Do you enjoy soup, noodles, or noodle soup? Then Vietnam is the place for you. Soup is ubiquitous. While this soup is fantastic for soup lovers, I must go elsewhere for flavorful cuisine. Fortunately, Vietnamese cuisine is diverse, ranging from herb- and vegetable-based dishes to carb-heavy French influences. After numerous trips to Vietnam, I am still unfamiliar with Vietnamese cuisine. Every menu contains items I’ve never heard of, leaving me quite ignorant. Do not expect to master Vietnamese cuisine in a single visit. Instead, consume whatever you can find. If it appears tasty, consume it. This is what I do, and it has worked thus far. If you would like to give yourself an advantage, you may wish to review Vietnamese cuisine terminology before your trip. Other than that, I have found excellent food in Vietnam. Here are my Top Ten Favorite Vietnamese Foods, ranging from staples to my personal favourites.
1. Vietnamese Noodle Soup
This delectable noodle dish is synonymous with Vietnamese cuisine and is pronounced ‘Fu’ as in ‘Furby’ It is also pervasive, from the moment you enter Vietnam till the moment you leave. From the dining table to the curbside. Pho is unquestionably the most popular street meal in Vietnam, and it can be found at all hours of the day and night. Locals sit on tiny plastic chairs at tiny plastic tables to slurp Pho. Slightly unusual and absolutely unique. Pho typically consists of beef (Pho Bo) or chicken (Pho Ga) served in a corresponding broth with flat rice noodles and herbs. Red chilli pepper slices, a squeeze of lime, bean sprouts, holy basil, and cilantro are optional garnishes. Shloop. In Vietnam, pho serves as the base for an unlimited variety of soups.
2. Summer Rolls
Apologies for grouping these two together. First is the Summer Roll (fresh spring roll or Salad Roll), which is unbeatable when paired with the proper dip. Easily my favourite and most odd Vietnamese culinary snack. In addition to being healthful, summer rolls are loaded with fresh greens. Traditionally wrapped in thin rice paper and containing vermicelli (rice) noodles, fresh herbs, and a meat of choice (fresh prawns please). While sauces differ, the peanut sauce is an exceptional favourite (Nuoc Leo). Summer rolls are also available as vegetarian options. Meat and vegetables wrapped in rice paper and then deep-fried to a crisp are hardly deserving of an introduction. An unhealthier substitute for summer rolls. Both can be found on the majority of Vietnamese menus.
Obvious French colonial influences? Another of Vietnam’s traditional street dishes, banh mi is typically sold from small street-side kiosks. As with all baguettes, they can contain virtually anything. Nevertheless, I typically discover a set filling in the Vietnamese Banh Mi. A filling consisting of pork liver pate, Vietnamese sausage (Boiled Pork, Cha Lua), shredded radish and carrot, cucumber slices, mayonnaise squeezes, and the all-important chilli. Following several days of soup and vegetables, this dish provides a hearty meal.
4. Grilled Pork
Cured pork barbecued on the side of the road over smouldering charcoals. For fellow barbecue enthusiasts, Thit Nuong is the one street meal that is difficult to resist. Thit Nuong is used in many of my favourite Vietnamese dishes, as well as on skewers for a quick and delicious snack. Stuffed in a baguette (Thit Xien Banh Mi), encased in spring rolls (Banh Uot Thir Nuong), and topped with the most popular Vietnamese topping noodles (Bun Thit Nuong).
5. Crepe Wrap
Once again with clear French influences Banh Xeo is a savoury crepe that is typically filled with cooked meats, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs. As a starting point. This loaded crepe is then wrapped in lettuce leaves, with basil, mint, and mustard leaves as an optional garnish. Stuff the mouth. Banh Xeo is typically served with a sweet, sour, salty, and spicy dipping sauce (Nuoc Cham).
6. Beef on Rice Noodles
Thailand is woefully deficient in beef meals, thus my arrival in Vietnam has me craving Bun Bo Nam Bo. Tender, grilled beef slices served on a bed of fresh vermicelli noodles and garnished with peanuts and fragrant Vietnamese herbs. Absolutely delectable Again, Bun Bo Nam Bo is served with Nuoc Cham, a popular Vietnamese sweet, sour, salty, and hot dipping (or pouring) sauce with carrot, unripe papaya, and peppers. Refreshingly devoid of soup
7. Pork on Thick Noodles
I believe Cao Lau is the perfect example of the variety of Vietnamese cuisine. This classic dish hails from the ancient trading port of Hoi An and, although being more suited to Japanese ramen restaurants (think Chashu Men), is uniquely Vietnamese. Thick wheat noodles topped with succulent pork served in a thin broth filled with pork and herbs. Vietnamese greens, bean sprouts, peanuts, and typically a side of shrimp crackers. Superb.
8. Poultry with Sticky Rice
While sticky rice is popular throughout Asia, it is a staple dish in Vietnam. Instead of a side dish, Xoi Ga or Chicken Rice, one of the most common Vietnamese treats, is served as the main course. A substantial portion of sticky rice topped with tender chicken pieces, a handful of fresh Vietnamese herbs, and more often than not, crispy shallots. Add flavour with a dab of soy sauce and sesame oil.
9. Egg Coffee
In Vietnam, I look forward to my morning coffee. Not sure why, but the coffee in Vietnam is superior, probably due to the addition of more condensed milk. There is a street cafe culture in Vietnam (perhaps influenced by the French) that sells a variety of delectable bean strains. Weasel Coffee, a synthetic recreation of the well-known civet coffee, is an intriguing bean to seek out. A coffee that is most common in tourist regions, such as Ben Thanh Market (HCM). Ca Phe Trung or Egg Coffee is worth trying if you prefer something more local and real; it consists of beaten egg served over hot coffee.
10. Cheap Beer
The cheapest beer in Southeast Asia and perhaps the entire world. Not the most appetising, but at 5,000 Dong ($0.24), it will give you a buzz for less than a dollar. Bia Hoi is more about the experience than the beer for me. Sit in a little chair and drink drinks with the local cool kids (and occasional tourist). If $0.24 is too low, you can upgrade to many of Vietnam’s top beers for $0.70 at Beer Hanoi.