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With a diverse culture and traditions, Vietnam is home to some of the unique and delicious cuisines in Southeast Asia. If you are interested in exploring Vietnamese foods, try some of these popular local Vietnamese desserts on your trip to Vietnam.
Most banana trees are planted in rural countryside in Vietnam. This tropical fruit is very popular with locals from the south to the north of Vietnam. Primarily, banana is also used as an ingredient that can be cooked with a variety of foods in Vietnamese cuisine. There is a one-of-kind sweet soup in Vietnam made with bananas, especially, large bananas to get a wonderful and fruity scent.
The banana is cut into round slices and topped with coconut milk. It is incredibly addictive to people who have a sweet tooth, and there are some tiny toppings like jelly to top up. This Vietnamese dessert is a common dessert to many Vietnamese locals so you can find and try it not only in every supermarket, and sweet soup shop but also at street vendors or the local markets when exploring Vietnam.
This steamed layer cake is made from tapioca starch, rice flour, mashed beans, taro or durian, coconut milk, water, and sugar. The texture is soft and gelatinous with a sleek surface which is the reason why locals have referred it to as a “pigskin” cake. When making this Vietnamese dessert, green layers of pandan leaf and yellow layers of mung beans are alternatively poured into molds to be layered and finally wait for them to get cooler. For local Vietnamese cuisine, especially in the Southern region, steamed layer cake has become a part of their everyday lives, and eat it for a snack or a dessert occasion. The delicious taste of these ingredients will leave you surprised after the very first bite.
The cake is a traditional Vietnamese dessert that has been with every generation, from the kids to the elders, they get into the habit of eating it weekly or even daily. According to tradition, people say that the cake resembles a cow’s udder explaining why many locals call it a “cow cake.” Made from coconut, rice flour, water, and sugar, those simple and easy-to-find ingredients are then steamed and cooked into a dish with such a delicious taste. The cake is sweet, and soft, and has a spongy, fluffy texture when torn open. This cake is best served with sprinkled sesame seeds or peanuts on top and poured or dipped in coconut milk. The sponge cake is one of the must-try Vietnamese desserts that you should not miss.
Banh cam is a deep-fried Vietnamese dessert with an inside filled with mung bean paste and shredded coconut. The wrapper is a thick glutinous rice flour covered in sesame seeds. In Vietnamese cuisine, Banh Cam means Orange Cake, which describes the golden color when fried completely. Tourists can easily find this Vietnamese dessert at most local food markets or roadside vendors at a very reasonable price.
Coconut is one of the common Vietnamese fruits in the South of Vietnam and a favorite refreshing drink for many tourists. Because coconut is often paired with cooking Vietnamese cuisine, it is no surprise that there is a dessert that can be made from coconut as well. This coconut jelly has 2 parts: the bottom jelly layer is made from fresh coconut juice, and the top jelly layer is covered with coconut milk. It is best to enjoy this Vietnamese dessert chilled.
Corns are very popular, cheap, and available all year round in Vietnam. People can eat steamed corn for breakfast or snacks, and we also have the mouth-watering dessert - corn sweet soup (che bap).
A tray of different types of Vietnamese sweet soups
Corn sweet soup is made through 4 basic steps:
1. boil the corn (with husks still on)
2. shave corn kernels off the cobs of boiled corn
3. boil the cobs to make broth for che bap
4. strain the broth and add the kernels to the broth boiling pan until tender; season with a bit of sugar and salt. Most importantly, add tapioca liquid (tapioca starch dissolved in water) and stir steadily to create the ideal slightly thick texture.
There are 3 popular types of Vietnamese jelly: suong sa (crystal-clear jelly), suong sao (black jelly), suong sam (green jelly), the last two will be in details below. It is said that suong sa brings the spirits of the sea, suong sao the soul of rice paddy fields, and suong sam the breaths of mountains and forests. This is probably the best way to put into words the distinction between these three refreshing jelly varieties.
