10 dishes you must try in Vietnam

We had all of this for about $10

Everyone says Vietnam is fabulous for food – and by goodness, everyone is right. It is. Here’s my pick of the dishes you must try.


Pho at Pho 10

This is possibly Vietnam’s national dish – it’s also one that’s guaranteed to make you feel better when you’re not feeling quite so flash. It’s traditionally a brekky dish, but seriously, who follows rules like that? Essentially pho (pronounced “fur”) is a light, yet flavour packed stock into which finely sliced beef (bo) or chicken (ga) is added, along with rice noodles and spring onions.

You’ll then get a plate of herbs for you to add according to your taste: Vietnamese mint or basil, lemon, chilli, bean sprouts, sauce. In Hoi An, they often serve this with slices of green papaya as well. The soup also has more cinnamon in it than you get in Hanoi. Also, more filling. Same same, but different.

Try it at Pho 10 in Hanoi or Pho Xua in Hoi An.

Pho 10 – 10 Lý Quốc Sư, Old Quarter, Hanoi

Pho Xua – 35 Phan Châu Trinh, Hoi An

Pho at Pho Xua. Note the green papaya strips on the side plate

Bun Bo Nam Bo

Bun bo nam bo

Oh my, this was good. Marinated beef is quickly stir-fried and served with fried onions on bun noodles (vermicelli), and lettuce. It’s served with peanuts, shallots, maybe some more herbs, and a sauce made simply from fish sauce, lemon and chilli. You stir it all together and add your own lemon and chilli to taste. Yum.

We tried it at 67 Hang Dieu in the Old Quarter.

Bun Cha

bun cha at New Day, Hanoi

This is such a fabulously cooling combination that I’ll be giving it a go at home. In a way I suppose it’s a little like a deconstructed pork hamburger – with noodles (bun) instead of bun. Get it? Barbecued or grilled pork patties are served with cold vermicelli noodles, a plate of greens and a bowl of broth that’s based on vinegar, sugar and fish sauce. Everything is eaten together and everything is dipped into the broth.

In Hoi An it was served slightly differently at Pho Xua. There the grilled pork pieces were served in the broth. And the broth is different too – sweeter and more stock like.

bun cha at Pho Xua, Hoi An

Anyways, both versions were good.

We tried it at New Day – 72 Ma May St Hanoi in the Old Quarter; and Pho Xua – 35 Phan Châu Trinh, Hoi An

Fried Spring Rolls

Ok, no two are the same. At New Day we shared a plate of spring rolls with our beers – I was then given more with my bun cha…these were different from the first. I soon gave up trying to work out which was which and just gave myself up to the general crunchy yumminess…except, of course, the one I’m blaming for my tummy upset. But that was airport food – and everyone knows that doesn’t count.

We tried them – everywhere.

fried spring rolls at New Day, Hanoi

Goi Cuon

Fresh spring rolls. Seriously healthy, seriously moreish, and seriously easy to make – in fact we had a go at making them at Red Bridge. Anyways, it’s simply cold noodles, heaps of greens, maybe some green banana (especially in Hoi An and further south), and prawns or minced pork, or perhaps some cooked chicken. It’s all rolled up into rice paper and you dunk it in a peanutty sauce. Easy peasy.

Bahn Mi

Technically, banh mi means the bread, but less technically it refers to a Vietnamese sandwich in a baguette roll. The roll has to be light and crispy, and it’s filled with pate, greens, and meat (commonly, pork), and, sometimes, even omelette. In a way, it’s a little like a french salad roll – with extras.

We tried it at Bahn Mi Phuong – made famous by Anthony Bourdain in the travel show No Reservations. Be ready to queue. It cost 20,000 dong, or $1.20 AUD. Bahn Mi Phuong – 2B Phan Châu Trin Banh xeo

Banh Xeo at Rice Drum, Hoi An

Bahn xeo, loosely translated, means sizzling cake – for the noise when the batter hits the fry pan. These pancakes, made from rice flour batter, are filled with prawn, pork, chicken, beansprouts, green banana, whatever. They are then wrapped in rice paper and dunked in dipping sauce. Some places will serve them as a communal pancakes, where you rip off a portion, wrap and dunk. We also made these at Red Bridge.

We tried these at Rice Drum (in Ancient Town, Hoi An) and Orivy, just around the corner from where we were staying at Maison Vy. You’ll find it at 576/1 Cửa Đại

I made these ones myself

Egg Coffee A Hanoi classic, I told you all about this here. A cup will set you back less than $2. While on the subject, although I’m not a big coffee drinker, apparently the weasel coffee should be tried. Made from coffee beans previously digested and “harvested” from a weasel like creature, one of these gave hubby a caffeine fizz for quite some time. Cau Lau

The noodles are thicker than the ones that are used for pho, and the broth is different – flavoured with star anise, mint, and …something else. It tastes much sweeter. The website hoianfoodtour.com explains what makes the dish so special:

The dish cannot be replicated outside of the town because the water used in the dish must be drawn from a well in the nearby Ba Le well which is dug by the Cham people, which is at the end of an alley opposite 35 Phan Chau Trinh Street. The lye solution used to prepare the noodles comes from trees grown on Cham Island. This water is then mixed with ashes from certain trees, to give it its particular yellow tinge and slightly firm texture. The noodles will therefore be soft, enduring and flavored with special sweet-smelling additives.

If you want to know more about that, here’s the link. Anyways, it’s topped with pork that’s been marinated, fried and then roasted; bean sprouts, puffy, porky little croutons of crackling, and grilled tice flour crackers.

