Vietnamese Street Food Guide: A Journey of Flavors
What to eat in Vietnam? From tasty noodle soup to delicious rolls, let me take you on a delicious journey through the vibrant world of Vietnamese street food.
From savory noodles to crispy pancakes, I’ve got it all covered. So, let’s dig in!
Let’s start with one of my all-time favorite Vietnamese dishes: Pho. Seriously, if you haven’t tried it yet, you’re missing out on something truly special.
Picture a steaming bowl of rice noodles swimming in a fragrant, aromatic broth, topped with tender slices of beef or chicken (or even a vegetarian alternative if that’s your preference), and garnished with a colorful selection of fresh herbs. Just the thought of it makes my mouth water!
When it comes to Pho, you’ll come across two main variations: Pho Bo (beef) and Pho Ga (chicken). Both are incredibly delicious, and the choice ultimately comes down to your personal preference. Don’t be afraid to explore different Pho joints and read reviews to find your favorite.
Pro tip: When ordering Pho Bo (beef Pho), keep an eye out for specific terms like bò tái (sliced rare tenderloin), bò chín (sliced well-done flank), and other variations. It’s worth exploring different Pho joints and reading reviews to find your favorite.
Café sữa đá
Café sữa đá, or Vietnamese iced coffee, is a national beverage that provides a delicious and energizing pick-me-up. It’s made by combining strong Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk and serving it over ice.
The coffee is traditionally brewed using a small metal drip filter called a Phin, which allows the water to slowly drip through the coffee grounds, extracting a rich and flavorful brew. Once the coffee is ready, it’s poured over a glass filled with ice and topped with a generous amount of sweetened condensed milk.
The result is a perfect balance between the boldness of the coffee and the creamy sweetness of the condensed milk. I usually have the version with added coconut milk, which is called Cà phê sữa dừa.
Bánh xèo is a beloved Vietnamese dish that can be best described as a crispy pancake or crepe. The name “bánh xèo” is derived from the sizzling sound that the batter makes when poured onto a hot skillet.
The outer layer of the bánh xèo is made from a mixture of rice flour, turmeric powder, coconut milk, and water. This gives the pancake its distinctive yellow color and a slight hint of coconut flavor.
Inside, it is filled with delicious ingredients, including boiled pork strips, shrimp, and crisp bean sprouts.
You can enjoy Banh Xeo by wrapping a piece of the pancake in a sheet of rice paper, along with fresh lettuce, herbs like mint and cilantro, and possibly some pickled vegetables. You then dip it in nuoc mam (fish sauce) for added tanginess.
Alternatively, you can simply cut the bánh xèo into smaller pieces and eat it directly, using chopsticks or your hands. The crispy exterior and the juicy filling make for a delightful combination of textures in each bite.
Bò lá lốt
Have you ever tried Bò lá lốt? If not, you’re in for a mouthwatering treat! Bò lá lốt combines the flavors of grilled beef and aromatic betel leaves.
The beef is marinated in a mixture of lemongrass, garlic, fish sauce, and various spices, then wrapped in betel leaves before being grilled. It results in a charred, smoky exterior and tender, juicy meat inside. The combination of the smokiness from the grill and the aromatic spices creates a harmonious balance that will leave you craving for more.
You can wrap the grilled beef in rice paper along with fresh herbs and vegetables, creating a delightful spring roll-like creation.
Bún đậu mắm tôm
Next, we have Bún đậu mắm tôm, a specialty from Hanoi. This dish consists of rice vermicelli, crispy-fried tofu, sliced pork belly, Hanoi fried fish cake, and fresh herbs.
The star of the show in Bún đậu mắm tôm is the shrimp paste, known as mắm tôm. Now, I must warn you that shrimp paste has a strong smell and an acquired taste, but fear not! You can always ask for fish sauce as an alternative.
Gỏi cuốn, also known as summer spring rolls, is a light and refreshing dish.
These delicate rice paper rolls are filled with a mix of meat, shrimp, vermicelli, lettuce, and herbs, and served with sauce.
Personally, I love dipping my Gỏi cuốn in Nuoc mam (fish sauce) or Hoisin sauce, adding a few slices of chili and roasted peanuts for that extra kick of flavor. Trust me, it’s a match made in culinary heaven!
Prepare your taste buds for the crispy goodness of Chả giò, also known as Vietnamese fried spring rolls.
