Traveling means discovering new things, and obviously, food is one of the new things that travel lovers always want to explore when visiting every particular country or locality. You are a local food lover and you are planning your upcoming trip to Vietnam, that’s why you are here, right? So trust us, you will find below a list of 15 Vietnamese dishes that any native is extremely fond of, along with places recommended that locals frequently visit when it comes to that dish.
1. Cơm Lam (Bamboo cooked rice)
Coming to the Northwest region of Vietnam, visitors not only enjoy the charming, picturesque landscape but also have the opportunity to enjoy the specialties of the people here. One of the famous folk dishes of the northern upland people is Com Lam (bamboo cooked rice).
To make Com Lam, the first thing to do is to choose fresh bamboo tubes with a dark green outer shell about 30 inches long. Next step is to choose sticky rice. The rice for making sticky rice is a golden flowrer glutinous rice that is round, white, and has milky color with rice aroma. First, washing the rice and then soak in water for 6-8 hours, take out the basket to drain. Next mixing the rice with crushed ginger and salt, then pour the rice into the bamboo tubes, flood the rice with water. Then use the banana leaf to cover the mouth of the tube and grill on fire. Com Lam is baked on fire, so it has a unique aroma of bamboo.
Previously, Com Lam was a food of the people who had to work in the forest for days. When the were hungry, they only needed to cut down the bamboo tubes and pour the spring water then grilled on the fire. Today, Com Lam is not only a familiar dish to the mountainous people but has become a culinary specialty associated with upland culture introduced to many travellers.
Com Lam is originally a simple dish, it seems easy to cook but to have rice cooked well, flexible and fragrant, the cook must be very skillful when pouring water and baking on fire. People often eat Com Lam with sesame salt to enhance the flavor of the dish.
It can be said that Com Lam is a great creation of mountainous people when this dish has the combination of 3 elements: fire, water and trees. That’s the reason why anyone who goes to the Northwest region must buy a few tubes of Com Lam to enjoy the taste of the mountains.
Try at: Local markets in the Northwest region of Vietnam
2. Phở (Rice noodles)
When it comes to the cuisine of the S-shaped country, it is impossible not to mention Pho, a dish that represents Vietnamese national cultural identity. Hanoi is considered the “birthplace” of pho in the early twentieth century. Therefore, for the breakfast of Hanoians Phở is always in the list of top priority.
A standard bowl of Phở must have noodles, broth, meat (chicken, beef …) and herbs with spices (onions, smells, vinegar, lemon, garlic, chili, pepper …). The authentic Phở must be the classic one, ie Pho with beef. Rice noodles are made from rice flour, finely ground and then rolled thinly like rolls and cut into small pieces. The soul of a delicious bowl of pho is the broth. In Pho broth, it’s found a combination of cardamom such as cinnamon, anise, ginger, fish sauce, etc. Currently, Pho is present everywhere in Vietnam and to distinguish types people call Phở Bắc (in North), Phở Huế (in the Central) and Phở Sài Gòn (in the South). Phở in the North is characterized by salty taste and Phở in Saigon is sweet.
When enjoying Phở, people often squeeze for few drops of lemon, add a little spicy of chili, eat with herbs such as coriander, perilla, … To eat Phở like a local, you have to use chopsticks to pick up noodles and spoon to scoop broth.
Many Vietnamese have brought Phở to the world, so you can also find Phở in the US or some European countries, but to enjoy traditional Phở, you have to come to Hanoi – the cradle of this “national spirit” dish. The ingenuity in the method of cooking Phở and the harmonious combination of ingredients have made this dish conquer the most discerning diners. So, what are you waiting for without listing this dish in the list of dishes to try in your life?
Try at: Phở Gia truyền 49 Bát Đàn
3. Bún chả (Noodle with grilled pork)
Referring to the delicious dishes of the North, it is impossible not to mention Bún chả. Bún chả is a typical dish of the North, and also a traditional dish familiar to any Vietnamese. That’s why the famous travel site National Geographic once ranked Hanoian Bún chả in the list of the 10 best street foods in the world.
