A foodie’s journey through Vietnam
Vietnam has an immensely rich culinary culture and surprisingly beautiful food available everywhere and it’s hard not to fall in love with its cuisine. Like the celebrity chef once said:
“Vietnam. It grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Once you love it, you love it forever.” – Anthony Bourdain
As with other Asian cuisines, Vietnamese cuisine is all about the yin and yan, the sweet and the salty; the cooling and the warming; and the fresh and the fermented.
Vietnamese food is as interesting as its culture with amazing flavors and tastes. Each region has specialties and unique dishes that represent that area. Follow us on the journey from North to South discovering the dishes that put Vietnam on the world cuisine map.
Northern Vietnamese Dishes
Phở, pronounced ‘fuh,’ is one of Vietnam’s most beloved dishes. It is eaten at any time of the day and exported with pride all over the world. Basically,Phởis flat rice noodles in a light, hot broth and is a harmonious combination of all flavors: sweet; salty; spicy and citrus. It’s garnished with coriander; basil; chili; lime; spring onions and meat with typically chicken (pho ga) or beef (pho bo). In spite of its simple appearance, making a delicious pho requires a significant amount of skills and a complex arrangement of flavors and textures. The most important part is creating a clear yet flavorful broth. In order to make the broth, Pho cooks rely on the mixture of spices such as anise, fennel, and cloves. Roasted onion and sliced ginger are the final flavors added at the end. The broth is created with the bones (oxtail, flank and beef bones for Phở bòor whole chickens for Phở gà) for at least 12 hours. The longer the bones boil, the better the broth is.
The best Phở in Hanoi can be found here:
- Pho Suong – 24 B, Trung Yen Alley, Dinh Liet Street, Hanoi
- Pho Thin – 13 Lo Duc Street, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi
- Pho – 10 Ly Quoc Su, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Bún Chả is a local dish that originated in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. This simple dish is a great combination of the savory and the fresh. It has a vibrant color and the harmony of the meat and vegetables is incomparable. Imagine fresh vermicelli noodles with grilled pork and served with a sweet chili dipping sauce and bountiful basket of fresh Vietnamese herbs including fresh lettuce, Thai basil, cilantro, fish mint, banana flower, and coriander. Then throw some fresh herbs in as garnish. Grab some rice noodles using your chopsticks and dip into the soup. Grab the fatty pork along with your noodles. Your taste buds sing and dance to the rhythm of every slurp.
You can’t really visit Hanoi without trying some Bún Chả . Here are some top Bún Chả choices:
- Bun Cha Huong Lien – 24 Le Van Huu, Hanoi
- Bun Cha Tuyet – 34 Hang Than street, Ba Dinh district, Hanoi
- Bun Cha Dac Kim – 1 Hang Manh street, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
Central Vietnamese Dishes
Bún bò Huế
Vietnam is home to a long list of noodles dishes and perhaps no noodle dish is more famous than Bún bò Huế, the signature noodle dish of the former capital of Vietnam: Hue. This dish has been voted as one of the most delicious dishes in the world by many prestigious culinary publications. Moreover, the famous American chef Anthony Bourdain gave the dish a glowing compliment when he said that “Bún bò Huế is the greatest soup in the world”.
What makes Bun Bo Hue really stand out its spicy, rich broth. The broth of Bún bò Huế is different from any other broth and in that it is a delicate combination of beef stock, pork stock, shrimp’s paste (the typical shrimp sauce of Hue), fresh lemongrass and red chilies. A tasty bowl of Bún bò Huế with full toppings includes pig’s trotters, sliced beef, boiled black pudding, a crab or beef ball, and Vietnamese sausage (gio lua).
You can easily find the best Bún bò Huế here:
- Bun Bo O Hoa – 162, Mai Thuc Loan Street, Hue city.
- Bun Bo O Phuong – 24, Nguyen Khuyen Street, Hue city.
