Last updated on April 8th, 2024 at 12:22 pm

In Vietnamese culture, food transcends mere sustenance; it’s an art intricately woven into the fabric of daily life and national traditions. The essence of this connection is vividly expressed through the distinctive flavors in every dish and the inherent mealtime etiquette. Vietnamese cuisine, thus, becomes a rich tapestry, reflecting the history and formality deeply ingrained in the culture. This article aims to guide you through some of Vietnam’s renowned dishes, ensuring you know what to savor on your visit.

Pho – Vietnam’s Iconic Noodle Soup

Vietnamese Pho
 Enjoy a bowl of pho, you will feel the full soul of Vietnamese cuisine. 

Pho, Vietnam’s culinary gem, claims the spotlight as the nation’s most renowned dish. This soul-soothing noodle soup features delicate slices of beef or succulent chicken immersed in a fragrant broth enriched with star anise, cinnamon, and ginger. Crowned with fresh herbs, crisp bean sprouts, and zesty lime wedges, each spoonful of Pho delivers a harmonious blend of flavors, leaving you yearning for another delightful bite.

When discussing Northern specialties, Hanoi Pho often takes center stage—a culinary masterpiece symbolizing Vietnam’s rich gastronomic culture, earning its place among the world’s 50 most delectable dishes. At the heart of this iconic dish lies a broth, sweet and aromatic, crafted through hours of simmering beef bones and flavorful seasonings. Accompanied by tender noodles intertwined with succulent beef slices, and garnished with bean sprouts and green onions, Hanoi Pho stands as Vietnam’s quintessential and globally celebrated culinary delight.

The beloved Banh Mi is a delightful result of Vietnam’s culinary fusion with French influence. A crusty baguette filled with an array of ingredients, such as grilled pork, pate, pickled carrots, and cilantro, creates an explosion of flavors and textures in every bite. It’s the perfect grab-and-go treat for food enthusiasts on the move.

Banh Mi – A Fusion of Flavor in a Sandwich

Banh Mi Sandwich
Banh Mi in each region of Vietnam will have its own unique flavor.

The beloved Banh Mi epitomizes Vietnam’s culinary fusion with French influence. Encased in a crusty baguette, a medley of ingredients—grilled pork, pate, pickled carrots, and cilantro—harmoniously blend to create an explosion of flavors and textures in every bite. This iconic treat serves as the ideal grab-and-go delight for food enthusiasts on the move.

What captivates enthusiasts savoring Vietnamese bread rolls is the surprisingly delectable taste crafted from humble, straightforward ingredients. Banh Mi’s key element is meat, featuring sausage, shumai, shredded chicken, roasted pork, pate, or spiced minced meat. Complemented by eggs, sardines, onions, and butter, these simple components intertwine to create a symphony of flavors that pleasantly surprises the palate.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls – Vietnamese Food

Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Fresh and Flavorful Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce..

Among my cherished Vietnamese dishes, the homemade spring rolls top the list—an effortlessly prepared delight perfect for appetizers or snacks. A blend of super fresh ingredients like shrimp, pork, crab, lobster, along with crisp vegetables—cucumbers, chives, mint, cilantro, lettuce—and my secret touch, avocado slices. Incorporate cooked clear rice noodles, encase it all in a rice paper wrap, and serve with the classic nuoc cham dipping sauce. Alternatively, indulge in the exquisite taste by opting for a shortcut with Thai sweet chili sauce—it’s unbelievably delicious!

One of my favorite Vietnamese food dishes, easily made at home, is the spring rolls which could be served as an appetizer or a snack. Super Fresh ingredients such as shrimp, pork, crab, lobster are combined with fresh vegetables such as cucumbers, chives, mint, cilantro, lettuce, and my secret ingredIent avocado slices. Add in some cooked clear rice noodles and roll in a rice paper wrap served with a dipping sauce called nuoc cham. Or you can cheat and use the Thai sweet chili sauce, the taste is unbelievably delicious!

Banh Cuon – Delicate Rice Rolls with a Filling Surprise

Banh Cuon
Banh Cuon will bring you the most unique taste experience

Banh Cuon, a delicate Vietnamese dish, features steamed rice rolls filled with minced pork and wood ear mushrooms. These silky rice rolls are incredibly light and flavorful. Paired with the aromatic nuoc cham dipping sauce, they create a delightful taste explosion.

