Evidently, when people want to discover the essence of a culture, they often study the cuisine, especially the street food and the traditional ones. The reason behind that is because of the food’s closed association with the working class – the major part forming a society. And, in this way, Vietnam – a friendly and natural rich nation, also has such a diverse and (of course) delicious range of cuisine. So, let us start our journey by going through a list of 11 best Vietnamese foods, which are considered must-eats in Vietnam.
1. Phở – The Worldwide Famous Vermicelli Soup
Particularly, when referring to Vietnam, it would be a total loss not to mention Vietnamese most famous cuisine: Phở – a unique kind of Vermicelli that comes harmoniously with the salty-sweet broth. The Pho’s recipe may vary depending on each chef’s own creativity. However, in total, the core ingredients for making an unforgettable bowl of Pho are: Salty Sweet Broth that is made from animal bones (some chefs use chicken’s, some may use pig’s, it really depends), Pho (a typical type of Vermicelli in Vietnam), a mixture of herbs and meat (depends, also).
Usually, there are two kinds of Pho: Pho Ga (Chicken Vermicelli Soup) and Pho Bo (Beef Vermicelli Soup), in which the latter one is more well-known. These two types of Pho differ in their topping, while Pho Ga often merely goes with boiled chicken meat and herb, Pho Bo’s toppings are more diverse.
There are two kinds of beef as well as two ways of cooking them used in Pho Bo. First, let’s go through the beef types. Overall, both the two types used in Pho Bo are brisket; however, there are the softer one and the “having more fat and tendon” one, which, in Vietnam, are called Nạm and Gầu, respectively. Then, about the cooking ways, there are also two types: well done and underdone. The former means the beef will be cooked before and will be cut into slices when being served. The latter one, however, will only be cooked right after the order is taken. The raw sliced beef, at that time, will be dipped into the boiling broth and served to the culinary enjoyers, which ensures a hottest as well as most attractive bowl of Pho Bo.
Sometimes, visitors can try Pho with some Quẩy – a kind of finger-shaped bagel. Dipping Quay into the Pho’s broth and let its specific taste rock! The “divine” taste of the broth, the soft Pho, herbs, delicious meat as well as the indescribable taste of Quay form such an inseparable combination that roughly nobody can refuse to “fall in love with” “at the very first morsel.
- Pho Gia Truyen Bat Dan
Location: 49 Bat Dan, Cua Dong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening days: every day
Opening hours: 6 am – 10 am and 6 pm – 8.30 pm
- Pho Thin
Location: 61 Dinh Tien Hoang, Ly Thai To, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening days: every day
Opening hours: 6.30 am – 1 pm and 5 pm – 10.30 pm
Phone: 0339 253 464
2. Banh Mi – Vietnamese Best Sandwich
If Pho represents the complicated delicacy that requires certain experience to make, Banh Mi is a symbol of simplicity as roughly anyone can make it. However, this simplicity, surprisingly, can result in such an amazing taste.
Banh Mi’s most outstanding aspect that makes it become a popular choice in Vietnam might be its convenience. People can find Banh Mi roughly anywhere along the street in each urban region of Vietnam. On your hurry way to work, a 3- minute – preparing Banh Mi would definitely a more appropriate choice than a tradition full course meal. Therefore, it can be said that, in this modern day, Banh Mi has integrated into Vietnamese normal life and it has become a vital part of our nation’s list of cuisine.
Though Banh Mi, nowadays, is a household name in Vietnam, it just first appeared in Vietnam a few decades ago and, quite surprisingly, was made based on the French’s Baguette Bread. According to the rumor, during the French colonial period, the Baguette was first introduced to Vietnam. At that time, it was served at the restaurant with Pate, Ham or Butter on order; however, as time passed, the demand for more convenient food that can be eaten on the run promoted the appearance of Vietnamese Banh Mi.
Instead of serving each ingredient separately at the restaurants, the sellers at that time decided to put every topping into the Bread, with the addition of some herbs so that it can meet the taste of more Vietnamese people. Unexpectedly, this decision led to the appearance of Banh Mi, an integral cuisine of Vietnamese normal life until these days.
