Every country in the throughout the world is known for one or two street dishes, but in Vietnam it is the driving force of its food culture. From the colorful capital of Hanoi down to the buzzing metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, the streets are alive with the smells and sizzling sounds of street foods.
Locals are always seen preparing mouth-watering dishes right front before you! The sheer amount of street food on offer is endless.You can find comforting bowls of noodles, succulent cuts of meat, crispy fried snacks, fresh herb salads, curries, rice paper rolls, fresh seafood, fruits and on and on.
If you’re willing to be adventurous, point a lot and learn a few words in Vietnamese then you are in for a treat! There’s no doubt that any trip to Vietnam is the foodie experience of a lifetime. If you’re a little nervous, don’t fret, we’ve compiled a Vietnamese street food guide, covering safety, etiquette, condiments, and how to find the best locations. Now that you’re properly prepped, let’s dive into a dozen mouth-watering Vietnamese street food dishes to look out for during your adventure in the country!
Street food in Vietnam does vary by region, so keep that in mind as some dishes may be different from place to place, or not found at all. Most of the dishes below you can find throughout the country year round. If you’ll be the largest city, take a look at our top street foods in Saigon, which features a few dishes not on this list.
Here are the some of the best street foods to eat in Vietnam, in no particular order:
Let’s start this list off with the nation’s most beloved and famous dish, Phở, a clear broth noodle soup served with fresh herbs and either chicken or beef. No visit to Vietnam would be complete without sitting down to a steaming hot bowl of Phở. Served with spicy chilli sauce, lime and sometimes garlic on the side, you can flavor your bowl of phở to suit your taste buds.
Phở is most commonly eaten early in the morning for breakfast. If you’re an early riser, you’ll often see locals heading to their nearest market or Phở stand for a bowl of the hearty soup. If you’re after a really good bowl of Phở, head to your nearest stall early in the morning!
Phở is a healthy, warming and completely satisfying dish that’s super cheap. Give Phở a try and you’ll quickly discover why it’s the breakfast of champions! Although you can find it at literally anytime of day in a place like HCMC or Hanoi.
Following closely behind phở is another equally famous street food, Bánh Mì, a Viet-style French baguette sandwich packed with flavor and crunch. Bánh Mì simply translates as bread and is a lasting symbol of French colonialism in Vietnamese cuisine. These delicious baguettes are given a local twist by stuffing them with pickled vegetables, coriander, fresh chilli, egg, slices of meat – typically pork – and lathered in a coat of mayonnaise and pâté. Yum!
You can find Bánh Mì stalls all over the country though no place will taste the same as the other. Explore and savor the exciting flavor combinations this heaven in a sandwich has to offer.
Ever since President Obama stepped into a humble street-side noodle joint with American celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain in Hanoi and fell in love with the dish, Bún Chả became a worldwide sensation overnight. But the freshness and full flavor of the vermicelli dish speaks for itself. Originally from Hanoi, Bún Chả is served with grilled pork patties, smoky strips of pork belly, fresh mint, white vermicelli noodles and a side of sweet-vinegary fish sauce. It’s common to come across food stalls that specialize in the dish all across Vietnam.
The best way to enjoy Bún Chả is to eat it like the locals do. Wrap the white vermicelli noodles and succulent pork patties in a big lettuce leaf and dip it into the fish sauce before taking a bite. Yum!
Foodies Beware! Bún Chả is the perfect fare for those with big appetites as the dish is often generously served on large platters!
Trứng Vịt Lộn
This one is for the brave foodies out there. Trứng Vịt Lộn is basically a fertilized duck egg that’s less than 21 days old. Despite it being a popular street food for locals, it’s rarely mentioned in Vietnamese food guides for it’s controversial stand-point with animal-right activists. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, Trứng Vịt Lộn is still a local Vietnamese dish that’s enjoyed by many travelers.
Trứng Vịt Lộn generally comes with a side of laksa leaves, a fresh-flavored Vietnamese green with a refreshing flavor similar to mint and coriander. Obviously there are several regional differences in cuisine, whether it’s the type of ingredients that can be obtained or how certain dishes are consumed, and Trứng Vịt Lộn is no exception.
In Northern Vietnam, diners usually break the entire duck egg in a bowl and eat it with laksa leaves, slices of ginger mixed with lime juice, salt and pepper. In the South, however, these duck eggs are eaten much like how boiled eggs are eaten in the West, atop small egg cups. Along with this, Trứng Vịt Lộn in the south is often served with various sides including ginger, pickled papaya and seasonal citrus fruits. As with many other Vietnamese dishes, you’ll find that this local delicacy is often served with a fish sauce and spicy peppers.
