Must-Try Dishes in Vietnam
Vietnamese cuisine doesn't win any points for complexity. Many of the most popular dishes can be made just as well on the side of the road as in a top-end restaurant. But it’s precisely this simplicity, the subtle variations by region and the fresh ingredients that keep us pulling up a plastic stool for more.
Phở -The most popular dish
What list of Vietnamese cuisine would be complete without pho? It’s almost impossible to walk a block in Vietnam’s major cities without bumping into a crowd of hungry patrons slurping noodles at a makeshift pho stand. This simple staple consisting of a salty broth, fresh rice noodles, a sprinkling of herbs and chicken or beef, features predominately in the local diet -- and understandably so. It’s cheap, tasty, and widely available at all hours.
In Hanoi: Pho Thin, 13 Lo Duc, Hai Ba Trung District.
In HCM City: Pho Hung, 10 Nguyen Thi Nghia, District 01
Gỏi Cuốn - Summer Rolls
These light and healthy fresh spring rolls are a wholesome choice when you’ve been indulging in too much of the fried food in Vietnam.
The translucent parcels are first packed with salad greens, a slither of meat or seafood and a layer of coriander, before being neatly rolled and dunked in Vietnam’s favorite condiment -- fish sauce.
In Hanoi: Quan An Ngon on 18 Phan Boi Chau, Hoan Kiem District.
In HCM City: Ngoc Suong Restaurant on 116 Suong Nguyet Anh, District 01.
Bánh Xèo - Pancake
A good banh xeo is a crispy crepe bulging with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, plus the garnish of fresh herbs that are characteristic of most authentic Vietnamese dishes. To enjoy one like a local, cut it into manageable slices, roll it up in rice paper or lettuce leaves and dunk it in whatever special sauce the chef has mixed up for you.
Banh Xeo 46A has mixed reviews but judging by the crowds that swarm there each night they must be doing something right. Banh Xeo, 46A Dinh Cong Trang, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
Chả Giò - Spring Rolls
Vietnam’s bite-sized crunchy spring rolls might not enjoy the same popularity as their healthier fresh equivalent, but they deserve a special mention.
The crispy shell with a soft veggie and meat filling dunked in a tangy sauce gets the gastronomic juices flowing before a main course. In the north these parcels go by the name nem ran while southerners call them cha gio.
Chả Cá - Fish Dish in Hanoi
Hanoians consider cha ca to be so exceptional that there is a street in the capital dedicated to these fried morsels of fish.
This namesake alley is home to Cha Ca La Vong, which serves sizzling chunks of fish seasoned with garlic, ginger, turmeric and dill on a hot pan tableside.
Cha Ca La Vong on 14 Pho Cha Ca, Hoang Kiem District
Bún Bò Huế - Noodle Soup
a popular Vietnamese soup containing rice vermicelli (bún) and beef (bò).
Huế is a city in central Vietnam associated with the cooking style of the former royal court. The dish is greatly admired for its balance of spicy, sour, salty and sweet flavors and the predominant flavor is that of lemon grass.
The best bún bò Huế only fonded in Huế at Mụ Rớt, behind Diệu Đế Buddhist Temple.
In HCM City: Bún Bò Gia Hội, 19 Bis Tran Cao Van, District 01
Bánh Khọt - Rice cake
This dainty variation of a Vietnamese pancake has all the same tasty ingredients but is a fraction of the size. Each banh knot can be scoffed in one ambitious but satisfying mouthful.
The crunchy outside is made using coconut milk and the filling usually consists of shrimp, mung beans, and spring onions with a dusting of dried shrimp flakes on top.
In HCM City: Co Ba Vung Tau, 102 Cao Thang, District 3
Cao Lầu - Hoian Noodle
This pork noodle dish from Hoi An is a bit like the various cultures that visited the trading port at its prime. The thicker noodles are similar to Japanese udon, the crispy won-ton crackers and pork are a Chinese touch, while the broth and herbs are clearly Vietnamese.
Authentic cau lao is made only with water drawn from the local Ba Le well.
The best Cao Lau cab be found at Thanh Cao Lau on 26 Thai Phien, Hoian (a small alley/ ask locals)
Cá Tai Tượng - Mekong Fish
An unusual specialty in the Mekong Delta is cá tai tượng or Elephant’s Ear Fish, so-called because of its appearance. The lightly fried, crispy fish is served upright, with its scales and teeth still attached and a flower in its mouth. You assemble a spring roll yourself with the fish meat and herbs. Although it may look rather strange, it is absolutely delicious.
You can find it at any restaurant in the Mekong Delta or at some in HCM City.
Bánh Mì - Vietnamese Bread
Bánh mì is a Vietnamese term for all kinds of bread. The word is derived from bánh (cake) and mì (wheat). Bread, or more specifically the baguette, was introduced by the French during its colonial period. The bread most commonly found in Vietnam is a single serving baguette. Bánh mì sometimes called a "bánh mì" sandwich, is a product of French colonialism in Indochina, combining ingredients from the French (baguettes, pâté and mayonnaise) with native Vietnamese ingredients, such as cilantro, fish sauce, and pickled carrots.
The classic version, bánh mì thịt nguội, sometimes known as bánh mì đặc biệt or "special combo", is made with various Vietnamese cold cuts, such as sliced pork or pork bellies, chả lụa (pork sausage), and head cheese, along with the liver pâté and vegetables. You can find banh mi any coner of streets in Vietnam.
Hủ Tiếu - Southern Noodle
A popular Vietnamese noodle soup (not Phở) made with a pork bone broth. The noodles can be chewy clear tapioca noodles. The toppings may include boneless pork, pork ribs, pork offal, shrimp, squid, fried garlic, fried shallot...Hủ Tiếu is huge popular in Southern Vietnam, the best can be found in Mytho, a small town in the Mekong Delta, more than one hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Bún Thịt Nướng
Literally means grilled meat noodles, is a popular Vietnamese cold rice vermicelli noodle dish topped with grilled pork, fresh herbs and vegetables, and spring rolls. The dish is dressed in fish sauce. Also, the dish often includes roasted peanuts, Vietnamese pickled carrots, and grilled prawns. Bún thịt nướng is very popular in the southern region of Vietnam, especially Ho Chi Minh City. You can find them at:
- Nhà Hàng Ngon, 160 Pastuer, District 01
- Co Ba Vung Tau, 102 Cao Thang, District 03
- A real local place: Co Ba on 287/68 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, District 03.
Cơm Tấm - Broken Rice
Broken rice, is a Vietnamese dish made from rice with fractured rice grains. Tấm refers to the broken rice grains, while cơm refers to cooked rice.
It is usually served with grilled pork (either ribs or shredded) plus the Vietnamese dish bì (thinly shredded pork mixed with cooked and thinly shredded pork skin) over broken rice. The rice and meat are served with various greens and pickled vegetables, along with a prawn paste cake, trứng hấp (steamed egg), and grilled prawns. Typically, restaurants will serve this popular combination rice plate with a small bowl of fish source, as well as a small bowl of soup broth.
The best can be found at: Cơm Tấm Ba Ghiền on Dang Van Ngu, Phu Nhuan District, 15 minutes by taxi from downtown