In recent years, Vietnamese food has become increasingly popular in the West – but the fare served in Vietnamese restaurants outside of the country can’t come close to matching the variety of ingredients and the combination of exotic flavors you’ll experience in Vietnam itself.
Vietnam has a thriving street food scene, and eating outside is the perfect way to sample the country’s many culinary delights while mixing with the friendly and welcoming locals. And to get you started, here are 31 Vietnamese street food classics to look out for while you’re there.
At the top of any list of Vietnamese street foods must be phở, the country’s famous beef and noodle soup. Most commonly eaten for breakfast but available throughout the day, it is simply the most perfect introduction to the food of Vietnam and something you should try as soon as possible when you arrive there.
As you can probably guess from the name, this version of noodle soup is originally from the former capital of Hué. Along with the obligatory noodles and beef, you’ll also find delights such as pigs trotters and cubes of pork blood – along with a good dose of chili. Some ingredients might be a little too outlandish for the squeamish, but for braver culinary explorers, this is a dish to savor.
This noodle dish is easy to recognize due to its bright orange-red hue. The broth is made of tomatoes and contains classic Vietnamese ingredients such as tamarind, crab, pork and tofu. A distinctive street food option that is popular throughout the country and well worth sampling when you come across it.
The humble sandwich might not sound like anything to write home about, but on the streets of Vietnam, you will find some of the most delicious creations imaginable. Based on crispy French-style bread and stuffed with delicious fillings like meat, pâté, pickles and cheese, all given a distinctly local flavor by the addition of Vietnamese sauces. You’ll find them sold from carts in every corner of Vietnam, making them an affordable go-to snack during any trip to the country.
Not everyone may realize, but parts of Vietnam can get pretty chilly. Travel to Dalat and you’ll see many of the locals wearing woolly hats in the evenings – and in Sapa, it can even snow. When the mercury begins to fall, you’ll want to tuck into the kind of warming comfort foods that this kind of weather requires – and bánh gối is just that. They are pastry-like cakes stuffed with savory meat fillings, and they take their name from their pillow-like appearance. They are readily available in the capital too, so don’t pass through without sampling them.
Hoi An is a picturesque if somewhat touristy town, but it’s also arguably the place to head if you want to sample a range of the best foods Vietnam has to offer. One local specialty is cao lầu, a bowl of noodle soup that contains pork, vegetables and crunchy crouton-like morsels. You’ll probably have more than a few bowls of noodle soup in Vietnam, but this is among the best you’ll taste.
Vietnam’s signature street food is the fresh spring roll, much lighter and healthier than the fried version that’s common in other East Asian countries. They’re stuffed with veggies, prawn, chicken and herbs and best when dipped into a sweet fish sauce. A wonderful snack that’s oh so tasty!
They might not be as healthy or good for your line as fresh spring rolls, but the deep-fried version is also available in Vietnam. Crispy and delicious, this is another tasty treat you are likely to return to over and over again!
This is one for the bravest travelers with stomachs of iron – it’s a fertilized boiled egg containing the half-developed embryo of a duck. A nutritious local delicacy or a horror to be avoided? We’ll let you decide!
Pancakes are a favorite in many Asian countries, where they’re filled with a range of savory ingredients, herbs and spices. Bánh xèo is the Vietnamese version – they’re made from rice flour and are filled with pork, prawn, spring onion, coriander, bean sprouts and a variety of other similar additions. A tasty snack that can become a full meal when combined with one or two other Vietnamese street food classics.
Corn is a classic wherever food is served outside, whether it’s on the cob or off it, as in this yummy Vietnamese version. Combined with butter, spring onion, a hint of chili and a shake of fish sauce, this is a simple street food staple that’s always welcome.
This is the Vietnamese take on the famous Chinese dish known as Hainanese chicken that’s also available in most other Southeast Asian countries. The boiled chicken is tender and succulent, and the juices are allowed to flavor the rice, creating a dish that is unsurprisingly an enduring favorite.
One of the best things about Vietnamese cuisine is that there are so many light, fresh and healthy options to pick from. With strips of rice paper along with other ingredients like dried beef, squid, mango and more, this salad is a perfect example, making it another great pick if you don’t want anything too heavy.
A strangely named delight that is typical of Hoi An. It consists of parcels of meat wrapped in a rice noodle-like dough, resembling white flowers, hence the name. Hoi An is an unmissable stop on any street food tour of the country, and many of the treats sold there are available nowhere else. “White rose” is one such snack, making it something to actively seek out and taste while you’re there.
If you’ve been to China during the Dragon Boat festival, you will almost certainly have tasted zongzi, sticky rice dumplings steamed in banana packets. Bánh giò are the Vietnamese equivalent and are easy to find in any decent food market throughout the country.
