Vietnam owns an abundant cuisine that promises to tantalize the taste buds of any eaters, even those who are a gourmet. Not just that, some of them have gone far beyond the country’s barrier to become a worldwide sensation.
In this article, we’re writing about Vietnam food culture and top 20 popular dishes recommended by both locals and foreigners.
Overview of Vietnam food traditions
Aside from its own unique feature, Vietnam food significances attributes to the influence of the Wet Rice Civilization and some of the biggest cuisines in the world like French and Chinese. Here are three facts you may need to know:
As an agriculture-based country, rice plays an essential part in life of Vietnamese people. It is the staple food and the main course served at meal, even every meal in rural and mountainous areas. Foods made from rice as well as rice starch like Pho, Bun, Banh Cuon, Banh My and Xoi are also widely consumed throughout the country.
In addition, glutinous rice is used to make traditional dishes (Banh Chung, Banh Day,..) at social important events like Lunar New Year, Hung King Festival, etc.
Many foods won’t probably be complete without serving a dipping sauce. In Vietnam, a small bowl of fish sauce is always served alongside the food. For a meal, it’s placed at the central of the tray and all family members use a bowl of fish sauce together. You might find it astonishing but it’s a unique characteristic of Vietnamese food culture.
Fish sauce is commonly added in herbs and spices like mint leaves, parsley, coriander, lemon grass, black pepper, garlic, shallots, basil, rice vinegar, sugar, green onions, and lime juice.
Along with fish sauce, fermented shrimp paste is also served with some foods like Bun Dau Mam Tom, Dau Ran (fried tofu) and noodle dishes.
Like some countries in Asia, Vietnamese people use chopsticks as a tableware. At meal, each member has a rice bowl and pair of chopsticks. Normally, they hold chopsticks on the right hand and bowl on the left hand. Because it’s not much strict, you may change the position of the bowl and the chopsticks so that you feel comfortable while eating.
20 “must-try” dishes
There are hundreds of dishes to try when you travel to Vietnam. They might be served at restaurants or street food corners but surely can satisfy your appetite.
Pho (noodle soup)
The first food in the list must come to Pho, a traditional noodle soup that has successfully become a worldwide sensation. There are two main types of Pho, namely Pho Bo (served with beef) and Pho Ga (served with chicken).
Like many other vermicelli dishes, it’s often eaten with various kinds of herbs and vegetables such as basil, mint leaves, bean sprouts, etc. Giving it a try and you can’t help giving it a yes.
Bun Cha (vermicelli noodle with grilled pork)
Originated from Hanoi for a long time ago, Bun Cha has gradually spread throughout the country and become a favorite food served at breakfast, lunch and even dinner.
It features sliced or minced pork cooked on a charcoal grill, Bun La (round pieces of noodle), and a sweet and sour soup made of fish sauce, garlic, chili and lemon, and sometimes added some pickled unripe papaya. It’s often accompanied by a bowl of herbs and vegetables like cucumber, bean sprout, etc.
Bun Dau Mam Tom (vermicelli noodle with fermented shrimp paste)
Bun Dau Mam Tom is a favorite dish of both locals and foreigners alike. It’s served at street food corners and restaurants. Its traditional version includes gold-brown fried tofu, rice noodle, and Mam Tom – smelly fermented shrimp paste. In an adapted recipe, it’s served with other foods like Cha Com (fried nuggets), boiled pork and intestine of pig, etc.
Bun Thang (vermicelli noodle with pork, chicken and egg)
Bun Thang is a quintessential dish of Hanoi and requires more time and cleverness to make. A bowl of Bun Thang of the original version must have fresh vermicelli, broth (made from chicken bones and dried mushroom) and topped with knotgrass, coriander, shrimp, fried chicken eggs, chicken breast, thinly sliced Cha Lua (Vietnamese pork sausage) and pickled radish.
Bun Rieu Cua (vermicelli noodle with sour crab soup)
Bun Rieu Cua is an old-school dish in the North of Vietnam. It has distinct sour soup made of crab, tomatoes, grease, vinegar and other spices and is often eaten with various kinds of vegetables, Mam Tom and chili thick sauce. Additionally, fried tofu and beef are added in its bowl for more nutrition and flavor.
Com Tam (broken rice)
Com tam is always available on the menu of any traditional food restaurant along the country, especially in Sai Gon. Although the recipe varies but it’s commonly served with charcoal-grilled pork, broken rice, fried egg and some vegetables like sliced cucumber or tomato. It’s much recommended by both locals and foreigners alike.