The specialty of Banh Cuon in Vietnam lies in its meticulously crafted rice paper. Thin, flexible, and chewy, it encases a filling of minced pork and wood ear. Enjoyed with spicy and sour fish sauce, topped with fried onions, Banh Cuon offers a unique Umami taste experience. The added charm of watching skillful chefs prepare the dish right in front of you enhances the overall dining experience, making it both delicious and interesting.

Bun Cha – A Flavorful Encounter with Grilled Pork

Bun Cha
Bun cha has a perfect balance of every element of a dish

Bun Cha, a traditional dish from Hanoi, showcases grilled pork patties and slices served on a bed of rice noodles, complemented by fresh herbs and dipping sauce. The smoky aroma of the grilled pork harmoniously blends with the sweet and tangy sauce, creating a harmonious and unforgettable taste experience.

Bun Cha comprises three key elements: the dipping sauce, grilled pork rolls, and vermicelli. The quality of a Bun Cha plate is primarily determined by the dipping sauce, which encapsulates flavors of sour, spicy, salty, and sweet, blending fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and chili in varying proportions, often dependent on the chef’s touch. The bowl of dipping sauce includes green papaya, carrots, or sometimes bean sprouts. Carefully marinated grilled pork, served with vermicelli and an array of fresh vegetables, culminate in a harmonious ensemble, creating a taste that, once experienced, is unforgettable and distinctly Vietnamese.

Cha Ca La Vong – Vietnamese Food

Cha Ca La Vong
La Vong fish cake is one of the oldest dishes in Hanoi

Cha Ca La Vong is a distinctive specialty in Hanoi, featuring fish, typically salmon, cut into pieces, marinated, grilled on charcoal, and then fried with pork fat. The fish, thinly sliced from the sides, undergoes a unique marination process with galangal juice, turmeric, batch, pepper, and shrimp paste for at least 2 hours before being grilled. Notably, there’s no layer of grease to prevent sticking during grilling. To enjoy, place each piece of fish in a bowl, pour boiling fat from the pan over it, and serve with vermicelli, grilled rice paper, roasted peanuts, dill, scallions, chopped onions soaked in vinegar, coriander, basil, and shrimp paste. While some foreign guests opt for fish sauce over shrimp paste, it might slightly diminish the dish’s flavorful profile.

Banh Chung (Chung cake)

Banh Chung
Banh Chung in North Vietnam

Chung cake, though well-known among foreign tourists, is more than just any cake; it’s an indispensable traditional dish during the Tet holiday for the Vietnamese people. Rooted in ancient concepts, Banh Chung takes on a square shape, symbolizing the land. Crafted from white glutinous rice with a filling of green beans, fatty meat, onions, and pepper, it is enveloped in green dong leaves and intricately tied with soft, thin strands, resulting in a visually appealing square shape.

Nem Ran – Crispy and Flavorful Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Nem Ran
Vietnamese standard fried spring rolls

Nem Ran, Vietnamese crispy spring rolls, stand as a beloved crowd-pleaser. Packed with minced pork, shrimp, and an assortment of vegetables, these delightful rolls are fried to a golden perfection. Served alongside a sweet and sour dipping sauce, they offer a delightful harmony of textures and flavors.

Fried Spring Rolls are immensely popular in Vietnamese cuisine, cherished for their delicious taste. With pork as the main ingredient, they are easily accessible and prepared. Various regional preparation methods contribute to four essential flavors: sour, spicy, salty, and sweet. Each region incorporates different ingredients, showcasing a flavorful spring roll that reflects the cultural beauty and, in essence, affirms the national identity.

Bun Dau Mam Tom

Bun Dau Mam Tom
Bun Dau shrimp paste is a special dish in Vietnam

Foreign tourists often hesitate with shrimp paste, but Bun Dau with shrimp paste is a rustic delicacy boasting traditional Northern flavors, particularly in the capital, Hanoi. This simple dish features vermicelli, fried tofu, boiled pork, and fried sausage, presented on a round plate with a layer of banana leaves. Accompanied by a cup of shrimp paste mixed with lemon and fragrant chili, diners enjoy it with vermicelli and raw vegetables like marjoram, perilla, basil, and coriander. The blend creates an “addictive” dish that’s hard to resist.