Bún chả is made from simple ingredients, but the way it is processed is an art that requires sophistication in each operation.
In a Bún chả dish, there are always four things: noodles, grilled pork, dipping sauce and herbs. Noodle is usually vermicelli with small fiber size. Grilled meat has two types: patties and meatballs, usually they are made from bacon so that the meat has a certain softness and sweetness, meatballs are shaped into a round by about ¼ of the palm size, marinated and grilled under the hot charcoal grill. The dipping sauce is made from sugar, vinegar, delicious fish sauce, minced garlic, chili, a little pepper and carrots and papaya.
How to enjoy Bun Cha as a local? That’s sitting on a plastic table and chair on the sidewalk enjoying a white vermicelli dish with fragrant grilled meat, a bowl of hot dipping sauce and a plate of fresh vegetables. When eating, you drop the meat into a bowl of dipping sauce and then pick up the leaves of fresh green veggies, wrap a little vermicelli, put into the bowl of dipping sauce and enjoy all at the same time.
Bun cha is inherently a simple dish, not too fussy in the way it is made, but that is its appeal, which many Vietnamese people love and tourists always want to enjoy when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine.
Try at: Bún chả Tuyết – 34 Hàng Than, Hà Nội
4. Bánh Đúc nóng (Steamed Rice Cake)
Rice cake is a simple and rustic fork dish originally from the North of Vietnam that has existed for a long time in Vietnamese cuisine. In each region, rice cake has different flavors and characteristics of that region. Particularly, steamed rice cake of Hanoi has a very gentle and unique flavor as the poetic personality of Hanoian.
If the traditional rice cake is cooked then left to be cool, served with braised fish, braised meat, fish sauce, etc, then the hot cake is more popular than the cold one because it is softer, more pliable and also retains smell of rice. The cake is filled with hot broth, extremely delicious when being eaten in the winter. To have such a good cake, the maker must choose rice thoroughly, soak the rice enough time in clear limewater or ash water for about 10 hours, even a few days depending on the type of rice. Slaked lime (the soft lime used by Vietnamese people in the past used to eat betel nut) is mixed with water, stir to settle and extract the clear limewater. For ash water, they often take kitchen ash, wood ash or leaves with no impurities of other fuels, sieve carefully and mix with water to soak rice. The rice is then ground several times and filtered through a sieve to make a very fine flour. Next, the flour is stirred into the pan until it is smooth.
Different from other rice cakes from other localities, Hanoian steamed rice cakes are served with minced pork with sweet and sour broth prepared cleverly, all ingredients mixed together to create a very harmonious flavor.
Try at: 8B Lê Ngọc Hân street – Hà Nội
5. Bánh mỳ (Bread)
Bread is hailed as one of the best street food and the best sand-wich in the world. Even “Bread” was honored to be one of the three Vietnamese words included in the Oxford dictionary, along with “Pho” and “Ao Dai”, all is enough to prove the popularity and compulsive attraction of this dish.
You can find bread bakeries in every street in Vietnam, because it is a rustic and familiar street food to all the people here. Bread was introduced to Vietnam by the French since 1859, at first people only considered bread as a snack, not the main dish, later bread became one of the typical foods of Vietnamese gastronomy.
There are many types of bread depending on the food sandwiched inside or its shape. Meatloaf bread is the most popular one in Vietnam, the sellers slices bread along one side and stuff meat, fillets of pâté, some cilantro, vegetables, then some typical sauces, each bakery can vary with roast pork, instead of sauce, it can be added salt and green pepper depending on the taste of each person. Also in the middle of Vietnam, you may encounter bread sticks because they are shaped like rods, elongated cylinders. Inside there are fried onions, chilli, avocado, special sauce.
