Vietnamese cuisine is not only about eating but also about a country’s history and culture. Vietnam has been renowned for its food diversity and every dish promises to be a unique experience. Don’t know what to try first? Here are our recommendations for 20 must-try Vietnamese dishes, in no particular order:
Originated from France, the Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette) is made from a long list of ingredients that might make you feel overstuffed when you first heard of it, but the harmonious combinations will change your thoughts. The baguette with the crispy crust is filled with pate, butter, various meat types, and fresh vegetables.
Banh Mi - an iconic Vietnamese dish
While the most popular version of the Banh Mi is to have pork sausage and ham inside, you can choose other versions with roasted pork, shredded chicken, fried fish patty, or fried eggs to have diverse tastes. Besides, cilantro, cucumber, tomato, fresh chili, julienned pickled carrot, and radish are also added to balance the taste of Banh Mi. As the last step, a spoonful of soy sauce is added into it. Banh Mi is a convenient, economical Vietnamese dish that can be found on many street corners around the country.
There are still many arguments about the origin of Pho. Some believe that it is an original Vietnamese dish, while others think that we got it from the French and flavored it with herbs similar to Chinese cuisine. No matter where it came from, it has become an important part of Vietnamese culture. Nowadays, this dish has several variants. The basic recipe includes flat white rice noodles called Pho or Banh Pho, thin slices of beef or shredded chicken and beef broth seasoned with different types of herbs and Asian spices.
Pho with beef dipped in boiling soup
Pho is known as the national dish of Vietnam. For more details about Pho, check out our guide on Best Places to Eat An Authentic Pho in Ho Chi Minh City.
Com Tam, or Broken Rice, is a Vietnamese dish that you should not miss when you visit Vietnam. It is a filling choice for an energetic breakfast or lunch. This dish is displayed in a very eye-catching way thanks to its ingredients. It has milky white fractured rice grains topped with scallions and oil, shiny brown grilled pork chops, yellow sunny side up egg or steamed egg, thin slices of yellowish-brown fried pork skin, and for nutritional balance, red tomatoes, green cucumbers, and pickles. Everything is served with a fish sauce as a compliment on the side.
A full-option plate of Com Tam
Considered a signature of Saigon, the smell of Com Tam makes your mouth water, while the taste makes you fall in love. It is sold in many corners in Saigon, from small food carts to classy restaurants. Some addresses that you can find a lush plate of broken rice:
Com Tam Thuan Kieu
Address: 26 Ton That Tung, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 10 AM - 8:45 PM
Price: VND 29,000 - VND 90,000 (depends on the topping options)
This restaurant has been established in Saigon for more than 40 years. The price is quite high, but the quality makes up for it.
Com Tam Ba Muoi
Address: 294/35 Xo Viet Nghe Tinh, Ward 21, Binh Thanh District
Opening hours: 9 PM - 4 AM
Price: VND 25,000 - 40,000
This place is so famous that some celebrities have been spotted coming here for a midnight meal.
Vietnamese Steamed Rice Roll, originated in Northern Vietnam, is a good choice for a light but healthy meal. It is an extremely thin, almost transparent rice sheet filled with seasoned stir-fried pork and wood ear mushroom. When served, crunchy fried shallots, bean sprouts, and chopped vegetables are added to enhance the taste.
Vietnamese usually eat Banh Cuon with several types of pork sausages and dip them into fish sauce. At some places, besides lime juice and chili, the seller would mix the sauce with the essence of Ca Cuong’s (Lethocerus indicus), a big water bug living in the southwest provinces of Vietnam, for a stronger flavor.
Simple but eye-catching Banh Cuon
Banh Cuon in Saigon is very similar to the original one in the North, except that the sauce is quite sweeter to fit the locals’ regional taste. We get a list of clean, qualified stalls to get Banh Cuon right here. Also, we can offer you a chance to try this distinctive dish in our well-reviewed i Love Food Tour, so do not miss this food tour when you are in Ho Chi Minh City!