I only had it the once – at Rice Drum in Hoi An Ancient Town. It was good, but apparently it’s better at Pho Xua – 35 Phan Châu Trinh, Hoi An

Nom Hua Chuoi

The pic is bad, but this tasted great

Banana Flower Salad. Just how pretty does that sound? Basically it’s shredded banana flower, veggies, chilli and lime. It’s a great meat free dish, but at Morning Glory in Hoi An Ancient Town, they also do it with duck. Exceptionally good.

What else?

Don’t let this list limit you. We had some fabulous claypots – the best being a chicken and ginger one at Memory Cafe on our final night – some good lemongrass stir-fried dishes, and plenty more besides. Just out of this list were:

Cha Ca is a sautéed fish and noodle dish that’s on most lists. Our travelling companions tried this the night before we got into town and were still suffering a tad a couple of days later. So we gave it a miss.

Bahn Bao Vac – White Rose Dunplings.

Another Hoi An classic, I desperately wanted to be blown away by these – but wasn’t. They were good, but not great. The best version we had was as Ha An Memory Café on our last night in town. The weird thing is, these are supplied to all the local restaurants by the one family, yet taste a tad different everywhere. They’re arranged on a platter and sprinkled with shallots, and served with a dipping sauce made from shrimp broth, chillies, lemon and sugar. They do, however, have a very pretty name. Com Ga – Chicken Rice.

I think I was expecting something like Hainanese chicken rice. Again, it was good, but a tad underwhelming. The best one is at Green Mango in Ancient Town, Hoi An. Most others serve it as a pile of shredded chicken on a pile of tumeric rice…ok, I’m under-selling it.

Have you been to Vietnam? Anything else you’d add to the list?

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Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

35 thoughts

  1. Almost all of those dishes look delicious Jo. There’s nothing more delightful than authentic asian cuisine but my biggest problem is now of course I’m coeliac. And though you can get gluten-free soy / oyster / hoisin sauce most establishments buy the traditional brands in bulk so aren’t gonna stock Changs or Fountain or similar.

    When I’ve been for Chinese locally I was told they’d adapt dishes for me, which I discovered just involved leaving out the sauce, so everything was really bland!

    1. That attitude annoys me – the restaurants, that is. Tamari is readily available, so why not use that for gluten free customers? The rice paper these guys use is gluten free – made from soaked rice…but not sure about fish sauce…

  2. I’ve never been to Vietnam and am hesitant about travelling to Asian countries, because I am a big scaredy cat when it comes to different foods. But these actually all sound really nice – well except for the seafood (blech) and maybe that egg coffee!!!

    1. Lol. Yeah I didn’t like the egg coffee – way too sweet for me. My friend loves it, but she has a sweet tooth. I love seafood, but am pretty careful about where I have it when away. Besides, Australia does the best seafood in the world!

  3. My mouth is watering! I really like Vietnamese food as it is fresh and light. We recently ate Pho at the farmstay we did. The host was Vietnamese and she cooked it for us. I will need to try some of these other delectable dishes on our next visit to Vietnam. 🙂

  4. Together with my wife we’re in Vietnam at the moment, enjoying our honeymoon :). We had the Madame Phuong’s Banh Mi in Hoi An – delicious. What I found missing in your list is… Lau – the hot pot. Very popular here in Vietnam and also comes in many varieties, but the most common is the seafood Lau (I guess so…). We still haven’t tried Bun Cha – that’s the plan for the upcoming days. Thanks for the guide and take care!

    1. Oh yes, hot pot…a great addition to the list. How nice are the ones in Hoi An? Congratulations on your wedding & enjoy the rest of your honeymoon.

      1. We had one in Hoi An, but I guess it was a bit overpriced. There’s this street near the West Lake (Ho Tay) in Hanoi, where they serve great Lau :). Thanks for the wishes!

  5. Oh my mouth is watering! I haven’t had dinner yet! ALL those dishes look delicious! How on earth do you remember the names of them?! #TeamLovinLife

  6. So many other yummy dishes could be added such as sticky rice (xoi), rice cake (banh chung), phớ (not “phở”) – a kind of very soft panna cotta from local soybean, and many type of noodles (phở)… So yummy!!!

  7. 😏 I’ve followed you as your page is very inspiring.  I hope you do the same, as you may find mine the same, I practice naked cooking like jamie oliver, I’m conducting the half-blood princess project.

  8. I have not been to Vietnam yet but I have been to my share of Vietnamese restaurants. I can’t wait to try some of the dishes you highlighted in your post.

  9. Pho and Banh Mi are my two absolute favourites from Vietnam! I am yet to find an awesome Vietnamese place in San Francisco though.

    1. In Sydney we have some great Vietnamese options. Yet to find them on the Sunshine Coast. That can be my next challenge.

  10. Love, love Vietnamese food! We are known in our local restaurant (I know, it is bad). However, I know Vietnamese food in Vietnam is a 100 times better than what we get in the United States (I experienced this when I visited Thailand). So, Vietnam is high on my travel list and the food is mostly responsible for that. #wkendtravelinspiration

    1. We have great Vietnamese (& Thai food) here in Australia, but having it over there? Oh, if you can go, you should. Thanks for dropping by.

  11. So much yum!!! Thanks for sharing some of the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine with us!

    SSG xxx

  12. This all looks so so good! I’ve never had Vietnamese food but a Pho restaurant has opened up near us and I am very keen to try it. Thanks for sharing your highlights of Vietnamese cooking with #wkendtravelinspiration.

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