Vietnamese food has seen rocketing popularity in recent years, and it all starts with what was traditionaly found on the street. Here are ten unmissable dishes that you’d be a fool to miss when traveling through Vietnam.
With roots in Vietnam’s capital, bun cha slowly made its way into the rest of the country. While there are many similar dishes throughout the rest of Vietnam, like Saigon’s bun thit nuong, nothing beats the original. A hearty broth, with rice noodles, grilled pork patties, pork belly, and fresh herbs, this dish is usually paired with nem (see below for more on nem). Try a bowl at Ngon Villa in Hanoi.
Pho (pronounced like “fur”) is Vietnam’s most famous dish, so it should come as no surprise that there’s a bit of division in tastes around the country. Hanoi pho is balanced, hearty, and relies on the flavors created from hours of boiling beef or chicken bones. Give Hanoi’s pho a go at Home Restaurant in Hanoi.
Some people say that when the French were kicked out of Vietnam, they left their bread behind. A popular lunch option for anyone who likes to eat on the go, banh my is a small baguette stuffed full of meat, herbs and vegetables. Try the banh my Quang Nam in Danang’s Home restaurant.
While cao lau may not be such a commonplace dish throughout the rest of the country, you won’t be able to move for cao lau in Hoi An. The dish has deep ties to the city, with Dutch, Chinese, Japanese and Indian traders gorging on bowls of it in Hoi An’s ancient seaport as far back as the 17th century. Try a traditional bowl of cao lau in Hoi An’s Ngon Villa.
Like many of Vietnam’s meals, banh xeo can be a different affair in different parts of the country. In the northern provinces, people wrap their banh xeos, filled with pork and beansprouts, in rice paper, while further south banh xeo is commonly consumed with seafood, fish sauce, chillies and peanut sauce. They’re also smaller and might be wrapped in fresh greens, or served completely naked. Try Danang’s version at Ngon Villa’s Danang residence.
This traditional central dish comprises of a soft, chewy noodle, made fresh on a daily basis, stuffed full of slices of moist roast pork, fresh lettuce, local mint, basil, garlic, and spring onion. Having originated in Quang Nam, mi quang adds some local specialities: shrimp, boiled quail eggs and crushed peanuts, topped with a savory broth. Get stuck into a bowl at Hoi An’s Ngon Villa.
While the differences between Saigonese and Hanoian pho noodles might seem minimal, the differences in the broth are vast. Unlike it’s northern counterpart, pho in Saigon is served with a huge array of sauces and herbs, like the usual lemon, chilli, soy, mint and cilantro, but also rice paddy herbs, sawtooth herbs, bean sprouts, basil and even hoisin sauce. You can try some at The Chopsticks, Saigon.
Bun Bo Hue
This is a street food dish originating from the central Vietnamese city of Hue, the Imperial City that stood as the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. This hearty bowl of broth comes with an array of flavors, starting with pork and beef bones, then a squeeze of lime, herbs, lemongrass, annatto and shrimp paste, with some crab cakes thrown in for good measure.
While its appearance may be similar to that of pho, the ingredients that go into hu tieu have differences that separate it significantly from its cousin. The dish simmers for hours on end in a mix of bones, dried squid, and rock sugar. Slow-cooked pork and fresh vegetables decorate the soup and, unlike pho, it can be served both in and outside of the broth.
While nem can have various meanings throughout the country, on this occasion we mean the delicious nem ran (if you’re in the north) or cha gio (if you’re in the south). These delicately fried spring rolls are a popular finger food at events like weddings, death anniversaries, and during Tet. Best of all, however, is a fried nem soaked in a bowl of bun cha. You can give this winning combination a go at Ngon Villa in Hanoi.