Banh Da Cua is a specialty of Hai Phong, a coastal province in Northern Vietnam. Banh Da is the noodle that is used in this dish, and Cua is the Vietnamese word for crab. In a bowl of Banh Da Cua, you will get a lot of “toppings” such as crab roe, Bo Nuong La Lot (grilled beef in piper lolot herb), shrimps and vegetables. The crab roe together with the pork broth creates a distinctive taste. Here is a famous place to have Banh Da Cua in Saigon.
Banh Da Cua with crab roe, Bo Nuong La Lot, fish cakes, and water spinach
Banh Da Cua Di Ly
Address: 103 Dong Khoi, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 8:30 AM - 11 PM
Price: VND 69,000
This family-owned restaurant is known for various food selections, reasonable price for a delicious dinner.
Bun Cha is a signature of Hanoi cuisine. Bun is the Vietnamese word for thin rice vermicelli, and Cha, in this case, is grilled pork. Bun Cha resembles Bun Thit Nuong, although the fish sauce that goes with this dish is quite different. The sweet and sour sauce for Bun Cha is much bland so you can dip all of the noodles, meat, and vegetables into it to enjoy.
A typical Bun Cha
Although you might be impressed with the seasoned pork goodness, the grease can make you feel full after some pieces. To solve this problem, pickled green papaya and carrot are put in the fish sauce for balance.
Like many other Vietnamese dishes, the name Bun Bo Hue already tells the story about its origin and ingredients. Hue is a former imperial city in Central Vietnam that witnessed numerous historical events in Vietnam. It was also the capital during the Nguyen dynasty, and now some still call it the Imperial City.
Bun Bo Hue has an identifiable color
Therefore, the beef noodles soup, or Bun Bo Hue, reflects the delicacy in the cooking process as well as in Hue people’s characteristics. Its distinguishable soup is fresh and soothing thanks to the lemongrass, and the taste is interesting thanks to the shrimp paste served optionally on the side. The mixture of hot-and-sour soup, slippery noodles, ivory boiled pettitoes and moist beef topside bring a palatable feeling.
Known as an idyllic dish of the Northern Vietnam countryside, Bun Rieu has stolen the heart of Saigonese. The aroma of it is light and fresh that you do not feel stuffed even after eating a large bowl. An adequate serving contains vermicelli, fried tofu, crab roe mixed with minced pork and some pieces of tomato.
Bun Rieu with varied toppings
At some places, you might be given an extra slice of pork sausage. When in Saigon, you can try Bun Rieu at:
Bun Rieu Cua Bien
Address: 66 Nguyen Thai Binh, Nguyen Thai Binh Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 6 AM - 9 PM
Price: VND 47,000 - VND 57,000
You can ask for a small bowl of shellfish at VND 15,000 to enhance the taste of this modest dish.
Just like Com Tam or Pho, Hu Tieu is one of the common Vietnamese dishes. You can find it either at mobile food carts or five-star restaurants. There are two kinds of Hu Tieu, one is from China and one is from Cambodia (called Hu Tieu Nam Vang). When these were brought to Vietnam, we modified the taste to the regional appetite.
Chinese flat rice noodles with chicken
The noodles are made from rice flour and there are some variations. It can be clear and tough, thick and soft, or thin and smooth. There are two ways to eat Hu Tieu: with or without soup. The toppings of Hu Tieu Nam Vang include minced pork, shrimps, quail eggs, pig’s liver, a fistful of chives, and basil which bring a distinctive aroma to the dish. The Chinese Hu tieu is simpler with toppings like char siu, chives, and fried shallots.
Banh Canh, unlike the thin rice vermicelli in those dishes we mentioned above or the flat noodles in Pho, the noodles in this dish are Vietnamese tapioca noodles which are fat, round and chewy. It goes with a variety of toppings from seafood like crab, squid, fish cakes to pork trotters.
Banh Canh - the crab version
Besides the common version that you can have for lunch or dinner, there is a sweet version for dessert. The noodles are cooked with mung beans and coconut milk, which makes it tasteful but also a little tougher. You can find it at Tan Dinh Market, District 1 for only VND 10,000 per bowl.
The name of Mi Quang itself presents the origin: Quang Nam, a central Vietnam province. This is a very special and colorful dish. The noodles used in Mi Quang is quite similar to the one in Pho, but it is thicker and chewier, and it has three different colors: reddish-brown, yellow, or white.
