1) Phở (Noodle soup)

Arguable Vietnams most famous dish, Pho is a delicious concoction that is found world wide. Originating in the early 20th Century near Hanoi in the Nam Dinh Province, although according to locals it was eaten by villagers long before this. As popularity of Pho developed, people began to see French influence in the dish, such as the more common use of beef. Like most Vietnamese dishes, Pho is cooked differently at every restaurant you will find it. Additionally interesting is that regions of Vietnam tend to prepare pho differently; Saigon is know for their sweetness, the Central for their spiciness and the north for a more bland flavour! Ultimately, making the perfect Pho is scientific in a way, where measurements of each ingredient is critical!

What’s in it?

Pho can be made with chicken, beef and other ligaments (although less common). It has a specific cut of white rice noodles, where broth is added. The broth is made from simmering beef bones, charred onion, oxtails charred ginger and anywhere up to 5 spices. The most common garnishes are bean sprouts, lime, garlic, chili, cilantro and Thai Basil, although you will find just about anything else used depending on where you are!

What to pay: 20,000 – 40,000VND on the street, and usually more in a restaurant.

 

2) Bánh mì (baguette)

Just like our number #1 Pho, Banh Mi is a delicious, fresh bread roll than can now be found world wide and has been strongly associated with Vietnamese cuisine. It was introduced during the French colonial period in Vietnam (you wouldn’t have guessed), however it differs from the French baguette. Banh Mi contains both rice and wheat flour, unlike in France where only wheat is used. Although the exact birth date of the Banh Mi isn’t known,  by the 1950’s it began being sold in its modern form by street vendors in Vietnam. Coincidentally, Vietnamese people living in France began selling it shortly thereafter.

What’s in it?

As mentioned earlier, the base and most crucial ingredient is the fresh baguette. Although many variations once again depend on the region, the key ingredients tend to be steamed, pan roasted or oven roasted pork belly, sausage, grilled pork and pate. Eggs are often added to the mix also, depending on preference! The garnish is where the majority of the flavor will come from using fresh cucumber slices, cilantro, pickled sliced carrots and white radishes. The most common condiments include chili sauce and mayonnaise (though personally I think it already has enough flavor!)

What to pay: 5,000-20,000VND

 

3) Chả giò (spring rolls)

Known as Nem Ran in the North, this small but diverse food is said to have been reserved for royalty – once given the nickname of “imperial roll”. Said to have some Chinese influence due to its similarities to Chinese spring rolls, cha gio’s history is hard to trace. Despite this, they are consumed all over the world, often as an appetizer to a main Asian cuisine dish.

What’s in it?

Rice papers use in cha gio is the biggest distinction from other similar spring rolls. The key ingredients offer a tantalizing combination of chopped cabbage, bean threads or sprouts, carrots and sometimes mushrooms, always with some form of meat added. The rice paper is then deep fried until a crispy golden brown and served with lettuce and condiments. Nuoc mam is the most popular condiment served with cha gio, a blend of vinegar, garlic, chili pepper, sugar and water.

What to pay: Varies on portion size, generally between 50,000VND-100,000VND for a plate.

 

4) Bún bò Huế (beef rice noodle soup)

This specialty dish is labeled as one of the most diverse meals in Vietnam and for good reason! Originating in the central coast city of Hue, once the capital of the nation, Bun Bo Hue is still found throughout the country and as popular in other regions as it is its original town (though never as delicious). Another ‘royal meal’ assembled in the style of the Royal Court, Bun Bo is famous for its balance of sweet, salty, spicy and sour flavours.

What’s in it?

The tantalizing broth is made by simmering beef shank, chunks of oxtail and pigs knuckles (yes, pigs knuckles are a common thing here), and can also contain concealed pigs blood in the form of a tofu-shape piece. It is served with rice vermicelli, sliced onions, lime wedges, red cabbage, mint, basil, Vietnamese coriander and other herbs depending on where you eat it. One of the key components of Bun Bo is the Chili oil, which is added later during the cooking process.

What to pay: 15,000-40,000VND

 

5) Bánh xèo (sizzling cake)

It’s name perfectly indicates exactly what this dish is – a delicious sizzling pancake style cake that is simple yet has the intended effect. Popular in Cambodian cuisine, banh xeo still originates in Vietnam. Like Bun Bo Hue, Hue city in central Vietnam gets the recognition for this delectable dish, although others have speculated it has origins from Indian cuisine way back to the first millennium.

What’s in it?

This crispy crepe shaped pancake is stuffed with, every single time, 100% fresh and local ingredients. Served bulging with pork, shrimp and egg, it is the fresh garnish that gives it the Vietnamese authenticity label. Most frequently, it is served with lettuce and shredded carrot, then dipped into a thin satay sauce, usually mixed with fish sauce and chili.

What to pay: 10,000-25,000VND for one portion

 

6) Bún chả (Grilled pork noodles)

Pho might be the most popular dish when it comes to the people of Saigon, but when it comes to the capital Hanoi, Bun Cha is number one.  Not to be mistaken with bun thit nuong, Bun Cha is deeply ingrained in Hanoi culture and is eaten daily by many people.

What’s in it?

A typically fatty portion of pork (shoulder and belly) is served with fresh rice vermicelli, pickled vegetables and herbs and a unique dipping sauce that consists of fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, stock, crushed garlic, chili and any other ingredients the seller see fit. The sauce is arguably the key player in Bun Cha, giving it a distinct sweet and sour taste that keeps the Hanoians fixated on this dish.

What to pay: 20,000-70,000VND

dish-in-vietnam

 

7) Op La (fried eggs)

No, this isn’t any old fried egg. The Vietnamese way of preparing fried eggs is creative and catering to anybodies tastes! In terms of history for this dish, it is difficult – as eggs have been used worldwide for a very long time. Op La originates from a French term, which means “sunny side up”. Normally consumed for breakfast, this is another meal you’ll find all over Vietnam that you simply can’t miss.

What’s in it?

Typically the dish is served in a shallow tray sizzling with all ingredients. Eggs, sunny side up; Either thin slices of beef, fish, sausage, meatballs or all of the above! Fresh Banh Mi is served on the side which  can be used to either dip or fill with the ingredients. Often served with caramelized onions and some form of fresh pickled garnish (per the norm in Vietnam) which seems to marry with the My Op La perfectly!

What to pay: 20,000-50,000VND

 

8) Com Tam (broken rice)

This isn’t any old fried rice. Com Tam is made using fractured rice grains, which gives it a distinct difference from regular fried rice in Vietnam. Interestingly, it is a cheap grain of rice that has been typically damaged during milling and normally used as a food industry ingredient in the USA and Europe. In Africa and Asia however, it is used for direct human consumption. Don’t worry – it has the equivalent nutrients as unbroken rice and just as delicious!

What’s in it?

Normally served with Vietnam’s favourite meat, Pork (thit heo) as well as thinly shredded pork skin for extra flavour and texture. Added to the mix are the usuals – pickled greens and vegetables and also a prawn paste cake which is rich with taste. Grilled prawns are the icing on the cake for this diverse dish, and if that wasn’t enough, served with a bowl of broth with chives (canh) to cleanse the palate!

What to pay: 20,000-50,000VND

 

Please note: there are dozens more Vietnamese dishes worth trying. The aim of this article was to give some insight into various dishes throughout the country. Do not be afraid to look upon this article however, because the list doesn’t end here – happy eating!