The savory combination of meat, vegetables, and fragrant spices is wrapped in rice paper, creating compact rolls that are then deep-fried. The result? A crispy and irresistible snack that will have you reaching for seconds.
You can enjoy it as an appetizer, a main course, or even as a snack on the go. Sometimes you can find it with a plate of fresh lettuce, herbs, and rice vermicelli, allowing you to create your own delectable lettuce wraps. Dip it into a tangy and slightly sweet Vietnamese dipping sauce, such as nước mắm, and you’re in for a flavor explosion!
Another popular Vietnamese street food dish to try is Cơm tấm, a Southern rice dish that will make your belly dance with joy.
It’s a simple yet flavorful combination of broken rice, grilled pork, and tasty accompaniments.
Let’s start with the star of the show: the broken rice. It’s a unique variety of rice that’s shorter and thicker than your regular grains. The grains are slightly broken, giving them a distinct texture and absorbing flavors.
Next up, we have the grilled pork. The pork is often marinated with a combination of savory fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass, and a hint of sweetness. The result is a tantalizing blend of flavors that will make your taste buds do a happy dance.
But wait, there’s more! Cơm tấm is usually accompanied by an assortment of sides and toppings. You’ll find a fried egg, pickled vegetables like carrot and daikon, cucumber slices, and fresh herbs such as mint and cilantro. These additions help balance out the rich flavors of the grilled pork and rice.
To take it to the next level, you can drizzle some fish sauce or a flavorful dipping sauce over the dish. This sauce is a mix of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, and chili, adding a zesty and tangy punch that elevates the flavors and ties everything together.
Hủ tiếu is one of my favorite Vietnamese street food. Imagine a bowl filled with aromatic broth, tender pork, savory minced meat, silky noodles, and a sprinkle of crispy fried onions on top. It’s a symphony of flavors that will have you coming back for seconds!
Hủ tiếu holds a special place in the hearts (and stomachs) of Saigonese foodies. So, keep an eye out for small street stalls or cozy corners where you can easily find this delicious treat. It’s a popular choice for breakfast or dinner among the locals, and trust me, you won’t want to miss out!
Here’s a little insider tip for you adventurous eaters: don’t be afraid to explore different variations of Hủ tiếu. You can try some new add-ons like crab or squid to your bowl. These additions bring a whole new dimension to the dish, infusing it with a delightful seafood flavor. Oh and don’t miss Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang, a variation of this popular dish that originated in Cambodia.
Xôi, Vietnamese sticky rice, is a true gem in Vietnamese cuisine, offering an excellent combination of flavors, textures, and aromas.
At its heart, Xôi is made from glutinous rice that has been soaked, steamed, and flavored with a variety of ingredients to create a mouthwatering dish. What makes Xôi truly special is its toppings and fillings, adding layers of flavor and texture to each bite.
You’ll find Xôi in numerous variations across Vietnam, each region putting its own spin on this classic dish. From savory options like Xôi Xéo with mung bean paste and fried shallots to sweet delights like Xôi Vò with coconut and sesame, there is a Xôi flavor combination to suit every taste.
My favorite Xôi is Xôi gà, which is sticky chicken rice. The combination of tender chicken, sticky rice, and a medley of flavors and spices is simply divine.
You can try some other Xôi such as xôi gấc (red sticky rice), xôi đậu phộng (sticky rice with peanut), xôi đậu xanh (sticky rice with green beans).
A bonus point is that you can enjoy Xôi at any time of the day: hearty breakfast, a satisfying lunch, or even as a snack. Whether you prefer it wrapped in a banana leaf for a convenient on-the-go treat or served on a plate, Xôi offers a delightful experience for both the eyes and the taste buds.
Mì Quảng is a delicious noodle dish that originates from the Da Nang – Quang Nam region of Vietnam.
The noodles are made from finely grated rice flour, resulting in a slightly chewy and soft texture. The traditional toppings include lean pork, shrimp, and fresh vegetables. If you’re adventurous, opt for chicken, beef, crab, and frog, to add to your bowl.
What makes Mì Quảng unique is its broth. Unlike other Vietnamese noodle soups that have a generous amount of broth, Mì Quảng has a relatively small amount of flavorful broth, allowing the other ingredients to shine. Also, the dish is garnished with roasted peanuts, parsley, chopped green onions, herbs, and red peppers, adding a delightful crunch and a burst of freshness.