Suong sa is made from a kind of edible algae containing many vitamins and minerals. Making suong sa is indeed a manual and taxing process that is time-consuming and demands meticulousness. The algae are washed and cleaned multiple times, then we let them soak until it bloats. Boil water and add the bloated algae. Stir steadily until the algae are cooked completely. Strain the final liquid and pour it into food storage containers of different lovely shapes. The liquid will solidify gradually to become jelly with a very light texture.
The finished crystal-clear jelly, like the case with black jelly and green jelly, is cut into small cubes, and mixed with water, sugar, coconut milk, and tapioca pearl balls.
Suong sa hot luu is a common drink, including crystal-clear jelly with tapioca pearl balls, mock pomegranate seeds, and coconut milk. Because of its crystal-clear color, suong sa is not very discernible in this concoction.
The plant from which black jelly is made is (Chinese) mesona, and this name is unknown to all fans of black jelly in Vietnam. Mesona plants have light green leaves, oval-shaped. The process of making suong sao is similar to that of suong sa (crystal-clear jelly), except that the soaking step is replaced by the sun-drying of mesona leaves and stems.
Generally, it is served in a jelly concoction with tapioca pearls, but in Northern Vietnam, black jelly is usually added to Tau Hu (soybean pudding, which is also in the list below).
Grass jelly, or black jelly, is very popular not only in Vietnam but also in Singapore, China, and some other Asian countries.
Suong sam (green jelly) is made from a plant that lives in the mountain jungles, called tiliacora triandra, which is an unknown name to many people since they mostly call it suong sam plant.
To make suong sam or green jelly, leaves of suong sam plant are washed until clean, then let dry naturally, then ground in a blender with a proper amount of water until all becomes a green concoction. Strain the liquid to remove leaves’ fragments. The green liquid is poured into food storage containers and becomes jelly after some hours. The way it is served is exactly like that of black jelly and crystal-clear jelly.
The name is interesting per se because “troi nuoc” means floating in water or wading in water. There is a famous poem in Vietnamese middle school textbooks that is totally dedicated to this dessert, using it as a metaphor for women’s unstable and miserable life under the feudal regime of the past.
Visually, che troi nuoc, or sometimes known as Che xoi nuoc (“xoi” means glutinous rice), contains light-yellow balls in a clear brown liquid, topped with a layer of coconut milk. The balls, as you can see, have an outer chewy layer made from glutinous rice and stuffed with a mung bean paste. The clear brown liquid is sweet, and made of water, sugar, and grated ginger root. Aromatic smell and delicious taste! Best when served hot and not when served cold because the chewy layer and the mung bean paste both get hardened.
Che troi nuoc is very popular during Tet Holiday, Tet Nguyen Tieu (5th of the 5th lunar month, colloquially called “killing bugs and pests holiday”), and Full Moon Festival.
“Sua chua” or yogurt is a favorite food of Vietnamese people. Plain yogurt, strawberry yogurt, or aloe vera yogurt are all the rage in supermarket aisles. Recently, a new creation, yogurt nep cam, has garnered immense love from yaourt fans. As the translation and the picture above suggest, “nep cam” is the violet fermented rice toppings in the cup of yogurt. “Nep cam” essentially means glutinous rice from a red-black kind of rice, with a bland taste after being cooked, as most plain rice is. But when cooked it yields a beautiful violet color. To serve as toppings on yogurt, it is fermented to have an interesting slightly-sour taste, light alcohol smell, and grainy-sticky texture, going perfectly with the smooth, sweet, and sour yogurt.
This dish is known by 2 names: “tau hu” in Southern Vietnam and “tau pho” in Northern Vietnam. A delectable dessert is available at random street vendors’ carts and in (more costly) soybean pudding-specialized restaurants. Two basic components of this dish: very soft white tofu and ginger syrup (clear, sweet, with the light-orange color). It is best when served warm. The bland, pure taste of soft tofu (very different from that of normal tofu with thicker texture) goes perfectly with the sweet taste of the ginger syrup.
