There’s nothing like fresh and feisty Vietnamese cuisine — especially if you are enjoying it in Vietnam!
The culinary scene in this Southeast Asian powerhouse is extraordinary, and to say that putting together this list of ten top dishes to try in Vietnam was hard is an understatement! It caused arguments and threatened friendships. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this was one of the toughest writing assignments I’ve ever had.
To become a Vietnamese culinary aficionado, sample each of these taste sensations during your visit. You’ll get bonus points if you can pronounce them all correctly!
This drool-worthy combination of vermicelli, grilled pork, cucumber, pickled carrot and daikon, bean sprouts, chopped peanuts and a tasty sauce is sometimes topped with traditional fried spring rolls (cha gio) to up the deliciousness even more. It’s everything good in one glorious bowl.
Speaking of cha gio — on their own they come in at a worthy second place on my list of the ten top dishes to try in Vietnam. Greasy; crispy; amazing. Enough said.
These are often referred to in the English-speaking world as fresh spring rolls or summer rolls. They don’t get any fresher than in Vietnam, and you can feel somewhat virtuous for choosing the ‘healthy’ spring roll.
Friend of local and tourist alike, banh mi (the Vietnamese sandwich) is the ultimate street food snack. It’s a crusty French-style baguette, jam-packed with pork, pate, fresh and pickled veggies, herbs and dressing. Bon appétit!
While it may look somewhat similar, onomatopoeia banh xeo (named for the sizzle it makes when it hits the pan) is as far from the western version of pancake as you can get. People often assume this dish is made using egg, but it’s actually a rice flour batter. Inside you’ll generally find prawn meat, onion and bean sprouts. Sensational!
Vietnam is a nation of confirmed carnivores, but veggie-friendly options do make an appearance on menus — including some truly amazing salads. Two of the best are lotus stem (goi ngo sen) and papaya (goi du du). As with so many Vietnamese dishes, it’s the freshness of the ingredients that will keep you coming back for more.
This quintessential Vietnamese noodle dish is available morning, noon and night and typically comes with chicken (pho ga) or beef (pho bo). It’s invariably delicious, and is particularly good when you’re under the weather or you consumed one too many bia hoi (Vietnamese draught beer) the night before.
Be sure to pronounce it ‘fuh’ not ‘foe’!
Cao lau is probably Hoi An’s most famous contribution to Vietnamese cuisine, but I’ve always had a soft spot for banh bao vac. These steamed rice paper dumplings filled with minced prawn are doused in a sweet dipping sauce and toasted onion or shallot. They’re the perfect combination of chewy and crunchy.
Che is the only Vietnamese dessert to make the cut. This sweet concoction of beans, tapioca, jelly, fruit and coconut milk is served in a tall glass and will have you rethinking your standard ‘peaches and ice cream’ dessert choice.
Fresh, delicious and cheap, fruit is ubiquitous in Vietnam, but oh so good! Shop at the markets or buy it sliced up and ready to eat from a street vendor (smother it in chilli salt first — don’t worry, you get used to it). Alternatively, have your fruit of choice blitzed into a delectable juice or shake. As always, check the fruit has been washed in clean water — then dig in to nature’s ultimate refresher!
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the ten top dishes to try in Vietnam? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock/Photodune
Samantha Wasson is a Sydney-based freelance writer and former educator whose heart remains in Vietnam, where she lived for three years. Samantha has travelled extensively in Asia, Europe and the United States, with a brief sojourn in Africa. Highlights from her international escapades include studying German in Freiburg, volunteering with an elephant rehabilitation project outside Chiang Mai and travelling by motorbike through the Mekong Delta. A lover of literature and travel, Samantha subscribes to Augustine of Hippo’s observation that ‘the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page’.