During my trip to Da Nang, Vietnam, I had the opportunity to try Mì Quảng at a local eatery. The combination of flavors and textures was simply divine. The delicate rice noodles, tender pork, succulent shrimp, and refreshing vegetables created a harmonious symphony of taste in every bite. The hint of spiciness from the red peppers added a pleasant kick to the dish, balancing out the flavors perfectly.
Bún thịt nướng
Bún thịt nướng is a popular Vietnamese dish that combines grilled meat, fresh herbs, rice noodles, and a flavorful dressing. It perfectly captures the essence of Vietnamese cuisine with its vibrant flavors, contrasting textures, and colorful presentation.
At its core, bún thịt nướng features tender and juicy grilled meat, often marinated with a combination of ingredients such as lemongrass, garlic, soy sauce, and fish sauce. The grilled pork has a smoky and caramelized flavor that adds depth to the dish.
Accompanying the grilled meat is rice noodles and an abundance of fresh herbs and vegetables. Crisp lettuce, fragrant mint leaves, aromatic cilantro, tangy pickled carrots, and daikon radishes are just a few of the common additions. These ingredients not only add a refreshing element to the dish but also provide a textural contrast to the tender meat and soft noodles.
To bring all the components together, you can drizzle a savory dressing known as Nước chấm over the dish. This dressing is a harmonious blend of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, and chili, creating a balanced and tangy flavor profile that complements the other ingredients.
Bún chả is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes from Hanoi. I always make sure to try it at least once (or twice) whenever I visit the capital city.
Bún chả consists of two main components: grilled pork and rice vermicelli noodles. The pork is marinated with aromatic herbs and spices, giving it a savory and slightly sweet flavor.
It’s served alongside a plate of fresh herbs, including lettuce, mint, and perilla leaves, as well as pickled vegetables, such as carrots and radishes. These vibrant accompaniments add a refreshing and crunchy element to the dish, balancing out the richness of the pork.
To enjoy bún chả, you can take a portion of the grilled pork, wrap it in lettuce or perilla leaves, and dip it into a savory fish sauce-based broth.
Bún bò Huế
Bún bò Huế, originating from Hue in Central Vietnam, is a delicious dish that captures the essence of the region. Although the name translates to “beef vermicelli,” Bún bò Huế goes beyond beef.
In addition to the rice vermicelli noodles and beef, Bún bò Huế adds other elements such as pork belly, boiled pork leg, crab meatballs, and beef balls. This combination of meats brings a variety of textures and tastes to the dish, making each spoonful a delightful surprise.
The broth is the heart and soul of Bún bò Huế. It’s a symphony of flavors, combining spiciness, sourness, saltiness, and a hint of sweetness. The heat comes from chili peppers, while the sourness is derived from a touch of tamarind or fermented shrimp paste. The rich and savory broth, infused with the essence of the meats, creates a deeply satisfying and complex flavor profile.
Accompanying the bowl of Bún bò Huế, you’ll find a plate of fresh bean sprouts, basil leaves, sliced banana flowers, lemon wedges, and chili slices. These accompaniments add a burst of freshness and allow you to customize the dish to your liking. The contrasting textures and vibrant colors of the vegetables beautifully complement the hearty noodles and flavorful broth.
While there are variations available, Bún riêu cua (with crab) is the most popular choice. The minced crab meat infuses the soup with a delicate sweetness and a hint of brininess.
And when you combine it with fresh tomatoes, it creates a tangy base for the soup. You can also find other versions such as fish or shellfish, offering a range of flavors and textures.
To enhance the richness of the soup, the cook usually includes additional ingredients like fried tofu and pork leg or pork. These elements add depth and substance to the dish, complementing the lightness of the crab and tomato flavors.
Bún riêu is traditionally served with a side of fresh vegetables, including rau muống (morning glory) and other herbs such as cilantro and mint. These herbs offer a refreshing contrast to the savory and tangy soup, adding brightness to each bite.
You have heard of Bánh mì, right? It’s a Vietnamese sandwich that is famous for its unique blend of French and Vietnamese flavors. Bánh mì is not only delicious but also easy to enjoy on the go, making it a popular choice for a quick and satisfying meal.
The baguette used in bánh mì is light, crispy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. It’s the perfect vessel to hold all the delicious fillings. It typically features a variety of proteins, such as grilled pork, shredded chicken, Vietnamese cold cuts, or even tofu for vegetarians out there. You can also find some versions with Fish cake, grilled chicken, or canned fish.