Meatloaf bread is a dish with contrast flavors: crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside, while the fillings are both rich and pungent.
Being ubiquitous and cheap, bread has quickly become one of the indispensable choices of Vietnamese people, especially for breakfast.
Try at: 25 Hàng Cá, Hà Nội
6. Bánh Cuốn (Steamed rice rolls)
Banh Cuon is considered to be the spirit of the wet rice cultivation that has existed for a long time in Vietnam. Banh Cuon has been present in the Northern of Vietnam since the time of Hung King in the 18th century (around the 3rd century BC), but gradually Banh cuon was being brought to all parts of the country and in every place Banh cuon was varied with different cook ways and flavors.
Banh Cuon is made from rice, finely ground, mixed with water. The dough is placed in the steamer, the maker stretchs a thin cloth over the mouth of the pot. Each time a small amount of dough is applied, rubbed evenly over the surface of the cloth so that the rice sheets can be thin. After the cake is cooked, the maker removes the dish with a bamboo stick, now it can be rolled with a little bit of half fat and haft lean meat, shrimp minced with stir-fried wood ear mushroom and shiitake mushrooms with spices such as fish sauce, pepper. … Then they sprinkle fried onion on and enjoy with dipping sauce full of flavors :sour, spicy, salty and sweet.
In terms of cultural factors, Banh Cuon also presents a harmonious combination of ingredients to make delicious dish such as green vegetables as Yin elements, meat or shrimp are Yang elements. In addition, you can see the five elements of the culture, the colors and spices in the dish: the green of vegetables, the red of shrimp meat, the black of the wood ear, the yellow of the fried onion and the white of rice sheets, all is rolled up. That is interesting, isn’t it?
Traditionally, Vietnamese people often eat Banh Cuon in the morning, but gradually, many people also choose it for lunch or dinner when going out or walking around.
Banh Cuon is really not only a dish, but also symbolizes the diversity and delicate taste of Vietnamese cuisine.
Try at: Banh Cuon Thanh Van – 81 Lê Văn Hưu, Hà Nội
7. Nem rán (Spring rolls)
Spring roll dish is a delicious traditional appetizer indispensable during Tet holidays or in family meals. For a long time, spring rolls has contributed to the formation of Vietnamese cuisine. It is so well known in the world that it is included in the Oxford Dictionary.
Fried spring rolls originated from China when the Chinese immigrated to Vietnam but later fried spring rolls have been modified and adjusted to suit the taste of local people.
Fried spring roll consists of 2 parts: fillings and shells. For the filling Vietnamese have a common recipe including minced pork, vermicelli, wood ear, mushrooms, jicama, bean sprouts, onions, carrots, all finely chopped and eggs. All these ingredients before being mixed up will be tasted for seasoning adding more salt, pepper and fish sauce. Then, the cook takes the filling little by little, wraps in rice paper sheets and rolls into small rolls. When the oil boils, spring rolls are put and fried until golden.
Nem is really delicious but it only becomes perfect when served with dipping sauce. The dipping sauce is harmoniously tasted from fish sauce, a little sugar, broth mix, a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar. When enjoying fried spring rolls, people will eat with fresh vegetables such as coriander, lettuce, …
Today, like other familiar dishes, fried spring rolls are present in all parts of the country as well as abroad, the shape and flavor varies by region, but traditional fried spring rolls are still the most popular and become the soul of Vietnamese traditional cuisine.
Try at: Huyền nem ran – 21 Hàng Bè, Hà Nội
8. Bún bò Huế (Hue beef noodle soup)
“Hue beef noodle soup is the best soup in the world I have ever tasted” is the words that famous American chef Anthony Bourdain uttered in the culinary discovery program broadcast on CNN.