Another noodle soup, this time a simple affair consisting of slices of beef with wide rice noodles and a light broth. Add to this the usual array of Vietnamese herbs and veggies, including coriander, spring onion and basil and you have a nutritious and affordable meal you’re sure to remember.
17. Ốc (Sea Snails)
Don’t be put off by the sound of this delicacy because they’re delicious. Sea snails are a Saigon specialty, and you’ll found them in many places in and around the great southern powerhouse. If you can eat mussels, clams or oysters, sea snails should be no different – so order a plate and give them a go, and you’ll probably find yourself going back for more.
A Hué specialty, these consist of minced pork meat molded onto lemongrass stalks and grilled in the street. The lemongrass infuses a delicate citrus flavor, which, when coupled with the sweet soy dipping sauce, is exquisite – and something not to miss out on if you spend any time in this fascinating ancient city.
As you can probably guess from the English translation, this is a type of baked bread with an assortment of toppings. Not quite the same as Italian or American pizza, but a delicious meal if you feel like something a little more familiar. Perfect with a bottle of Dalat wine at the food stalls just off the central market.
This noodle dish is among the more exotic versions you’re likely to find due to the main ingredient – deep-fried eel. However, don’t let that put you off since, with extras like bean sprouts, laksa leaves, mushrooms and more, this is a dish that most people will adore.
Consisting of rice vermicelli, fried tofu, herbs, vegetables and the key ingredient that gives it the distinctively pungent odor, fermented shrimp paste. The smell can be a little overpowering at first, but once you become accustomed to it, the flavor is sublime – so don’t let the shrimp paste put you off.
If you’ve been to Thailand, you’ve probably tried som tam, papaya salad from the northeast – and if you liked that, you’re sure to love the Vietnamese version too. It includes delicious ingredients like peanuts, dried beef, crackers and Vietnamese herbs, making it a healthy snack that most visitors fall in love with.
Rice porridge is popular all over Asia, with each country producing its own version. This Vietnamese one with fish is a popular breakfast option – some visitors might not be sure about having fish and rice for breakfast, but it’s hearty and filling and a perfect way to start the day if you can get used to it.
If rice porridge with fish for breakfast doesn’t do it for you, perhaps fish soup for dinner will. This is a common dish anywhere you travel, and as you can imagine, it has a distinctly Vietnamese twist. Another dish to look out for when in Vietnam.
Bún chả is a typical Hanoi dish that became famous when former US president Barrack Obama tucked into a bowl during his visit to the Vietnamese capital. Along with the vermicelli noodles, it also contains delicious morsels of barbecued pork, assorted Vietnamese herbs a sweet dipping sauce and, for those who want them, chilies – something Obama didn’t shy away from trying. Can’t imagine the same thing happening with the current guy somehow…
Take a few sheets of flat noodles made from fermented rice flour, add some pork sausage, wood ear mushroom, cucumber and lettuce and you have bánh cuốn, a popular breakfast food from the north. It might not be what you’re used to eating first thing in the morning, but many visitors quickly grow to love it.
You can find concoctions like this throughout Asia in foodie hotspots like Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand, and the Vietnamese version is a match for any of them. Somewhere between a dessert and a drink and containing ingredients like jelly, fruit, tapioca, flavored syrups and many others you probably won’t be able to name, chè is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Vietnamese coffee is made in a special kind of filter called a phin, which sits on the top of the glass and allows the thick, dark liquid to drip down. Made from locally grown robusta beans and usually served with a generous dollop of condensed milk, you can drink it either hot or iced. A highly addictive drink that’s probably quite unlike any coffee you’ve tasted before – and an essential part of any trip to the country.
An even more typically Vietnamese way to drink coffee is cà phê trứng – or “egg coffee”. The name gives the game away really – it’s a cup of Vietnamese coffee mixed with egg yolk and condensed milk. It might sound like a strange creation, but it’s something every visitor to Vietnam should try.
A refreshing but cloyingly sweet drink to sample is sugarcane juice. Sticks of sugarcane are squeezed through a mangle and the yellow-green juice that comes out is collected in a glass for you to drink. Perhaps a little too sugary to enjoy every day, but something to savor at least once or twice.
If you travel in the north of Vietnam, make sure you don’t miss out on the bia hơi experience. Bia hơi means “fresh beer” in Vietnamese, and in almost any northern city, you’re likely to find somewhere serving small glasses of beer from a large container for the equivalent of not much more than a few cents. Possibly the best place to try it is Hanoi’s famous bia hơi corner, where the street is lined with small plastic chairs and you can enjoy your beer and assorted snacks like pig skin while mingling with the friendly locals.
Many delectable delights – and a few unusual ones too
While there are certainly a few local delicacies in Vietnam that are less suited to Western tastes, most of what you’ll come across in the country is flavorful, delicious and often very healthy. Try not to be put off by things that seem unusual to you – and the more adventurous you are, the more memorable culinary delights you’re bound to uncover.