Similar to Pho, Banh Mi’s recipe is also various. The toppings of Banh Mi vary even in a larger range, from the cook’s interests on the small scale to the region’s cultural identity on a large scale. However, overall, there are some core ingredients that are included in nearly every recipe, they are sauces (popularly chili sauce but some stalls even have their own homemade special sauce), pate, herbs, and vegetables. Other ingredients such as ham, butter, egg, sausages, grilled pork and so on will be added according to the buyers’ interests. Therefore, it can be said that Banh Mi is the favorite food of everybody as it is made based on culinary enjoyers’ own taste. The chosen toppings, together with the herbs, the sauce, and the crusty Banh Mi create a surprisingly harmonious combination, which is sure to impress everybody for the first time.
- Banh Mi Dan To
Location: 22 Tran Nhat Duat, Dong Xuan, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: Monday: 3 am – 0 am; Tuesday: 0 am – 3 am and 3 pm – 8 pm; Wednesday to Saturday: 3 pm to 8 pm; Sunday: 3 am – 8 am
Phone: 0852 760 149
- Various stalls are seen nearly everywhere in each city (Honestly, hardly can any sellers make a bad Banh Mi)
3. Bun Cha – Vietnamese national favorite food
While Pho is more appropriate for a wealthy breakfast or dinner, Bun Cha is a perfect dish for lunch. Literally, Bun Cha is Grilled Pork Vermicelli, which means in each helping served with herbs, there will be a dish of rice vermicelli, grilled sliced porks and meatballs dipped in a bowl of fish sauce.
The sauce’s recipe, which holds the spirit of the whole dish, is diverse and have hundreds of edition. However, popularly, it is the harmonious mixture of fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, lime or kumquat juice, together with pickled papaya and carrot or so on. Customers can add pepper or ground garlic with chilli into the sauce, a little bit addition of spice will potentially boost the taste dramatically.
Usually, Bun Cha is suggested to try together with Nem Cua Be – Sea Crab Fried Rolls. These rolls are often bigger than the normal fried rolls, with their inner parts filled with crab meat, a mixture of vegetables and another kind of vermicelli. A roll of Nem Cua Be will be cut into two pieces and surprisingly, these two little pieces would make you feel so full that often, one person can eat one of these pieces merely.
In order to fully enjoy the food, customers are advised to put everything they are served into the sauce. As written above, the sauce is various depending on each chef’s own recipe; and, in Bun Cha, it holds the dish’s spirit. Therefore, when you dip everything in this sour-sweet sauce, you can find the food combine with each other so harmoniously. The rice vermicelli, the soft meatballs, and tough sliced meat, together with the unique taste of the herbs and Nem Cua Be complement each other, fulfilling your hungry stomach and let you have the most satisfying feeling ever.
Interesting enough, during the official visit to Vietnam of former US President Barack Obama in 2016, he was found trying a dish of Bun Cha at a restaurant in Hanoi with Anthony Bourdain. Therefore, trying Bun Cha and you will have the feeling of becoming a Obama for a moment.
- Bun Cha Huong Lien (Obama tried it)
Location: 24 Le Van Huu, Phan Chu Trinh, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi
Opening hours: Everyday from 8 am to 8.30 pm
Prices: 40,000 VND – 50,000 VND (~$2 – $2.5)
- Bun Cha Hang Manh – Bun cha Dac Kim
Location: 1 Hang Manh, Hang Gai, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: Everyday from 9 am to 9 pm
Prices: 60,000 VND (~$2.5)
4. Banh Cuon – Perfect for Breakfast
Banh Cuon is a light savory dish, made from minced pork and mushroom wrapped by a thin sheet of steamed rice flour. The dish is often served with fried shallots as well as herbs, and, similar to Bun Cha, a bowl of special sauce.
The sauce’s recipe used in Banh Cuon, overall, is similar to that in Bun Cha. However, there is a key aspect that can be used to differentiate the former one from the latter one, which is called Tinh Dau Ca Cuong – the essence of a water bug. In the past, this kind of essence was added to the Banh Cuon sauce in a large scale but, nowadays, as this type of water bug is so scarce, people often use imitative essence instead.