The phrase “bo luong” in the name honestly means “energy-giving”, while the part “sam” refers to the general sweet drink made from many kinds of leaves; “sam” is per se a very common soft drink in Vietnam. In a glass of energy cocktail, you have ginkgo nuts, lotus seeds (believed to have many health benefits), Chinese dried apples (very small-sized ones, not the regular apples you imagine), dried longans, dried seaweed, and in some cases, pearl barley. The liquid in this cocktail is essentially water and sugar.
People love this dish because of its healthy properties which stem from its individual components, and because of the interesting blend of many different tastes within one concoction. Understandably, Sam bo luong is more expensive than regular types of che. A star item on our list of must-try Vietnamese desserts.
Next on our list of must-try Vietnamese desserts is che me den, which is not a very common dessert and has a Chinese origin, brought to Vietnam by the Chinese community in Vietnam. The price is pretty high too, which is understandable because black sesame seeds are not very cheap in Vietnam. Black sesame seeds are believed to have many health benefits by most Vietnamese housewives, especially for the hair and skin.
This me den drink is made by grinding black sesame seeds until turned into a fine powder. Then pour this black sesame powder into a saucepan, and add cornstarch and sugar (or some other kind of sweetener) before turning on the heat and boiling this mixture. The heat should be low and the cook has to stir steadily until the mixture gets thick.
“Tra” means tea and “trung” means egg. Another uncommon dessert, and like the case black sesame drink, an import to the Vietnamese cuisine brought by Chinese Vietnamese. The combination is quite odd, to be honest. The “black tea” is actually not tea, but black sugar added to boiled water, believed to be healthy because black sugar is a kind of rare, healthy sugar. And the boiled egg obtains its black cover on the outside layer thanks to the black sugar tea, predictably. Not an easy dish for all. An acquired taste, but it’s fun to try!
More like a common snack than a dessert, seen most often in street vendors’ carts that sell other types of Vietnamese cakes too. It is aromatic and sweet. Ingredients that make banh khoai mi nuong include cassava, scraped coconut, vanilla extract, sweetened condensed milk, a bit of sugar, and tapioca starch. It has a beautiful golden brown color after being grilled. Worth a taste!
Don’t be scared by the name “liver cake” because there is no liver whatsoever here. “Liver” is a faithful translation of the Vietnamese “gan”, though, referring to the spongy-like texture of the flan. The origin of this dish is in South Vietnam, particularly Southwest Vietnam (Mekong Delta region), so it would not be a surprise if it is unknown to a Northern resident. Banh gan is similar to flan, an all-time favorite dessert in Vietnam, except the eggs used to make banh gan are duck eggs. Banh gan is cheap and delectable, and can be found in large local bakeries. Try it once if the chance presents itself!
That is the last item on our long list of must-try Vietnamese desserts. Now, where to eat these?
Offers a wide selection, more than 20 items of Vietnamese desserts in the menu. One of the rare dessert restaurants where you can sample Rau cau dua (coconut jelly) at a reasonable price.
Address: 111 Bui Thi Xuan, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Price range: VND 10,000 and 30,000
- Ha Ky che restaurant at 138 Chau Van Liem, Ward 11, District 5. Owned by a Chinese Vietnamese. The menu is varied, but prices are a bit high too, from VND 20,000
- Che Nha Den - Che Nguoi Hoa Khu Den Nam Ngon at 476-478 Tran Dung Dao B, District 5
- A Vietnamese dessert establishment, owned by a Chinese Vietnamese, at 486 Tran Hung Dao B, District 5, where you can buy Tra trung (boiled egg in black tea) and Che me den (black sesame sweet soup)
These are actually the best choice to eat che and other Vietnamese desserts. The dishes are cheap, served hot, and scrumptious! Chatting with the local vendor is fun too.
Related article: Foods, drinks, and where to find them in Ho Chi Minh City
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In Vietnam, you can find these Vietnamese desserts at local street vendors or the local markets. Mainly, most Vietnamese eat the sweets as a light snack throughout the day, and they don't necessarily have to wait until the end of the meal for a dessert.
To learn more about Vietnamese cuisines and Vietnamese desserts, try our highly-rated and fun Ho Chi Minh Food Tour.
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The sweet soups in Ben Thanh Market is just dreamy