If you are a food lover and your goal is to visit all of the countries which have remarkable cuisine, don’t hesitate to go to Vietnam – the homeland of pho. The cuisine in Vietnam is so different from North to South and there is always a balance between meat, herbs, and vegetables. Moreover, the price of food here is incredibly cheap. A bowl of noodle soup in Vietnam will cost you around 1.5 US dollars or a spring roll is less than a dollar. To eat all of the delicious food the country has to offer is nearly impossible. So if you only have a few days in Vietnam and still want to make the most of it, here is the list of the top 14 must-try Vietnamese dishes.
1. Pho- Beef Noodle Soup
First on the list of must-try Vietnamese dishes is obviously pho. It would make no sense if you visit the home country of pho without eating this noodle soup the local way. The taste of noodle beef soup in the North and South Vietnam are not the same. It originated in the North of Vietnam (Pho Bac) as a very simple soup. The broth is made from beef bone and grilled ginger and the noodles are soft and thin. The taste of pho Bac is quite light and Northern people love to eat pho with banh quay (fried pie). While in South Vietnam, besides the basic ingredients that comprise the broth like in the North, people add grilled purple onion in Pho Nam. The soup in the South is sweeter and they usually eat pho with a bowl of egg yolk as a side dish.
Price range: 30,000 – 50,000 VND
Read more: The Best Pho in Saigon
2. Banh mi
Together with pho, banh mi is a famous Vietnamese street food. If you guessed that this yummy sandwich has been influenced by the French colonization, then you would be right! But banh mi is also known as “Vietnamese fast food” because of its convenience. The locals usually grab one of these sandwiches as a snack if they feel hungry regardless if it is breakfast or dinner. For example, in the morning you can easily catch students sitting behind their parent’s motorbike eating banh mi with their eyes still closed with sleep or some people drive their motorbike with only one hand because their other hand is busy holding the banh mi, they eat it on the way to work. There are many versions of banh mi filling such as grilled pork, roasted pork, or even vegan filling. I still love the original version with pork liver pate, butter, boiled pork, ham, radish, some slices of cucumber, carrot, coriander, and chili. All of these flavors come together flawlessly in your mouth to create a flavor you have probably never tried before.
Price range: 10,000 – 20,000 VND
3. Banh xeo – Vietnamese Pancake
Banh mi is not the only food that reflects the impact of the French colony on Vietnamese cuisine but banh xeo is also a good example. This dish is a Vietnamese version of the famous French crepe. The omelet-looking base is made of coconut milk, mixed flour, and a bit of curry powder and the filling is comprised of boiled pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, and bean paste. Banh xeo is eaten with many different types of herbs, lettuce, and sweet fish sauce. Banh xeo in the South is much bigger than in Central Vietnam. Locals usually gather with their group of friends or family to share banh xeo and their stories.
- 45,000 – 60,000 VND (Banh xeo in the South)
- 5,000 – 15,000 VND (Banh xeo in Central Vietnam)
4. Goi Cuon – Spring rolls
When you walk into a banh xeo shop in the South, you will find these fresh spring rolls. These are great healthy snacks or side dishes that accompany many meals. Goi cuon is made from Vietnamese folk ingredients such as rice paper, lettuce, basil, bean sprout, a slice of boiled pork and boiled shrimp. It is not hard to wrap and roll the goi cuon but to perfect it, you need skill. You will eat this with sweet hoisin sauce and ground peanut. Goi cuon is a perfect version of Vietnamese finger food. Who says healthy and delicious can’t go together?
Price range: 6,000 – 8,000 VND
Read more: Saigon Street Food: Vietnamese Spring Rolls
5. Oc – Seasnails
Even though Saigon is not a beach city, sea snails are a significant culinary art of Saigon cuisine. You can easily find sea snail shops in every corner of Saigon and most places are always full of people of all ages. Oc is served and cooked in a hundred ways from simply boiling them or grilling and even frying. You must try oc len xao dua (sea snails sautéed with coconut), grilled scallops with melted cheese, and rare oysters. Though this type of food might cause a stomachache if your body hasn’t adapted to Asian food yet, you should still give it a little nibble.
Price range: 30,000 VND – 60,000 VND
Read more: How-To Guide: Sea Snails (Ốc) In Saigon
6. Bun Bo Hue – Hue Beef Noodle
If you want a change from pho, try bun bo Hue. The main ingredient of this dish is also beef, but instead “nam” is used instead of rare beef and the noodles are vermicelli. It is also served with boiled glory morning and boiled bean sprout. Bun bo Hue will not be complete without a dish of fish sauce and a teaspoon of dried chili. I love the spicy taste of bun bo Hue and it is just perfect to sit on a side street on a rainy day with the scent of lemongrass wafting up from the bowl.