Apart from the special sauce, the thickness of the rice flour sheet also contributes considerably to the zest of the cuisine. The flour sheet will be made by steaming a layer of rice flour batter directly on a cloth over a boiling water pot. The thinner the layer is, the better the dish becomes. Therefore, the Bach Cuon Chef has to be trained and practice day by day before they are able to make a qualified dish.
- Banh Cuon Gia Truyen (still have Tinh Dau Ca Cuong in their menu)
Location: 12 Hang Ga, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: Everyday from 6 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to 10 pm
Prices: 35,000 VND (~ $1.5)
- Banh Cuon Co Nghi (quite far from the inner city but it worths)
Location: Village 2, Bat Trang, Gia Lam, Hanoi
Opening hours: 6.30 am – 8 pm
Price: 50,000 VND (~$2)
Phone: 024 3874 4918 (had better call first as the dishes run out quickly)
5. Bun Bo Hue – perfect for a super full meal
Bun Bo Hue is, literally, the Beef Vermicelli cooked in Hue way. What is Hue way? Hue is a city in the central part of Vietnam, of which vermicelli is made much thicker than that in the Southern part. This thicker vermicelli turns out to go so harmoniously with the fatty broth and a “pile” of toppings.
First, let us go through the broth. Actually, the broth used in Vietnamese Central Part is often sweeter than that in the Southern one. So is this broth. The origin one should be made by boiling beef bones together with lemongrass and other tons of secret ingredients. All of these ingredients contribute to the strong flavor of the broth.
This strong flavor, not surprisingly, goes perfectly with the toppings “pile”. Unlike Pho Bo, which is served merely with sliced meat, Bun Bo Nam Bo fulfills even the hungriest stomach with its various toppings: some slices of well-done beef, a part of a pig’s leg, blood pudding, meatballs, some kinds of spring rolls and, of course, a number of herbs. Trying this dish, visitors will be impressed by its unique flavor and certainly, will be able to discover more about various regions’ food identity in Vietnam
- Bún Bò Huế O Cương Chú Điệp
Location: 6 Tran Thuc Nhan, Hue
Opening hours: 6.30 am – 11 am
Prices: 15.000 – 30.000 VND (~$0.75-$1.25)
- Bún Bò Huế O Phượng
Location: 24 Nguyen Khuyen, Phu Nhuan, Hue, Thua Thien Hue
Opening hours: 9 am – 9 pm
Prices: 30,000 – 35,000 VND (~$1.25 – $1.5)
6. Goi Cuon -“Freshest Dish”
If you are tired of the fatty fried food and absolutely want to get rid of them, then Goi Cuon is definitely for you! There are thousands of Goi Cuon’s edition. Like Banh Mi, it will be made based on customers’ orders. However, the main ingredients are often lettuce, some kinds of herbs and boiled meat or seafood. These ingredients will be wrapped tightly by a rice paper, then the roll can be dipped into the sauce, which is diverse depending on the chef making it.
- Quan Do Cuon
Location: 46 Tran Xuan Soan, Ngo Thi Nham, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi
Opening hours: 2 pm – 7 pm
Phone: 097 844 39 97
- Goi Cuon Tom Nhay
Location: 424 Lac Long Quan, Ward 5, District 11, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening hours: 11 am – 7 pm, closed on Sunday
Phone: 090 310 88 74
7. Ca Phe Trung (Vietnamese Egg Coffee)
Sure, this is a drink, but it can also be a desert-a food! As it is named, Vietnamese Egg Coffee is made from two main ingredients: Vietnamese black coffee and egg cream. The Egg cream, made from egg and condensed milk, brings culinary enjoyers a strange feeling. It is sweet, it is airy, it is indescribable but it can be mixed so harmoniously with the black coffee. The two come together in the most surprising way, and, even more surprisingly, this combination rocks!
- Hanoi Giang Coffee (of which the first owner invented the well-known Egg Coffee)
Location: Lane 39, Nguyen Huu Huan, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Opening hours: 7 am – 10.30 pm
Prices: 15,000 – 33.000 VND (~$0.5 – $1.5)
8. Com Tam (Broken Rice)
Actually, Com Tam means broken rice or fractured rice grains. This type of rice, in fact, used to be only for the lower class of society. However, in these modern days, thanks to its cultural value as a past reflector, the dish is popular and become the favorite dish of many people.
