The Vietnam food culture is very enriched and the taste is distinct. The mouthwatering ingredients are the keys to their unforgettably tasty foods.
So, if you plan to try it in any Vietnamese restaurant or you are just visiting there, you will find this guide helpful.
I will be talking about their popular foods with relevant pictures, the ingredients, and how to enjoy them. Keep reading and explore the whole new world of foods!
List of Popular Vietnamese Food:
- Pho (Noodle Soup)
- Goi Cuon (Spring Rolls)
- Cha Ca (Turmeric Fish)
- Mi Quang (Noodle Soup)
- Banh Xeo (Sizzling Pancakes)
- Banh Mi (Saigon Sandwich)
- And many more!
Let’s explore them in detail…
PHO (Noodle Soup)
First, let’s get the pronunciation right. The right pronunciation of PHO is ‘fuh’ or ‘fur’. So, the noodle soup is made of rice noodles, herbs, broth, and meat.
The meat can be either beef or chicken. If you have never tried this before, I recommend the chicken Pho. It will be a safer choice for you.
Besides, the chicken Pho is more popular than its beef counterpart.
The chicken gives the soup a tender texture which you will love. For freshness and fragrances, you will find chopped onions, coriander, fresh herbs, bean sprouts, etc. So, many people think this is much better than the Chinese dishes of noodles!
Apart from the chicken Pho, you can have thinly sliced beef fillet, pork/beef meatballs, etc. If you are a vegetarian, you can enjoy the vegan pho (Tofu) too!
Mainly, it’s a breakfast soup but you can eat it anytime you want. Before you start eating it, you should squeeze a lime over it for an extra kick.
BANH XEO (Sizzling Pancakes)
You should try the Banh Xeo if you need to taste something out of ordinary. It’s cheap but tasty and the best place to try it is Ho Chi Minh City.
This crispy pancake is street food and made of pre-made pancake mix, turmeric, coconut milk, and water. It’s also known as the Vietnamese crepe.
As a traditional street food and to make it tastier, Banh Xeo is filled with spring onions, egg, pork, bean sprouts, prawns, and mung beans.
The sizzling pancake is wrapped within lettuce leaves, coriander, mint and dipped with chili fish sauce (Nuoc Cham) while serving.
Local Vietnamese cut the banh xeo into manageable sizes before wrapping it with lettuce leaves and dip it in their favorite sauce before eating. You should do the same too.
If you are traveling there, you should stock up Banh Xeo for the long journeys by bus or train.
GOI CUON (Spring Rolls)
In northern Vietnam, it’s called ‘NEM CUON’. Despite the variation in name, this spring roll is delicious Vietnamese food and you must try it someday.
You go to any Vietnamese restaurant; they will serve this first as a starter before the main dish.
That’s the reason many people call it salad rolls too. And it needs a dunk in nuoc cham before eating.
These cigar-shaped translucent rolls are filled with shrimp/pork, greens, and coriander. So, they are completely different than traditional cut rolls and hand rolls.
Of course, it’s a little different in its southern variation but both of the variations are as tasty as it sounds.
BUN CHA (Grilled Meatballs)
These grilled meatballs are called the Hanoi specialty and almost everyone who visits there tries this. Not just as street foods, you can find the bun cha in every established Vietnamese restaurant.
Different people describe its taste in different ways. Some people describe it as hamburgers too. But it’s actually a mixture of flavors and there is nothing like it when eaten with sour and sweet fish sauce.
To prepare this lunchtime food, the belly pork is barbecued on a charcoal brazier. Then it’s served with rice noodles with broth and assorted foliage.
As it’s served with fresh salads and herbs, it’s really light and healthy to eat. And you will not feel full eating the bun cha.
BANH MI (Saigon Sandwich)
A French-Vietnamese fusion filled with either grilled or non-grilled meat. Apart from that, banh mi has a bit of everything mouthwatering ingredients.
It was first introduced in Vietnam during the French colonial time. Banh mi is made of French baguette and other delicious ingredients like pork and greens.
If you don’t prefer pork, you can enjoy banh mi with beef, chicken, tofu, liver, etc.
It’s a sandwich; so, it’s served with sauce, pickled carrots, spring onions, cucumber, coriander, and mayonnaise.
In Vietnam, it’s common and popular street food and you should try it out to indulge yourself in something you will never forget.
You can enjoy this tasty Vietnamese sandwich in New York too. Yes, it’s now available to many countries too.
