Top 8 Foods to Eat in Vietnam

Vietnamese Street Food: Street Market
Vietnamese Street Food

When you think of Vietnam, what comes to mind but huge bowls of beef stew with rice noodles, bean sprouts, and herbs. While the food is similar to that of it’s neighbors like Thailand, Vietnam has differentiated its flavor profile by incorporating more sweet and herb-y flavors. The top 8 foods I have listed here are only a snapshot into the wide culinary culture of Vietnam.

When eating in Vietnam, there were some foods that reminded me of my travels back in Thailand, but the most famous foods were distinctively “Vietnamese.” Now, I’m no food expert here, just a foodie with an amateur pallet, but I think after a week there I can tell the difference…maybe.

While Thailand gets its flavor influence from countries like India, Vietnam’s history with France allows for a rich melding of the two flavor cultures. Although the food in Thailand is so spicy it’ll burn your stomach, the food in Vietnam was light in spice (now that I look back, there was little to no spice in many of the dishes I ate). I also noticed a heavy reliance on mint and cilantro (rau ram) as the focal herbs for every dish. If you’re a fan of light tastes, flavorful herbs, slight sweetness, and not too much spice, Vietnamese cuisine might be perfect for you.

In Vietnam, you’ll have a plethora of street food and restaurants to choose from (as long as you’re in the heavily populated areas, of course), so here are the top 8 foods that I ate, cooked, and recommend you should try in Vietnam.

Tip

If you are vegetarian or vegan, then eating in Vietnam may not be too difficult for you as vegetables are used heavily there. My friend, a vegetarian, did not have too much of a problem eating in Vietnam the week we were there, but that might not be the case for more stricter diets or beliefs. If you’re feeling unsure about what to eat, then you can check out Happy Cow to find all the vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants in Vietnam.

Vietnamese Street Food: Nutella Crepe Man

Vietnam's Top 8 Foods to Eat

1. Phở

Before coming to Vietnam, I had only eaten it once in my life when a Vietnamese friend brought me to a local Vietnamese restaurant. All I can remember from that time is the bowl being large and full of broth and rice noodles.

Phở is a beef or chicken bone broth soup with rice noodles and beef, pork, or chicken cuts. It’s a dish that originated in northern Vietnam, but now varies depending on what region you eat it in. While the broth of northern phở has a clearer color and lighter flavor due to it’s cooking process, the phở cooked in the south often has a richer flavor. It is often eaten in the morning and you can find it at many restaurants and street food sellers.

Top 8 Foods in Vietnam: Pho

It’s a feel-good soup that’ll get you warmed up fast. Many people actually say they eat phở when they have a cold. If you have the chance, try out phở in the north and in the south to compare the difference, and if you’re really feeling curious, try taking a cooking class! I learned how to cook phở  when I was in Hanoi through a cooking class. Phở is the beef broth version of the beloved soup while phở is the chicken version. Along with some much-needed pronunciation help, I was able to get a much better understanding of the dish after learning how to prep and cook it.

Tip

Pho is pronounced ‘fuh,’ so be careful when asking for this warm dish as saying ‘foh’ may get you into some unintentional trouble.

2. Bánh mì

Bánh mì is a Vietnamese baguette sandwich filled with savory fixings like marinated meat, pickled vegetables and herbs. Although these are mostly sold by street vendors out of metal food carts, you can also buy them from restaurants as well.

Top 8 Foods in Vietnam: Banh Mi

While you can get bánh mì as a street food in Hoi An, a good place to try the staple is at Bánh Mì Phượng. At this particular shop, the bread is made in-house, so it is said to be fresher and more flavorful. Apparently, Anthony Bourdain left a good review for this place, but I just stumbled on it when I was searching Google Maps. I’m not a bánh mì connoisseur, so I thought it was pretty good. When we went, there was a line outside the door, and if Japan has taught me anything, it’s to follow the lines.

There are also vegetarian-friendly options on the menu as  well.

3. Bún chả

The first meal we ate when we arrived in Hanoi was bún chả. While we were waiting for our connecting flight in Hong Kong, I had researched some highly rated restaurants in Hanoi and found Bun Cha Ta Hanoi, a bún chả restaurant with a good reputation. It is about a ten minute walk from the hotel we stayed at (located centrally in the old quarter) and it’s advertised as vegetarian-friendly.

Bún chả is a dish originating in Hanoi with grilled fatty pork (chả), white rice noodles (bún) and herbs that you dip into a sweet and slightly spicy dipping sauce called Nước chấm. The pork is usually formed into meatballs and is cooked in the flavorful soup in which you can also dip your white rice noodles. The meat has a slightly sweet taste and the soup is light and refreshing. As we learned in our cooking class, a dash of honey is added to the meat mixture before making them into meatballs.

You can often find bún chả served with a side of nem rán (fried spring rolls).

Top 8 Foods in Vietnam: Bun Cha

Actually, there is a bún chả restaurant in which the late Anthony Bourdain introduced the dish with Vietnamese beer to former U.S. president Barrack Obama. The Hanoi restaurant, Bún chả Hương Liên, has a few branches around Hanoi, but be sure to go to the Old Quarter branch to see where Anthony Bourdain and President Obama sat.

