Header image courtesy of Markus Winkler (via Unsplash)
Simplicity is key in Vietnamese cuisine—a culture which utilises the cleanest, freshest ingredients to serve up flavoursome yet straightforward dishes. That being said, each bowl of soup or appetiser takes years on years to master, using recipes passed down from generations in the family. Their diverse cooking techniques vary slightly by region, but it’s the street food which usually captures the most authentic taste. If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, these are the local delicacies you have to try on your visit. We narrowed it down to the top six dishes—and trust us, it was difficult.
Not to be cliche, but phở had to make it onto the list—it is the most popular Vietnamese dish in the world, after all. And what better way to taste it properly than in its birthplace? There are different variations of phở, mainly due to the French influences, so the broth may have a slightly contrasting taste in Hanoi, where it was initially invented back in the early twentieth century.
Thus, Hanoi phở has a more complex flavour to it, different from other regional bowls. In Saigon, it’s typically got a richer taste and is accompanied with a range of hot and sweet condiments and leafy green herbs to top. Opt for one of the two main types of phở—phở gà (chicken) or phở bò (beef). Garnishes vary from vinegar and fish sauce to chilli sauce and green onions.
Another classic Vietnamese dish, bánh mì is a cult favourite. The sandwich originally came from the Vietnamese word for the baguette, introduced by the French during its colonial period, and coming from the southern part of the country. You can find bánh mì pretty much anywhere—street vendors, restaurants, local cafes—and usually, it’s a good one.
Besides the crunchy, crusty exterior, which makes the bánh mì so popular, its toppings are also a winning feat, and typically include pork, Vietnamese sausage, cold cuts, or floss, complemented with fresh veggies. Depending on the region you’re in, there may be alternatives to the type of bánh mì you’re getting—but its crispy baguette texture will have you always wanting more.
As you can probably tell, there is quite a bit of French influence on the flavours of Vietnam which we see today. Taking pancakes (or more specifically, crêpes) to the next level, Vietnam’s interpretation of the dish serves it in a savoury, sizzling form.
Invented in Central Vietnam, bánh xèo is a yellow turmeric pancake filled with pork, shrimp, and vegetables, and made in a traditional hot skillet. Often found at street food vendors (where they are arguably the best versions), the dish is wrapped in rice paper and dipped in a special pork liver and peanut sauce for a crunchy touch.
Another famous noodle soup dish, bún bò huế is made with rice vermicelli, beef brisket, and beef shank. The broth is made from pork and beef bones with lemongrass seasoning and fermented shrimp paste before it’s garnished with onion and cilantro. It’s flavourful at every sip, and has a richer taste to it than a typical phở dish—diners can even add on cubed pig’s blood for even more flavour. The best place to get this authentic dish is in its hometown, Huế, a place which boasts stunning pagodas and riverside eateries.
Hoi An’s cơm gà is Vietnam’s interpretation of the delicious Hainanese chicken rice. The dish came into the region when Chinese traders moved to the Quang Nam Province and introduced their well-loved cuisine to the country. If you’re familiar with the Hainan version, then the ingredients will sound familiar—shredded poached chicken with pilaf rice.
Adding a Vietnamese touch, the cơm gà sprinkles shredded green papaya and carrot, fresh herbs, and chicken broth onto it. This historical dish will bring back nostalgia to frequent travellers who have tasted the best of Chinese cuisine as well.
Made from scrumptious glutinous sticky rice, xôi is soaked, drained, then steam-dried for a unique flavour unlike typical rice dishes. Foodies can choose between sweet or savoury banana leaf-wrapped xôi. The delicious plate is filled with ingredients including shallots, pork floss, peanuts, and corn, giving it a mixed texture of chewy, sweet, nutty, and sticky, all in one. Find this treasured treat at pretty much any food vendor in Vietnam.