- Bun Bo O Cuong – Chu Diep – 6, Tran Thuc Nhan Street, Hue city
- Ngon Restaurant – 18 Phan Boi Chau, Hanoi
- The Lunch Lady – Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Da Kao ward, district 1, Ho Chi Minh City
t’s hard to talk about Vietnamese food without mentioning French colonization. Clearly it had a lasting effect on the country, the people, the architecture, the land, and the cuisine. To make Vietnam’s most famous sandwich, chefs took the crusty French baguette and added their own local ingredients to create the Bánh Mì. The baguette is typically stuffed with a mix of deli-style pork or chicken, pate, various vegetables (like pickled radish, carrot, and cucumber, chilies), fresh herbs (mostly cilantro/coriander), homemade mayo, and some Maggi sauce (a thin seasoning sauce).
Like Phở, you can find Bánh Mì everywhere in Vietnam, however, the Bánh Mì in Hoi An is really top-notch. These sandwiches are crunchier and jam-packed with more ingredients such as eggs and mouth-watering special sauces. Go to Banh Minh Phuong where they boast numerous fillings options or try one at the incredible Madame Khanh (the Banh Mi Queen) to taste the authentic Vietnamese flavors. These sandwiches are crunchier and jam-packed with more ingredients such as eggs and mouth-watering special sauces. From the first bite, you can soon feel a symphony of flavors playing in your mouth, making it impossible not to take another bite. Travelers will soon discover why the Vietnamese sandwich (Bánh Mì) is easy to fall in love with.
A trip to Vietnam would not be incomplete without trying Bánh Mì. To try the best, check out these places:
- Banh Mi Phuong – 2b Phan Chu Trinh, Hoi An
- Banh Mi Madame Khanh – 115 Tran Cao Van, Hoi An
- Banh Mi 25 – 25 Hang Ca street, Hanoi
- Banh Mi Huynh Hoa – 26 Le Thi Rieng, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Southern Vietnam Dishes
Broken rice (Cơm Tấm in Vietnamese) is a meal made from broken rice grains. In the past, the farmers would collect the fractured rice which was broken during the milling and sell it for cheaper. Today, broken rice is one of the most popular meals in Ho Chi Minh City. You’ll see it being served at countless little restaurants and street food stalls around the city.
Cơm Tấm is the quintessential Vietnamese experience that everyone seems to love. It’s the pure gastronomic pleasure of barbecued pork on broken rice, topped with a sunny fried egg and other accouterments. The pork is tender, juicy and flavorful. The meatloaf is soft and has a strong pepper taste. The egg yolk adds more richness to the rice. All the flavors mixed together are stunning.
People in Ho Chi Minh City eat Cơm Tấm perhaps as much as Hanoi people eat Phở. Cơm Tấm can be found on almost every street corner of the city, but check out these places for an awesome plate of Cơm Tấm:
- Com Tam Ba Ghien – 86 Dang Van Ngu, Ho Chi Minh City
- Com Tam 352: 352 Chu Văn An, Bình Thạnh District, Ho Chi Minh City
- Com Tam Tu Quy – Tan Dinh Market, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Bánh xèo, also known as Vietnamese pancake, is an essential must-try in the world of Vietnamese cuisine. The dish actually varies depending on your location in Vietnam, which gives you the great excuses to try it more than once. Bánh xèo, meaning sizzling cake, got its name due to the sound it makes while cooking. The sizzling sound is bound to get your stomach growling, and this delicious meal might be your new favorite Vietnamese classic. The ‘pancake’ batter is made from rice flour, turmeric, and spring onion. This batter is poured into a hot pan on top of bean sprouts and sautéed shrimp and pork. Once cooked, which only takes a minute or two, the pancake is folded in half.
The most notable part of the meal is the basket of herbs used. The herbs will be the wrapper of your Bánh xèo, The lettuce leaf is the base. Then you add the mustard leaf, and finally layer on all of the remaining herbs, including Thai basil and mint. After you have your makeshift veggie vessel, plop a piece of the Bánh xèo, on top and roll it up like a mini spring roll. Dip the roll into the dipping sauce and enjoy.
Here is where travelers can find the best Bánh xèo:
- Banh Xeo Muoi Xiem – 204 Nguyen Trai Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
- Banh Xeo 46A – Dinh Cong Trang street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh cIty
Pro tip: Do you want to try this heavenly Banh Xeo as well as other Vietnam specialties? Join our Vietnam Gastronomical Adventure and get ready to eat until you’re about to bust!