Using a myriad of exotic spices and fresh ingredients, Vietnamese food is well known worldwide for its flavor and health. At nearly any major city around the globe you’ll find a Vietnamese pho restaurant (or hundreds), offering foreign audiences a taste of some specialty foods from Vietnam.
Vietnamese is perfect for those who love a strong, dark roasted flavor. One cup of coffee is about equal to three cups elsewhere, so drinkers beware! The Robusta bean is the main coffee bean of Vietnam, and its caffeine content is even deadly to bugs, making it an excellent defense from insect attacks. History of …
Where and what to eat and drink
While you can find food from Vietnam across the world, there’s no better place to experience the wide array of fare than in Vietnam. From street markets and street food vendors, to fine dining at upscale restaurant, you’ll find something pleasurable for your palate.
Guide to Eating Vietnamese Food and Drink
Vietnamese food is considered among the healthiest globally, as typical ingredients for local meals include an abundance of fresh herbs, vegetables, spices, and produce. Meals are prepared with minimal oil, preserves, and corn starch, contributing to its reputation for being fresh and wholesome.
When traveling to Vietnam, it’s essential to explore the many varieties of street and market food to get the whole experience and flavors of the country.
A Typical Vietnamese Meal
Vietnamese meals are customarily steamed or stir-fried and heavily centered around fresh vegetables, seafood, and some form of rice. While many Vietnamese foods aren’t spicy, it is pretty normal to add some chili or fish sauce to create an even richer flavor with many meals.
Rice is eaten frequently at most meals, and many home-cooked entrees are served with soup. Although it’s common to order soup at restaurants along with or as the main course, don’t expect it to come complimentary with each order.
Hot pots are common, which is a giant cooking pot at the table, heated up with a flame, and everything cooked in together. It adds a lot of flavor and naturally, another soup. You can get it with everything from fish and seafood, to vegetarian options.
Popular Street Foods
Street food in Vietnam can be easily found in a variety of open-air markets, where several food vendors are selling their delicious cooking. These recipes have often been handed down for several generations.
Not only are these food options some of the cheapest you’ll find, but they are crafted to perfection and offer a fantastic representation of typical Vietnamese cuisine.
Here are some of the top street foods to keep your eye and nose out for when you’re in the markets.
Pho – One of the prominent and most famous Vietnamese foods is Pho (phở), a filling rice noodle soup packed with slices of tender meat (usually beef), spices, fresh vegetables, and herbs. Pho varies from vendor to vendor, so sampling new places that serve it is a great way to explore the area.
Bun Cha – A popular lunch meal option, Bun Cha (bún chả) is made up of charred meat granules layered over rice noodles, herbs, and broth, often dowsed in fish sauce. This tasty noodle dish is frequently served with spring rolls.
Bot Chien – Bot Chien (bánh bột chiên) is especially popular in Ho Chi Minh City and comprises fried rice flour dough, egg, papaya, onions, and topped with a pickled chili sauce and rice vinegar.
Banh Mi – Easily found in streets all over Vietnam, Banh Mi (bánh mì) is a fresh sandwich put together on a French baguette and topped with meat, coriander, pickled veggies, chili, and pate. Other toppings like egg and meatballs might be added; each sandwich varies by location.
Banh Trang Nuong – Also known as “Vietnamese pizza,” this dish includes many different toppings mixed with a cut of meat, usually pork or shrimp, layered on a grilled rice paper disc. A fun way to discover local flavors is to head into the back alleys and try multiple places’ versions of Banh Trang Nuong (bánh tráng nướng).
Other Popular Dishes
While Pho is the most commonly known Vietnamese meal, as it’s become a popular menu item worldwide now. However, several other staple dishes shouldn’t be ignored by tourists and deserve recognition for their delicious flavors. While their tastes may slightly vary by city, the basic concepts are the same throughout the country.
Banh Xeo – A Vietnamese pancake made from rice flour and coconut batter, seasoned with turmeric and topped with meat variations, onions, and bean sprouts. The whole thing is then fried, topped with herbs, and served with a sauce. Banh Xeo (bánh xèo) is delicious street fare for those looking for comfort food..
Goi Cuon – A fresh and healthier take on the fried spring roll, Goi Cuon (gỏi cuốn) is put together with a stretchy, translucent rice wrap stuffed with fresh herbs, vegetables, meat, or seafood and served with a side of fish sauce.
