Vietnam has been consistently ranked among the world’s most diverse and flavorful cuisines — and no one would dare to argue. There are about 3000 Vietnamese dishes, varying in ingredients, preparation, flavor, and serving. It will take even the most active foodie years to get a taste of all that Vietnam has to offer.
So, where should one start their culinary journey? On the sidewalk food cart selling crunchy bánh mì chả cá? On that makeshift food stand offering a rich bowl of phở or a meaty Bún bò Huế?
If you’re looking for an authentic culinary adventure that will excite your palates and allow you to know Vietnam on a deeper level, we suggest you skip the obvious choices.
We asked some of Vietnam’s popular food influencers to share their favorite underrated Vietnamese culinary masterpieces that deserve the brightest spotlight.
Thuyen Vo (@thuyenvo12) — Cơm Gà Xé
Thuyen Vo is a popular face on YouTube, as Sonny Side’s seasonal co-host for the Best Ever Food Review Show (BEFRS). While Thuyen doesn’t have her own YouTube channel, her honest take on every food she tastes has gained love and praise.
Coming from the central region, Thuyen has cơm gà xé on top of her list of the most underrated local food. The shredded chicken rice dish is a source of pride for the people of Quang Nam province. While the preparation is quite straightforward — boil the chicken, shred it, and put it beside turmeric rice and herbs — cơm gà xé needs to be done the right way to bring out the real flavor of the chicken.
“The cool thing about this is they use free-range chicken (gà ta), so the meat is juicy and tender but still has great texture. It’s really healthy since it’s boiled chicken and has no bones, so I think it’s a perfect dish to promote to the world.”
Cơm Gà Xé is traditionally served in round plating, with the appetizing yellow rice at the center and the tender shredded chicken, shredded green papaya, and coriander set around it (if not on top of the rice).
Calvin Bui (@fkndeliciousness) — Bánh Bột Lọc
Calvin Bui, that energetic man with the signature mustache, is a sure delight to watch on YouTube. His own channel, full of his food adventures in Vietnam and beyond, and his regular appearance on the BEFRS, have made him an icon in everything food. Not to mention he’s a talented chef and an entrepreneur who helped elevate Saigon’s F&B scene years back.
Having eaten all kinds of food and seen how they’re made, Calvin definitely has a say on which ones deserve to be in the limelight — and he chooses bánh bột lọc. The chewy dumplings look appetizing to most, though some would take a step back. But it’s packed with flavors you’d regret not tasting sooner.
Bánh bột lọc is made with tapioca flour and stuffed with pork, shrimp, green onions, and generous seasoning. The ingredients are easy to find but must be selected carefully to ensure the best result.
Preparing the dish takes a bit of time and effort, making it a unique dish enjoyed with the whole family on the weekend. The delicious dipping sauce is as important as the main dish, so dip that chewy goodness into the fish sauce and enjoy.
Discover more must-eat hidden street food gems with Calvin Bui through his new passion project, Calvin Eats Vietnam.
Uyen Dang (@bubufoodshow) — Bánh Căn
Those who need that final push to explore Vietnamese cuisine should visit Uyen Dang’s Instagram account. The incredible photos of the food she eats and dining places she visits are too inviting (those on a strict diet should be warned); it’s hard not to want to experience them yourself.
To truly appreciate Vietnamese food and the culture behind it, Uyen suggests you try bánh căn or the Vietnamese mini pancake, a favorite among locals but isn’t too popular among foreign travelers. Bánh căn is served hot, taken straight out of the round clay molds. The cooking process is, in itself, a worthwhile experience, says Uyen.
“It would be interesting when you can see the cake makers cook on outdoor grills, which are equipped with a specialized terracotta bánh căn mold. The flour is poured into the mold, and the pancake is topped with whole shrimp, squid, scallions, or pork or quail eggs.”
Bánh căn goes perfectly well with two kinds of sauce: Mắm nêm (fermented fish sauce) or nước chấm (Fish sauce mixed with lemon juice, garlic, sugar, and chili). Bánh căn is dipped fully into the sauce for that unique Vietnamese flavor.
“Super tasty. Travelers can find it in all of the big cities in Vietnam like Saigon, Da Lat, Nha Trang, or Da Nang.”
Lien Sterkens (@foooooodsaigon) — Bánh Tráng Trộn
The “hungry Belgian girl” on Instagram finds Vietnamese cuisine a “very honest cuisine,” and it’s this same level of honesty and authenticity that allowed Lien Sterkens to thrive as a food influencer in her second home.
Read Lien Sterkens’ food reviews here.
Lien is open to trying everything — from a local shop on the far end of the alley to a modern restaurant offering the best crispy oysters, from unfamiliar Vietnamese dishes to foreign fusions.
Speaking of unfamiliar dishes, Lien has a special place for bánh tráng trộn in her list of favorites. This tasty treat is considered a “national snack” but has yet to gain international popularity. It’s easy to make and can be modified depending on one’s preference.
“It’s literally ‘mixed rice paper.’ Rice paper mixed with MSG, chili powder, and tamarind sauce. So simple but so delicious. My favorite parts are the fried shallots and fresh Vietnamese cilantro. It's the perfect afternoon snack, easy to order, and costs almost nothing. I love the fact that it's so inventive: leftover rice paper becomes a delicious snack.”
One can also experiment with putting grated green mango, quail eggs, and beef jerky for a more exciting feast.
Nhan Hien Nhi (@anotherfoodaddict) — Bột Chiên
Young, bubbly, and always on the go, Nhan Hien Nhi is gaining an increasing number of fans for her well-curated Instagram page. She knows how to find the best dining spots and eat mouthwatering dishes and is most certainly an expert in making us all jealous through her incredible flat lays. She’s a food addict, but not just any other food addict.
Nhi is on a mission to showcase good food that can be found in Saigon; and while a quick look into her page would give one the impression that she’s a fan of modern, high-end flavors, Nhi is an avid supporter of local mom-and-pop shops and under-the-radar treats.
She thinks bột chiên (fried rice flour cake) deserves more recognition in the Vietnamese food map.
“Influenced by the Chinese turnip cake, bột chiên is adjusted to suit the locals’ palates by using rice flour cubes to enhance the crispy mouthfeel. An egg mixture and chopped green onions would be added while pan-frying the snow-white gems to incorporate everything together. This Vietnamese version also features tangy soy sauce with crunchy pickled papaya on the side.”
Bột chiên is simple, affordable, and available everywhere in the southern region. It’s part of every local’s childhood and definitely should be part of every traveler’s must-eats when in Vietnam.
Saigon Sip City (@saigonsipcity) — Bún Mắm
Daisy Hoang and Drew Burns are the duo behind Saigon Sip City, a blog offering wining and dining recommendations around Saigon. Together, they do the legwork of finding eateries and speakeasies with a wow factor and a balanced experience that will appeal to their thousands of followers.
Read Saigon Sip City’s food recommendations here.
It is just right to ask this duo about an underrated Vietnamese dish they can proudly show off to the world through their blog. They choose bún mắm, the hearty fermented thick Vietnamese vermicelli soup from the Mekong Delta.
The sweetness of fresh seafood, the fish sauce’s strong aroma, and the fatty taste of pork make this noodle soup a local treasure. But because bún mắm (like most of Vietnam’s pungent food) is an acquired taste, it’s often overlooked, especially by short-term visitors.
Those who dare to try are gifted with flavor and aroma that’s second to none. The deeply savory broth and loads of toppings make one feel a little closer to Vietnam and its storied culture.