Vietnamese cuisine is another world of vibrant colors, flavors, and textures that entice all the senses besides relieving the rumbling of a hungry belly. Even though some of the dishes and concepts are not universally known or understandable for everyone, the variety in this cuisine gives enough room for finding something according to one's liking. Not sure if you are just curious about the cuisine or researching your upcoming trip, but hold tight as this article might induce serious cravings and hunger. I will get you acquainted with some of the common flavors and other aspects of Vietnamese foods to try. However, even more so - you will hear some information on the main aspects and background of these foods, and how they blend into the larger picture of the Vietnamese culinary world. Before revealing a list of 10 Vietnamese foods you need to try now, let's start with some introduction to the yummy building blocks of their food tradition. Moreover, if you need any information regarding a visa to Vietnam, you may check the "Services" section of our website.
What are the basic ingredients in Vietnamese cuisine?
Before getting a more detailed view of the best Vietnamese foods to try, it is important to get an impression of the cuisine itself. Generally, one would describe it as one that uses lots of fresh ingredients - herbs and vegetables, very little oil or dairy products, and many textures.
One of the most common ingredients is rice, and it is used in different forms - like noodles, rice paper, and rice flour. It naturally makes the dishes gluten-free, and another characteristic is the low sugar content. The most popular is fish sauce, and the most common flavors used in dishes are bird's eye chili, ginger, lime, mint, Vietnamese mint, lemongrass, long coriander, Saigon cinnamon, and Thai basil leaves. Because the meats are traditionally more expensive, many old recipes are vegetarian (though nowadays, pork, beef, and seafood are widely used in some of the most popular dishes).
What is the philosophy of traditional Vietnamese foods to try?
Most Vietnamese foods you need to try will incorporate a philosophy that has been around for centuries and is deeply embedded in their culture besides their plates. Meaning, each of the plates should predominantly contain one or more of the five elements to attain a particular type of balance. The five elements could be the flavors (spicy, sour, bitter, salty, and sweet), the types of nutrients (powder, water or liquid, mineral elements, protein, and fat), colors, or, most importantly, the five senses. These are visual appeal (food arrangements), sound from crunchy and crispy ingredients, five spices that one can feel on the tongue, herbal aromatics that stimulate the nose, and for particular dishes - also the touch.
As you can see, it is no simple thing to obey all the principles, but the result is truly divine if you learn to master the balance of all these elements. The great icon Anthony Bourdain himself wrote one of the best descriptions about this cuisine:
"You don't have to go looking for great food in Vietnam. Great food finds you. It's everywhere. In restaurants, cafes, little storefronts, in the streets; carried in makeshift portable kitchens on yokes borne by women vendors. Your cyclo-driver will invite you to his home; your guide will want to bring you to his favorite place. Strangers will rush up and offer you a taste of something they're proud of and think you should know about. It's a country filled with proud cooks—and passionate eaters."
But okay, enough rambling around the topic. Let's get onto this finally!
What are the 10 Vietnamese foods you need to try now?
Okay, this list won't be complete if I didn't mention the worldwide superstar Pho. So let's get it out of the way to see what other Vietnamese foods you have to try in Vietnam. If this is the first time you hear this short, hearty word, let me explain what it is all about. The perfectly rich and balanced broth and fresh rice noodles! Top it off with some beef or chicken and various herbs, and the slurping can begin. A relatively cheap, extremely satisfying, and super delicious meal that is popular both among the locals and the tourists. Just try one yourself, and you will see why!
2. Bun Rieu
It is hard to escape a bunch of heavenly soups if you are talking about Vietnamese foods to try.
Bun Rieu is one more to mention. A clear pork-based tomato broth with rice noodles served with a topping of delicious minced freshwater crab meat. Slurp!!!
3. Bahn Mi
It is impossible not to mention the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine. This staple was introduced to them in the mid-19th century but became widely popular street food nowadays just in the 1950s. So what is this weird-sounding name after all? A crispy short baguette that is cut lengthwise and filled with a variety of local ingredients like pork sausage, cucumber, and pickled daikon, red chili, additionally to some more french ones: pate and buttery mayonnaise.
4. Vietnamese Iced Coffee
Even though this is technically not a dish, it does go into your belly and is very delicious. The special thing about Vietnamese iced coffee is the mixture with condensed milk and a special way to prepare it, incorporating air into the energizing liquid.
5. Banh khot
It might be one of the most fun dishes you will find in Vietnam. Tiny bite-sized pancakes that are crunchy on the outside but creamy inside and topped with prawns, leafy greens, and mung beans. There might be other variations for toppings, but the point is - quick to consume and scrumptiously delicious.
6. Bot Chien
This is one of my personal favorites because it features rice and eggs. To be more specific, fried rice flour cubes fried in a pan together with egg and some vegetables, served with a tangy soy sauce. It is a popular snack for students after school, but I dearly suggest trying this!
7. Banh Xeo
Just a moment ago, I told you about bite-size crispy pancakes, and technically this might resemble that dish too. Just in a way bigger size! A batter of rice flour, turmeric, and water is made and poured into a hot skillet. That is when it makes the sizzling sound, or Xeo that it got the name from! Stuffed with whatever your heart desires, this is another popular street snack that will fill you up and make the belly sing!
8. Goi Cuon
As I told you already, fresh ingredients are a must if we talk about almost any of the Vietnamese foods you need to try. This is why the Vietnamese fresh spring rolls might be one of the most prominent examples of this notion. Beloved in many countries worldwide, these pockets of rice or tapioca flour filled with freshest herbs and aromatics, vegetables, and some kind of protein are dipped in peanut sauce or a traditional condiment based on fish sauce.
9. Che Chuoi
And finally, we have come to the sweeter options on this list. Yes, Vietnamese are no strangers to delicious desserts, and the Chuoi is one of the most popular ones. Che is usually a sweet pudding made of glutinous rice or tapioca pearls, and this particular one features coconut cream and banana. Served warm, it will feed your craving for a truly comforting sweet treat!
10. Coconut jelly, or Rau Cau
If you grew up eating Yello from a packet, forget almost everything before reading this description. The only thing you might find similar is the jello-ish texture, but it is slightly different as the coconut jelly is made from agar-agar (a seaweed that has similar qualities to gelatine but is suitable for vegans and vegetarians). Condensed milk, coconut cream, or milk and different flavorings are mixed with this ingredient to create a dessert that will resemble panna cotta. You will find it in many banh mi shops and other places, and be a good treat for your sweet tooth.
So what's the conclusion? Salty, sweet, sour, crunchy, cold, fresh, and zesty. Savory and spicy. These and many other sensations are incorporated in Vietnamese foods you have to try in Vietnam. And I truly hope that everything I wrote here was able to transport you for a moment into the vibrant world of Vietnamese flavors and textures because it is a genuinely colorful journey! As I mentioned beforehand - I have no clue about your reasoning for reading more into this topic. However, the truth is that it does not matter! As long as you get inspired to experiment a little and find some of the best Vietnamese foods to try in your local surroundings, or even better - during an exciting trip to the magnificent country itself. This cuisine is one to not miss. As parting words, I would like to wish you a finger-licking bon appetit!