Ready for a culinary magical mystery tour? Yes, well then hop on my 110 cc Honda Win to Vietnam. A country where food is taken very seriously with the belief of the Three Kitchen Gods who observe everything that happens in the home. So don’t be cooking crap, ya here!?!
First a quick lesson on Vietnamese cuisine. It honours the 5 Asian principles which correspond to the five elements, spices, senses, organs, colours and nutrients further supporting its reputation as one of the world’s healthiest cuisines.
Okay, let’s dive in and meet the delicious Vietnamese dishes to make your taste buds do the happy dance.
Bun Cha – Happiness in a bowl
I love a DIY dish and that’s what Bun Cha is all about. Pork patties meet rice noodles, fresh herbs, sweet and sour broth with the anti-vampire addition of a bowl of fresh garlic and chilli. Oh, did I mention it comes with a side of crispy spring rolls? Who’s winning?
Enjoyed mainly in the North and perfect during winter, it’s not hard to spot the Bun Cha ‘restaurants’ with the mini beef patties grilling on the sidewalk over what looks like a upturned shopping cart. Check out Bun Cha Dac Kim in Hanoi and bring an appetite as the portions are huge. Cost: At 80,000 VND it’s a little pricier than most street food options and other Bun Cha places, but you could easily skip a meal that day.
Banh Xeo – Vietnam’s answer to your pancake addiction
The French influence can be seen in the Bánh Xèo. A rice flour crepe coloured with turmeric and stuffed with the taste sensation combo of pork, shrimp, green onions, and bean sprouts. Best enjoyed on the side of busy market road wrapped in fresh greens while sweet and sour fish sauce drips down your arm. We loved the low-key version at the local Vietnamese Market Chợ Thị Nghè on Phan Văn Hân street. Cost: 7,000 VND each. Tip: Bring wet wipes and get there before 10am.
Bun Thit Nuong – I would live in Vietnam for this dish alone
A french restauranteur introduced us to this lady’s stall in Da Nang. Full of excited energy, the happiest cook in the market confidently presented us with Bún Thịt Nướng. A noodle salad flavoured with nuts, sticky caramelised bits of pork, and pickled carrot. She was not wrong in her confidence and we are moving back to Da Nang this June. A part of me knows that this dish had something to do with it. Cost: 15,000 VND a bowl. It’s not far from the beach and if you plan to enjoy the best coffee in Da Nang at An’s Cafe then it’s a short walk away. I realise this is not the best location identifier for you, but here’s a map and she’s the most popular food stall for Bun Thit Nuong in the market. We must have eaten this 3 times a week and never thought to take a photo of the dish (always assuming we had one already). Photo Credit: “Bún thịt nướng chả giò :P” by D Hoang, CC 2.0.
Banh Trung Tron – Could food that’s eaten in the middle of a roundabout be any good?
Yes. Yes it can. Rice paper noodles hugged by a secret combo of flavours arrive in a personal bag just for you. Trust me you do not want to share. It’s that good. Cost: 15,000 VND. Tip: Enjoy at Turtle Lake after a long day sightseeing in Saigon (the War Remnants Museum is a 5 min walk away). It’s the perfect snack to rest the weary feet and try and understand the traffic rules of Saigon.
Nem Lui – Stick food with all the flavour
You know my penchant for stick food, but the problem can be that sticks can taste a little samey. So hello to my new food friend Nem Lui. Flavourful pork mince wrapped around a fresh stick of lemon grass. Nuff said. Cost: 50,000 VND. Location: Enjoy the flavour sensation at Nina’s Cafe in Hue.
Goi Bong Chuoi (Banana Flower salad) – A very appeeling dish
Oi, come on?! I had to get a food pun gag in here somewhere.
Need a meat-free meal? Then this banana flower salad with it crunchy texture will be heaven sent. Banana flower is much lauded for its health benefits for women, but not only that, it has a great nutty flavour that works super well with Vietnam’s world topping export of cashews. Ignore the fact this is with pork, that’s just how we roll. Also to be enjoyed at Nina’s Cafe in Hue.
