Vietnamese cuisine is famous around the world for its complex blend of flavours, fresh ingredients, and a healthy balance of protein, vegetables, and spices.
Meals feature a combination of five fundamental tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy. The distinctive nature of each dish reflects one or more elements (such as nutrients and colours), which are also based on a five-pronged philosophy. Vietnamese recipes use ingredients like lemongrass, ginger, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander, Saigon cinnamon, bird’s eye chilli, lime, and Thai basil leaves.
The cuisine is also low in sugar and is almost always naturally gluten-free, as many of the dishes are rice-based instead of wheat-based, made with rice noodles, papers and flour.
In this post, we will explore some of the best traditional foods in Vietnam that you should definitely try when visiting the country.
Best Traditional Food in Vietnam
Pho is the most popular Vietnamese dish by far and is a must-try when visiting Vietnam. It won’t be hard to find it as it is served everywhere and at any time, even for breakfast.
It’s a hearty noodle soup made with rice noodles, beef or chicken, herbs, and spices. The broth is simmered for hours with bone marrow and spices, giving it a rich and savoury flavour. Pho is often served with fresh herbs, chilli sauce, and lime wedges, which you can add to your liking.
It originated in the early 20th century in Northern Vietnam and was popularized throughout the world by refugees after the Vietnam War. Because phở’s origins are poorly documented, there is disagreement over the cultural influences that led to its development in Vietnam, as well as the etymology of the name.
The Hanoi (northern) and Saigon (southern) styles of pho differ by noodle width, the sweetness of broth, and the choice of herbs and sauce. Variations feature slow-cooked tendons, tripe, or meatballs in southern Vietnam. Chicken pho is made using the same spices as beef, but the broth is made using chicken bones and meat, as well as some internal organs of the chicken, such as the heart, the undeveloped eggs, and the gizzard.
When ordering at Pho stalls in Vietnam, you may be asked which parts of the beef you would like and how you want it done. Unfortunately, those words are not easy to learn. But you can stick with Tái which means medium-rare meat.
Although is not as popular as Ramen these days, restaurant chains specialised in Pho are available in many big cities such as London or New York.
The best places to eat Pho are:
- Pho Thin. A small restaurant located in the Old Quarter famous for its crispy fried dough sticks served with Pho.
- Pho Bat Dan. This restaurant has been around for over 70 years and is a favourite among locals.
- Pho Gia Truyen. This small, family-owned restaurant is located in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
- Pho Thin 13 Lo Duc Str
- Phở Gia Truyền Bát Đàn
- Phở Hạnh. For a dry Pho.
- Ho Chi Min
- Pho Tau Bay. Off the beaten path Pho shop in District 10.
- Pho Hoa. A recognised chain with several locations in Saigon.
- Pho 2000. This restaurant gained international attention after former US President Bill Clinton visited it in 2000.
- Pho Le. A favourite among locals and tourists alike. Top pick!
- Da Nang
Banh Mi is a delicious Vietnamese sandwich that has become popular all over the world and deserves, without a doubt, the second position in the most popular dishes.
It’s made with a crispy French baguette filled with a variety of ingredients such as grilled pork, chicken, or tofu, pickled vegetables, pâté, and mayonnaise. The baguette was introduced to Vietnam by the French in the mid-19th century, during the Nguyễn dynasty, and became a staple food by the early 20th century.
In Vietnamese, the word bánh mì is derived from bánh (which can refer to many kinds of food, primarily baked goods, including bread) and mì (wheat). It may also be spelt bánh mỳ in northern Vietnam. Taken alone, bánh mì means any kind of bread, but it could refer to the baguette or the sandwich made from it.
The most popular variety is bánh mì thịt, thịt meaning “meat”. Bánh mì thịt nguội (also known as bánh mì pâté chả thịt, bánh mì đặc biệt, or “special combo”) is made with various Vietnamese cold cuts, such as sliced pork or pork belly, chả lụa (pork sausage), and head cheese, along with the liver pâté and vegetables like carrot or cucumbers.
