar with the usual crowd pleasers, like pho and fried spring rolls but, oh boy, there’s a lot more to Vietnamese food to be discovered. Of course, Vietnam is known for its spectacular scenery, rich cultural heritage, and historical sites, but what usually gets people hooked is the amazing food scene. If you want in on the secret, check out these 5 reasons why every foodie out there is loving Vietnam right now.
Let’s face it. When you think of Vietnam, as with many countries in Asia, a delicious bowl of noodles comes to mind. The variety of choices in Vietnam is truly extraordinary, and depending on where you decide to travel, each region has an extensive selection. Let’s get into the basics:
Although pho originated in Hanoi, variations of this renowned Vietnamese dish can be found throughout the country. But, it has to be said that one of the best things to do in Hanoi definitely involves sampling steaming bowls of pho at local hotspots in the Old Quarter. No matter if you prefer a beef, chicken, seafood, or even a vegetarian version, everyone loves a bowl of steaming pho, accompanied by fresh herbs and perhaps some chilli to spice things up!
Vietnamese Vermicelli rice noodles, or bun, are a central component of many Vietnamese dishes. Here’s the low-down:
• Bun cha Hanoi
The combination of grilled pork with sweet and sour fish sauce and freshly made rice noodles is always a win. In Hanoi, this scrumptious dish is basically found at every second restaurant due to its popularity with both locals and visitors. Bun cha is so synonymous with everyday Vietnamese culture that even former president of the United States, Barrack Obama, could not resist its charms, opting to dine on this humble local favourite on one of his visits to Hanoi.
• Bun thit nuong
Rice noodles with grilled pork, topped with peanuts and various greens, as well as fish sauce and fresh peanut sauce are a classic Vietnamese dish. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a fried spring roll on the side.
• Bun rieu cua
More commonly found in locations closer to the coast, this hearty seafood-based dish is more of a local favourite. But, for those looking to experience Vietnam through the eyes of a local and willing to try a few of the less famous dishes, this superb dish will definitely make an impact. Consisting of rice noodles in a spicy tomato broth with crab and fresh herbs, the irresistible flavour of this bun rieu cua is undeniable.
• Bun bo Hue
Rice noodles in a spicy Hue-style broth, often topped with crab or fish cakes and fresh herbs. Of course, as can be deduced from the name, the best variations of this dish can be found in Vietnam’s ancient capital, Hue.
• Bun dau mam tom
One of the more photogenic dishes on the list is a combination of rice noodles, tofu, shrimp paste, and, roasted/boiled pork belly. This sociable dish is often shared over a few drinks, making it a wonderful meal to enjoy with friends.
With influences from both the north and south, the cuisine in central Vietnam is truly special, as flavours have been combined through the ages to create extraordinary dishes, many only found in specific cities in this region. Considering that beautiful destinations like Danang city, Hoi An, and Hue are all in central Vietnam, these distinct cities each has its own speciality and personality, making it a paradise for those looking to see a different side to Vietnamese food.
• Mi Quang
These Danang-style flat rice noodles are a staple in central Vietnam. Mi Quang noodles (turmeric rice noodles) are served atop fresh herbs and a small amount of broth often accompanied by chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, or frog, which is a firm favourite for locals and tourists alike. Frog noodles (mi Quang ech) may not sound like your everyday choice but, as they always say, ‘don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!’ In addition to the unique taste and texture of the flat rice noodles, a crisp rice cracker is served with mi Quang. The cracker is broken up into tiny pieces and sprinkled over the top, adding a much-needed crispy element to the dish. The epitome of what Danang food has to offer, mi Quang is a must-try dish for anyone visiting Vietnam.
• Banh xeo
No trip to Vietnam is complete without getting your hands on this irresistible treat. Vietnamese pancakes, as they’re commonly known, are an epic DIY dish, where these scrumptious pancakes topped with ingredients like beef, pork, or shrimp, along with various greens and beansprouts, are rolled with rice paper sheets into fresh spring rolls. They’re then dipped into a highly addictive peanut sauce or fish sauce. The wonderful thing about Vietnamese pancakes is that they can be enjoyed at both top-notch restaurants and humble street stalls all over central Vietnam.