Com Tam Suon and Com Bin Dam – Vietnamese down-played rice dishes
When your name translates to ‘broken rice’ you know you are not made for stardom, but this is where Com Tam Suon and Com Bin Dam are humble winners. It hangs around on street corners patiently serving hungry hoards of workers from all parts of town. The mound of steamed rice with whatever your heart desires comes with a comforting bowl of broth and greens. Com Tam Suo generally means a grilled pork chop and egg with other added extras you desire like veggies or sausage. Com Bin Dam popular toppings include pork patties, fish, tofu and eggs. Cost: 30,000 – 40,000 VND. Tip: the stuffed tofu with pork mince covered in tomato sauce is amazing. These are simple hearty meals and you can never go wrong with finding a busy Com stand. We loved this one around the corner from Mi Place Homestay on the corner of Hoang Sa and Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai.
Banh Mi – New entry into the Sandwich Hall of Fame
I’m just putting this out there. Banh Mi’s are an all-time winning sandwich.
Banh Mi’s join the mouthwatering ranks of my favourite sandwiches of grilled cheese, Cubanos, Reubens, Spanish ham and tomato jam and childhood blue ribbon winner – curried egg. You want to seek out the cart with a full selection of fillings (pate, fatty pork bits, sliced pork and pork floss) along with the necessary pickled carrots, sliced cucumbers and a healthy dose of coriander. We loved the Bahn Mi’s best in Saigon and on Con Dao. We found the rolls in Hoi An and Hanoi not as crispy and ‘tourist priced’ Cost: 15,000- 25,000 VND.
Pho – Vietnam’s food version of sex
Hot, steamy and ready to delight all your senses.
Of course, any post about Vietnamese food would not be complete without mentioning Pho. We must have tried over 40 bowls of Pho in Vietnam and the winner goes to Pho Gia Truyen in Hanoi. The depth and richness of the broth made this the champ for us. Tip: Grab a beer from across the road while you wait in the queue and be prepared to tuck your elbows to eat as the place is always, always, always heaving with hungry punters.
Cha Ca – The gods created this one
Vietnamese food is the pork culinary sister to Serbia. There are loads of traditional dishes that celebrate the bacon-maker. But sometimes. Only sometimes. you might want to mix it up a bit and opt for a fish dish. Then get yourself to Hanoi and enjoy the dill-icious Cha Ca. Stir fried in front of you, the tasty morsels of dill covered turmeric fish completes the dish of rice noodles, spring onions, and peanuts. It’s a perfect union. Cost: 180,000 VND. Most loved at Chả Cá Thăng Long.
Chip Chips – Nutrition with a facial
Time poor and want a meal and a beauty treatment at the same time? Then get down to the ocean front and find a bowl of Chip Chips. These awesome clams are steamed open to perfection flavoured with a broth of lemon grass and garlic topped with sweet basil. Arm yourself with the world’s smallest trident and dig in. Cost: 100,000 VND (easily a dish for two coupled with greens and rice). Location: Vietnam has a permanent ocean escort on her arm, so it’s not hard to find fresh clams, but we loved Da Nang’s Quán Bé Mặn.
Mi Quang- If noodles could dance, then Mi Quang would win ‘Strictly Come Dancing’
What does it take to win? Skill, grace, flair, but perhaps offering something a little bit different and that’s Mi Quang. The slippery noodles provide the perfect foundation for lightly cooked veg and pork surrounded by sesame rice crackers and topped off with peanuts. Sitting in a flavourful oil-rich sauce, it’s definitely not one of the healthiest foods around but offers a different noodle dish to enjoy. Cost: 30,000 VND. Location: Typical of Da Nang, you will be spoilt for choice, but if you are near the Cathedral here are two popular joints to check out.