The Banh Mi Queen, in Hoi An, is a favourite among tourists, it gets busy but it’s worth a visit. Other recommended restaurants in Vietnam’s main cities are:
- Ho Chi Min
- Da Nang
Bun Cha originated in Hanoi and it’s all known by some as the “Vietnamese meatballs”. It’s made with grilled pork patties served with vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs, and a bowl of nuoc cham dipping sauce. The combination of smoky grilled meat, fresh herbs, and tangy dipping sauce makes this dish a favourite among locals and tourists alike.
Hanoi’s first bún chả restaurant was in Gia Ngư, Hoàn Kiếm District, in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Bún Chả Hương Liên restaurant in Hanoi became famous after United States President Barack Obama dined there with Chef Anthony Bourdain while he was on his trip to Vietnam in May 2016.
The best places to eat Bun Cha in Hanoi are:
- Bun Cha Ta. A small and cosy restaurant that serves up some of the best Bun Cha in the city.
- Bun Cha Nem Cua Be. It’s famous for its Bun Cha and Nem Cua Be (fried crab spring rolls).
- Bun Cha Dac Kim. This restaurant has been around for over 60 years and is a favourite among locals.
- Tuyết Bún Chả 34. A tiny street shop recommended by locals.
- Ho Chi Min
- Da Nang
- Nha Trang
- Hoi An
Goi Cuon (summer rolls)
Goi Cuon, also known as Vietnamese spring rolls or summer rolls, is a refreshing and healthy dish made with rice paper rolls filled with a variety of ingredients such as shrimp, pork, lettuce, and herbs. It’s often served with a peanut dipping sauce that adds a nutty and savoury flavour to the dish.
Unlike other spring roll dishes which are believed to be originated in China, Vietnamese gỏi cuốn is the country’s creation using rice paper.
Gỏi cuốn are served fresh, unlike similar rolls that are served fried, like the Vietnamese chả giò. They are served at room temperature (or cooled) and are not deep-fried or cooked on the outside. These rolls are considered to be a very popular appetizer with customers in Vietnamese. restaurants.
Some good places to eat Goi Cuon are:
Com Tam, also known as broken rice, is a popular dish that originates from Ho Chi Min City (Saigon). It’s made with broken rice served with grilled pork, a fried egg, and pickled vegetables. It’s a hearty and filling dish that is often enjoyed for breakfast or lunch.
Although chopsticks are commonly used by Vietnamese, Com Tam is enjoyed with a fork and spoon; and although the mixed fish sauce is commonly used for dipping in other Vietnamese dishes, for Com Tam, the sauce is for spreading onto the dish as needed.
In its early days, Com Tam was a popular dish among poor rice farmers in the Mekong Delta due to their economic circumstances. During bad rice seasons, these people didn’t have enough good rice to sell, so they used broken rice to cook. Broken rice is fragments of rice grains broken during the handling processes and was regarded as inferior rice at the time.
- Com Tam Ba Ghien. Top pick!
- Com Tam Cali
- Com Tam Moc
Bun Bo Hue
Bun Bo Hue (Spicy Beef Noodle Soup) is a popular spicy noodle soup that originates from the central city of Hue and is associated with the cooking style of the former royal court. It’s made with beef or pork, rice vermicelli noodles, and a spicy broth that is flavoured with lemongrass, shrimp paste, and chilli oil.
is commonly served with lime wedges, cilantro sprigs, diced green onions, raw sliced onions, chilli sauce, thinly sliced banana blossom, red cabbage, mint, basil, perilla, Persicaria odorata or Vietnamese coriander (rau răm), saw tooth herb (ngò gai) and sometimes mung bean sprouts.
Compared to phở or bún riêu, the noodles are thicker and cylindrical.