But that’s not all. What sets Bánh mì apart is its toppings. Fresh herbs like cilantro and mint add a burst of freshness, while pickled carrots and daikon radishes provide a crunchy element. Slices of cucumber and jalapeño peppers bring a cool and spicy kick to the sandwich. And let’s not forget about the savory and umami-rich spreads like mayonnaise and pâté that elevate the flavor profile.
Each bite of a Bánh mì is a harmonious blend of textures and flavors. The crunch of the bread, the tenderness of the meat, the refreshing herbs, and the tangy pickles all come together to create a symphony of taste in your mouth.
Bánh Canh is a type of Vietnamese noodle soup that boasts a unique texture and rich flavors that will leave you craving more.
The star of the dish is the thick and chewy noodles, which are made from a combination of tapioca flour and rice flour. These noodles have a wonderful ability to soak up the flavors of the broth, creating a satisfying bite. The soup itself is typically a savory and aromatic broth made from a variety of ingredients such as pork bones, seafood, or chicken, simmered with aromatic herbs and spices.
You can enjoy Bánh Canh with a variety of toppings and proteins, such as fish balls, shrimp, pork, flavorful crab meat, or even a combination of different ingredients. Fresh herbs, lime wedges, and chili are often served as garnishes, allowing you to customize the flavor profile to your liking.
Bánh cuốn is a traditional Vietnamese dish that consists of steamed rice rolls filled with a savory mixture of minced meat, wood ear mushrooms, and dried onions. The delicate and translucent rice rolls are incredibly soft and chewy, creating a delightful texture with each bite.
To make bánh cuốn, a thin layer of rice batter is poured onto a cloth-covered steamer. The steam cooks the batter into a thin sheet, which is then carefully rolled with the flavorful filling. The rolls are typically served with chả lụa -Vietnamese pork sausage, sliced cucumber, and a variety of fresh herbs.
When enjoying bánh cuốn, you can wrap a portion of the rice roll in a sheet of lettuce or mustard greens, along with herbs and a slice of chả lụa. Don’t forget to dip it in a dipping sauce made from fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and garlic.
The combination of the soft and slightly sticky rice roll, the savory filling, and the crisp freshness of the greens creates a wonderful balance of flavors and textures.
Bánh tráng thịt heo
Rice paper plays a significant role in Vietnamese cuisine, and one popular dish that incorporates it is bánh tráng thịt heo. The combination of savory pork, crisp vegetables, and the unique texture of the rice paper creates a delightful balance of flavors.
The start of this dish is Bánh tráng. The rice is ground into a powder, which is used to create thin rice paper sheets. These sheets are sun-dried until they become translucent and pliable, giving them the name “rice paper frost.”
To eat the dish, you place thinly sliced pork onto the rice paper. Add vegetables such as lettuce, chives, guava leaves, and basil for freshness and crunch.
During my trip to Tay Ninh, I had the opportunity to sample bánh tráng thịt heo. The rice paper had a delicate texture, and the boiled pork was tender and flavorful. The assortment of fresh vegetables added a refreshing element to each bite.
Bánh khọt is a delicious Vietnamese dish that originated in the coastal city of Vung Tau. These bite-sized pancakes are made from a mixture of rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric, giving them a vibrant yellow color and a hint of coconut flavor.
To prepare bánh khọt, a small amount of batter is poured into a specialized pan with small round molds. As the batter cooks, it forms a crispy outer layer while maintaining a soft and creamy interior. The pancakes are then topped with shrimp, creating a delightful combination of textures and flavors.
When enjoying bánh khọt, you can wrap a pancake in a lettuce leaf along with herbs like perilla and papaya fiber. This adds a refreshing and crunchy element to each bite. The dish is typically served with a dipping sauce made from fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, and chili, which provides a tangy and savory contrast to the richness of the pancakes.
Bánh bèo is a popular dish originating from Central Vietnam and is named after its shape, which resembles water fern leaves. It is a type of steamed rice cake that is soft, delicate, and slightly translucent.
The rice cakes are typically served in small ceramic dishes and topped with a mixture of ground shrimp, crispy pork skin, scallions, and fried shallots. You can find a savory dipping sauce made from fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, and chili served alongside the bánh bèo, adding a tangy and umami flavor.
You can try Bánh bèo by scooping a portion of the rice cake with a spoon and dipping it into the sauce before taking a bite.