Xoi – Made with savory sticky rice and mixed with slices of hard-boiled egg, beef, pork, or chicken, and topped with scallions. Some people mistakenly take Xoi (xôi) to be an appetizer or side dish, but it’s often part of the main meal because of how dense the rice mixture is.
Cau Lau – This dish is one of the most popular among tourists, yet it can only be found in Hoi An. The reason for that is that water from a specific ancient well is used in the Cau Lau (cao lầu) recipe, and some ash is native to the area. The meal itself consists of udon-like noodles, barbecued pork, and greens.
Bun Bo Nam Bo – This noodle bowl comes loaded with beef slices, fresh herbs, peanuts, bean sprouts, shallots, and topped with fish sauce and spicy chili peppers. Unlike Pho, no broth is poured over the top of Bun Bo Nam Bo to keep the ingredients’ textures from becoming soaked.
Aside from an array of tea, coffee, and alcoholic beverages, Vietnam has a few specific drinks that are unique to the country that every visitor should try.
Egg Coffee – While most coffee drinks in Vietnam are made from coffee grounds and a standard drip method, egg coffee is something that everyone should taste at least once. The beverage is prepared with egg yolks, black coffee, and condensed milk whipped together for a frothy and creamy concoction.
Tra Da – This Vietnamese unsweetened ice tea is prepared with almost every meal and is served in a restaurant like water. The flavor of Tra Da is a bit on the bitter side, but not in a displeasing way, and is very inexpensive to make. The caffeine content isn’t as strong as in other beverages, as it’s typically made with green tea. Tra Da will never go out of style as a go-to drink in Vietnam.
Fresh Coconut Water – One of the go-to drinks in Vietnam for hydration is coconut water, which is better than any product that you’ll find on any store shelf. In Vietnam, coconut water is almost always fresh and has a more grassy, natural flavor with no added sugars.
Iced Coffee – Vietnam is the biggest producer of Robusta coffee, which is considered to be slightly more bitter than Arabica but still great for iced coffee drinks. Iced coffee in Vietnam is typically served with condensed milk and over ice, called a Caphe Sua Da (Cà Phê Sữa Đá)
Sugarcane Juice – Another popular cooling drink in Vietnam is a tall glass of sugarcane juice or locally a nuoc ep (juice) mia (sugarcane) – (nước mía), which isn’t as sweet as one might assume. It’s typically sold by street vendors and mixed with some citrus-like juice to create the perfect beverage for a treat on a hot day.
The food in Vietnam has a few mainstream features that you’ll notice no matter where you’re traveling to. The quality of herbs, freshness of produce, variety of textures, broths and soup-based meals, and colorful presentations are found in all Vietnamese cuisine. However, depending on resources available in certain parts of the country, you will notice other variances in the style of cooking and flavors.
- There aren’t as many spices available in northern Vietnam, so food is generally less spicy, and black pepper is used more than hot chilis.
- Central Vietnam is famous for its spicy food and use of many different spices and colors in its presentation.
- Southern Vietnam cuisine typically has more vibrant menu items thanks to its optimal growing conditions for fruits and vegetables. It often includes garlic, onion, and coconut milk in their cooking more than the other regions.
Much like everywhere else globally, seafood in coastal towns will taste significantly fresher than inland cities. Vietnam is no different, as it’s not hard to find many signature seafood dishes on the menu in towns with many shorelines. Fish, sea urchins, prawns, mussels, and clams are often used in aromatic stir fry meals and in soups.
Hoi An Dishes
Hoi An is a city with many dishes that can only be found right in the native area, so any food enthusiasts might want to carve out a few days just for this city alone. Cau Lau, for example, requires well water from a special well in the town that can’t be duplicated elsewhere.
Mi Quang (mì quảng) is another menu item specific to the Quang Nam province and consists of meat or fish over noodles and topped with veggies and peanuts. Com Ga (cơm gà) is a chicken entree made with yellow rice and vegetables, often served with chilis and soup.
Commonly Used Spices
Fresh herbs and spices are one of the best parts of Vietnamese cooking. Some of the flavors that you’ll likely recognize as you try various foods in the country include:
- Thai Basil
- Hot chili peppers