Ốc (Sea Snails) are a common ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine and can be prepared in many different ways. They can be served grilled, boiled, or served raw in a spicy dipping sauce called “Mắm Tôm”.
One popular dish is called “Ốc Len Xào Dừa” or “Stir-fried sea snails with coconut milk”. Sea snails are first cleaned and then stir-fried with garlic, shallots, lemongrass, chilli, and coconut milk. The dish is typically served with a side of rice and garnished with fresh herbs such as cilantro and green onions.
Another popular dish is “Ốc Hấp” or “Steamed sea snails”. In this dish, sea snails are steamed with lemongrass and ginger and served with a dipping sauce made of salt, pepper, lime juice, and chilli.
Ca Kho To
Ca Kho To is a popular seafood dish made with caramelized fish, ginger, garlic, and fish sauce. It’s cooked in a clay pot with a sweet and savoury sauce that is made by caramelizing sugar with fish sauce. The result is a tender and flavorful fish that is perfect when paired with steamed rice.
Kho is a cooking technique in Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisine, where a protein source such as fish, shrimp, poultry, pork, beef, or fried tofu is braised on low heat in a mixture of fish sauce, sugar, and water or a water substitute such as young coconut juice.
- Oc Dao Seafood Restaurant. Great seafood restaurant.
- Bun Mam Soc Trang
Banh Xeo is a crispy Vietnamese pancake made with rice flour, turmeric, and coconut milk. It’s filled with a variety of ingredients such as shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, and herbs, and is often served with a side of nuoc cham dipping sauce. The pancake is folded over and eaten like a taco, providing a delicious mix of textures and flavours in every bite.
It can also be called a Vietnamese crêpe. The dish is also popular in Cambodian cuisine, where the dish is called banh chao.
- Banh Xeo Zon. A popular street food vendor located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, known for its crispy and flavorful banh xeo.
- Bánh Xèo 46A. A legendary street food spot in Saigon’s District 1, famous for its oversized and crispy banh xeo filled with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts. Top pick!
- Banh Xeo An La Ghien
- Banh Xeo Ngoc Son
- Da Nang
Cha Ca is a famous dish from Hanoi made with grilled fish marinated in turmeric and served with rice noodles, herbs, and peanuts. The fish is typically cooked with dill and scallions, giving it a unique and fragrant flavour.
The fish is cut into pieces and marinated in a turmeric-based sauce, which often includes shrimp paste or fish sauce, ginger, and chilli peppers. Sometimes, saffron is used instead of turmeric. It is then lightly grilled over charcoal.
The dish is served in a hot pan coated with marinade sauce and herbs, particularly dill. Other herbs, such as scallions or basil, may be included. It is eaten with vermicelli rice noodles and peanuts. Cha Ca La Vong is considered a delicacy in Vietnam, as it is nearly exclusively served in restaurants and is not found in street food.
- Cha Ca Thang Long. Great fish restaurant in Hanoi!
- Cha Ca La Vong
- Cha Ca Anh Vu
Mi Quang is a noodle dish that originates from the central region of Vietnam, like Da Nang. It’s made with thick rice noodles, pork, shrimp, and quail eggs, and is often served with a variety of herbs and peanuts. The dish is topped with a savoury broth made with turmeric, fish sauce, and pork bones, giving it a unique and delicious flavour.
Mì quảng can also be served without broth, as a salad (mì quảng trộn). It can be found in many famous restaurants and street vendors in Central provinces and is eaten for breakfast and lunch.
Bò kho is a Vietnamese beef stew that is popular in Vietnamese cuisine. It is typically made with beef, carrots, onions, garlic, lemongrass, star anise, cinnamon, and other aromatic spices, and slow-cooked in a flavorful broth until the beef is tender and the vegetables are soft and fragrant.
Bò kho is often served with crusty bread or rice noodles and garnished with fresh herbs such as cilantro and green onions. It is a hearty and comforting dish that is perfect for cold weather or when you’re looking for a filling meal.