There is a variety of toppings that you can choose: chicken, shrimps, fish, pork or even all of them. The perfect side dish for Mi Quang is a sheet of crusty grilled rice paper and, like other Vietnamese noodles, a plate of fresh vegetables and bean sprouts.
Mi Quang can give you an unforgettable taste
Note down some addresses to get yourself a serving of Mi Quang in Saigon.
Mi Quang Sam
Address: 8 Ca Van Thinh, Ward 11, Tan Binh District
Opening hours: 6 AM - 11 AM, 3 PM - 10 PM
Price: VND 32,000 - VND 37,000
Mi Quang Sam is a warm restaurant famous for keeping the original taste of Mi Quang. No matter what type of toppings you want, it costs the same. The quality and reasonable price attract many customers so it can be crowded at lunch and dinner.
Mi Quang Tron Hong Ha
Address: 129 Hong Ha, Ward 9, Phu Nhuan District
Opening hours: 6 AM - 11 AM
Price: VND 15,000
This is a small takeaway food cart with an affordable price for a full box of Mi Quang. The special thing about this cart is that it serves the noodles without soup, a great experience for anyone who already loves the normal version.
If you want to try some exotic dishes in Vietnam but prefer something not so challenging, Bun Dau Mam Tom can be a good choice. This dish is usually served in a bamboo strainer containing thin rice vermicelli, fried tofu, boiled pork, several types of herbs and a small bowl of shrimp paste (or Mam Tom in Vietnamese). The shrimp paste is paired with kumquat juice, chili peppers, and sugar. You can modify it yourself to make it palatable. Due to its one-in-a-million smell, not everyone can enjoy the fermented and smelly shrimp paste. For those who love it, it can be very addicting.
Bun Dau Mam Tom with the fermented shrimp paste
Being a famous dish in Hanoi for years, Bun Dau Mam Tom is now available in many stores in Saigon. Most of these stores don’t have air conditioners since open places can help reduce the strong smell of shrimp paste and the frying of the deep-fried tofu. Some food stalls that you can find this dish are as below.
Bun Dau Co Khan
Address: 102/26 Cong Quynh, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 10 AM - 8 PM
Price: VND 35,000 - VND 65,000
Bun Dau A Vung
Address: 6AB Luong Huu Khanh, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 10 AM - 10 PM
Price: VND 61,000
Com Ga, or Chicken Rice, is a suitable option for those who want to avoid eating red meat. There are several versions of this dish, and each has its own cooking process. The original one is to boil the chicken and then use the chicken broth to cook the rice. To flavor and make the dish more healthy, pickles and herbs are dressed on top of the juicy chicken, and fatty, shiny yellow rice.
A closer look at Com Ga
Com Ga Hong Xuong - Nguyen Trai
Address: 357 Nguyen Trai, Nguyen Cu Trinh Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 10 AM - 10:30 PM
Price: VND 78,000 - VND 80,000
This restaurant not only serves Com Ga but also other Vietnamese rice dishes. Although a serving here costs a little higher than average, the taste of it will not let you down.
Ga Co Bap
Address: 237/44 Tran Van Dang, Ward 11, District 3
Opening hours: 8 AM - 11 PM
Price: VND 48,000 - VND 58,000
This is a family-friendly restaurant and has a wide range of options for you to try chicken with Vietnamese seasonings.
In case you have tried all of the Vietnamese noodles and looked for something different, we highly suggest Nem Chua, a specialty of Thanh Hoa. This is a fermented food made from pork, pork skin that has been cut into thin strips and roasted rice powder.
Nem Chua and chili sauce, a great combo for a savory snack
This mixture is flavored with sugar, fish sauce, salt, pepper, and garlic, wrapped in one small guava leaf and five to seven layers of banana leaves. It has a mildly sour taste that makes you want to keep eating. If you are afraid of eating raw meat, there are some stalls providing fried Nem Chua like Ha Noi Ngon - 217 Le Van Sy, Ward 13, District 3. It opens from 4 PM - 11 PM and offers a serving for VND 35,000 - 59,000, a good price for an evening snack.
Goi Cuon is one of the traditional dishes that show Vietnamese people’s creativity. The main character is a piece of translucent rice paper with varied fillings and sauces.
