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11 must-try food and drink dishes in Vietnam

Vietnamese food ranges from delicious dishes to an unstoppable coffee culture. Tuck into crunchy baguettes, noodle soups and more with the help of our list of Vietnam's must-try food and drink.
Written by Aimee White - SEO Copywriter
Date Published: 19 June 2024
 
Vietnamese cuisine uses fresh, fragrant ingredients to create some of the best dishes that southeast Asia has to offer. Strolling along narrow lanes and through historic quarters gives you the chance to taste Vietnam's street food scene. Watch as pancakes are crisped to perfection on sizzling hot plates and generous servings of rich broth is ladled into noodle-filled bowls - with plenty of coriander, lime wedges and chilli to garnish.

Many of Vietnam's food and drink options can be substituted with vegetarian and vegan fillings, so there's something for everyone. A typical Vietnamese meal usually comes with generous servings of leafy greens, sliced red chilli and lime wedges; it's a true feast for the senses, no matter where or what you choose to eat.

Feeling hungry? These are the top 11 food and drink to try in Vietnam:
1. Phở
2. Bánh mì
3. Cơm tấm
4. Cao lầu
5. Coffee
6. Bánh xèo
7. Bún bò huế
8. Bún chả
9. Chè
10. Gỏi cuốn
11. Cha ca


Read on to find out more about what to eat and drink in Vietnam:

1. Phở

Phở (pronounced "fuh") is the national dish of Vietnam. You'll find it across the country, from luxury beachside resorts in the south to jam-packed cities in the north. This delicious noodle soup is packed with ginger, coriander and spring onions and slices of chicken, pork or beef, with a tasty chicken or beef broth to slurp your way through. If you're travelling to Vietnam as a vegetarian or vegan, opt for phở with tofu, and check whether the broth contains fish sauce. Locals enjoy phở for breakfast, but you can enjoy this steaming hot bowl of goodness at any time of day.

View our Taste of Vietnam food tour

2. Bánh mì

Bánh mì is one of Vietnam's best-loved street foods. Thick French baguettes are packed with meat (usually pork or meatless pâté), carrots, cucumber and coriander, before being doused in mayonnaise. Bánh mì can be enjoyed hot or cold, so it's an ideal breakfast, lunch or snack. Vegetarian and vegan bánh mì can be found at the likes of Bánh mì Phượng in Hoi An, a small (but busy) bánh mì shop made famous by TV chef Anthony Bourdain.

3. Cơm tấm

Cơm tấm is as simple as it is delicious. It's also known as Vietnamese Broken Rice, and this dish provides a lip-smacking variety of Vietnamese flavours. You'll be served strips of grilled pork, a fried egg and sliced vegetables - it may look simple, but it's a filling concoction. Add a smattering of lime, spring onions and pickled vegetables for an extra kick. One of the best places to try cơm tấm is in Ho Chi Minh City, where we visit on our Simply Vietnam tour.

4. Cao lầu

Wondering what to eat in Vietnam? Add cao lầu to your list. Thick noodles, pork or shrimp, beansprouts and a little broth is added to a bowl with lots of leafy greens adding a splash of colour. Cao lầu is a real must-try if you're visiting Hoi An, as the most authentic version of the dish is made using water from the city's thousand-year-old Ba Le well. This noodle dish has Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese influences, but what really makes Cao lầu stand out is its crunch factor, as clumps of pork crackling are added over the top.

5. Coffee

Vietnam is one of the world's best coffee destinations. In fact, Vietnam's coffee culture is so huge that even Starbucks struggles to compete, and in some cities it feels as if every other building is a coffee shop. With that in mind, there's a cacophony of variations to try. Enjoy a traditional drip coffee experience in Da Lat, creamy egg coffee in Hanoi and salt coffee in Hue. You can't go far wrong with Vietnamese coffee served with sweet, condensed milk, or an iced Vietnamese coffee (cà phê sua dá).

6. Bánh xèo

Bánh xèo are crispy pancakes cooked in turmeric powder, which gives it a distinctive yellow colour. Bánh xèo, or 'sizzling crepes', are packed with shrimp or pork, beansprouts and spring onion, before being folded over in two. It's usually served with greens and a spicy fish sauce. You might craft your own Vietnamese crepes during a cookery class on our Family Discover Vietnam tour - the challenge is perfecting that all-essential crispiness...

7. Bún bò huế

Another must-try food to eat in Vietnam is bún bò huế. This noodle soup is similar to phở, but bún bò huế uses a pork and beef broth, which gives it a darker, richer colour. Dig into beef bones and beef shank, vegetables and thick noodles, which are complemented by lemongrass sticks. bún bò huế is common across Vietnam, and is particularly popular in the central Vietnamese city of Hue.

See more of Hue on this tour

8. Bún chả

When it comes to the best things to eat in Vietnam, bún chả almost hits the top spot. These 'Vietnamese meatballs' consists of marinated pork medallions, thin rice noodles, fish sauce and, of course, stacks of leafy greens on top. Depending on where you go, bún chả is served altogether, while others serve each component separately. Pay a visit to Bún chả Hương Liên in Hanoi to dine at the same restaurant as Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain did back in 2016. Today, their small table is enclosed in a glass case, and the humble restaurant is now better-known as Bún Chả Obama!

9. Chè

Vietnam's most popular dessert is chè, where jellied ingredients and tropical fruit (like mango) are doused in coconut cream. This sweet treat is either served in a glass or bowl, and you'll find it at night markets, restaurants and cafes. No two chè are the same; chè bắp uses corn, while chè sương sa hạt lựu is also known as 'rainbow dessert' for its layers of colourful ingredients. You can enjoy chè all year round, as it can be served hot during the colder months and with ice during the hotter months. On our Cycle Saigon to Hanoi tour, you can reward yourself with a serving of chè after (or during) a long day of cycling.

10. Gỏi cuốn

Gỏi cuốn are fresh salad rolls (or spring rolls) that serve as some of Vietnam's healthiest food. Greens, coriander and shrimps are packed and rolled in a thin, clear rice paper. You can eat Gỏi cuốn as a starter or snack, but make sure you dunk it in hoisin sauce for the ultimate wow factor.

View our Highlights of Vietnam and Cambodia tour

11. Cha ca

Cha ca is one of Vietnam's healthier dishes. Freshwater catfish is used to create this light, nutritious meal. Flakes of white fish are marinated in turmeric before being grilled over charcoal. It's served with lots of dill and rice noodles, and the final addition is mam tom, a tasty shrimp paste dip that elevates cha ca to the next level.

Are your tastebuds tingling?

Eat your way through Vietnam's best food, plus a huge range of regional specialties, on a tour to Vietnam. Our carefully crafted trips ensure that you see (and taste) the best that Vietnam has to offer. From trying fresh seafood in Ha Long Bay on our Family Vietnam In Depth tour to sampling Hanoi's street food on our Highlights of Vietnam budget tour, you'll struggle to forget your Vietnamese eating experience.

View all Vietnam tours

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