A country that has thousands of years of traditions and multicultural influences from China to France and to the United States, Vietnam has no shortage of food options for travelers and locals alike. Every kind of noodles, meat, broth, rice cakes, fruits, and vegetables you could ever think of, Vietnam probably has it all. And for some reason, still a lot of visitors overlook this fact and stay in their comfort zones by eating familiar and comfort food, which literally mean eating food from home, like pasta and bread. This usually happens because of a few major reasons; first, it’s the fear of getting sick while travelling. The country, or the region for that matter, is known for having less strict policies on food safety, which leads to people, including the locals to unnecessary hospitalization, and sometimes leading to serious infections. Second, Asian dishes use a lot of exotic spices and ingredients that are very foreign to a lot of visitors, which makes them feel scared of trying new dishes.
But as the country is becoming more popular especially in the gastronomy field, one cannot argue that trying out Vietnamese food, specifically when you’re traveling throughout the country, should not be tried at all because of health and safety reasons. With so much flavors, aroma, and tastes that you can discover even from just a dish of noodles is more than enough reason for you to eat your way through Vietnam. The sweet flavors of the southern region, the spicy tongue of the central coast, and the savory palates of the northern highlands are your gateway into discovering the untold stories of the people that survived the hardships of the past and a window to a brighter future that is Vietnamese cuisine. And with our firsthand experience of it, we can definitely testify that each bite you’ll take in this marvelous land will be forever remembered for the rest of your lives.
And as you journey through the elongated coastal country, below is your guide on the 7 must-try dishes that you cannot miss and cannot ignore once you make your very first step upon your arrival.
Popularly known as Vietnamese pancakes, BanhXeois a savory fried pancake cooked in a hot skillet that’s usually paired with a plate full of veggies. The pancakes are made of rice flour, water, turmeric powder, pork, shrimps, green onions, and bean sprouts. Some regions even put green beans inside the pancakes to add texture and flavor in the dish. Depending on which region and the people cooking it, the ingredients vary from one family to another.
Being regarded as the Vietnamese version of French crepes, BanhXeocan be found in a lot of places in the southern region and are big enough to feed two mouths at the same time.
Hu Tieu Nam Vang
One of the most historical dishes you could ever try in the southern region of Vietnam. Hu Tieu Nam Vang, or Phnom Penh Noodle Soup, as the name suggests, is a borrowed Chinese-Khmer dish that was then turned into Vietnamese. With the southern region of Vietnam being a huge part of the Khmer empire in the early years of the country, this noodle dish has came a long way and probably the longest-surviving tradition that the Champa Kingdom has left in the lives of the Vietnamese people. And this is also the reason why you could only find most of restaurants that specialize in this dish in the southern part of Vietnam. Trying to find this dish in the northern region is close to impossible.
So what’s in the dish? It can be confusing as each province in the southern region has their own version of the dish. What’s prevalent though is it having the shrimps, fried pork fat, garlic, and shallots, as the main star of the bowl. Noodles vary from region to region. You may order it with or without broth. But one thing to remember is that Hu Tieu, no matter where you order it, will be one of the best dishes you’ll ever have in the country.
Every central Vietnamese’s favorite dish, Com Gaor Hoi An-style chicken rice is a the closest cousin of the Chinese version of the same dish. With this region being highly influenced by the Chinese during their colony thousands of years ago, the chicken dish has managed to stay and left their marks in the hearts and tummies of the local people. And eventually, it even became a dish that would be the main reason why people would visit Hoi An and central Vietnam.
Com Ga highlights a mix of local herbs, raw onions, and the star, shredded strips of slowly-cooked chicken over rice that’s been cooked in chicken broth and pickled vegetables on the side plus a small bowl of chicken soup to complete the set. This dish is commonly eaten for dinner and enjoyed either with a refreshing glass of Vietnamese tea or a bottle of local beer.
Bun Bo Hue
Just a few hundred kilometers north of Hoi An and Da Nang, Hue, the Imperial Capital of Vietnam, has something to offer as well for those who are up for a gastronomical experience. Widely known all over the world, Bun Bo Hue, is one of the country’s most popular dishes to exist because of its history and plethora of flavors.
A rice noodle dish that’s loved by millions of foodies from across the globe, this is commonly served with a fiery dark yellow-red mix soup, some chunks of tender beef, pork, cartilage, and sometimes pork blood (if you’re adventurous enough). And as the name suggests, the best Bun Bo can be found in the city of Hue. But since tourism has increased all over the country for more almost a decade now, you can easily find a good version of this dish in the bigger cities such as Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi.
QuangNinh’s pride and Halong Bay’s favorite dish, Cha Muc, or generally known as squid cakes, is the one that many look forward to having when they visit Halong City. For millions of Vietnamese people who come to Halong Bay tours every year, a bag full of this squid goodness is never to be forgotten. This dish is usually served in every restaurant in town and in every overnight cruise there is in Halong Bay, especially the luxury ones.
The main ingredient, of course, is squid. The meat is then mixed with a special batter and is formed into flat circular shapes and is then deep-fried until it’s golden crispy before it gets served hot and fresh for people to buy. Crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside, Cha Muc appeals to all kinds of diet, including both eastern and western as there’s no special or specific way to eat it.
The ultimate and most common Vietnamese dish there is that is widely known all over the world, Pho is the best representation of Vietnamese culinary. Simple, tasteful, easy to make, and can be consumed anytime during the day, this noodle dish basically sums up the overall story of Vietnam from thousands of years down to the present time. Ask any Vietnamese from anywhere in the world and they’ll tell you that this dish is their definition of comfort food, usually cooked and prepared by their moms, most of whom acquired the recipe from their great ancestors back in motherland.
Traditionally served with beef as the main meat, Pho can also be presented with boiled chicken, perfect for those who don’t like eating a lot of red meat. And although it can be found throughout the country, almost in every corner, the best and most authentic versions can only be eaten in the north as the dish was originally created in this part of the country.