Top 15 Vietnamese Foods You Must Try, No.15 Is Controversial
Thailand may pop up in people’s minds for being a Southeast Asian country with cheap and delicious food. But look a little further and you’ll find another gem named Vietnam. The S-shaped country has been in many must-visit lists for its incredible food (says Anthony Bourdain and other well-known chefs). Wait no more and dive right into Vietnam’s diverse food scene with the best 15 Vietnamese Dishes (look out for no.15!).
1. Banh Mi
Who wouldn’t love the scrumptious combination of fresh-baked bread, pickled veggies, pâté*, meat, and chili sauce? But wait, you should know the Banh Mi “family” doesn’t have only one member. People now come to Vietnam to discover its amazing variations, too.
*ground pork and pork liver
Banh Mi Ha Noi
Banh Mi Ha Noi is simplicity at its best. A thin layer of salted butter goes inside the bread, then comes pork floss, char siu meat, and sausage. One bite is enough to put a smile on your face!
Banh Mi Cay Hai Phong (Hai Phong Spicy Breadstick-style Banh Mi)
Hai Phong, one of the biggest port cities in the country, is a 90-min drive east from Hanoi. The land of “Phoenix-flower” takes pride in many delectable dishes, including Banh Mi. The Hai Phong version is more of a “finger food” than the normal Banh Mi. The bread is crunchier, the filling has only paté and fresh chili sauce. But make no mistake, this mini-Banh Mi may make you devour it non-stop!
Banh Mi Hoi An
Banh Mi Hoi An caught the global media’s attention back when Anthony Bourdain dubbed Banh Mi Phuong “the best Banh Mi in the world”. What made him say so? First of all, the bread is a bit pointy, smaller, and crunchier! The filling is somewhat like the classic Banh Mi, plus a secret ingredient—lots of aromatic Vietnamese coriander.
Banh Mi Saigon
Did you know Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh city) was the birthplace of Banh Mi? The bread of Banh Mi Saigon has a much thinner shell, making it incredibly airy and soft. The sauce tends to be sweeter, too. And you will be surprised to find char-grilled meatballs among the common ingredients in the filling.
Banh Mi Chao (Filling in a Hot Pan Served with Banh Mi Bread on the Side and pickled veggies)
When you think you know everything about Banh Mi, there’s more. No one knows for sure when Banh Mi Chao entered the street food scene, but it quickly became a hit. The idea of taking the filling out and serving it on the side is a brilliant twist. The sizzling hot pan brings out the incredible smell of the sunny-side-up egg, sautéed beef, sausages, black pepper, and cilantro. With bread and pickled veggies ready on the side, you are in for a treat!
Pho stands shoulder to shoulder with Banh Mi as the quintessential Vietnamese food. The dish is so popular that you can enjoy it all day regardless of whether you need breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And a good bowl of Pho can come from a street cart or a high-end restaurant. But did you know about the varieties?
Pho “Thin” is named after Mr.Thin, the Hanoi-born cook who created this style: seared beef submerged in a rich broth, garnished with lots of scallops and an egg. Greasy, hearty, and delicious. Located in the Old Quarter in Hanoi, Pho Thin is so loved that people wait in lines to get a taste.
Want to get to know Pho intimately? Try a bowl of Pho Thin.
Pho Tron (Mixed Pho)
Pho is such a wholesome combination that changing it seems unnecessary. But creativity always finds a way. First, replace the broth with a sweet and sour sauce and serve it on the side. Then add peanuts and fried onions. And voilà, you’ve got yourself a familiar but oh so new tasty dish.
Pho Xao (Sautéed Pho)
Re-imagining Pho never stops at one creation. Pho Xao was introduced in the 1970s and became a hot item on menus everywhere: gooey noodles, beef, and mustard greens sautéed in a thick sauce. On the side, there’s a hot bowl of Pho broth and spicy sweet sour Nuoc Mam (fish sauce). All the flavors mesh so well, you keep coming back for more.
Pho Cuon (Pho Spring Rolls)
Pho Cuon was born in a rather strange circumstance. A Pho shop owner ran out of broth and decided to make spring rolls out of Pho noodle sheets, sautéed beef, and vegetables (cilantro, mint, lettuce, bean sprouts). Boom! A new dish was born and became everyone’s favorite in no time. If you love the refreshing taste of spring rolls, Pho Cuon is for you.
Pho Chien Phong (Fried Square-cut Noodles with Sautéed Beef)
Another accident-turned-genius creation, Pho Chien Phong was born from a cook’s misstep in the 1980s. Fast forward to the present day, people can’t get enough of the crispy golden square-cut noodles, glistening beef, and vegetables. To enjoy this dish, savor a piece of crusty noodle in the sauce first, then the soft yet fragrant beef and tomatoes.
3. Bun Cha (Thin Noodles with Char-grilled Meat)
Bun Cha is a wholesome meal: starch from noodles, protein from char-grilled meat and Nem*, fiber from vegetables. The dish is heavy yet light, sweet yet savory, refreshing yet warm. But not until 2018, when former US president Obama enjoyed Bun Cha with Anthony Bourdain in a humble restaurant in Hanoi, did it get international recognition. When enjoying Bun Cha, don’t be afraid to have little sips of the dipping sauce (Nuoc Mam). Tourists may not know it, but that’s how you get the “umami” flavor of the dish.
4. Banh Cuon (Vietnamese Steamed Rice Rolls)
When a dish has been around for more than a thousand years, you know it’s great. Silk-like rice sheets wrap around ground meat, wood ears, and mushrooms. Now, add a few kumquat drops, a bit of pepper, and a handful of herbs into the dipping sauce. Each bite is full of flavor, and you can do nothing but keep on eating. Also, it may surprise you that this dish is good hot or cold.