It can be considered a variation of Ca Kho To but using beef, and there is also a chicken one.
Banh Trang Nuong
Banh Trang Nuong (Vietnamese pizza) is a simple street food in Vietnam that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. It is made by grilling rice paper, which is then topped with a variety of toppings such as minced pork, quail eggs, scallions, cheese, and other ingredients.
The result is a delicious and crispy pizza-like dish that is topped with shrimp, squid, mushrooms, and sausage, as well as a range of vegetables such as onions, peppers, and tomatoes. It is also served with a variety of dipping sauces, which can range from sweet and sour to spicy and savoury.
- Da Nang
Hu Tieu Nam Vang
Hu Tieu Nam Vang (Pork Seafood Noodle Soup) is a popular noodle soup dish that originated in Cambodia and is now commonly found in Southern Vietnam, particularly in the city of Saigon.
The soup is made with a clear, savoury broth that is typically cooked with pork bones, dried squid, and dried shrimp. The dish is served with thin rice noodles, slices of pork, shrimp, and sometimes ground pork, along with garlic, scallions, and cilantro. It is often served with a side of bean sprouts, lime wedges, and chilli sauce.
- Hu Tieu Nam Vang Nhan Quang. Top pick!
Bo La Lot
Bo La Lot is another simple and popular dish that consists of grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves. The name “bò lá lốt” translates to “beef wrapped in lot leaves” in English.
Bò lá lốt is typically served with a variety of herbs and vegetables, such as lettuce, mint, and basil, as well as dipping sauce made from fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, sugar, and chilli pepper.
The dish is known for its flavorful and aromatic taste, with the betel leaves imparting a slightly bitter and peppery flavour to the beef.
- Co Lieng Restaurant. Top pick!
Bún riêu (Crab noodle soup) is a soup dish that is made with tomato-based broth and rice vermicelli noodles. The soup is known for its tangy and slightly sweet flavour, which is achieved through the use of ripe tomatoes and tamarind paste.
It contains a variety of ingredients, such as crab or shrimp paste, ground pork, tofu, and sometimes pork blood cubes. These ingredients are combined with tomato broth and served over a bed of rice noodles, along with a variety of fresh herbs and vegetables such as bean sprouts, lime wedges, cilantro, and shredded cabbage.
Other recommended crab dishes include:
- Cua Rang Muoi (Salt and Pepper Crab): This dish features deep-fried crab that has been coated in a mixture of salt, pepper, and garlic. It is often served with a dipping sauce made from lime juice, fish sauce, and chilli peppers.
- Chao Cua (Crab Congee): This dish features a porridge-like rice soup that is flavoured with crab meat and various seasonings. It is often served as a comforting breakfast or late-night snack.
- Banh Canh Cua (Crab Thick Noodle Soup): This soup features thick, chewy noodles that are made from a combination of rice and tapioca flour. The soup is flavoured with crab meat and various spices and is typically served with a variety of herbs and vegetables.
- Bún riêu Gánh. Try their Bun Rieu!
- 94 Thuy Restaurant. Crab spring rolls, vermicelli crab noodles, and fried rice with crab are the other popular dishes. Top pick!
- Bánh Canh Cua 87. Try their Banh Canh Cua!
Bún thịt nướng
Bún thịt nướng consists of grilled pork served over a bed of rice vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs, and vegetables.
Thin slices of pork are marinated in a mixture of fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and other seasonings before being grilled until they are tender and slightly charred. The grilled pork is then served over a bed of vermicelli noodles, along with lettuce, mint, cilantro, and bean sprouts.
The dish is typically topped with chopped peanuts and a sauce made from fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, and chilli peppers.
- Bun Thit Nuong Chi Tuyen. Top pick!