Take the plunge and have a taste of this curious local specialty. It’s sinfully delightful!
If fertilized duck egg isn’t up your alley then you can find comfort in Gỏi Cuốn, fresh spring rolls – a crowd favorite! Packed with a variety of fillings such as thin slices of pork or beef, salad greens, coriander and all neatly wrapped in rice paper – Did someone say yum? Gỏi Cuốn is often served with a side of peanut sauce or the ever pungent fish sauce. Although it falls more on the snack or meal starter category, we believe that it’s a star of a dish all on its own!
You’ll find different variations of fillings throughout your travels in Vietnam. Towns located near the rivers or the sea will typically serve Gỏi Cuốn with seafood, such as shrimp or freshly-caught fish instead of meat. Some restaurants will also offer vegetarian versions filled with mung bean and seasonal vegetables.
In the south of Vietnam, they serve a sweet-savory version – barbecued pork with star fruit and green banana. The combination of sweet and smoky flavors is to die for. It doesn’t get much better than this little roll of heaven!
These fresh spring rolls are the perfect choice when you’ve been too indulgent throughout your time in Vietnam, but if you’re not too worried about your waistline then be sure to also try out the fried version called Chả Giò.
Bánh Xèo literally means “sizzling pancake” and is apply named for the loud sizzling sound the rice batter makes when poured into the hot skillet. This dish is Vietnam’s take on the much-beloved French crepe. It’s a crispy savory pancake served with minced pork, shrimp, herbs and spices. A standout feature of Bánh Xèo is it’s distinctive use of turmeric in the batter. The turmeric turns the pancake batter to a bright yellow colour and brings together all the simple ingredients into a harmonious mouthful!
For those who are first-time visitors to Vietnam, you may not be familiar with this dish. But once you’ve had a taste of it, Bánh Xèo will shoot up to the top of your favorite Vietnamese dishes list. Do not miss out on this dish!
Bánh Tráng Trộn
If you’re after a light snack that’s packed with flavor then Bánh Tráng Trộn should not be missed! In English, it literally means “mixed rice paper” and it’s one of the most popular street food snacks among the young locals, especially students. Simply put, it’s a really tasty salad. Like its name, Bánh Tráng Trộn consists of chopped up rice paper mixed with small dried shrimp and squid, thinly sliced green mango, hard-boiled quail eggs, fresh mint, sweet basil and drizzled with its signature spicy dressing made of chili powder and oil.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to find a street stall or cart selling these flavorsome bags of salads. Don’t be shy and ask a local, they might not have the best English but they’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction!
Bún đậu Mắm Tôm
Every culture has its own unusually smelly dish. In Japan, it’s natto (fermented soy beans) and in Thailand, its durian (Vietnam has this stinky, but locally loved fruit too). But in Vietnam, Bún đậu Mắm Tôm takes the centre stage for smelly food. It’s a dish centered around white vermicelli noodles that are dipped in fermented shrimp paste. This paste’s smell is so potent that even locals shy away from it!
The shrimp paste is made from crushed shrimp mixed with salt which is then left to ferment for several weeks until it turns into a thick, dark colored paste. Northern regions of Vietnam tend to add lime juice, sugar and fresh chili but in southern Vietnam locals will squeeze kumquat juice and add some sugar, fresh chili and oil.
Along with the noodles and shrimp paste, venders will serve this dish with a number of other ingredients, including fried tofu, cucumber, mint, perilla leaves, crispy pork belly and black pudding. Take a deep breath (and hold it) and give this dish a try!
There are only a handful of countries around the world that eat snails and Vietnam is one of them! Snail dishes might seem particularly appetizing to many people, but they are a crowd favorite for the locals in Saigon. Men and women of all ages and occupations gather at these small street joints to chat over snails and beer. What’s more Vietnamese than this?
Ốc stalls can be found all across the country, but down in the southern region of Vietnam they are local speciality. Not only are there more variations (yay more snails!) but the people of Saigon are masters at bringing out the delicious flavors of the little critters. In Hanoi, the snail’s are often boiled or steamed with lemongrass while in Saigon they’re steamed, boiled, fried, grilled and even roasted. In Saigon, there’s more variety for sauces that are served with the snails such as coconut, tamarind, butter, cheese, chlli, ginger, garlic, Vietnamese coriander, and lemongrass.
There’s a lot to choose from at a snail stand. They often serve a huge range of snails such as coconut snail, horned nerite snail, mud creeper, starfruit snail, gun snail, apple snail. In addition to this, they stands also offer mouthwatering shellfish dishes.
It can be quite overwhelming trying to order with so many options available, so here are some of our favorites!