Bun Bo Hue – Vietnamese Food

Bun Bo Hue
You can already tell the spiciness of the dish

Bun Bo Hue is a distinctive dish hailing from Hue, Central Vietnam. Notably, the noodles are larger than regular ones, lending a unique character to this renowned Hue delicacy. The beef noodle dish in Hue stands out with its significant vermicelli, spicy broth, and tender, thin slices of beef. When savoring this dish, the pronounced taste difference between Northern and Central Vietnam becomes evident. The authentic Bun Bo Hue broth often incorporates a touch of fish sauce, enhancing its authentically spicy flavor—a hallmark of this Central Vietnamese culinary delight.

Cao Lau – Vietnamese Cuisine

Cao Lau
Cao Lau is a classy dish that was enjoyed a lot by ancient royalties 

Cao Lau traces its roots back to the 17th century when Chinese and Japanese merchants frequented Hoi An port, bringing their culinary influences. This fusion of Chinese and Japanese cuisines gave rise to Cao Lau. The dish features yellow noodles with a modest broth stewed from pork bones, accompanied by char siu, shrimp, and pork. Served with raw vegetables and fried or grilled rice paper, Cao Lau’s rich taste emerges from the sweet pork broth, chewy noodles, crispy grilled rice paper, and fresh vegetables—a delightful blend of flavors and textures.

My Quang – Central Vietnam’s Noodle Triumph

My Quang
My Quang is the culinary quintessence of the land of Quang Nam

Originating from Central Vietnam, My Quang is a vibrant noodle dish renowned for its distinctive turmeric-based broth. Topped with shrimp, pork, peanuts, and herbs, My Quang presents a delightful fusion of textures and tastes, making it a must-try for those in search of unique and flavorful culinary experiences.

While My Quang and Cao Lau may seem similar, they are distinct dishes. My Quang stands out with both its beautiful appearance and delicious taste, satisfying even the most discerning diners. Considered a more modern Vietnamese cuisine, My Quang breaks traditional norms by incorporating new ingredients like beef, frog, and snakehead fish, alongside the classic shrimp, pork, or chicken. The dish, rooted in rich flavors, continually evolves to cater to the diverse tastes of Vietnamese people nationwide. In daily life, locals are accustomed to the picturesque bowl of noodles, featuring the yellow “pumpkin oil” layer, the red hue of small shrimp, the white of the noodles, and the green from the vegetables.

Yen Sao – Vietnam Food

Yen Sao Vietnamese Cuisine
Salanganes’Nest soup is considered one of the rarest dishes in Vietnam

Salangane’s Nest, derived from swiftlet’s nests, especially those made in caves, is a renowned Vietnamese delicacy with pharmaceutical properties. Classified among the “eight delicious dishes,” Salangane’s Nest soup is often referred to as “the caviar of the East.” The soup, resembling a thick glue infused with spices and a touch of starch and sugar, is considered one of the most expensive animal-based dishes in Vietnam. A single bowl of Salangane’s Nest soup can fetch up to $60 USD due to its unique and coveted status.

Nem Nuong – Vietnamese Dishes

Nem Nuong Vietnamese Food
If you are a lover of rustic cuisine, do not miss the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful dish, you will have to admire it. 

Grilled spring rolls in Nha Trang, known as Ninh Hoa spring rolls, originate from the land of Ninh Hoa, offering a distinctive blend of flavors from various ingredients. The experience of these grilled spring rolls often evokes nostalgia for the mild climate, sun, wind, and the unique taste that characterizes Ninh Hoa. With a slightly sweet, chewy, and bold flavor, these spring rolls are served with crispy fried rice paper alongside raw vegetables, shallot leaves, green bananas, and dried vermicelli. The addition of a sweet and sour dipping sauce enhances the overall taste, providing a delightful crunch and a hint of tartness.

Com Tam – Broken Rice Bliss with Grilled Meats

Com Tam Vietnam Food
Com Tam is a daily dish of the people of South Vietnam

Com Tam, or broken rice, stands as a beloved staple cherished by both locals and visitors. This simple yet flavorful dish features broken rice topped with a variety of grilled meats such as pork, beef, or chicken. Accompanied by pickled vegetables and a side of fish sauce, the combination of tender meat, fragrant rice, and tangy dipping sauce creates a delightful treat for the taste buds.