CAO LAU (Noodle Bowl)
Typical Vietnamese food that is widely popular in Central Vietnam.
The rice-flour noodle is enriched with pork-rind croutons and bean sprouts.
To make it taste even better, cao lau is flavored with star anise and mint. Then it is topped with grilled rice-flour crackers.
Only the broth and herbs of cao lau are pure Vietnamese and the rest of the ingredients are from other cultures.
It has a similarity with Japanese udon with a Chinese touch of pork and wonton crackers.
You will find it in various parts of the country but the authentic cao lau is made of water drawn only from the local Ba Le well.
CHA CA (Turmeric Fish)
How about a Vietnamese seafood dish? Among all Vietnamese cuisine, Cha ca is one of the most popular ones. It’s so popular in there that there is a dedicated street for cha ca!
It’s actually a fish cake and made from catfish (usually). However, the most common fish to prepare cha ca is mackerel.
Many people call it Cha Ca Hanoi too because it’s believed to be Hanoi originated.
There is nothing too complex about this food. Just the while fish is marinated with galangal and turmeric. And then it’s served with dill (more like a vegetable).
Cha ca may be served in many forms. It can be served in a banh mi or on top of noodles. But it is most popular in itself form.
The Cha Ca La Vong is the busiest place for cha ca but you may find it a bit overpriced there. If you need an affordable yet tasty option for cha ca, you should visit the Hoan Kiem district of Hanoi.
BUN BO HUE
It’s a spicy noodle but you will love it for its piles of pork and beef with its meaty broth.
To make this Vietnamese cuisine healthier, they serve it with thick rice noodles (very slippery!).
It has some other tasty ingredients like oxtail chunks, cubes of congealed pig blood, pig’s knuckles, and so on.
Bun Bo Hue is a central Vietnamese noodle and it is believed to be healthier than other noodles found in south and north Vietnam.
Yes, it’s not as popular as Pho but you should try this nonetheless if you love a bit of spice.
COM TAM (Broken Rice)
I am not sure you will find it anywhere but Ho Chi Minh City. Another street food made of tiny pieces of rice.
Traditionally, it used to be the left-over style food in Vietnam but it has gained its popularity as a favorite street food snack.
And the reason is it’s served with grilled/shredded pork, fried egg, or fish.
The pork chop is marinated over the charcoal to give you a smokey aroma. It comes with shredded pork skin for a chewy texture.
As for salads, they mainly use sliced tomatoes and cucumbers for freshness. It will taste like a Thai dish for sure.
Of course, it’s served with a lemon squeeze, pickles, fresh herbs, and onion-like any other Vietnamese cuisine. Sounds like a lot, right? But these ingredients are there just to enhance its flavor.
MI QUANG (Noodle Soup)
It’s a meat noodle mixed with shrimp, fresh sprigs of leaves, quail eggs, peanuts, mint, and flavorsome oil.
Sounds like so many ingredients but it’s actually very affordable and a bit underrated Vietnamese food too!
Of course, the ingredients will vary across the different parts of the country but the taste still tastes great!
Mi quang is a classic Hanoi street food that is usually eaten as a dinnertime meal.
They serve it with French baguette or steamed rice and it’s something you should try a cold night.
It’s a little bit different than other curries out there. For a subtle and creaminess, they use coconut milk and the curry itself tastes light and mildly spicy.
Vietnamese curry may taste a little sweet as they cook all the ingredients in the same pot. And for that sweet flavor, the use of carrots is the main ingredient.
The beauty of that curry is that you can pick your own ingredients too! Yes, you can decide whether to add chicken or beef or vegetable with curry or not.
If you are a foodie, you can cook this curry at your home too. It’s effortless and takes minimal cleaning. Cooking all the ingredients in one spot should not be hard work at all.
CA KHO TO
It’s characterized as the classic comfort food often. It’s just fish but the secret of its huge popularity is how it’s served.
You see, the fish is served in a clay pot that looks more like the Dutch oven.
The pots have thick clay walls to retain moisture and heat. That enables the fish to soften and caramelized when braised.
With the touch of fish sauce and sugar, the fish gets a sweet-savory gooeyness.
It’s rice noodle soup but has some unusual ingredients like beetle juice and gam ai dau (Vietnamese hens of a certain age). This soup is widely enjoyed on special occasions in Vietnam.
The specialty about the hens is that they can’t can too old or too young. And they use the beetle juice just to add a very unique fragrance.