Bun Dau Homemade
Bún đậu mắm tôm consists of rice vermicelli noodles (bún) served with tofu (đậu), fresh herbs, and a dipping sauce made from fermented shrimp paste (mắm tôm).
the tofu is typically deep-fried until crispy and then cut into small cubes. The noodles are cooked and then placed on a plate along with the tofu, sliced cucumbers, and various herbs such as mint and cilantro.
The dipping sauce, which is a key component of the dish, is made by mixing fermented shrimp paste with sugar, lime juice, chilli peppers, and water.
- Bun Dau Homemade. Top pick!
Bò Né is served for breakfast or lunch on a very hot plate. The name “bò né” translates to “beef dodging” in English, which refers to the sizzling sound the beef makes as it is cooked on a hot plate.
The beef is marinated in a mixture of garlic, lemongrass, soy sauce, and sugar before being grilled on a hot plate. The beef is typically served with a variety of sides, such as fried eggs, pâté, bread, and pickled vegetables. Some variations may also include sausage or bacon.
- Bò Né Thanh Tuyền. Top pick!
Banh Cuon consists of thin, steamed rice flour pancakes filled with seasoned ground pork, minced mushrooms, and minced shallots.
A thin batter made from rice flour and water is spread in a thin layer over a cloth-covered steamer basket. The basket is then placed over boiling water and covered with a lid until the batter has set into a thin, translucent pancake. The cooked pancake is then carefully lifted off the cloth and placed on a plate.
The filling can include ground pork with minced mushrooms, minced shallots, fish sauce, and various spices. It is typically served with a dipping sauce made from fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, and chilli peppers.
- Banh Cuon Tay Ho. Top pick!
Coffee is also a thing in Vietnam, and bear in mind that it is the second-largest coffee producer in the world, behind only Brazil. And for the delight of curious tourists, they have their own local and traditional Vietnamese coffee.
The coffee is brewed using a metal filter called phin, which is placed in a cup. The water is poured over the coffee grounds and allowed to drip slowly through the phin into the cup. This process produces a strong and flavorful coffee. And on top of that, it is often served over ice with sweetened condensed milk. It can also be served hot simply by avoiding the ice.
It can be found in most restaurants and all coffee shops in Vietnam. And there are a few big coffee chains that offer their traditional coffee or any Western variant. Some of these are
- Highlands Coffee. It is considered the Vietnamese Starbucks
- The Coffee House
- Cong Coffee. The hipster chain.
- Urban Station Coffee
And that’s not all, there are a few interesting variations as follows
- Pandan coffee – Cà phê lá dứa: Made with coffee, Pandan paste, and honey.
- Coconut coffee – Cà phê dừa: Made with coffee, coconut milk, and condensed milk.
- Egg coffee – Cà phê trứng: Made with brewed coffee, chicken egg yolk, and condensed milk.
- Avocado coffee – Cà phê bơ: coffee grounds, avocado, condensed milk, and vanilla powder
And if you want to buy coffee to brew yourself, there are many popular brands selling online like Trung Nguyen Coffee and Nguyen Coffee Supply.
Top 3 Restaurants in Vietnam’s most popular cities
If you would rather go to the best according to reviews, recommendations and suggestions by locals and tourists, the following places may be of great interest to you.