Originally, Com Tam gained popularity among poor farmers and workers in the Mekong Delta, especially during times of famine. Due to a shortage of good rice, people turned to Tam rice, or broken rice, as it was readily available and had a long-lasting filling effect. While broken rice allows for various preparations and seasonings, a traditional plate typically includes broken rice, fish sauce, onion fat, grilled meat, and pickles. This combination achieves a perfect balance of taste and nutrition, reflecting the resourcefulness of utilizing available ingredients in creating a satisfying meal.

Coconut Worms

Coconut Worms Vietnamese Cuisine
Coconut worms are really a challenge for foreigners coming to Vietnam

Coconut worms, considered a delicacy in the Southwest region, might be perceived as a bit gruesome, deterring some from trying this dish. However, one of the delicious Vietnamese preparations involves raw coconut worms with chili sauce. The method is simple: soak the worms in wine to remove dirt, rinse with water, and then coat them in a flavorful spicy chili sauce. The large, round, chubby appearance of the coconut worms in the bowl may appeal to Vietnamese food enthusiasts. Trying one reveals a fascinating experience, as the sweet, fatty, fleshy taste harmonizes with the spiciness of the chili sauce.

Hu Tieu

Hu Tieu
Don’t let this average presentation fool you

Hu Tieu, a popular dish in the southern provinces, has evolved from being favored within the Chinese community to gaining widespread popularity due to its irresistible blend of spicy, sweet, and salty flavors. The dish features ingredients like beef, bean sprouts, and sour star fruit. The broth, a sophisticated blend of almost 20 spices including garlic, red onion, ginger, lemongrass, star anise, anise, cinnamon, chili powder, and roasted sesame, produces a yellow-hued broth with a captivating aroma. Vietnamese tweaks, such as additional cinnamon and coriander vegetables, enhance the preparation, making the taste appealing to a broad audience, especially foreigners.

Banh Xeo – Vietnamese Crepes with a Crunch

Banh Xeo
Very familiar looking, but I promise this is none of the things you have ever tried before

Banh Xeo, golden and crispy Vietnamese crepes crafted from rice flour and turmeric, are generously filled with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, and herbs. Rolling them up in fresh lettuce leaves, dipping them in fish sauce, you experience a delightful crunch with every bite of this beloved street food. It’s no surprise that Banh Xeo is one of your favorite Vietnamese dishes to enjoy in Vietnam!

Banh Xeo has indeed become a renowned dish in Vietnamese food culture, especially popular among foreigners. These pancakes, representative of Southern Vietnamese cuisine, feature a thinly coated, crispy crust with a beautiful golden color from turmeric starch. Inside, the filling of fragrant and soft pork, green beans, shrimp, and cassava mixed with coconut milk creates an extremely appealing dish. Enjoyed with a cup of sweet and sour chili garlic fish sauce—mildly spicy—and a variety of vegetables such as collard greens, lettuce, perilla, mango buds, cashew leaves, and coriander leaves, Banh Xeo offers a crispy and delicious taste that’s hard to forget.

Conclusion of Must Try Vietnamese Food

Vietnamese food is a celebration of flavors, showcasing the country’s rich culinary heritage and regional diversity. From the iconic Pho to the crispy Banh Xeo and the delightful Che, each dish offers a glimpse into the heart and soul of Vietnam’s vibrant culture. As you venture through Vietnam’s top 18 food dishes, savor the exquisite tastes and immerse yourself in the warmth of Vietnamese hospitality. Embrace the unique blend of fresh ingredients, fragrant herbs, and savory spices that make Vietnamese cuisine a true culinary treasure.

With a history of many thousands of years, Vietnam still has many unique dishes of each region and province for you to experience. If you are a foodie and love to learn about a new culture, I am sure that Vietnam will be an interesting place that you will want to visit at least once in your life and have unforgettable moments. You now know what to eat in Vietnam on your next visit. This Vietnam Food Guide was presented to me by a local on what he thinks foreigners should try to eat to truly experience the Vietnamese Culture.

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