Vietnamese Food: Top 10 to Try in Vietnam

Tips from a Local

Vietnamese food is a favorite for many people, for being both healthy and flavorful. Vietnamese dishes have very simple ingredients, but create so many flavors by using many fresh herbs. Of course, the best way to try the most delicious and authentic Vietnamese dishes are in Vietnam, where the restaurant owners have access to all the required ingredients to make create these flavors. When in Vietnam, do not miss out on these Top 10 Vietnamese Foods to Try.

#1: Pho

Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup


Pho. Photo by DeaShoot on Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0.

Pho is a signature dish in Vietnamese cuisine and offered in almost all Vietnamese restaurants around the world. The secret of the tasty soup lies in the beef broth that requires six to ten hours of cooking, and the combination of spices and herbs, including grilled ginger, cinnamon, star anise, and many others. In Vietnam, the best Pho comes from the many Pho shops in a big city like Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. In a Pho shop, the sole focus is only on Pho, and the recipe to make Pho is a well-kept secret of each Pho shop. The broth is made in a huge pot and stewed for the whole day, making the soup’s favor so robust and much more sophisticated than Pho offered in Vietnamese restaurants aboard. To get real Vietnamese food, you need to be in Vietnam.

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Most of the time, the Vietnamese food restaurants abroad cannot afford to put that much effort in a single dish and they have to compromise on the taste, making the soup edible, but a very simple version in comparison to a real Pho.

#2: Banh Mi

Vietnamese Baguette


Banh Mi. Photo by Pravin Premkumar on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

One of the gifts from the French occupation, Banh Mi is a popular meal all over Vietnam. Sold in small stalls everywhere, this is a favorite snack of the locals. Imagine a Subway sandwich but much cheaper! A good Banh Mi costs less than 1 dollar and can be topped with your choice of fillings, from cha lua (Vietnamese style sausage), charsiu meat, pate to grilled pork, fried egg, and even the Laughing Cow cheese, probably the only cheese that a typical Vietnamese ever eats. This one’s a staple Vietnamese food, for sure.

#3: Ca Phe Sua Da

Vietnamese Milk Coffee


Ca Phe Sua Da. Photo by Paul Arps on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

Ca Phe Sua Da can be found all over Vietnam and is a sweet and bitter combination of strong, thick coffee and condensed milk. Ice cubes are added to cool down the drink. Ca phe sua da is addictive as a tasty power boost after breakfast. Pump up yourself with a local ca phe sua da before heading to explore the city!

#4: Goi Cuon

Summer Roll


Goi Cuon. Photo by Dion Hinchcliffe on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

You’ve surely seen this Vietnamese food before. Goi Cuon is a fresh side dish and best literally translated as the “salad in a roll form.” The filling of Goi Cuon varies from place to place, but the main ingredients are rice noodle, shrimp, pork meat and many herbs like lettuce, cucumber, carrot, Thai basil, and Shisho leaves. Goi Cuon can be enjoyed with both dipping sauces of the fish sauce-based nuoc cham or hoisin sauce.

#5: Cha Gio (or) Nem Ran

Fried Spring Roll


Cha Gio. Photo by sstrieu on Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0.

Known as simply a “Spring Roll,” the Vietnamese fried spring roll is called “Cha Gio” in the south and “Nem Ran” in the north. The fried spring roll is crispy and mouth-watering, filled with minced pork, mushroom, vermicilli and wrapped in very thin rice paper before being fired in very high heated-oil. Cha Gio is best served with noodles and local salad.

#6: Bun Bo Xao

Salad Noodle with Stir Fried Beef


Bun Bo Xao. Photo by Ẩm Thực Đam Mê on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

If you have ever visited any Vietnamese restaurant in the Asian quarter of Paris, you would have encountered the Bo Bun. Bun Bo Xao is literally translated as salad noodle with stir-fried beef. To prepare, the tender beef fillet is sliced into thin pieces, marinated in a uniquely Vietnamese way and stir-fried for a few minutes. The beef is topped on a base of rice noodle and fresh herbs then finished with the last touch of tasty sauce and roasted peanut. While in Vietnam, Bun Bo Xao can be found in many stalls in Hanoi.

#7: Bun Cha (or) Bun Thit Nuong

Noodle Salad with Grilled Pork Meat


Bun Cha. Photo bystu_spivack on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Bun Cha or Bun Thit Nuong is similar to Bun Bo Xao because of the similar rice noodle and herbs, but more complicated because of the grilled pork meat topping. The meat has to be marinated in a traditional marinade overnight before being grilled over hot charcoals.

#8: Bun Bo Hue

Hue Spicy Beef Soup


Bun Bo Hue. Photo by Person-with-No Name on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

Bun Bo Hue is a specialty from Hue City, the old imperial city of Vietnam, and is great for the senses. It’s a real treat for those who can tolerate the spicy taste. However, Bun Bo Hue is overshadowed by Pho in the West. This is for the simple reason that Viet restaurants abroad rarely offer it, simply because it is even more challenging to make than Pho. So, give Bun Bo Hue a try if you have a chance to visit Vietnam. But even then, you are still not even scratching the surface of Vietnamese cuisine.

#9: Cha Ca La Vong

La Vong Fried Fish with Turmeric and Dill


Cha Ca La Vong. Photo by Kenneth Wong on Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0.

La Vong is the name of the street in Hanoi, and where this fish dish first originated from. While the fish is cut into bite-sizes pieces and marinated before, the dish is fried on a sizzling cast-iron skillet on the table by the guests themselves. Then, fresh dill and other assorted vegetables are added to enhance the taste. Once the fish is crispy outside, it is served on a bed of rice noodles.

#10: Banh Khot (or) Banh Can

Vietnamese Mini Savory Pancake


Banh Khot. Photo by Ron Dollete on Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0.

You can find the best Banh Khot or Banh in southern Vietnam, especially at beach cities such as Vung Tau, Nha Trang, Tuy Hoa or Quy Nhon. The brown crispy pancake contains a variety of fillings, from egg to minced pork, but mostly shrimps and squids.

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