Saigon’s Lunch Lady – Because the Monday bowl of goodness is something to write home about
Saigon’s Lunch Lady made famous by Anthony Bourdain is good. She’s real good. We ate there every day over a week to sample each dish of the day and we loved the solid performance of Monday’s Bun Thai. Not shy on the beef, noodles, and prawns this slightly sweet, but rich broth is meditative. You pause only to add more veg to your bowl. There’s no mucking around or celebration here. Sit down, a bowl arrives, you eat and leave. Cost: 40,000 VND per bowl. Tip: the bowl is filling, so skip the deep fried spring rolls and prawn treats (unless you are hungry of course) staff will automatically put on your table. They are not free.
Not here on a Monday? Sucks to be you.
Okay, only kidding. Best thing to do is check out this article on the flavours for each day of the week. Let me know if you find your favourite.
Egg Coffee – It make’s no sense but it works!
I love coffee. Scratch that. I NEED coffee.
I’m no snob, it can pretty much come in any form as long as it’s dark, rich and hot. Ha ha like my men 🙂 So when we found out that there’s this thing called egg coffee, we had to give it a go. It’s basically a desert drink. Think custardy-meringue whip on top of a punch of espresso. YUM. We loved E Coffee’s version in Hanoi Cost: 35,000 VND.
Of course, Vietnam is the Queen of coffees, so if the egg coffee doesn’t work for you try the exotic menu at Cong Cafe such as red bean and coconut milk or the old faithful of iced coffee at any street-side cafe.
Hoi An mussels and crackers – I feel sorry for you if you don’t get to try this
Hoi An is a beautiful town. Flanked by UNESCO buildings on one side and an ocean on the other. But when you need a break from the tourist hoards hop on a bicycle and ride over to Cam Nam island and find Quan Ben Tre. The team there don’t bother letting you see the full menu. The first page has it all. I have no idea what these are called, but the menu has pictures, so play snap and find the picture below in the menu. It all works together, the tiny mussels with pickled onion, nuts and fresh herbs. The ladies have limited English (more than our Vietnamese BTW), but are so fun delighting in showing us how to eat this dish. The restaurant is on a little islet of the Thu Bon River + this dish = Food heaven. Cost: 35,000 VND.
Frog Congee – Get over yourself. It tastes like chicken thigh
You know how some restaurants use cute illustrations of animals to attract your attention but it does not suggest in any way that that is what’s on the menu? Right, well forget that when you see a cute illustrated frog. It definitely means frog.
A real surprise dish for us which I had to coax myself round to trying it, but surprisingly tastes a lot like chicken thigh. The version we tried came with a fiery chilli kick, so best to avoid if you can’t handle the heat. Cost: 40,000 VND. We loved the stand around the corner from the Lunch Lady in our Saigon neighbourhood.
Fresh Beer for 4,000 Dong – Need I say more?
No. No I do not.
Snails – Vietnam’s answer to beer nuts
So this post has got you planning your flight to Vietnam, but you are probably thinking how can I try all these dishes in the week and a bit I’ve got in the country? See this is the beauty of Vietnamese food. There are certain dishes that are purposely non-meal meals.
Snails are the snack you have with your after work beer, but not too much of it so that it ruins your dinner. Cost: 30,000 VND. Location: Again the obscure market with the Bun Thit Nuong. You will see a steaming cauldron and loads of school kids snacking before heading home.
Banh trang trung (Pork pancake pizza) – If life was fair, then this food stand would be on every corner in the world
Seeking a food tour to rival our Melaka binge we took the trusty advice of Legal Nomads where to eat in Hue . We anticipated a light dinner sharing a banh trang trung and a banh ep. Well, that did not happen.
We ate two pork pizzas, a plate of banh ep and then followed our nose for more. The cute couple making these finger-licking goodies will be your downfall, but worth every moment. Find your food ruin next to the eatery at No. 14 Le Thanh Ton Street, Hue.
Fish noodle soup – Vietnamese food is super healthy, so just keep eating
See the problem with Vietnam is that food is cooked out on the footpaths wafting into your nose igniting your pie-hole into action to find it. So there we were finishing up the last pork pizza slice and before we even knew what we were doing we were sitting down to a bowl of fish noodle soup.