- Ốc Len Xào Dừa – Mud creeper sea snails stir-fried in coconut sauce
- Ốc Hương Nướng – Grilled Sweet Snails
- Ốc Xào Bơ – Snails fried in butter – A Saigon Specialty!
Wherever you are traveling to in Vietnam, put your worries to the side and give Ốc a try. You might just become a fan. Don’t forget to order some cold beer to share with your mates!
Gỏi Khô Bò / Gỏi Đu Đủ
If the sound of snails doesn’t get your mouth watering, then Gỏi Khô Bò certainly will! Gỏi Khô Bò, also known as Gỏi Đu Đủ is a spiced green papaya salad that’s a masterpiece of textures! Similar to the Thai version of this dish, Som Tam ส้มตำ, the base of this salad is shredded green papaya. From there, the Vietnamese version of this dish heads towards new territory and is layered with roasted peanuts, chewy beef jerky, basil leaves, coriander and crispy rice crackers.
The crowning accent that brings together all these textures is the special home-made dressing that’s the perfect mixture of zest, salty, sweet and spicy. The combination of flavors is incredible and lucky for you, this dish is sold all over Vietnam. Take note though, the further south you go, the spicier the salad dressing!
If you’re looking for something that’s healthy but still has an explosion of flavor, Gỏi Khô Bò might just be the perfect street food for you.
Bún Riêu Cua
No trip to Vietnam would be complete without sitting down to a satisfying bowl of Bún Riêu Cua. What is it exactly? It’s a traditional Vietnamese soup made with freshwater blue crab. Bún Riêu Cua is served with a tomato broth, vermicelli noodles, fried onions, egg, tofu, fresh herbs and topped off with the star of the dish, blue crab! It’s a hearty soup that’s perfect for those dreary winter mornings.
Different variations of the crab soup can be found across Vietnam, mainly with the fresh herbs that are served with the dish. Northern regions tend to serve Bún Riêu Cua with Vietnamese balm or sliced banana flowers will further south will top it off with Rau Muống (greens fried in garlic).
Bún Riêu Cua originally hails from the northern regions of Vietnam, but visitors will find that the further south they travel, the higher quality crab is used in the dish. Make sure to try this satisfying dish. It’s virtually impossible to find a crab soup as tasty and as fresh outside of Vietnam!
Finally, it’s time for dessert! Although Vietnamese cuisine has seen influences from the French, you won’t see any flaky pastry or cake stalls around. Instead, you’ll find colorful variations of Chè! Chè is a general term to describe the sweet beverage as it comes in many different forms, sizes and flavors.
Chè usually includes (but is not limited to) coconut milk, sweetened beans, colorful fruits and jellies, glutinous rice, tapioca pearls, and much more. This desert is the perfect pick-me up after a day of sightseeing and keeps the kids pretty happy!
You could spend a whole day (then another at the dentist’s chair) sampling all the exciting variations of the Vietnamese dessert, but we’ve made it easy for you and rounded up the best Chè variations that should not be missed!
- Chè Ba Màu – Three Colour Bean Dessert
- Chè Bắp – Vietnamese Sweet Corn Pudding
- Chè Chuối – Vietnamese Banana with Coconut and Tapioca Pearls
Vietnamese street food culture is incredibly vast and varied. Even if you spent a whole year traveling around the country tasting each city and town’s specialties, you’d still only be scraping the the very surface of street food cuisine. Here are some of our honorable mentions that didn’t quite make our list but are still finger-lickingly delicious!
Cà Phê Sữa Đá – Vietnamese Iced Coffee with Condensed Milk
Technically not street food but the famous drink has enchanted travelers from all over the world. There are many different variations of the drink, make sure to try out Hanoi’s special Cà Phê Trứng, a creamy egg coffee with condensed milk.
Bánh Bèo – Savoury Steamed Rice Cake
Bánh Bèo is a kaleidoscope of textures and flavors. The rice and tapioca flour pancakes are steamed then served with a scattering of dried shrimp, pork belly crackling, scallions and Vietnamese coriander, which is doused with a sweet-salty dipping sauce called Nước Chấm. Serve up!
Súp Cua – Vietnamese Crab Soup
Crab-based dishes such as Bún Riêu and Bánh Canh Cua are really popular amongst locals in Vietnam, and Súp Cua doesn’t fall far behind. This creamy crab soup is a combination of crab meat, chicken broth and eggs. It’s warm and soothing, perfect for those cooler days.
Vietnamese street food comes in many forms and guises. It might be a small cart on the side of a busy road, it could be a collection of stalls at a local market or even a home with tables spilling out onto the pavement. For adventurous foodies willing to put their taste buds (and Vietnamese!) to the test, Vietnam is the culinary experience of a lifetime. Let’s just say that you will never go hungry in Vietnam!