|Hanoi||1. Bun Cha Ta||Vietnamese||21 Nguyen Huu Huan, Hoan Kiem|
|2. La Verticale||French||19 Ngo Van So, Hoan Kiem|
|3. Cha Ca Thang Long||Vietnamese||21 Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem|
|Saigon||1. The Lunch Lady||Vietnamese||23 Hoang Sa, Da Kao, District 1|
|2. Bánh Cuốn Hải Nam||Vietnamese||11A Cao Thắng, Ward 2, District 3|
|3. Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa||Vietnamese||26 Le Thi Rieng, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1|
|Da Nang||1. Bun Cha Ca Nha Hang Lien||Vietnamese||145 Tran Phu Street, Hai Chau District|
|2. Bun Cha Ca Thanh Hung||Vietnamese||136 Le Dinh Duong, Thanh Khe District|
|3. Bun Cha Huong||Vietnamese||17 Tran Quy Cap Street, Hai Chau District|
|Hoi An||1. Morning Glory||Vietnamese||106 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street|
|2. Brother’s Cafe||Vietnamese||27 Phan Boi Chau Street|
|3. Karma Waters||Vegetarian||213 Nguyen Duy Hieu Street|
|Nha Trang||1. Louisiane Brewhouse||International||29 Tran Phu Street|
|2. Lanterns Restaurant||Vietnamese||34 Nguyen Thien Thuat Street|
|3. Sailing Club Nha Trang||International||72-74 Tran Phu Street|
|Ninh Binh city||1. Chookie’s Beer Garden||International||Trang An, Ninh Xuan, Hoa Lu|
|2. Grandma’s Restaurant||Vietnamese||14B Quang Trung, Dong Thanh, Ninh Binh City|
|3. Yummy’s House||Vietnamese||3A Nguyen Hue, Ninh Binh City|
|Quy Nhon||1. Nhà hàng Bé Mặn||Seafood||02 Tran Hung Dao Street, Quy Nhon City|
|2. Nhà hàng Ngọc Hân||Vietnamese||04 Nguyen Hue Street, Quy Nhon City|
|3. Nhà hàng Thái Dương||Seafood||20 Nguyen Hue Street, Quy Nhon City|
Top 3 Restaurants to eat non-Vietnamese food
Not everyone does, but many people get tired of local food and need a good pizza, bowl of pasta, tuna sandwich, grilled chicken breast with mashed potato, curry, sushi or whatever you consider a good break from Vietnamese food.
Here are some good options in Vietnam’s most popular cities.
|Hanoi||La Badiane||French||10 Nam Ngu, Cua Dong, Hoan Kiem|
|Seoul Garden||Korean||1st Floor, VIT Tower, 519 Kim Ma, Ba Dinh|
|Sushi Hokkaido Sachi||Japanese||1D Quang Trung, Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem|
|Saigon||Quince||European||37bis Đ. Ký Con, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình|
|Lavelle Library||European||Tp, 12 Đ. Số 12, Thảo Điền, Thủ Đức|
|The Vintage Emporium||Italian-American||95D Nguyen Van Thu, Dakao Ward, District 1|
|Da Nang||My Casa||Italian||286/2 Nguyen Chi Thanh, Hai Chau District|
|La Rotonde||French||29 Tran Phu Street, Hai Chau District|
|Waterfront Restaurant||International||150 Bach Dang Street, Hai Chau District|
|Hoi An||Dingo Deli||Australian||277 Cua Dai Road, Cam Chau Ward|
|Fisherman’s Wharf||Seafood||36 Bach Dang Street, Cam Pho Ward|
|Good Morning Vietnam||International||106 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, Minh An Ward|
|Nha Trang||Havana Nha Trang||Cuban||38 Tran Phu Street, Loc Tho Ward|
|Lanterns||Asian Fusion||72 Tran Phu Street, Loc Tho Ward|
|Patrick Wine Bar||French||166/2 Tran Phu Street, Loc Tho Ward|
|Ninh Binh City||Chookie’s Beer Garden||Western / Fusion||35 Luong Van Tuy Street, Dong Thanh Ward|
|Anh Thu Restaurant||Italian / Vietnamese||Van Giang Ward, Ninh Binh City|
|Highway4||Asian Fusion||6 Luong Van Tuy Street, Dong Thanh Ward|
|Quy Nhon||Citron Restaurant||French||01 Nguyen Hue Street, Nguyen Van Cu Ward|
|The Veranda Grill||Steakhouse||12 Nguyen Hue Street, Nguyen Van Cu Ward|
|Hoang Yen Hot Bread||Vietnamese||154 Nguyen Thi Dinh, Nguyen Van Cu Ward|