4. Nem rán

Nem rán is Vietnam’s fried spring rolls. They are usually made with a variety of vegetables and seafood, and are served on a platter with a dipping sauce that includes fish sauce, aromatic herbs, and rice noodles. They look easy to make, but as I experienced in the cooking class, making the rolls is an art in careful crafting.

Top 8 Foods in Vietnam: Nem Ran

Although similar to their Thai cousins, I found that the rice paper really made the difference. If you’re attempting to make them at home, try making them into a more non-traditional triangle shape for a challenge.

Tip

To learn how to cook some of these dishes, try taking a cooking class with Apron Up Cooking Class  located in the old quarter of Hanoi. You can enjoy a guided tour to the markets in English or Vietnamese and a hands-on cooking experience. You even receive a cook book of the recipes you made at the end of the class and can eat the food you cook, so don’t plan on eating lunch before!

5. Cao lầu

Cao lầu is a regional dish from Hoi An that includes pork and greens atop rice noodles. The noodles are made from white rice that has been soaked in lye water, which gives the noodles their characteristic texture and color.

Top 8 Foods in Vietnam: Cao Lau
Top 8 Foods in Vietnam: Cao Lau

When I ate Cao lau, I actually had a vegetarian reincarnation of it at Annen Yoga & Vegetarian and was unable to find the real thing, but judging from the way the vegetarian version tasted, I completely recommend it!

6. Bánh tráng nướng

Bánh tráng nướng is a Vietnamese pizza or quesadilla particular to southern Vietnam and a street food staple. I had my first run-in with this rice cracker and toppings dish in Hoi An even though it appears to be native to Da Lat. It’s grilled rice paper filled with vegetables, herbs, quail eggs and dried small shrimp. You can drizzle a little bit of red hot sauce to kick the flavor profile up a notch.

Top 8 Foods in Vietnam: Banh Trang Nuong
Top 8 Foods in Vietnam: Banh Trang Nuong

You can find these cheap portable snacks at street vendors where they make it right in front of you and you can pick what toppings you would like, so if you’re vegetarian, this is something you can and should definitely eat!

Next to these vendors, there might also be crepe sellers as well. The crepes are usually made with bananas and Nutella, and served too hot to eat! If you’re looking for a sweet treat to cool off the salty fire from the bánh tráng nướng, try out the banana and Nutella crepes as well.

7. Cà phê trứng

Cà phê trứng is Hanoi’s famous “egg coffee” that features a coffee-lover’s favorite–strong Vietnamese coffee. For this morning delicacy, egg yolks are mixed with sugar and condensed milk to form a foam or whipped texture. The whipped yolks are poured with a fresh brewed cup of coffee to create the beauty that you can see on all menus around Hanoi.

Top 8 Foods in Vietnam: Cafe Phoung Trung

There are many instances of egg-in-something. The egg hot chocolate I mistakenly ordered on my first night in Vietnam comes to mind. It’s simple to make and it’s even more simple to just buy it at a restaurant or street vendor! Vietnamese coffee is notoriously strong, however, so if you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep right after, then I would advice you to keep your egg coffee escapades to daylight hours.

8. Sinh tố bơ

Sinh tố bơ is the number one thing that was recommended by a Vietnamese friend of ours. He insisted that we try the avocado smoothies and it did not disappoint! The taste is of a mild vanilla shake with a smooth and creamy texture. We were able to try the smoothie at the Ben Than Night Market, but you can buy the smoothie in other places in Ho Chi Minh City as well. These smoothies are made with ripe avocados, condensed milk and regular milk.

Best Drink: Avocado Smoothie/Sihn To Bo
Best Drink: Avocado Smoothie/Sihn To Bo

If I focused this list on more drinks, these avocado smoothies would be at the top of my top 8 foods to eat in Vietnam list!

Tip

Vietnamese is a highly tonal and inflected language where a change of tone can change the meaning (and intention) of a word. Here are some useful phrases to help you order in Vietnam:

Hey (general term): Oi

To get a waiter’s / waitress’s attention, you can use these phrases below based on age. 

Usually reserved for women slighly older than you: Em oi

Men or women older than you (meaning older ~): Anh oi / Chị oi

I want: Tôi muốn ~

When ordering, you would say it like this: Em oi! Tôi muốn một tô phở một ly trà.

(I’ll take it) To go: mang về / mang đi

If you want it to go: Em oi! Tôi muốn một tô phở một ly trà mang đi.

I’m vegetarian: Tôi ăn chay.

Check, please: Tính tiền.

Thank you: Cảm ơn

If you would like to keep learning Vietnamese for your trip, check out helpful resources such as LingoHut or even Wikipedia before you visit.

This list of top 8 foods to eat in Vietnam is not all the food (or drinks) there is to offer, but in the week that I traveled there, these foods really stood out to me. If you have a chance to stay longer or go back multiple times, I would recommend taking some time to concentrate on filling your belly with all the regional foods that Vietnam has to offer!