Don’t try and control yourself, it’s almost impossible. You are under a heady spell of aromas and the sight of a man making fresh rice noodles before your eyes. Cost: 40,000 VND Location: As above. I couldn’t tell you the name of the dish as we just pointed to the pot. We were well and truly under a food spell.
Fresh spring rolls
Almost too pretty to eat, these street stall staples are a fab entree or meal on their own. If you are not familiar with what is also known as the Sumer Roll, then let me walk you through it. Tightly packed rice paper is wrapped around a filling of vermicelli noodles, shrimp, coriander, spring onions and sometimes mushrooms rounded out with a sticky sweet dipping sauce. Cost: Approx 40,000 VND for 6 rolls. Now telling you where to find the best rolls is like telling you what your favourite ice cream flavour is. It’s not for me to say.
Da Lat strawberry wine – Wine in SE Asia. Yes it is true!
If you have been travelling around SE Asia for a while and got your fill of the lager and whiskey options available then let me introduce to you the cool hill climate of Da Lat. Aside from the epic Pongour waterfalls and acid-tripping Crazy House, you get to enjoy a glass of some very tasty strawberry wine. Pink-hued, slightly sweet with a berry nose, I could drink this all night…oh wait I did (!), which is why there are no photos. 30,000 per glass at Long Hoa restaurant. The food at Long Hoa is also great and worth a visit after a cold day in the highlands.
Breast milk fruit – Where eating this in public won’t cause uptight people to get squeamish
Yep, well I just got political and not to dwell on this for too long, but seriously why is this still a thing? Breast-feeding is natural, so get over yourself. Better yet, stay indoors because you’re obviously an idiot.
Okay back to the fruit. Check out this amazing feat of mother nature. Think custard apple with a nashi pear. Creamy, sweet delicious. I reckon this would make for an amazing gelato flavour with candied citrus rind. Think a Vietnamese version of Cassata ai Tutti Frutti. Buy it at any good fruit stall.
If the lip smacking life of the underwater world is more your thing, then there really is no place like Vietnam’s islands of Con Dao and Phu Quoc for face-sized crab and sweet tiger prawns. Cooked in all manner of styles of your choosing the freshest catch of the day will be on your table within minutes. Cost: Varies on what you order, but highly recommend a chilli and salt crab at Thu Tham restaurant in Con Dao and Tiger prawns at the Dinh Cau Night Market in Phu Quoc.
Banh Canh Cua
Let’s stay with the seafood theme and tuck into a bowl of Canh Cua. Udon-like noodles in a thick crab flavoured soup with chunks of crab, quail eggs, prawns and blood cake. If you are not a fan of blood cake (I’m not), leave it to the side or ask them not to include it in your dish.
What is not to love about this comforting soup best enjoyed down a small alley with the staff watching you slurp away. The soup is soup-er (sorry, last one) tasty and all it needs is a squeeze of lime to balance out the sweeter shellfish flavour. Cost: 30,000-40,000 VND. Try this version out along the river in Saigon. Afterwards, take a quiet stroll along the river’s edge and spot the families eating al fresco.
Bo La Lot
I know this makes 26, but I couldn’t pass up sharing with you these cigar shaped beef gems. Another choose-your-own-adventure eating experience. You wrap rice paper around beef, vermicelli noodles and herbs making a type of fresh spring roll. You could even chop everything up and turn it into a noodle salad. The magic of this dish comes from the leaf wrapped beef which is semi-grilled and smoked reminding you of summer BBQs in the park. Cost: 60,000VND for two people. Feast on these at dinner time. During our time in Saigon, we would regularly visit this lovely older couple who would make Ba La Lot from their portable griller here.
I know I am and a good time to finish the post before I eat the keys.
Let me know what your favourite Vietnamese dishes are because selfishly we will be back in Vietnam for 2 months and I will hunt them down for you (and me :).
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