Bánh bột lọc
Another specialty from Hue, bánh bột lọc, is a must-try Vietnamese street food. These small, translucent dumplings are made from tapioca powder and filled with shrimp, creating a chewy and flavorful treat.
The process of making bánh bột lọc involves mixing tapioca flour with water to create a smooth and elastic dough. The dough is then rolled into small balls and flattened into thin circles. A shrimp filling is placed in the center of each circle, and the dough is carefully folded and sealed to create a dumpling shape. The dumplings are then steamed until they become translucent and slightly sticky.
When served, bánh bột lọc is usually garnished with crispy fried shallots and served with a dipping sauce made from fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, garlic, and chili.
Bánh Bao, known as Vietnamese Steamed Buns, is a Chinese-origin dish that has captured the hearts of food enthusiasts across Vietnam. These fluffy, steamed buns are a delightful combination of soft, pillowy dough and a savory filling that will transport you to a world of flavors.
Traditionally, Bánh Bao is filled with a mixture of ground pork, onions, mushrooms, and other aromatic ingredients. The filling is carefully seasoned with a blend of soy sauce, fish sauce, and spices, creating a savory and fragrant center. The buns are then steamed until they become light and airy, with a slightly chewy texture.
It is often enjoyed as a quick and satisfying breakfast or as a delicious snack throughout the day. The joy of biting into a Bánh Bao, with its juicy filling and soft exterior, is truly a culinary experience that you shouldn’t miss when exploring Vietnamese cuisine.
Bột Chiên, also known as Vietnamese Fried Rice Flour Cake, is a popular street food delight that will captivate your taste buds with its crispy exterior and soft, chewy center.
Bột Chiên is made by frying cubes of rice flour batter until they turn golden and crispy. The dish is typically stir-fried with a medley of ingredients such as eggs, green onions, bean sprouts, and sometimes pork. The result is a delectable harmony of savory and slightly sweet flavors, complemented by the delightful contrast of crispy and tender textures.
Bánh tráng nướng
Bánh tráng nướng, also known as Vietnamese grilled rice paper, is a popular street food snack that is both crispy and flavorful. Many people also call it as “Vietnamese Pizza”.
Bánh Tráng Nướng starts with a thin rice paper sheet, which is then topped with a medley of ingredients such as minced pork, dried shrimp, scallions, and sometimes quail eggs or fried onions.
The toppings are carefully arranged on the rice paper and then grilled over an open flame until the edges turn crispy and the flavors meld together. The result is a mouthwatering blend of smoky, savory, and slightly sweet flavors that will leave you craving for more.
You can find this delightful street food at bustling night markets and popular street food stalls throughout Vietnam. The experience of watching the skilled vendors prepare Bánh Tráng Nướng right before your eyes adds to the charm of this culinary adventure.
Nem nướng, also known as Vietnamese grilled pork skewers, is a delicious street food that is loved by many. The dish consists of marinated ground pork wrapped around a lemongrass stalk and grilled to perfection.
The grilled pork skewers are usually served with rice vermicelli, fresh herbs, lettuce, pickled vegetables, and a dipping sauce. You can assemble your own Nem nướng spring rolls by wrapping the pork skewers and other ingredients in rice paper, creating a burst of flavors and textures with each bite.
Chè is a popular Vietnamese dessert that comes in various forms and flavors. It can be served hot or cold, and it’s often made with a combination of ingredients such as beans, fruits, coconut milk, and jelly.
Some popular varieties of chè include chè bắp (sweet corn pudding), chè ba màu (three-color dessert), and chè đậu xanh (mung bean sweet soup). Each variety has its own unique taste and texture, offering a refreshing way to end a meal.
Sữa chua nếp cẩm
Sữa chua nếp cẩm is a traditional Vietnamese dessert made from sticky rice, purple rice, and yogurt. The sticky purple rice is cooked until soft and then mixed with yogurt to create a creamy and sweet treat.
This dessert is often served cold and topped with coconut milk and roasted sesame seeds. The combination of the different types of rice and the tanginess of the yogurt creates a unique and delicious flavor.
Whether you’re exploring street food stalls or dining in a restaurant, you’ll find an abundance of flavorful and diverse options to satisfy your taste buds. Vietnamese street food is a true culinary delight that combines fresh ingredients, vibrant flavors, and a rich cultural heritage.
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