Vietnam is a place where culture meets simplicity and balance. A favourite destination in Asia where you can satiate your appetite for tradition, history, adventure and food.
If you love soups, and noodle soups in particular, then you’ll enjoy eating out in Vietnam. Much like the country’s varied cultural influences, the cuisine is equally diverse ranging from simple and healthy meals to high carb and greasy dishes.
Vietnamese gastronomy is based on the power of five with due attention given to colour, taste and aroma. You have five taste elements – spicy, sweet, salty, sour and bitter – meeting five nutrient types – protein, fat, liquid, mineral, and powder. Add five colours to this – red, white, green, black and yellow, and you end up with exquisite foods that create delicate tasting experiences.
While most recipes use common ingredients like sauces (fish, soy and shrimp), rice, herbs, ginger, mint, lemongrass, Saigon cinnamon, bird’s eye red chilli, and Thai basil, each region uses them differently.
Foods in colder North are less spicy and make use of black pepper, sauces and lime in seafood and meat. Central Vietnam is known for its spicy and complex food along with liberal use of red chillies and shrimp sauce.
Warm South, on the other hand, is famous for flavoured and vibrant vegetable and meat dishes. Shallots, herbs, garlic, coconut milk, and sugar enrich foods from this region.
This guide lets you explore top 12 dishes in Vietnam from Banh (steamed rice) to Goi (salads) and Pho (noodle soups)!
Banh It Tran (steamed rice dumplings)/ Bánh ít trần
Photo credit: Alpha
You’ll find rice donning many avatars in Vietnam – steamed, sticky, cake, pancake and rolls. Banh It Tran is a savoury filling of shrimp and cooked mung beans enhanced with spices. This is wrapped in dough wrapper made with sticky rice. The crescent shaped dumpling is steamed and served with fried scallions and soy sauce.
Pho (Noodle Soup)
Noodle soup (Pho) can be rightly regarded as Vietnam’s national dish. From street vendors to high-end restaurants, you find a Pho variation everywhere you go. What makes this soup so popular is its versatility. You’ll find vegetables, beef, pork or chicken soups topped with rice noodles, herbs and optional garnishes like lime, bean sprouts, cilantro, basil, and red chillies.
Spring Rolls (Goi Cuon)
Photo credit: pelican
Along with soups and cakes, Vietnam is famous for its spring rolls. Goi Cuon is a translucent spring roll filled with cilantro, rice noodles, minced pork, crab or shrimp, and leafy greens, and wrapped in thin rice dough. This roll is usually served with lettuce bowl and mint. Dunk the rolls in fish or peanut sauce before you eat.
Fried Spring Rolls (Nem Ran/Chagio)
Photo credit: Kirk Siang
Fried spring rolls may not as healthy as salad rolls, but are nevertheless delectable and crunchy. The filling is usually an assortment of veggies or meat enhanced with spices and herbs and enclosed in a thick rice wrapper. This is deep fried and served with fish or peanut sauce.
Baguette (Banh Mi)
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This is a staple found on the streets of Vietnam. While this bread is inspired by the French, Vietnamese chefs have made it their own by creating unique fillings. Standard sandwich stuffing in Northern parts is pork liver pate and margarine. Stuffing in the South is varied and includes greens, grilled pork, radish, carrot, cucumber, cheese, chilli sauce, sausage, fried eggs, herbs and cold cuts of meat.
Crepe Wrap (Bánh xèo)
Photo credit: Mor
French influences have inspired this popular dish. This crispy rice crepe is stuffed with bean sprouts, cooked shrimp, eggs or pork, and herbs. Banh Xeo is wrapped in lettuce sheets or rice paper, and often garnished with mint, mustard or basil leaves. Banh Xeo is served with Nuoc Cham, a sauce with spicy, sweet, sour and salty elements.
Rice Noodles with Beef (Bún bò Nam Bộ)
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This broth-free noodle bowl contains grilled slivers of beef and bean sprouts topped with herbs, fried shallots, fish sauce, chilli sauce and peanuts. Bun Bo Nam Bo is usually served with the dipping sauce, Nuoc Cham, which usually contains papaya slices and carrots. The lack of broth ensures that rice vermicelli and other ingredients retain their crunchy or chewy textures.
Pork on Thick Noodles (Cao Lầu)
Photo credit: Alpha
Nothing represents the true diversity of Vietnamese cuisine better than Cao Lau. If Banh Mi and Banh Xeo were inspired by French foods, this dish is inspired by Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Thick wheat noodles meet juicy pork slabs in a Vietnamese herbs-infused broth with hints of star anise and mint. Add some greens, bean sprouts, peanuts, prawn (wonton) crackers or rice paper, and you have a classic dish that’s a hit with the crowd.
Sticky Rice with Chicken (Xoi Ga)
Photo credit: jennifer yin
With rice being a staple food in most of Asia, and sticky rice featuring prominently in South-East Asian cuisine, can Vietnamese food be any different? Glutinous rice is not a side dish or stuffing wrapper here, but serves as a main course. The bed of rice is garnished with delicate chicken strips, native herbs, and fried shallots. A dash of soy sauce and sesame seeds enhance the subtle flavours of Xoi Ga.
Egg Coffee (Cà Phê Trứng)
Photo credit: Anthony Tong Lee
If you’re used to black coffee or latte, Ca Phe Trung will shock your taste buds. Made with condensed milk, this hot coffee is served with a foamy, whipped egg topping. This popular beverage is served in small cafes and specific tourist areas. Different bean strains are used to create this dense coffee with a meringue-like garnish and sweeter-than-usual taste. Take a look at our Vietnamese egg coffee recipe to replicate it home.
Banana-flower Salad (Nộm hoa chuối)
Image credit: Fahara F
Vegetarians will find enough eating options in Vietnam, but none can match the exotic tang of Banana-flower Salad. The purple banana flowers are peeled and thinly sliced before being lightly tossed with green papaya chunks, carrots, cilantro, peanuts and soy sauce. The resulting salad is crunchy, chewy and delectable. You also get meat versions with chicken and fish sauce
Steamed Rice Cake (Bánh bèo nhân tôm)
Photo credit: Jen Leung
Bánh bèo nhân tôm is more than steamed, rice flour pancakes. The thin pancake sheets are filled with shredded lettuce, cucumber slices, bean sprouts, fried shallots, chopped shrimp, scallions, sliced pork sausage and ground beef. As a final touch, the rice cake is given a generous drizzle of fish sauce.
Do you feel hungry for all the delicious Vietnamese foods now? Take a look at famous cooking classes and food tours in Vietnam!