Apart from the two unique ingredients, they use sliced egg shreds, shredded pork/chicken, shrimp floss, and fresh herbs like coriander and mint.
CANH (Vietnamese Soups)
When it comes to soups, the variety is so big to cover in one place. But out of the vast varieties, the canh chua or sour soups of southern Vietnam are most popular.
The ingredients may vary across the different parts of the country but canh is usually made of starfruits, pineapple, tamarind, and/or tomatoes.
For contrasting textures of the soup, they use veggies and seafood. For contrasting flavors, they use sour, sweet, and savory.
BUN DAU MAM TOM
You can have it with brunched-up rice noodles, tofu, herbs, and sliced cucumber. There is a meat version too. You can get either steamed pork or fish balls as well.
It’s definitely not for everyone. The mam tom dipping sauce is very much off-putting for many people. The sauce is made with crushed krill or shrimp that is fermented for weeks.
It’s so pungent that not everyone can tolerate this cuisine.
It’s a Saigon-based classic Vietnamese food made from rice flour and tapioca starch. The mix of rice flour and tapioca starch is boiled, cooled, and cup into square pieces.
Then the square pieces are pan-fried with green onion and egg in the lard until it becomes crispy and gets the color of golden brown. However, the inside of the bot chien remains chewy and gummy.
Lastly, it is served with a sweet sauce and green papaya salad.
Another tasty Vietnamese dish of grilled and skewered meatball made with pork, shallots, pepper, fish sauce, and sugar. When eaten by wrapping it with rice paper, it tastes savory, nutty, sweet, and smokey.
In other places of the country, it’s also called Nem Lui. However, there is a little difference between the two.
Nem Lui is served with lemongrass skewers with rice vermicelli, fresh herbs, peanut sauce, lettuce, and slices of cucumber.
Very popular in central Vietnam! It’s made from prawns mainly but they use other ingredients to make it smokey, sweet, and savory.
This is how they the shrimp appetizer…
First, they season the prawns and mash them into a paste. And then they wrap it around a sugar cane stick. After that, they steam it and deep-fry or grill it.
However, before eating, you need to cut off the sugar cane and wrap the Chao tom with fresh herbs and chili sauce.
BO LA LOT
Another Vietnamese dish is the Bo La Lot where they wrap the ground beef with wild betel leaves and then grill it over charcoal. A very interesting and unique cuisine I must say!
When the betel leaves are heated, they leave a unique and incense-like fragrance to beef. Not just aromatic, it tastes great too when served with fresh greens, pickled veggies, and rice paper.
How about a Vietnamese dessert? It’s a perfect thing to try while you are in Hanoi during a scorching day.
You can enjoy this dessert in a glass or in a bowl. But I would recommend the glass because you can see the enticing bean jelly layers, fruit, ice, coconut milk while enjoying this delightful dessert.
BANH GOI (Vietnamese Samosa)
You may describe this deep-friend Vietnamese food as the Cornish pastry too. The inside of the samosa is filled with minced pork, vermicelli noodles, mushrooms, etc. The outside is very crispy!
CHAO (Rice Porridge)
It’s not your familiar rice porridge. This Vietnamese chao has a thick and creamy texture.
As per your taste, you can enhance the taste with fish, slices of chicken, duck, pork, beef too. And as usual, you can jazz it up with shallots and herbs.
BANH UOT THIT NUONG
Very popular in central Vietnam! This tasty food is marinated with grilled pork and served with fresh rice paper rolls. To add greenery, basil, mint, and cilantro are mixed as well.
BO LUC LAC
It’s all about mixing the beef while cooking when it comes to preparing the delightful bo luc lac. The beef cubes are mixed with pepper, garlic, and vegetables to make this shaking beef.
Sticky rice mixed with fried eggs, pork, or chicken. Of course, the mix-ins vary a lot across the whole of Vietnam. It is served with dried shallots on the top.
BUN BO NAM BO
The secret of this delightful noodle is to prevent soddening of the ingredients and keeping the textures intact. As usual, you will find slices of beef along with bean sprouts, peanuts, and dried shallots.
To serve it fresh, it’s often mixed with fresh herbs and a splash of fish sauce. Here is a recipe for you to try at home!
How did you like the Vietnamese food culture? Sounds great, right? If you plan to visit Vietnam recently, I strongly recommend remembering these foods. Even better if you make a list!
Luckily, you can try some of these street foods in your kitchen too. Let me know which of the above foods you have already tried and which one tastes better in the comment box.