Want to learn more about traveling in Vietnam? Check out my Ultimate Vietnam Travel Guide!

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30 thoughts on “Top 8 Foods to Eat in Vietnam”

  1. So many yummy things on this list! A couple I still haven’t tried, too, since I basically lived off of Pho when I visited Hanoi!

    – Laura || afinnontheloose.com

    1. Laura, they were delicious! I’ve only had the courage to use the cookbook I got and make Nem Ran, but since it’s getting warm outside, I might venture to make Sinh To Bo and Bun Cha! I hope you can try some of these other dishes if you ever find yourself back in Vietnam.

  2. I have been hearing so much about Vietnam lately, and specifically their food. I am already a huge fan of Pho but have not tried anything else on this list. I will definitely need to make a trip to try all of these delicious treats!

  3. Having been to Vietnam, I couldn’t try any of the dishes mentioned by, being a vegetarian. That said I also had a tough time finding veg food in all major cities and I had to stick to margarita pizza in chain restaurants. I did not know about Avacado smoothie, would have loved to try!

    1. Ketki, I’m sorry to hear that. Many of the famous dishes are meat based (right down to the broth), but my vegetarian friend was able to get many things substituted for tofu or just got the meat taken out all together. If you go again, definitely check out the website I suggested, and if you’re ever in Hoi An, check out the restaurants I suggested. I hope you have a better food experience the next time you go back!

  4. Making me hungry just looking at it! I have had Vietnamese food before but always stick with ‘meat and noodles’. I think I will try to be more adventurous after reading this 😛

    1. Sam, I didn’t mean to make you hungry…or did I? XD Usually I’m quite cautious about meat when I’m traveling around Southeast Asia, but I didn’t hold back in Vietnam!

  5. It’s great that there are options for vegetarians in Vietnam! The Bánh tráng nướng looks so delicious, I had no idea there was a Vietnamese version of pizza/quesadillas! Sinh tố bơ is something I didn’t know I wanted in my life but now I do. Avocados are already amazing but then making them into a smoothie with condensed milk, yum. Vietname looks like a wonderful destination for foodies, love this post!

    1. Brianna, yes, and you can pick your own toppings! It’s like a street Chipotle (or buffet)~! There are similar dishes in Thailand and Taiwan, so when my friends and I saw the stand for the Bánh tráng nướng, we knew we had to shove it all in our tummies. The avocado smoothie was heavenly–everything a thick smoothie should be!

  6. Love the variety in these dishes and I can say that I had 7 of them during my time in Vietnam! Loved that egg coffee and spring rolls more than anything. And I probably ate my weight in Pho during my month there. Can’t wait to go back and try the shrimp street food this time!

    1. Geena, you had 7 of them! Well, hello fellow foodie. 😀 Oh, I gained weight and then some in Vietnam, but it was all worth it! There was so much food that I didn’t even get to try, so I agree–we’ve gotta go back!

    1. Sherri, it was! I didn’t have as much seafood as I would’ve expected since I traveled to many coastal/beach towns, but the seafood I did eat was good!

  7. Wow Vietnam has such a great variety of food to taste,I remember visiting Saigon and the variety available with street vendors was incredible.thanks for bringing back the memmories.

    1. Madhu, you’re very welcome. I’m glad I could help you remember all the delicious food! Although it was very touristy, Ben Thanh Market at night was a great place to just sit and eat street food in a communal style, but I have to say I had my best street food experience at the night market in Hoi An.

  8. I loved reading this post because I just love Vietnamese food. I got into eating Pho a few years back when I lived next to one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in LA. Since then, I’ve learned about many of the other dishes as well. I would just love to visit Vietnam someday to try these foods in the place they originate from. I think I’d be eating the whole time!

    1. Eden, thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed reading this post. Since I’m living in the countryside in Japan, even I don’t have access to great (any) Vietnamese food. At least a big bowl of Pho would be nice! I hope you get to go to Vietnam someday and eat ’til your heart’s content. 🙂

  9. I know Asia has so many food options and surely Vietnam must be having many food options. I am vegetarian and therefore go for Cao lau, which is a vegetarian version of it at Annen Yoga & Vegetarian.

    1. Yutki, definitely go for the vegetarian Cao Lau. It was really delicious and flavorful! There were some other vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City that I found as well, so check out the Happy Cow website if you’re ever in Vietnam again. 🙂

  10. Such a nice food journey! My closest friend growing up was Vietnamese, I will never forget visiting her on the weekends; she’d always have jasmin rice and nem with shrimp and vegetables. The scent was mindblowing. Thanks for bringing the memories back.

    1. Lisa, I’m glad you enjoyed this enough to get hungry! Hopefully your hour has gone by extremely quickly and your lunch was delicious. XD

  11. If you come to Ha Noi Viet Nam you should try Ca Phe Trung and Bun Cha. If you’re in HCM, you should try Pho, Bun Bo, Bo Kho and Banh Mi. There is a food named Banh Xeo, It ‘s looking good if you are a big fan of pizza.

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