Price range: 25,000 – 40,000 VND
7. Mi Quang – Quang Noodle
Mi Quang is a folk dish from Quang Nam, a province in the central region of Vietnam. The dish is made with wide rice noodles and turmeric to make the yellow broth at the bottom of the bowl. The broth is made from the bone of the meat that accompanies the dish, usually pork, chicken, beef, or shrimp. Mi Quang won’t be complete without black pepper, sauce, shallot, and garlic. Mi Quang is essential in every party or gathering of Quang Nam people. This is a surprisingly unique dish and it should really be your top priority if you make a little stop in Da Nang.
Price range: 30,000 – 50,000 VND.
8. Bun Cha – Kebab Rice Noodle
If you want to challenge yourself with fish sauce, you should either start with banh xeo or bun cha. Since Obama enjoyed this dish when he visited the capital of Vietnam, it has become a superstar among Vietnamese top favorites. Who can deny a bowl of grilled pork, carrot and papaya, dipped in the sweet and sour fish sauce? To eat this properly, you will put both the vermicelli and herbs into the bowl of meat, mix it, and eat it all together.
Price range: 35,000 – 50,000 VND.
9. Cha Ca Thang Long – Vietnamese Grilled Fish
Once you go to Hanoi, you shouldn’t leave without eating cha ca Thang Long (or Cha ca La Vong). This dish is pretty fussy. The turmeric marinated fish is grilled beforehand and it will be pan-fried at your table. Like many other Vietnamese dishes, cha ca is not complete without a touch of green and dill is the fresh herb that enhances the flavor of this special dish. It is also served with crushed peanut, vermicelli noodles, and fish sauce or mam nem (fermented anchovy dipping sauce). To enjoy this, you will put all of the ingredients in a small bowl and eat it all together. The taste of this dish is so impressive that whenever you hear someone talk about Hanoi, you will automatically think about cha ca thang long.
10. Nem Ran or Cha Gio – Vietnamese Fried Spring Roll
Nem ran (or fried spring roll) is another must-try Vietnamese dish. In contrast to the South, Hanoi style spring rolls are for lovers of fried food. The crunchiness of the spring roll together with fresh herbs dipped in spicy fish sauce create an irresistible flavor for this Vietnamese food. Nem ran is an essential dish for a meal in special occasions in the North.
Price range: 10,000 – 20,000 VND
11. Bun Rieu- Crab Noodle Soup
Vietnam has a number of noodle dishes and some of them represent a part of the country. If Hanoi is represented by bun cha and Hue by bun bo, then bun rieu is seen as the most suitable representative of the South. Consisting of crab and rice noodles, bun rieu is a well-known traditional dish and in 2012, CNN named bun rieu of Vietnam as one of the most attractive dishes in Asia.
12. Com tam- Broken Rice
The smell of meat grilling over an open fire is definitely hard to resist. Lucky for you, there’s always at least one com tam eatery on practically every street of Ho Chi Minh City. Com tam is pure gastronomic pleasure: barbecued pork (either ribs or shredded) on broken rice, topped with a fried egg and other accouterments. Typically, restaurants also serve this popular dish with a small bowl of fish sauce, as well as a small bowl of soup broth with garlic chives (to cleanse the throat). For locals, it is a delicious traditional dish but for foreigners, com tam is a quintessential Saigon experience.
The attraction of the dish lies not only in its great taste but also in the superior healthiness and simplicity in cooking it using fractured rice grain. Sellers sometimes rub the rice grains together until they break. This makes com tam quite different from other Vietnamese dishes prepared with normal rice.
13. Bo Kho- Beef Stew
Bo kho – is a famous Vietnamese-style beef stew, and it comes in many versions as the recipe varies from region to region. But commonly, people eat bo kho with crisp baguettes, rice or flat rice noodles, and usually a touch of lime juice, making the dish all the more delightful. The stock is absolutely delicious and is infused with various spices and fresh herbs.
Read more: Where to Eat Bo Kho in Saigon
14. Xoi- Steamed Sticky Rice
As simple and convenient as banh mi, xoi (Vietnamese steamed sticky rice) is our next on-the-go eating suggestion. Walk along the streets in any Vietnam’s city, and you will easily encounter female vendors carrying bamboo poles with hanging baskets on both ends, skillfully balanced on their shoulders. Many of these women make their living with daily sticky rice baskets.
Regarding its taste, there are basically two types of xoi: xoi ngot (sweet version) and xoi man (savory version). Skillfully wrapped in a banana leaf, topped with grated coconut, mashed mung beans, and delicious sesame seeds, xoi ngot is definitely a good choice as a non-meaty option. Yet, if you like a more savory dish, then xoi ga (chicken one) or xoi thap cam (chow mein topped one) is for you.
Above are the Top 14 Vietnamese dishes you must try when traveling to Vietnam. Already tried these and want something adventurous? Try our Top 10 Weird Food in Vietnam list. And now, it is time to close the tabs and grab some great dishes on the street. Don’t forget to let us know your experience in the comment box below.
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