Bun Bo Hue is a famous dish and the soul of Hue people. A genuine Hue beef noodle bowl will have the sweet taste of bone broth, the fat of pork leg, a bit of typical spicy flavor of Hue. Bone broth in the soup contains lemongrass, shrimp paste, a type of sauce that only exists in Hue, so you will find a unique sweetness that is nowhere else. Bun Bo Hue has to have the fragrance of soup including the smell of meat, lemongrass, and onions, together with the slight aroma of herbs, shrimp paste, and no other strange smell. Two special features in the bowl of Bun Bo Hue is that there are crab rolls which have a high nutritional value and are always fresh to brings an attractive aroma and the noodles are mixed with a little of tapioca starch to make it more delicious and chewy.
Bun bo is not only a traditional dish of Hue, but for Hue people, Bun is also a part of the “Hue style”. You will find inside the bowl of Bun Bo Hue the emotions and characteristics of Hue people, the outside is gentle and quiet, but the inside is vibrant. Coming to Hue, do not forget to enjoy the traditional food of Hue people and listen to the legendary stories surrounding this pride of Hue people.
Try at: Bún bò Ông Cường – 262 Nguyễn Sinh Cung, Hue
9. Bánh Bèo chén (Bloating Fern-shaped cake)
No one knows when Banh Beo chen appeared, just knows that this delicate and simple cake is quite famous specialty of the ancient Imperial Capital.
Contained in small bowls, the rice cake consists of glutinous rice flour, added with crispy pork fat, minced shrimp and green onions, usually they serve 8 to 12 cups in a tray. Pouring a spoon of sweet and sour sauce, separating the cake from the cup and enjoying the rich, characteristic flavor will be an unforgettable experience for visitors.
To get the right dish of Banh Beo chen, the cook must be skillful and pay attention to each stage such as mixing flour, putting dough in molds and steaming, pouring dough, cooking shrimp, frying onions, making sauce. The main ingredient of the dish is rice flour. The dough must be soaked for 4 to 6 hours. The process of making Banh Beo chen is elaborate, they pour cold water slowly into the dough then stir well. They continue pouring boiling water in and stirring the powder to dissolve evenly. Shrimp for this cake is fresh. Shrimp shells are used to make sauce. The sauce of Banh Beo has no garlic and lemon or vinegar, only sliced green chilli depending on the spicy level of the diner. After mincing shrimp, they fry it. To make the cake, the cook pour the dough moderately into a cup in order that it is very thin. They arrange every cake into the steamer. Once cooked, they add shrimp, fried onions and pork rind or crispy pork skin on top of the bread. Beo Banh is delicious or not that is determined by shrimp and dipping sauce.
As one of the famous dishes of Hue cuisine, enjoying Banh Beo Hue becomes a poetic cultural activity. Those who come to Hue and have not yet found Banh Beo chen will miss out one thing to remember.
Try at: Ba Tuyet – 41 Nguyễn Công Trứ, Hue
10. Cao lầu
When it comes to Hoi An gastronomy, all will be thinking of Cao Lau, a typical dish that contributes to the culinary soul of this city. Cao Lau is considered a specialty of Hoi An appearing from the 17th century.
The name Cao Lau means Eating on a high floor. Previously this dish was only for the rich, when they go to the restaurant, they often sit upstairs to enjoy this dish. Gradually, people called it Cao Lau.
Cao Lau has yellow noodles, served with shrimp, pork and fresh vegetables. Cao lau are enjoyed with very little broth. A special point of this dish is that the noodles are yellow in color due to being mixed with cajeput ash taken from the Cham island. In addition to giving the dish a high aroma, people also add char siu meat, fried pork skin and roasted peanuts. Like most other Vietnamese dishes, Hoi An people also enjoy Cao Lau with fresh vegetables.
Today you can find Cao Lau restaurants everywhere, but maybe only in Hoi An with the old and ancient atmosphere can bring you the most authentic taste and sophistication of Hoi An cuisine and people.
