A Traveler’s Guide to Vietnamese Cuisine

Vietnamese Street Food

Vietnamese food is considered to be one of the healthiest national cuisines in the world. Balanced in flavor and ingredients, dishes like pho and bun cha are growing in popularity around the globe.

A highlight of visiting Vietnam is being able to sample some authentic, traditional dishes at restaurants in Hanoi, cafés in Hoi An, or from street vendors in Ho Chi Minh City.

Discover Vietnamese traditional food and the best places to find it in Vietnam with this quick guide.

What Is Typical Vietnamese Food

In Vietnam, typical food varies from region to region. However, many things are the same.

In general, Vietnamese cuisine features:

  • Fresh ingredients
  • Plenty of herbs and vegetables
  • Minimal oil and dairy

 

Vietnamese cooking emphasizes a balance between flavors and textures. Balance is an important aspect of the country’s culture and it is present in the way that dishes blend ingredients considered “hot”, such as ginger, with those considered “cool”, such as seafood.

Ingredients of Traditional Vietnamese Cuisine

Vietnamese traditional food is low in sugar and most dishes are gluten-free, using rice-based ingredients instead of wheat. Rice noodles, rice paper, and rice flour are examples of these.

Typical Vietnamese food ingredients

These include:

  • Rice
  • Fresh herbs, fruit, and vegetables
  • Bean sauce
  • Fish sauce
  • Shrimp paste

Typical herbs used in Vietnamese cooking

The most common herbs found in Vietnam’s cuisine are:

  • Bird’s eye chili (spicy)
  • Ginger (mildly spicy)
  • Lemongrass
  • Lime
  • Long coriander
  • Mint
  • Saigon cinnamon
  • Thai basil leaves (slightly spicy)
  • Vietnamese mint

Typical Food Served Around Vietnam

Vietnamese cuisine varies between the different regions of the country.

In northern Vietnam, spices are less readily available due to the colder climate, so the typical food is generally less spicy than in other parts of the country. Black pepper is used in place of chilies and flavoring is more subtle.

Seafood dishes—especially crab-based—are typical. Famous Vietnamese dishes from the north include bún chả” (rice noodle with grilled marinated pork), phở gà (rice noodle with chicken), chả cá Lã Vọng (rice noodle with grilled fish).

Central Vietnamese dishes tend to be spicier than those found in other regions. Signature dishes include bún bò Huế and bánh khoái.

Typical south Vietnamese food often involves more emphasis on fruit and vegetables and tends to be sweeter than in other areas of Vietnam. Coconut milk is a common ingredient in many dishes.

Typical Vietnamese food from the south includes dishes like bánh khọt and bún mắm.

What Is the Most Popular Food in Vietnam?

Some of the most popular dishes that can be found on a typical Vietnamese food menu include the following:

  • Pho, a noodle soup with spring onions, herbs and slivers of chicken, pork or beef; Vietnam’s national dish
  • Bun Cha, grilled pork, rice noodles, vegetables, and broth
  • Goi cuon, spring rolls stuffed with vegetables, coriander, and shrimp or pork
  • Banh mi, a baguette-style sandwich filled with greens and a choice of meat or pate
  • Banh xeo, large rice paper pancakes with a variety of fillings, dunked in a fish sauce
  • Cha ca, fish, onions, noodles, peanuts

Where Are the Best Places to Eat in Vietnam?

Quality Vietnamese food can be found all over the country. From Hanoi to Ha Long Bay, there is no shortage of restaurants and cafés serving the nation’s traditional food.

Urban centers are also great places to find Vietnamese street food. Food trucks and stalls sell most of the standard dishes of Vietnam, such as pho and banh mi—usually at more affordable prices.

Where to Eat Vietnamese Traditional Food

The capital of Vietnam is home to some of the best traditional restaurants in the country. Trying bun cha or pho ga are among the things not to miss in Hanoi, as these dishes originated in the city.

Visitors who are going to travel to Hoi An will find it is one of the best cities to find banh mi and cao lau.

Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon, is also a hub of traditional Vietnamese cuisine, with restaurants and street food found throughout its districts.

The Best Places to Find Vietnamese Street Food

Vietnamese street food is, for the most part, surprisingly high quality and a good way to save money on a Vietnam trip.

Traditional dishes like pho are widely available, along with snacks such as sea snails (Ốc) and Vietnamese pizza, which is made with rice paper (bánh tráng nướng).

The best places to enjoy Vietnamese cuisine from a food truck are urban areas, such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Market places are good spots to find street food, although vendors are widespread throughout these cities and it is never hard to find one.

Traveling to Vietnam for the Food

Foreigners who want to try some authentic Vietnamese cuisine in the country itself must ensure that they obtain the correct documentation to enter the southeast Asian state.

Many international travelers will need a Vietnamese online visa for visits of up to 30 days. This can be obtained by applying online, therefore avoiding the trip to a Vietnamese embassy or consulate, as with a consular visa.

The Vietnamese eVisa application form is quick and simple to fill out with some basic details and passport information and this electronic visa will be sent to the applicant in PDF format by email to be printed.

With the eVisa, the traveler can visit cities like Hanoi and discover Vietnam’s natural wonders like Ha Long Bay, sampling typical Vietnamese food along the way.

Check the countries eligible for the visa online to see what documents do you need to apply.