Nowadays, this broken rice is often served with pickled carrot or radish, together with grilled pork ribs and omelets. For enjoyers who consider themselves as nutrition-minded people, this dish would evidently become one of the appropriate meals.
- Cơm tấm Ali
Location: 304 Kim Ngưu, Minh Khai, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội
Opening hours: 10.30 am – 8 pm
Phone: 093 388 19 85
- Cơm Tấm Bụi Sài Gòn
Location: 100 Thach Thi Thanh, Tan Dinh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening hours: 8 am – 10 pm
Phone: 028 6675 5476
9. Mi Quang (Quang Noodle)
Like Bun Bo Hue, Mi Quang is noodles made in Quang way. This specific type of noodles has its origin from the central province of Quang Nam, Vietnam. Unlike other types of rice noodles, which often have a round appearance and white color, Quang Noodles impress tourists by their two signature features: the flat appearance as well as the specific yellow color.
First, about the noodles’ shape. Quang Noodle, in fact, are pieces of a rice flour layer. This layer is made so thin and then is cut into many small pieces, which are our amazing Quang Noodles (actually, the most appropriate width of these “pieces” should merely be 2 millimeters, such an impressive size!). Continuing with the yellow broth, similar to other broth in Vietnam, this broth is also made by boiling pork bones; however, to get its specific color, a bit of turmeric is added into the water. This interesting addition not only brings the broth a wonderful color but also promotes its strong flavor.
Noodles and broth are the two main parts of a mouth-watering bowl of Quang Noodles, but, there are a number of other ingredients that are required to make that dish reach its perfection. In a “true” Quang Noodles bowl, there must be 3 layers: First – the herbs, then – the noodles, and lastly, various kinds of meats, ranging from pork, chicken, shrimp, to frog and snakehead fish. Fried shallot, as well as ground peanut, are also added before the yellow broth is poured into the bowl. All the complicated ingredients, unexpectedly, combine with each other so perfectly, forming an impressive dish.
- Mi Quang Thanh Ha
Location: 551 Tran Cao Van, Tam Ky City, Quang Nam
Phone: (0510) 3 241 033 – 0905 697 654
Opening hours: 6 am – 8 pm
10. Banh Xeo – so-called “Vietnamese Pancake”
Though its way of cooking is quite similar to that of making a pancake, this dish is definitely more complicated. After frying the yellow rice flour (yeah, interestingly, this rice flour gets its yellow colour in the same way Quang Noodles’ broth gets, by turmeric), a lot of toppings including ground meat, dried shrimps and vegetables will make the “pancake” bulging. “Banh Xeo”, then, can be dipped into the fish sauce and is ready to make mouth fulfill with flavor.
- Banh Xeo, Nem Lui
Location: 167 Doi Can, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
Opening hours: 5 pm – 10.30 pm
Phone: 090 323 00 38
11. Che (Sweet Soup)
Che is an ideal finishing part of every meal. Sometimes, people just eat it while chit-chatting or just for entertaining. Che, literally, is a combination of several ingredients, including mung beans, black beans, sweet corn, taro and so on. These ingredients will be prepared in a special way, making them sticky as well as sweet. Visitors can choose the topping based on their interest and they will be served into a big glass or a bowl. The latter choice is the traditional serving way, however, evidently, this way is a bit more interesting than the former one as you can see layers of ingredients placed onto each other, creating a funny image.
- Che Co Hue
Thanh Cong Market, Thanh Cong, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 7 am – 10 pm
Prices: 15.000 – 25.000 VND (~$0.5 – $1)
- Any vendors selling Che you come up with on the street. Like Banh Mi, rarely can any sellers make this dish taste bad.
It is said that food is the best reflector of a culture. While discovering a nation, it is not enough just to enjoy the breathtaking scenery but travelers should absolutely delve into the region’s food identity. Behind each dish is a story. Discover this story, you discover the region’s cultural identity.