When you travel, apart from seeing amazing sites, partaking in or witnessing unique cultural differences and interacting with interesting locals is, of course, the food. Always is, always has been and always will be the food! And Vietnamese cuisine is irresistible!
If you are a lover of trying new and delicious dishes then you have, without a doubt, come to the right place! The aromas and flavors of Vietnam are rich and unique. From a plastic chair and table on the side of a bustling street in Ha Noi to a table at a rooftop restaurant of one of the highest buildings in Ho Chi Minh City, the food is always an experience.
You may have had Vietnamese cuisine before. Pho is arguably the most popular dish when you think about Vietnamese cuisine. If you are not familiar, Pho is a broth-based a broth and rice noodle made dish that can be made with beef or chicken. Seasoned with garlic, fish sauce, chilies and fresh herbs, Pho is popular for a reason!
Pho is traditionally eaten for breakfast but is satisfying at any time of the day. In this article, we are going to show you a glimpse of the world of Vietnamese food that is not as well known as its famous bowl of soup!
1. Bun Thit Nuong
Bun Thit Nuong, meaning grilled meat on noodles, is on the top of this list because as everyone who knows me (or anyone who has spoken to me) knows this is not just my favorite Vietnamese food, but my favorite food ever. Yes, it’s that good. The rest of Vietnam shares my opinion and that’s why Bun Thit Nuong is incredibly popular.
Bun Thit Nuong starts with a base of herbs (including mint and basil) and green vegetables and vermicelli noodles, upon which grilled pork (either a kind of grilled pork meatball or actual pieces of grilled pork meat depending on the place or vendor) and as if that wasn’t tasty enough, a fried pork spring roll or two.
You will receive a sauce with your meal made of chilies, fish sauce, and sugar which brings the dish to another level of taste. Bun Thit Nuong is sweet and salty and savory and fresh all at once and is definitely a must try when traveling to Vietnam!
2. Banh Mi
Banh Mi is Vietnam’s version of the humble sandwich. The word “banh” in fact means bread in Vietnamese. Banh Mi is your ultimate on the go Vietnam food as you explore the busy streets and alleyways of Ho Chi Minh City or walk the meandering paths of The Ancient City in Hoi An.
Built on a base of baguette adopted during the era of French occupation and layered with pates, meats, pork floss, mayonnaise, cucumber and cilantro (and more). It has a distinct Vietnamese taste, which is what makes Banh Mi so special.
Now that you’re clued up on the Vietnamese sandwich (and I’m sure I’m ready to try one!) the question is where do I get one? As you walk down any street in basically any part of beautiful Vietnam you will no doubt see a cart with the words “Banh Mi” emblazoned on the side. They make the sandwich for you fresh and will usually ask you if you which ingredients you would like and how much of it you would like. Only takes two minutes before it’s wrapped in paper, tied with a rubber band and you’re on your way!
Apart from the Banh Mi carts, you can also find small bodegas and restaurants that specialize in the sandwich. These places usually have staff that can speak English and have more options ingredients wise. Are you a vegetarian? Try an Op La Banh Mi which is a fresh baguette topped with fried eggs. Delicious!
3. Bun Cha
Bun Cha is a pork and noodle dish that hails from Ha Noi, the capital of Vietnam. Although it is now available all over the country. The dish is made with the same vermicelli noodles used to make Bun Thit Nuong.
When you order Bun Cha you will receive a dish of noodles, pieces of grilled pork (almost like a small grilled pork pattie), some green vegetables and herbs and a flavorful, smoky broth. Grab some of everything and dip it into the broth and then straight into your mouth.
If you are lucky enough to enjoy it in Ha Noi, a city that was once described as “transfixed by Bun Cha”, you will be standing in lines outside of the most famous Bun Cha restaurants trying to get a taste of that tangy yet sweet broth!
Bun Cha has recently gained more fame as it was the food choice of President Obama on the historical first trip of an American president to Vietnam since the war, which should say enough about how good it is!
Goi Cuon are made of a light and sticky rice paper called Banh trang. The rice paper is laid out and layered with herbs and greens (such as lettuce and basil), pieces of pork, vermicelli noodles and shrimp before being tightly and expertly rolled up and usually served with a dipping sauce.
Goi Cuon has such a fresh taste and is the perfect light lunch or dinner on those sweltering days Vietnam especially when visiting the south. The combination of pork and shrimp may seem odd at first but after you bite into that crunchy, chewy, herbed spring roll it will all make sense to your taste buds!
4. Banh Xeo
Banh Xeo is the epitome of on the go Vietnamese street food. You’ll notice it has the word for bread “Banh”, but Banh Xeo is more of a crepe than bread, another French food influence on Vietnamese cuisine. The “Xeo” means sizzling which is what the batter does when it hits the specialized Banh Xeo frying pan!
This savoury snack is made with batter made with rice flour which is lightly fried in oil ready for you to pick out the ingredients you fancy! You can choose from ingredients like pork, bean sprouts, herbs, green onion, mushrooms, lotus roots, and shrimp. The area of Vietnam in which you are trying Banh Xeo will dictate the array of ingredients available as some are more or less popular in different areas.
Banh Xeo has been eaten as salty snacks for decades and was/is very popular in the countryside where farmers would wrap the savory crepe up in banana leaves to eat later. Banh Xeo started as a strictly lower to middle-class meal but can now be found on menus in many nicer Vietnamese restaurants.
5. Goi Cuon
Goi Cuon is a fresh Vietnamese spring roll, the lighter and healthier cousin of the globally beloved fried spring roll or the Vietnamese Cha Gio (try the pork and lotus root for a real taste bomb!) which is also delicious.
6. Com Tam
Com Tam is one of the more popular street foods in Vietnam. You may see signs that read “Broken Rice” which is just another name for Com Tam. People call it that way because it is made from rice grains which have been fractured which are technically the rice leftovers after the drying and milling has been completed. You will not be able to walk 100 meters in Vietnam without spotting a Com Tam spot or vendor, and for good reason!
Com Tam is served with a pork chop or a piece of pork, a few slivers of cucumber and herbs and a fried egg. Com Tam is simple, flavorful and hearty. On your street side or restaurant table you will find all the chilli sauces and fish sauce you desire to add some extra spice to this basic but beloved Vietnamese food.
While most Com Tam is basic, you will find some places that have added options such as different cuts of pork, pig skin, a Vietnamese flavored meat loaf and pickled vegetables. All we can say is try it all!
Above we have mentioned six delicious Vietnamese dishes other than pho but Vietnam has so many more traditional and delicious dishes to offer and I am willing to bet that you are going to be eating more than three times a day on your holiday! Take a walk down your nearest alley or get on to a Facebook group for the area you are visiting and explore and eat as much as you can!