Food plays an important role in every culture as it is part of locals’ daily lives. You can learn about a country’s customs, geography, or even history through a meal. For tourists coming to Vietnam, there are two reasons you cannot miss out on a food tour: one, the best food in Vietnam is available right on the streets with no need for reservations, and two, they are always available at surprisingly low prices.
Recently, Scotland-based travel agency Skyscanner has named Vietnam one of the best destinations for foodies, alongside Mexico, India, Thailand, Singapore, and Nepal. As the country stretches from North to South, there are many meals to taste along the way. For your next food tour in Vietnam, here are the top 5 dishes (and some honorable mentions) to wow your tastebuds.
In Vietnam, a hot, flavorful bowl of pho for breakfast is a great way to kickstart your day. Everywhere you go, you can find pho. Nonetheless, the best place to try out pho is in the Northern part of Vietnam, especially Hanoi and Nam Dinh (they also have the best pho!).
Pho in Ho Chi Minh City might taste a bit different due to regional characteristics. As a Hanoian, I recommend you visit these addresses for the authentic bowl of pho: 13 Lo Duc, 49 Bat Dan, and 50C Hang Vai. These places sell a bowl from VND40,000 to 60,000 (~$1.5 to 2.5).
If you are in a hurry, banh mi is the perfect food to grab. You can get it within 2-3 minutes, with various ingredients from eggs, sausages, pates, cucumber, and fresh herbs. It feels like a whole meal wrapped in one baguette.
Banh mi is a staple in Vietnam, as you can see it being sold on street vendors, in small shops, or even in school cafeterias. Banh mi makes the perfect breakfast, lunch, or even dinner if you want to. Depending on your fillings, a banh mi can start from VND 20,000 (less than $1).
At first look, pho might look similar to bun, but the difference is that bun often has thinner and rounder noodles than pho. Bun cha made headlines worldwide when former US president Barack Obama sat with famous chef Anthony Bourdain to eat bun cha.
Bun cha is a Vietnamese dish consisting of bun, pork rolls grilled over charcoal, and a bowl of sweet and sour fish sauce. It seems simple, but its flavor profile is as complicated as any restaurant dish, from the smoky grilled pork rolls and the savory spice to the smooth, silky bun. In Hanoi, Bun cha Huong Lien (24 Le Van Huu) is a must-visit place for tourists, as Obama has tried bun cha here. A set ranges from VND 60,000 to 70,000 (~$2.5 to 3.5).
While pho and bun cha are Northern dishes, cao lau comes from central Vietnam. It is a noodle meal with shrimp, pork, raw vegetables, and little broth. The yellow noodles are mixed with ash from a local tree.
Cao lau is Quang Nam province’s signature dish. Hence, it is a big hit in Hoi An. One bowl of cao lau costs from VND 30,000 to 60,000 (~$1.5 to 2.5). Here are some places to try cao lau in Hoi An: 687 Hai Ba Trung, 87 Tran Phu, and 26 Thai Phien.
You’ll need an empty stomach for a broken rice dish because you might be packed for the rest of the day once you eat it. In the past, broken rice was initially made for blue-collar workers. The grains used for cooking the rice are broken leftover ones. As their purpose is to serve the working class, one dish provides a massive amount of calories and can make one go full for a whole day of work.
Broken rice’s original version is served with a huge rib, an egg, a small salad, and a bowl of soup to wash them down. However, nowadays, broken rice is a dish for everyone, and you can pair the rice with any dishes you want, such as fish, tofu, or chicken. If you want to eat broken rice, find a place in the Southern part of Vietnam, especially Ho Chi Minh City. A broken rice meal falls from VND 40,000 to 80,000 (~$1.5 to 3.5).
Banh cuon is the name of a dish made from steamed rice flour, thinly coated, rolled, and stuffed with vegetables or meat. In each region, you might find different versions of banh cuon. For example, in Thanh Hoa, they fill banh cuon with shrimps. Or in Cao Bang, banh cuon isn’t dipped in the fish sauce but soup. However, the price of a dish of banh cuon is still around VND30,000 - 50,000 (~$1.5 to 2).
Bún bò Huế
Bun bo Hue originated from Hue - a city in central Vietnam. The dish has the main ingredients of bun, beef, and pork rolls, with a distinctive red broth with lemongrass and shrimp flavor. Sometimes rare beef, crab cakes, and other ingredients are added to the bowls. One bowl of bun bo Hue is in the same price range as pho, depending on how many toppings you add.
Bánh tráng nướng
If you come to Vietnam in winter, banh trang nuong is a must-have snack. The crispy, steaming hot cake filled with eggs, cheese, sausages, and meat floss can warm your body instantly. Therefore, the best place to try is Da Lat or Sapa, famous for having cold weather throughout the year. A delicious banh trang nuong often costs VND 20,000 (less than $1).
The dish is an example of a “simple is better” mindset as the main ingredients are just noodles and fried tofu, with additional toppings such as cha com, nem chua, doi, and herbs. However, what makes bun dau is its two choices of sauce: fish sauce or shrimp paste with lemon. They both add a level of flavor to the dish, making it irresistible to stop when you start. Bun dau can range from VND 30,000 to 60,000 (~$1.5 to 2.5).
Goi cuon originates from Southern Vietnam with ingredients including lettuce, basil, perilla, dried shrimp, herbs, boiled meat, and fresh shrimp, all rolled in a rice paper wrap. Don’t forget to dip your goi cuon in nuoc cham. The sauce is prepared by adding lime juice or vinegar to the original fish sauce.