Rau Muong Xao (morning glory fried with garlic)
Rau Muong Xao paired with Ca Muoi (Vietnamese salt and pepper eggplant) is an ideal choice for meals when it’s hot. The morning glory is slightly simmered, then stir-fried with garlic until soften. Its broth is added some lemon juice to serve as soup. Simple yet delicious, it’s worth a try, right?
Che (sweet soup)
Che is a favorite snack of both kids and adults, especially during summer days. It varies in type, can be made of a single ingredients like coconut, red beans, green bean, lotus seed or combination of some. The later is much preferred because it allows eaters to taste different ingredients just by ordering a bowl or glass.
Banh Chung (sticky rice cake)
Banh Chung is one of the most traditional Vietnamese foods and a “must-serve” dish at Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), especially in the northern region and Hung King’s Festival.
It’s made from glutinous rice, mung beans, pork, and other additional spices as salt and pepper, and wrapped in la dong (large green leaves) and thin and small bamboo strips.
Banh Cuon (steamed rice rolls)
Banh Cuon is one of the most preferred dishes for breakfast in the north and central regions in Vietnam. Its transparent wrapper is made of rice starch and filled with minced pork, shrimp or mushroom, making it attractive from the outside. It’s served hot with fish sauce, grilled meat or Cha Lua (Vietnamese pork sausage).
Cha Lua (Vietnamese pork sausage)
Cha Lua is a main course at meal and an important ingredient at many dishes like Bun Thang, Banh My and Banh Cuon. It’s made by boiling ground lean pork seasoned to perfection with garlic, salt and pepper and wrapped in banana green leaf.
Nem Ran (spring roll)
Crispy spring roll is also a highly recommended food among foreigners. It’s made by putting a variety of ingredients onto the roll wrapper (ground pork, vermicelli, mushroom, carrot, egg,…) then rolling up tightly. It taste better when served hot with fish sauce added some lemon juice, garlic, sugar and chili.
Xoi (Sticky rice)
Xoi was originally a “must-serve” dish at important social events in Vietnam. These days, however, it becomes a popular dish for breakfast and preferred by both kids and adults alike.
Xoi varies in type, and some that are highly recommended among locals and tourists is Xoi Yen, a typical dish of Hanoi cuisine, Xoi Ga (chicken sticky rice), Xoi Mit (jackfruit sticky rice), etc.
Goi Cuon (summer roll)
Goi Cuon must be an ideal choice for those who prefer healthy foods. It is include a wrapper, fried or fresh, made from rice, filled with boiled shrimp (or pork) and herbs, and served with a fish sauce or peanut dipping sauce.
Banh My (Vietnamese-style bread)
Banh My is a street-food staple and a preferred food for breakfast of many Vietnamese people. The reason is that: its filling varies, including pate, fried egg, Cha Lua (Vietnamese pork sausage), grilled pork, and some herbs and vegetables like basil, tomato, cucumber, carrot, and some more. Just order a loaf and you will have delicious breakfast!
Banh Trang Tron (Vietnamese rice paper salad)
Banh Trang Tron is popular street food and a favorite snack of both kids and adults alike. It’s a tasted mix of a various ingredients, including fried dried onion, roasted shrimp, chili, sour mango, dried squid, peanuts, shrimp salt, knotgrass, etc.
To make the food more complete, the seller spread it with one or two teaspoon of spicy, sweet and sour sauce, giving it a distinct taste.
Cha Ca, especially Cha Ca La Vong is a local specialty of Hanoi. Slices of fish are marinated with garlic, ginger, turmeric and dill, seasoned to perfection, then, fried in a hot pan until they turn gold-brown.
It promises to tantalize the taste buds of any eaters, even gourmets. Cha Ca is served hot as a side dish or a main course at meals.
Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crepe)
Voted in top 40 Vietnam foods by CNN, Banh Xeo is definitely a “worth –trying” food when you have chance to taste Vietnam dishes. This tasty and eyes-catching street food is a specialty of provinces in the Central of Vietnam but now spread throughout the country, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.
It features the yellow crispy wrapper filled with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, and added some fresh herbs for a better look and taste.
Ca Kho To (braised fish in clay pot)
Ca Kho To served hot with a bowl of rice is an ideal meal during winter days. It’s a delicious mix of a meaty fish steak (catfish, king mackerel, tuna, or salmon) and various types of ingredients such as fish sauce, sugar, slices shallot, pepper and some more. As cooked in a clay pot, the fish taste so different, so ease to taste buds with the first try.
Egg coffee is definitely a “must-try” drink that can satisfy the taste buds of any that gives it a try. Not only do locals love egg coffee but foreigners also recommend it to friends and give it good feedback.
As the name suggests, this coffee is made by whisking egg yolk and coffee until they become cream. If you have chance to travel or work in Hanoi, try this tasty drink at Giang coffee where it was first created.