8 Must-try foods and dishes in Vietnam
In Vietnam food is everywhere! It is such a large part of the Vietnamese lifestyle and culture. However, at first glance for someone new to the region, it can be off putting; food being cooked in the street, grubby looking shop fronts and seating consisting of tiny plastic stools in the middle of the road. The food may be being cooked on a tiny gas cooker wrapped in cardboard, which I’m sure is as safe as it sounds, or on small homemade bbqs using a bucket and a grate, but this adds to the charm of it. Please don’t let it stop you trying the food! Always watch them cook your food fresh in front of you, and pick busy places.
Here I have attempted to short-list the huge range of dishes available in Vietnam that I think are a must-try for every visitor passing through the country. Some are available through-out the country and some are regional. I hope it inspires you and gets you and your taste buds excited to come to Vietnam!
1) Phở (Vietnamese noodle soup)
This list HAS to start with Phở (pronounced ‘fuh’). Choose between Phở bò (with beef), phở gà (chicken) and, easier to find in the south than the north, phở chay (vegetarian). It’s hard to understand how something as simple as rice noodle soup can be so wonderfully complex and comforting until you try it. It’s the national dish for a reason! Each shop will have a special way of making the broth, and this process can take up to 12 hours to get right. Perfectly smooth rice noodles, tender slices of meat, chopped herbs and a world class, clear broth. Add your own lime, chillies and garlic to taste. The ultimate comfort food has to be found in a steamy bowl of phở.
Price: 80p – £1.50
2) Bánh mì (filled baguettes)
Bread isn’t generally a big part of a South-East Asians diet, however in Vietnam, fresh bánh mì (filled crusty baguettes) are a relic of the French occupation, and you can find them sold on most streets. These again will vary north to south, and all are good, however I believe central to south Vietnam has cracked them the best, with the most fillings, salads and sauces. Fillings range from egg, pate, roast pork, sausages, dried beef and soft cheese. Couple this with pickled salads, plenty of fresh herbs, fresh chilis, chili jam and soy or fish sauce and you are on to a winner.
Price: 50p – £1.00
3) Nem rán/Chả giò (Spring Rolls)
These are not the same as the spring rolls you pick up from the local takeaway. These are authentic, freshly made spring rolls put together by a Vietnamese cook. And you will be coming back for more, trust. Again, they vary throughout the country, but usually contain pork mince, shredded carrot, spring onion, mushroom and herbs, and glass noodles, wrapped by hand in rice paper. The rolls are accompanied by an insanely good dipping sauce which manages to combine sweet, salty, tangy and spicy perfectly. In the north look for Nem rán and in the south they are called Chả giò. Vegetarian spring rolls are also popular and easy to find.
4) Bò bít tết (Beef steak and eggs)
Although not a traditional dish, with its routes most likely originating from outside the country, bò bít tết is now very popular in Vietnam and can be found in most places. A sizzling hot plate filled with steak, eggs, chips, pate and sausages covered in a gravy like sauce, served with a fresh baguette and salad, it is Vietnam’s answer to a steak and eggs breakfast, and they nail it.
Price: £1.90 – £2.50
5) Bia hơi (Beer)
OK I know, this is drink not food, but Bia Hoi is a staple on any street in Vietnam. The Vietnamese will often pair it with small snacky dishes, such as bò kho (spicy dried beef), dried squid and even chicken feet if you’re feeling brave! Bia hơi is freshly brewed every day and proudly takes the title of the cheapest beer in the world. No trip to Vietnam is complete without an evening sat on a tiny plastic stool in the middle of the street, drinking a frosty bia hơi, snacking and watching the world go by.
6) Cao lầu (Roasted pork noodle dish)
Cao lầu is the signature dish of the delightful town of Hội An, in central Vietnam. Cao lầu are speciality noodles made only in this area, as the water used to make them has to come from an ancient Cham well located just outside the town. The thick noodles are topped with slices of roasted pork, crunchy croutons, beansprouts, fresh herbs and finished with a spoonful of sauce, which you then have to mix together yourself. Garnish with lime and fresh chili for the full effect! Don’t pass through Hội An without sampling this one.
Price: 85p – £1.35
7) Bún chả (Chargrilled pork)
Bún chả is a very famous dish in Hanoi, and you will see bún chả stalls all over the city. ‘Bún’ means cold rice noodles, which are served with chargrilled pork belly slices, homemade pork meatballs, lots of fresh lettuce and herbs such as mint, coriander and basil, and of course a side of delicious dipping sauce. In Hanoi, look for the shop fronts oozing smoke from makeshift BBQ’s grilling the pork, which will be sure to lure you in! Plonk yourself down on one of the famous tiny chairs and tuck in.
Price: 90p – £1.60
8) Cơm chiên (Fried Rice)
A dish found all across South-East Asia, with each country giving it its own unique twist. In Vietnam expect a huge pile of fried, seasoned rice topped with stir-fried beef, pork, chicken or vegetables, and sides of pickled salads and a bowl of clear soup. I love how something so simple can be so delicious, and everyone loves how cheap this filling meal is in Vietnam!
Price: 80p – £1.50
Note: Prices right at time of publishing. Prices will also be cheaper at street stalls and than in restaurants, and will always be slightly higher in the big tourist spots.