Vietnamese food is distinct and unforgettable. The cuisine relies on a balance of salty, sweet, sour and hot flavors, achieved through the use of nước mắm, a fermented fish sauce, cane sugar, the juice of Kala Mansi citrus fruit or tamarind and chili peppers. Dishes use plenty of fresh herbs but tend not to be overly spicy, as chili sauces are served separately. We’ve picked ten essential Vietnamese foods everyone should try.
1. Gỏi cuốn
Vietnam’s most famous dish: translucent spring rolls packed with greens, coriander and various combinations of minced pork, shrimp or crab. In some places, they’re served with a bowl of lettuce and/or mint. A southern variation has barbecued strips of pork wrapped up with green banana and star fruit, and then dunked in a rich peanut sauce – every bit as tasty as it sounds.
2. Bánh mì
This baguette sandwich filled with greens and a choice of fillings, including paté and freshly made omelet, is so good it’s been imitated around the world.
3. Bánh xèo
These enormous, cheap and filling Vietnamese pancakes translate (banh xeo means “sizzling pancake”) pancake contain shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and egg, which is then fried, wrapped in rice paper with greens and dunked in a spicy sauce before eaten.
4. Bún Chả
A Ha Noi specialty, you’ll find bun cha at food stalls and street kitchens across the city. Essentially a small hamburger, the pork patties are barbecued on an open charcoal brazier and served on a bed of cold rice noodles with assorted foliage and a slightly sweetish sauce.
Vietnam’s national dish a the country’s great staple is pho (pronounced “fur”), a noodle soup eaten at any time of day but primarily at breakfast. The basic bowl of pho consists of a light beef or chicken broth flavored with ginger and coriander, to which are added broad, flat rice noodles, spring onions and slivers of chicken, pork or beef.
6. Cao lầu
Central Vietnam does it best. One of Among Hoi An’s tasty specialty is cao lau, a mouthwatering bowlful of thick rice-flour noodles, bean sprouts and pork-rind croutons in a light soup flavored with mint and star anise, topped with thin slices of pork and served with grilled rice flour crackers or sprinkled with crispy rice paper.
7. Chả cá
Seafood dishes are among the standouts of Vietnamese cuisine. Cha ca, reportedly devised in Hanoi, is perhaps the best known. It sees white fish sautéed in butter with dill and spring onions, then served with rice noodles and a scattering of peanuts.
8. Mì quảng
This unheralded and affordable noodle dish is a Da Nang specialty. Ingredients vary by establishment but expect to see a simple bowl of meat noodles enlivened by additions like flavorsome oils, fresh sprigs of leaves, shrimp, peanuts, mint and quail eggs.
9. Nộm Hoa Chuối
Vegetarians rejoice. Nom hoa chuoi, or banana-flower salad, is a great meat-free option.Lime and chili are the key flavors and add a refreshing punch to the shredded veg.
10. Cơm tấm
Com tam, “broken rice”, is a street-stand favorite. Recipes vary, but you’ll often find it served with barbecued pork or beef and a fried egg.