Vietnam’s culture is a harmony of its colonial past, geography, and diversity. This has not only shaped their traditions, languages, beliefs, and values, but also extended to the way they prepare and cook Vietnamese food. The Vietnamese people have fused foreign influences into their culinary arts.
While the phở, one of the specialties from North Vietnam and considered as the country’s national dish, has become a global superstar, Vietnamese dishes are actually varied. Their local food selections are available at food stalls, night markets, and restaurants. Whether you are exploring the streets of Ho Chi Minh City or enjoying a dinner cruise in Da Nang, here are the quintessential Vietnamese cuisines you shouldn’t miss.
Bun thit nuong
A popular dish made from cold rice-vermicelli noodle with toppings of grilled pork, herbs, bean sprouts and spring rolls. Nước mam fish sauce is used for the dressing.
Ca kho to
This side dish is cooked by braising and caramelizing catfish or ca kho. It is often served with steamed white rice and boiled vegetables and is paired with sweet and sour catfish soup.
Bánh mì means “bread” in Vietnam. Bánh mì is a sandwich with crunchy vegetables and pork or chicken inside.
Considered the most famous dish in Hanoi, Cha ca was invented by the local Doan family over 130 years ago as a special dish served to troops during French colonial rule. It is usually cooked using snakehead, a freshwater fish, which is marinated in a mixture of turmeric, garlic, shallots, galangal, salt, sugar, and fish sauce. It is then grilled before being fried in oil.
This dish is a stewed sweet herbal chicken soup that incorporates a mixture of secret herbs and spices handed down over generations by families in Hanoi. For about 30 minutes, the chicken is marinated in salt and spices. Then it is simmered with medicinal herbs, nuts and seeds
A popular street food in Vietnam, phở is a soup made of broth, rice noodles (bánh phở), herbs, and meat (beef is usually used but chicken is an option). The dish varies between regions, namely Northern phở or phở Bac and southern phở, Saigon phở or phở Nam. Northern phở is characterized by blanched whole green onion and garnished mostly with only diced green onion and cilantro, garlic, chili sauce and quẩy while Southern phở uses less meat and is eaten with bean sprouts, fresh sliced chili, hoisin sauce, and more fresh herbs.
Rau muong xao toi
Rau muong xao toi is stir fried water spinach with garlic. This is usually a side dish with fish sauce though some restaurants use oyster sauce instead.
Bánh xèo means “sizzling pancake.” Bánh xèo is usually stuffed with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, and green onion.
Mi vit tiem
Mi vit tiem is a duck noodle soup with herbs and spices. The contrast of the juicy roasted duck and tasty broth makes it a popular dish to try in Vietnam.
Canh or canh chua refers to sour soups. Originally from the south, canh typically has starfruit, tamarind, pineapple, or tomatoes. There are different kinds of canh but what is common in them is the ingredients have some vegetables and spices.
Gỏi cuốn means “salad rolls” but it is commonly called spring rolls. These rolls have pork or shrimp inside, held together by translucent wrapper. Eating spring rolls won’t be complete without fish sauce.
A simple food from South Vietnam, Cơm tấm is known as broken rice because it is made from rice with damaged rice grains. To give it some flavor, the Vietnamese people would add suon nuong (grilled pork chops) or trung (fried egg) on top of the rice.
Hoa qua dam
This Vietnamese fruit salad is usually popular during tropical fruits season, from May to September. Six to eight different fruits, including mango, papaya, pineapple, dragon fruit, and lychees, are topped by crushed ice and sweetened using coconut milk, milk and yogurt.