Try at: Liên Cao Lầu – Thái Phiên street, Hội An
11. Nem nướng Nha Trang (Nha Trang Grilled Sausages)
Coming to Nha Trang without enjoying Grilled Sausages here means that you missed local food experience in Nha Trang. And I bet you, once you eat it, you will hardly forget the richness and the delicacy of this specialty dish.
Nha Trang grilled sausages dish is made very simple, mostly using fresh ingredients, but this dish succeeds or fails in dipping sauce. Many restaurants offer Nem nuong all over the country, but not everywhere succeed with the standard dipping sauce flavor. The dipping sauce is made by the following formula: a mixture of minced pork, soy sauce, sugar, salt, garlic, chili and some other spices. The sauce made with Nha Trang fish sauce, a famous sauce made from anchovies in the sea. And if you can eat spicy, don’t forget to add a bit of xate. The sausages are made with haft lean fat meat and some spices such as garlic, sugar, pepper, salt … then shaped into long bars and then skewered or griddled on charcoal. Rice paper is rolled and deep fried.
When you eat, put every ingredient on the rice paper and then roll and dip into the sauce. All the flavors blending together will awaken all your senses right after the first piece.
The people of Nha Trang are very proud of their local food. They can eat Nem nuong at any time from restaurants to street vendors. If you intend to come to Nha Trang, remember to enjoy this dish.
Try at: Nem nuong Vũ Thanh An – 15 Lê Lợi, Nha Trang
12. Bánh xèo (Pancake)
Banh Xeo (Pancake) is a rustic and familiar dish of Vietnamese people. In 2016, Banh Xeo reached the top of the most favorite street food and continued to be on the list of attractive cuisine in 2017 on CNN.
Vietnamese pancakes in different regions differ slightly in shape, ingredient and way to enjoy depending on preferences of local diners. Nevertheless all of them have delicious taste that is hard to resist. Why is this cake named “Banh Xeo”? Interestingly, it originates from the sound emitted when frying the bread, when pouring the dough into the pan, the sound will be “sizzle” and “sizzle” is “Xeo” in Vietnamese. It is not known exactly where Xeo cake comes from because it has been in every region for a long time.
To get a delicious pancake besides the basic ingredients, the way to taste depending on the taste, the skill of the chef’s hands when pouring the dough is extremely important because if the dough is not brittle, or different thickness will make the cake less attractive.
The rice flour crust is thin, crunchy, slightly chewy in the middle, extremely fragrant by coconut milk. The fillings are bacon, shrimp, green beans, sometimes duck meat, cassava, bean sprouts and green beans. How to enjoy “Banh Xeo” is quite elaborate, cakes are served with fresh vegetables and sweet and sour dipping sauce. When eating, diners roll cake, fillings and vegetables together then dip into the sauce and enjoy. Usually they will use roll rice paper to make it easier to eat. The crispy texture of the crust, the freshness of the vegetables, a little chewy, delicious pork and shrimp combined with the sour, sweet, spicy taste of the sauce, surely will not make you disappointed.
Banh Xeo has long been regarded as a kind of cake with the taste and flavor of the Central and the South of the country, so if you have the opportunity to come here, do not forget to enjoy this cake and find out its origin.
Try at: Banh Xeo 7 Toi – 45 Hoang Quoc Viet, Can Tho
13. Bánh canh cua (Crab noodle soup)
Crab noodle soup is a typical dish of Saigon cuisine. The Banh Canh is always attractive to diners by the fresh sweetness of the crab meat and the viscous broth that blends into the noodles. Therefore if you want to taste this dish in Saigon it is not difficult to find a restaurant offering it.
To have noodles of Banh Canh, the processing is very elaborate. Firstly they must choose a good type of rice. The rice must be thoroughly soaked overnight for reaching the required softness. After soaking overnight, the rice is pureed to get starch. Finally, the starch is steamed before being pressed into strands of pure white.