5. Cha Ca La Vong (La Vong Turmeric Dill Fish)
Hanoi seems to give birth to wonderful dishes like Cha Ca La Vong (La Vong Turmeric Dill Fish). Freshly caught catfish is seasoned with turmeric, diced, and char-grilled. They are then put in a big pan with lots of dill and drizzled with hot oil. How to enjoy Cha Ca La Vong like a local? Take everything in one bite: pan seared fish, noodles, peanuts, dill, and spicy shrimp paste!
6. Banh Da Cua Hai Phong (Hai Phong Red Crab Noodles)
Originating in the port city, this noodle dish is a lovely harmony of the ocean and the land. Unlike Pho, Banh Da Cua noodles are bigger and slightly chewy. And the toppings are impressive, too. Crabmeat, two kinds of meatballs (one wrapped in betel leaves), fish balls, fried tofu, wood ears, crispy onions, tomatoes, morning glory, and scallops. Last but not least, the super-rich crab broth is a good base to help all the ingredients shine. Whether you’re a noodle lover or not, do not miss out on this gem!
7. Bun Bo Hue (Hue Beef Noodles)
Have you ever had blood jelly curds and pig’s trotters before? You will find these in Bun Bo Hue. As daunting as it sounds, this dish is a delightful experience once you try it. Hand-pulled noodles, thin slices of beef, and meatballs dance in glistening beef broth. Scallops, cilantro, Hue’s signature chili, and a few drops of lime add extra freshness. Try it once and you’ll see why this dish has captivated the Vietnamese.
8. Che Hue (Hue Sweet Soups)
It won’t be a complete Vietnam experience without an icy cup of sweet soup (Che). While you can find this treat almost anywhere, Che Hue (Hue sweet soups) is the best kind. And there are more than a few dozen selections for your sweet tooth. Feeling a little adventurous? You should try Che Bot Loc Heo Quay (meatballs wrapped in tapioca pearls sweet soup). A sweet and savory combination that is not only intriguing but also yummy.
9. Banh Trang Cuon Thit Heo (Girdled Rice Rolls with Pork)
Spring rolls seem to be fitting for the tropical climate of a beach city like Da Nang. Any visitors to this lovely city should try Banh Trang Cuon Thit Heo (girdled rice rolls with pork). What should you expect? Thinly sliced pork, vegetables and Bun (thin noodles) wrapped in girdled rice sheets dipped in spicy shrimp paste. The more you eat, the more satisfying.
10. Com Ga Hoi An (Hoi An Chicken Rice)
Hoi An isn’t only a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The East meets West influence has brought great culinary diversity to the ancient port town. Hoi An chicken rice is one good example. Somewhat a copy of Hainan chicken rice, the Hoi An version has changed to fit the Vietnamese appetite. The chicken is shredded, then topped with lots of Vietnamese coriander and pickled vegetables. Add the spicy sweet and sour Nuoc Mam (fish sauce) and expect an explosion of flavors.
11. Mi Quang (Quang Noodles)
Mi Quang is one of the proud inventions of Vietnam. Unlike common noodle dishes, Mi Quang isn’t either soupy or dry. The flavorful broth is enough to submerge the noodles halfway. And the toppings look beautiful with fresh shrimp, pork, poached egg, peanuts, and a piece of rice cracker. How to enjoy a bowl of Mi Quang? First, dip the rice cracker in the broth to savor its beautiful umami, and then go for the noodles.
12. Nem Lui (Char-Grilled Ground Pork in Lemongrass Skewers)
Some say that Nem Lui is only another spring roll dish. Yet, this is something you must not miss when in Vietnam. It uses lemongrass skewers in an excellent way to preserve the lemongrass’s signature scent and enhance the pork flavor. Then comes the usual “wrapping” ingredients like sliced pineapples, thin noodles, and herbs. But it is the sauce that makes this dish special. Combine creamy peanut paste, sesame seeds, and pork liver to maximize the savory. Give it a try and you’ll be hooked immediately!
13. Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Crepes)
When asking for Banh Xeo, you should expect more than one kind. There are at least two versions, from Southern and Central Vietnam, both of which are popular. In general, the cook will make a thin crispy shell out of rice and flour, then add small shrimps, pork bits, bean sprouts, and green onions. Then, the crepes are served hot with girdled rice sheets and vegetables. If you’re not good with spicy food, be careful of the very hot Nuoc Mam (dipping sauce). It will make your tongue dance, and your taste buds.
14. Com Tam Suon Bi (Broken Rice with Ribs)
Born in Ho Chi Minh city, this dish is so iconic that it is almost rude not to try it. Why “broken rice”? In the old days, food shops served “second class” rice (broken rice) for poor people and added toppings to improve the flavor. Slices of meatloaf, grilled ribs, sunny-side-up eggs, and pork rind were the most common. Drizzle sautéed onions and Nuoc Mam over the steamy rice and be ready for a mouthful of heartiness.
15. Trung Vit Lon (Duck Embryo)
The controversial one, Trung Vit Lon (duck embryo) is one of those dishes that walk the line of “disgusting/good” food. In Vietnam, duck embryos are a stable breakfast for people from all walks of life. After boiling, the embryo develops a complex taste thanks to the rich egg yolk and the pre-hatch duck. Then, add kumquat, Vietnamese coriander, ginger, salt, and pepper. The dish absorbs new flavors and becomes tastier. If you don’t shy away from a fertilized egg, give it a try!