Vietnamese cuisine is one of the most popular cuisines in the world. Simple, delicate, fresh, and flavouful are just some of the adjectives used by people to describe Vietnamese food.
One of the most remarkable things about Vietnamese cuisine is that you need not go to a fancy restaurant or order a full-course meal to embark on a life-changing culinary experience. The food served at street side stalls and eateries are just as good, if not better, than the ones served at fancy, far more expensive, dining places.
If you are heading to Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City for the first time, here are the 10 Vietnamese dishes you should try.
1. Banh Mi
A product of French influence in Vietnam, banh mi is actually warm and crusty baguette stuffed with all sorts of fillings. There’s no strict rule in making this favourite Vietnamese snack and you may buy one that’s moderate in size or one that’s overflowing with fillings such as fried or grilled meats, cold cuts, pate, thinly-sliced pickled vegetables, cheese, margarine, fried egg, spices, and herbs.
The most popular noodle dish in Vietnam, pho is widely available in the country. Made from rice noodles, savoury broth, meat, and a healthy amount of herbs, the dish is also one of Vietnam’s most popular street food. It is quite common to find hungry locals and tourists helping themselves to a huge bowl of this affordable yet tasty dish at roadside eateries.
3. Banh Cuon
Banh cuon (Vietnamese steamed rice rolls) is a Nothern Vietnamese dish prepared by filling thin, steamed sheets of rice-flour batter with ground meat, minced mushrooms, and minced shallots. This light and delicate dish is a favourite breakfast fare among locals and goes really well with nuoc cham, a sweet and salty traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce.
4. Goi Cuon
If you’re looking to eat something really healthy while vacationing in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, you can’t go wrong with goi cuon. These light spring rolls are made from the freshest ingredients – veggies, a thin slice of pork or prawn, rice noodles, and herbs — neatly wrapped in delicate rice paper and dipped in nuoc cham.
5. Banh Xeo
Banh xeo is a crispy pancake stuffed with minced meat, shrimp, onions, and bean sprouts, and garnished with fresh herbs. To eat banh xeo like most locals do, you cut it up in bite-sized pieces, wrap it up in lettuce or mustard leaves, and then dip it in nuoc cham before popping it into your mouth.
6. Com Tam
Probably the most popular rice dish in Vietnam, com tam is basically steamed broken rice topped with thin succulent pieces of grilled pork chop. Hugely popular among workers, com tam is best eaten with pickled vegetables, chilies, and a salty dipping sauce.
A puddling-like concoction made from beans, jelly, grains, coconut milk, and fruit, and served in a bowl or glass over ice, che is a popular dessert in Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City. There are a lot of street vendors and shops selling che in Vietnam so you can always help yourself to a bowl or two each time you crave for this nutritious and filling treat.
8. Bun Cha
Another must-try when you’re in Vietnam is bun cha, a delicious dish made from grilled pork, rice noodles, and herbs, cooked in a flavourful broth seasoned with garlic, chillies, and fish sauce. Often served with crispy fried spring rolls, bun cha is a popular lunchtime meal in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
9. Bun Thit Nuong
Very popular in Ho Chi Minh City, bun thit nuong or grilled pork with vermicelli noodles is a Vietnamese dish that’s a delightful mix of many different flavours and textures. Served cold, bun thit nuong comes with many different toppings like chopped roasted peanuts, pickled carrots, grilled pork sausage, and grilled prawns. There are many variations to this dish, and for bun thit nuong cha gio, you also get chopped spring rolls in addition to the original toppings.
Vietnam’s version of the rice porridge is richer and creamier than regular porridge. Topped with sliced meat and usually served with bean sprouts, ginger, and fish sauce, this inexpensive street food is said to be the best cure for colds and hangovers. Other popular variations of this dish are chao long, rice porridge with pig innards, and chao ga, rice porridge with chicken slices.
Prepping for a culinary adventure in Vietnam? Check out these foodie tours in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
By: Brendelyn Balaga