The sweet broth made from bone cooked with a mixture of fragrant crab roe in the natural color of cashew oil makes the dish more attractive. A bowl of Banh canh is full of peeled shrimp, crab meat, fish cake, lean meat, scallions cover the surface of the bowl. The crabs are peeled clean, when customers call, the cook will put them in hot patch and soup so the crab meat is served not friable but still keeps the freshness.
A special flavor that no other place has is the dipping sauce. The rich fish sauce is diluted with lemon, chilli and sugar so it has a harmonious salty and sour taste that makes the soup more stimulating to the taste. Enjoying the soup, then dab the meat dipped in fish sauce and continue to eat boiled crab meat and shrimp.
Many delicious fresh ingredients make an attractive dish that anyone who comes to eat will want to come back.
Try at: 484 Vĩnh Viễn – Hochiminh city
14. Bánh Khọt (Khot cake)
Just like Pho in Hanoi or Bun Bo in Hue, Braised Beef in Saigon, … Banh Khot in Vung Tau city is one of the delicious and extremely famous specialties that you should taste once in your life.
Regarding the origin of the name, when the cook takes the cake out of the mold, the sound when the spoon collides with the mold the sound generated is “khot khot”, so from there, this specialty was called Khot. Banh Khot has 2 parts, about the shell, people usually grind the flour first and leave it overnight, the next day it is used to bake so that the shell is crispy, does not melt and pasty. For the filling, people use fresh shrimps peeled and cut off the head to cook. Dough is poured in molds of stainless steel or aluminum. When the dough has just cooked, people take the cake out, add a little shrimp and fried onion on the cake.
When enjoying Banh Khot, people eat with fresh vegetables such as mustard greens, lettuce, perilla, etc dipped in sweet and sour sauce with shredded papaya. Crispy Banh Khot, sweet shrimp flavor mixed with fried onion and the sour, spicy, sweet, and salty flavors harmoniously make the famous Banh Khot Vung Tau attract countless diners from everywhere.
Banh Khot is a rustic but delicious and attractive specialty. Banh Khot contains all the ingenuity and care of the cook and the fresh seafood of the local sea.
Try at: Co Hai Banh Khot – 17 Hoang Hoa Tham, Vũng Tàu
15. Bun mam (Rice vermicelli soup)
The Mekong Delta has many unique and attractive dishes with specific characteristics, but the most popular is food made with noodle. Noodles are made for a variety of dishes. Among them Bun Mam is a simple and rustic dish that Southwestern people like so much.
It is often used for quick meals, previously it’s broth is only from the water of anchovy. Later to increase the flavor and diversity for Bun mam, people add pieces of fish, shrimp, squid and roast pork. Currently, Bun mam is one of the delicious specialties of the Southwestern region of Vietnam.
The fish sauce is pounded after being cooked, then filtered for the water, the water is added with minced lemongrass, straw mushrooms, eggplant cut for the delicious quality of the soup and served with noodles. Pork bones are also cooked in the broth for a sweet taste. To have soft and hot noodles, you can blanch the noodles once and then pour the soup back into the pot. Then, some pieces of steamed fish, slices of bacon (or roast pork), shrimp, squid, eggplant, grilled red pepper are put on top. This dish will be more attractive, beautiful and delicious with some fresh vegetables.
Vegetables are with bun mam such as: sliced banana flower, bean sprouts, water spinach, water lily, and endive … Especially, the dish will be less interesting if lack of cup of pure fish sauce, fresh chili slices and a few more drops of lemon to make it more sour and delicious.
Enjoying a bowl of noodles with the smell of fish sauce served with vegetables, you will feel the love and the sweetness of the people in the Western river.
Try at: Bun mam 173 – 594 30/4 street, Can Tho
We fully understand that it would be risky to try unfamiliar food when you come to a strange land, surely those with poor stomachs will have to consider carefully before bringing them to their mouth. But do not worry because Xin Chao locals team, we are always here to listen to help you plan and give the most sincere advice that will give you the best local food experience when travelling to Vietnam.