The most popular stuffing is pork and shrimps, but it can be crab, fish, patties or fried eggs. It also contains vermicelli, Vietnamese herbs, and mung bean sprouts - a completely nutritious appetizer.
Hoisin sauce, fish sauce, mam nem (fermented fish sauce with pineapple), or peanut sauce is often served with Goi Cuon, but if you find it difficult to stand these smells, soy sauce is another alternative. You can find it in local markets or at Saigon food streets for just VND 5,000 - 8,000 per roll.
Water-fern cakes - another one-of-a-kind dish from Hue. It is a small bowl of soft, fluffy steamed rice cake, topped with savory minced pork, shrimp, friable pork fat, and scallions. The spicy fish sauce makes it more appealing and flavorsome.
Banh Beo - a good choice for both snacks and main meals
Restaurants that serve Hue cuisine and big local markets in Ho Chi Minh City are where you can find this delicious Vietnamese dish.
Vietnamese tapioca dumplings is a delicious snack for the cold days. It has the same origin as Bun Bo Hue and Banh Beo. The dumplings have a chewy translucent coat and crunchy stuffings that include shrimps, minced pork, and optional wood ear mushroom. They are steamed or boiled until the coats turn transparent. A tasty bowl of fish sauce will complete this dish. The spicier, the better, so you can add some chili peppers to warm yourself up or even break a little sweat.
The transparent Banh Bot Loc
A good address to try out these small, yet delectable dumplings is Banh Bot Loc Buon Me - 170 Phan Van Han, Ward 2, Binh Thanh District. It is open from 9 AM - 10 PM, and a pack of ten dumplings costs VND 35,000. This bistro only has takeaway and delivery services, so you might need another place to settle and eat.
If you are looking for some street foods, we would recommend Banh Trang Tron, a specialty of Saigon. This dish is a concoction that combines shredded rice paper, boiled quail eggs, dried beef, herbs, and some secret spices. Each seller has their own recipe of seasoning to attract customers, which keeps Banh Trang Tron trendy among Saigonese for years.
Banh Trang Tron is so tasty that it is hard to resist
It is sold by hawkers at crowded places surrounding local schools, parks, or local markets at almost any time of the day for VND 15,000 - 20,000 per serving. The packaging might be simple, usually in plastic takeaway bags, but the combination of all ingredients says it all.
Tau Hu, or soybean pudding, is a favorite dessert of many children in Vietnam. A bowl of plain white tofu might not be something irresistible, but with a spoon of sweet ginger syrup, coconut milk, and some toppings like chewy sugar-coated boba or grass jelly, it is no longer just a Vietnamese dish but it becomes an unforgettable memory in local people’s childhood.
Tofu with shiny yellow ginger syrup
The traditional version is now only sold by hawkers on streets, in alleyways, or local markets. There are spacious stores that offer modern and more colorful versions. The price range is VND 5,000 - 30,000 depending on the sellers and the toppings.
Che Chuoi - Banana Sweet Soup is in the list of Vietnamese Desserts You Must Try. It is well-known for the easy-to-find ingredient: banana, which is easily spotted in rural areas of Vietnam and for its sweet taste. Larger, ready-to-eat bananas are sliced into round pieces. After being cooked, it is served either hot or cold with coconut milk, mini tapioca jelly, and peanut crumb. You can search for it at local markets or stalls that specialize in sweet soups at the price of VND 15,000 per bowl.
Che Chuoi is a delightful dessert
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There are hundreds of choices for a local meal in Vietnam with dishes from all over the country. When you visit this country, especially big cities like Ho Chi Minh, make an attempt to try as many of the Vietnamese dishes on our list as you can. You can explore this rapidly growing city in many ways, and one of the best ways to do it is the food motorbike tour. Be sure to check out i Tour Vietnam's highly-rated i Really Love Food Motorbike Tour.
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I love my food tour with your guide Mina. We went adventurous with the shrimp paste and she showed me how to get over the pungent smell. I've always craved Vietnamese food ever since
Leah took me to some barbecue pork with vermicelli on the food tour. It was really amazing. Would join a food tour again next time I'm in Ho chi Minh. Vietnamese food is just so delicious