• Cao lao
Cao lao is the signature of Hoi An food. Although Vietnamese cuisine has several noodle dishes, this one is particularly distinct from any of the rest. It consists of lau noodles, slices of char siu barbecue pork, croutons, bean sprouts, lettuce, and herbs; it is then finished with a spoonful of rich, dark stock. Cao lau noodles are carefully made from local fresh rice and they are steamed, as opposed to most other noodles that are boiled. The texture of lau noodles is notably distinct, as they are slightly chewy, although still very soft when combined with the irresistibly fragrant cao lau broth. When it comes to traditional food in Vietnam, this fragrant dish should not be missed.
They come in all shapes and sizes, with any filling that your heart desires! Yes, this is a classic Asian dish but the Vietnamese have definitely perfected the art. Fried spring rolls are a popular accompaniment to many main meals but for something a bit more refined, there is just something special about a fresh, colourful herbs and vegetables, as well as shrimp, pork, or whatever you’re in the mood for, rolled beautifully into a fresh spring roll with some rice paper. A decadent helping of peanut sauce or some sweet chilli dipping sauce is always a welcome addition to the party as well.
The options for incredible street food are endless. One of the best things to do in Vietnam is to check out all the insider spots on a food tour – a local foodie always knows best!
• Banh mi
We can’t talk about Vietnamese street food without discussing banh mi! Due to Vietnam’s historic connection to France during the colonial times, bread is a staple in Vietnamese diets. Whether it is a banh mi op la (baguette with eggs) from a food cart, or a fresh baguette with a bowl of hearty beef stew, a banh mi is always a win. Around every corner there is a different food cart selling banh mi with a different filling, so anywhere you go in Vietnam you’ll be spoiled for choice.
• Bo ne
This Vietnamese breakfast favourite is so simple yet something about it leaves you wanting more. A sizzling hot plate with some steak, homemade pate, eggs, onions, tomatoes, and spring onions, with a warm banh mi straight out of the oven is simply fabulous. Sometimes simple is better!
• Banh canh
These tapioca flour noodles are rather interesting because the texture is quite chewy and nothing like any other Vietnamese noodles. They go really well with a seafood-based broth and some fresh seafood. Danang seafood is widely known to be some of the freshest in the country, so if you’re craving some seafood banh canh, this is the place to get it. At the local restaurants lining Haiphong street in Danang city, you get to select your own toppings to add to your banh canh – whether you choose to add shrimp, crab, fish cakes, or all of the above, you’re in for a treat either way. Simply delicious! Also, banh canh is often served with some mouthwatering fresh ‘doughnuts’ to dunk in the broth. What’s not to love, right?
Coffee is life in Vietnam! There are so many ways to enjoy Vietnamese coffee but one thing to note is that speed isn’t really a thing to consider here. Forget about that early morning rush to grab your take-away coffee and speed off to wherever you need to go. It doesn’t work like that! Drinking coffee is an experience; a process. A common way to have coffee is the traditional style of placing a traditional slow-drip filter over your cup and waiting for the black liquid goodness to drip ever so slowly into a cup of condensed milk. They like their coffee sweet!
In the summer heat, which is 80% of the time, many opt for a cold coffee option, such as a delicious iced Saigon black coffee, which is served in a tall glass with plenty of ice.
For something more decadent, and pretty addictive actually, check out some iced coconut coffee! Yes, that’s right; coconut and coffee. The combination sounds strange but it just works. The creamy freshness of the coconut milk contrasts incredibly well with the bitterness of Robusta-bean Vietnamese coffee. Topped off with lots of ice, condensed milk, and some shaved ice, this is the tropical treat one can’t live without in Vietnam! Note, calorie counters, stay away from this one!
The best Vietnamese food is often found when you keep an open mind and allow the journey to take its own course – getting lost among the many alleyways of the organised chaos that personifies Vietnamese cities, receiving an awesome recommendation from a friendly local, or simply going on an authentic food tour with locals who know the ins and outs of Vietnam’s coolest foodie hangouts.
If this sounds right up your alley, why not check out some of the coolest authentic food experiences in Vietnam below:
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