The flavors and freshness of Vietnamese cuisine are irresistible. You’ll find a vendor selling something that looks and smells delicious on every corner. It’s only natural that you’d want to sample it all, but unfortunately there’s so many amazing foods in Vietnam that this may not be possible. Our recommendation is to try as much as possible, however below you’ll find eight dishes that you simply cannot leave Vietnam without trying:
The most well-known Vietnamese food is probably Pho, and for good reason. This savory, satisfying soup is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine, and you’ll primarily see people eating it for breakfast. However, feel free to order a bowl whenever you want; there’s never a bad time for Pho. This beloved soup starts as rice noodles bathed in a tasty broth, typically followed by some form of beef (if you’re a vegetarian, skip the meat). The soup is then topped with bean sprouts and a spattering of greens like basil and green onion. Pho is served with salty, spicy, fermented fish sauce and a lime wedge. This is a popular dish that’s been adapted in restaurants worldwide, however Pho is an absolute must-try in its country of origin.
2. Banh Bao
This soft, doughy, ball of steamed white bread is a common breakfast food or mid-day snack often sold from mobile street vendors. The bun is typically filled with pork and half a hard-boiled egg or quail egg, however there are many other varieties including BBQ pork, chicken, or vegetarian-friendly options. There are even sweet buns, stuffed with a custard-y filling, or the purple-colored buns which usually contain sweet potato.
3. Goi Cuon
These are the freshest spring rolls you’ll ever taste. The transparent rice paper outside wraps up greens, coriander, pork, and prawn in a perfect bite-sized package. Gỏi Cuốn is served with a savory dipping sauce topped with crushed peanuts and spicy chili peppers. Usually a little mint or basil accompanies the dish on the side. These are a great choice if you’re looking for a healthy appetizer. If you’re not too bothered about the calories, you can also order them deep-fried (called Nem Rán or Chả giò).
4. Banh Cuon
Banh Cuon translates to ‘’rolled cake’’, which is a pretty accurate description of what it is. This scaled-up version of the spring roll packs a few more ingredients than its slimmer counterpart. The main components of the rolled cake is a ground meat (pork, chicken or shrimp) and various vegetables like mushrooms, bean sprouts, onion, and cucumber all wrapped up in a steamed translucent rice paper. It’s a perfect grab-and-go snack favored among travelers who need to stay fueled and energized for all that sightseeing.
5. Vietnamese Coffee
If you’re looking to jump-start your day or need a little kick in the afternoon, look no further than Vietnamese coffee. Once you order a cà phê, you’ll get to watch your drink brewed right in front of you. You’ll be served a petite glass coffee cup with a metal French drip plunked right on top of the glass. The dark roast slowly drips through the filter and into your cup. It’s common for Vietnamese coffee to be served with condensed sweet milk on the side or already portioned out in the coffee cup. The combination of the milk’s sticky sweetness and the coffee’s flavorful bitterness is unmatched by any other cup o’ Joe in the world.
6. Banh Mi
Best described as a French-Vietnamese fusion sandwich, this is one of Vietnam’s tastiest and cheapest quick meals. A French-style baguette is toasted with butter, spread with a salty pate, stuffed with fresh and pickled vegetables, and includes your choice of meat or protein filling (pork, fish, chicken, or egg/omelet). One of these will run you roughly $1, which means you can totally afford to come back for seconds.
7. Mi Quang
If a big bowl of carbs is what you’re craving then Mi Quang fits the bill. Rice noodles seasoned with turmeric and bone broth are topped with pork, quail eggs, and shrimp. It’s served with a plate of greens (like many dishes in Vietnam) with basil, mint, and lettuce. Cheap and filling – just what every budget backpacker needs.
8. Bánh Xèo
It’s hard to resist the sound and smell of pancake batter frying in a pan and that’s exactly what makes Bánh Xèo one of Vietnam’s best foods. Literally translating to “sizzling cake”, Bánh Xèo is a cross between a sweet crepe and a savory omelet. The batter is made from rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric. The mixture is fried in a skillet, then filled with bean sprouts, green onion, and thinly sliced pork or shrimp. This dish is typically served with a bunch of greens which you can use to wrap up torn off bits of the Bánh Xèo. Stuff a few mint or basil leaves in the wrap, then dunk it in the salty, fermented peanut sauce. Now you’re eating like a local!
If there’s one rule of thumb for traveling in Vietnam, it’s to come hungry and eat often. The only mistake you can make is leaving the country without trying one of our top 8 picks!