I find that the food in South East Asia is some of the tastiest there is and I could never get tired of it! Therefore I think that this deserves a post on its own, to do the deliciousness of the Vietnamese cuisine justice. Scroll down to see some of the favourite foods I tried during my trip!
If you want to see my 14-day itinerary or get tips for your trip to Vietnam check out my other post Backpacking through Vietnam.
Pho is one of the most traditional dishes and is considered the national dish of Vietnam. It is a Vietnamese noodle soup that consists of rice noodles in a delicious broth, with typical local vegetables and herbs, and some form of meat (e.g. chicken, beef, pork or tofu). It is a meal that is typically eaten for breakfast but it can really be eaten for any meal of the day. The most traditional type of pho is usually with beef or pork.
2. Fresh Spring Rolls
The next most popular food that you can find throughout all of Vietnam is fresh spring rolls. They are made with rice paper and filled with rice noodles, fresh vegetables such as cabbage, grated carrot, lettuce etc., and a type of meat or tofu. My favourite was the shrimp spring rolls! We even got to make some ourselves in a cooking class on the cruise in Ha Long Bay and at our hostel in Hoi An.
3. Green Papaya, Green Mango and Banana Flower Salad
This is one of my personal favourites from our trip. It is the perfect combination of freshness, spiciness and tanginess. You might think that this is a very sweet salad but it is actually quite the opposite. The salad is made with either shredded green papaya or green mango, which are both quite neutral in taste as they are the unripe version of the fruits. This allows for the taste of the dressing and other ingredients to really come through. The dressing is made with fresh lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, sugar and chillies. The other ingredients that are traditional in the salad include herbs like coriander and sometimes also shrimp or pork, and a generous topping of peanuts. The salad is also popular in other areas of South East Asia such as Thailand and Laos. In Vietnam it’s called gỏi đu đủ. The best one we had was at the Bamboo Cafe in Phong Nha and at the French Bakery & Restaurant by the beach near Hoi An.
4. Banh Mi
Banh mi means bread in Vietnamese. It is made with what was typically French baguette and is curiously a typical meal in Vietnam. The origin of the baguette comes from when the French invaded Vietnam and influenced the cuisine of the country with their traditional food. The Vietnamese twist is that the bread is now slightly different from French baguette and it is filled with delicious vegetables, sauce, herbs, and meat (or tofu). We had this delicious one at Banh Mi Ha Noi in Tam Coc.
5. Crispy Pancakes – speciality of Hue
The crispy pancake, or “khoái” cake, is a delicious speciality of Hue. The pancakes are pretty similar to rice pancakes (bánh xèo), but they are slightly smaller and the frying makes them crispy. They are filled with flavoursome ingredients such as shrimp, egg, pork meat or pork sausage, carrot, bean sprout and spring onion, and they served with a traditional dipping sauce from the city, different from the one you will taste in the south of the country.
6. Bún bò Huế – Speciality of Hue
This soup, also a speciality of Hue, is traditionally made with rice vermicelli noodles, beef, shrimp paste and pork blood. There are also some places that have a vegetarian option like the Family Restaurant where I tried it (shown in the picture below). Bún bò is commonly served with lime wedges, cilantro, diced green onions, sliced spring onions, chilli sauce, sliced banana blossom, mint, basil, Vietnamese coriander (rau răm), sawtooth herb (ngò gai) and sometimes mung bean sprouts.
7. White rose dumplings – speciality of Hoi An
Known locally as Banh Bao Vac, the name ‘white rose’ was said to be given to the dish by the French as the little steamed white rice pancakes resemble flowers on a plate. You can only try this dish in Hoi An, so make sure you try it out when you’re there! The local people from Hoi An say that if you leave the town without having tried these dumplings, then you haven’t truly experienced the town to its fullest. The little steamed rice dumplings are usually served with dried shrimp, bean sprouts, spring onion and chillies and also sometimes with pork – so make sure you know what’s in them when you order!
8. Cao Lao – speciality of Hoi An
Unlike pho, these noodles are served with very little broth, and the noodles are much firmer than other noodles in Vietnam, almost similar to the Japanese udon noodle. The dish is seasoned with coriander, basil, and mint and sometimes chilli peppers and lime. Cao Lau should be served with salad greens and bean sprouts and usually comes with thinly sliced pork, so if you want the vegetarian version with tofu, make sure to mention this when you order! The secret to this dish, and why you won’t find the traditional version anywhere else in Vietnam, is that it is made with water from the ancient Cham wells that only exist in this part of the country. We had both of the below at Minh Hien Vegetarian 2 in Hoi An.
9. Broken rice – typical in Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon
The traditional Vietnamese dish is made with broken rice grains. It is most typical in the southern regions, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. Broken rice is not different from normal white rice apart from the fact that the rice grains are broken during the milling process. This makes the rice “inferior” to whole grain rice. The rice first became popular with farmers, who could only afford this cheaper type of rice – they picked up the rice that was left after the milling process. This way it became a popular dish among worked in the area around Saigon. The popularity then spread to students and middle-class families, eventually making it a recognised signature dish of Saigon. The picture below was at Propaganda in Ho Chi Minh City, a great place for food!
10. Mango cake and grilled banana cake
I tried both of these on the streets of Hoi An. The mango cake, funnily enough, has nothing to do with mango, it is made of rice and peanuts and is slightly sweet in taste. It is called mango cake because it is said to look like mango stones due to its oval shape. The banana cake is made over a fire and consists of unripe banana wrapped in cooked rice wrapped and grilled in a banana leaf (that is taken off for you to eat). They are both delicious and a must-try!
11. Bonus – Coconut Coffee
Coffee is one of the most widespread and famous drinks in Vietnam. It comes in all sizes, shapes and forms. The most special about it is that it is the robusta variety which tastes much nuttier and roasted than the traditional arabica variety which we are used to the in the west. The robusta beans give the coffee a unique, deep and a full-bodied flavour, which makes this my new favourite type of coffee (of course I bought loads to take home with me!). The most famous drink is the coconut coffee. It is made with coffee, evaporated milk, coconut milk and ice. One of the famous coffee chains in Vietnam, Cong Ca Phe, is famous for its coconut coffee but you can get it almost anywhere. Another one of my favourites was the Hoi An Roastery. Other types of coffee that are delicious are Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk and egg coffee, which you must both try as well! During our trip, we had at least 2 cups of coffee each day because it is so delicious.