When discovering Vietnamese foods, you will find a little bit of all the four tastes - salt, sour, sweet, and bitter - combining well with one another creating the unique of the dish of each region. On the land spreading more than 1,500 kilometers from the North to the South, Vietnam is also blessed with different climates and has diverse sources of ingredients for the dishes. People's way of cooking and the recipes for foods also varies across the country. Let's start our journey with the delta region in Northern Vietnam.
The characteristics of Northern cuisine is mild, a bit spicy, and colorful. Most people in the North of Vietnam do not like their foods too fat or too sweet. The taste is straightforward; if it is salty, it will be really salty; if it is spicy, it will be really hot. One of their favorite ingredients is shrimp paste. These foods we suggest below is easy for you to find in some local market in the North, like Dong Xuan Market, Hang Da Market, and Cho Hom Market.
However, in the mountainous areas where there are ethnic minorities living and where the lands are blessed with a cool climate, the cooking is even simpler. People usually use a range of wild vegetables, herbs, and spices in their dish to bring out the original delicious flavor of the meat. You can also find these foods at their local market sessions.
Northern style Pho or more commonly known as Pho Hanoi is a famous brand when talking about Northern Vietnamese foods. It is also one of the most well-known dishes of Vietnam in the world. Most Vietnamese use Pho as breakfast before going to work but you can enjoy it any time of the day because of many stores open from early morning to late evening.
Pho Hanoi originated in the early 20th century, the first appearance in Hanoi. There are two popular kinds of Pho: chicken and beef. The savory and aromatic soup, soft white noodles, juicy meat along with the cook skills combine to make the quality of a bowl of Pho.
Price Range: VND 30,000 - 60,000/bowl
Talking about Hanoi, visitors will think of Pho first. But another traditional food that also appears long ago, and that is Bun dau mam tom (vermicelli, or thin rice noodles, with fermented shrimp paste). In Hanoi, there is even a whole street named Hang Bun Street because it used to be where people made the vermicelli.
A typical tray of Bun dau mam tom includes vermicelli, a small dish of shrimp paste, cubes of fried tofu, slices of boiled pork, and some Vietnamese herbs. Bun dau mam tom is usually eaten at lunch, but recently, you can also find it sold in restaurants in the evening. It is served mostly in local markets, small stores along the streets because its strong smell is not suitable for closed rooms. However, if you want to make sure the dish you try is fresh and safe, you can come to the restaurants.
Price Range: VND 30,000 - 60,000/set
It is another dish with Bun. Bun cha is usually served in a bowl of light fish sauce (the fish sauce is mixed with water, some slices of turnip cabbage, carrot and boil like a broth) with grilled pork patties, a dish of vermicelli, and a bunch of Vietnamese herbs. You can also order a crab spring roll to go with it. Like Bun dau mam tom, it is best to eat Bun cha at noon because this is when the Bun has just been freshly made, but now you can find it sold at any time of the day.
Bun cha used to be a favorite street eats for locals, but it has been made even more popular in 2016 when Barack Obama try it in a restaurant in Hanoi. Now not only people in the North but people all over the countries and the world also want to try this dish. Even though it is also vermicelli with BBQ but do not mistake it for Bun thit nuong in Southern Vietnam because it is a quite different experience.
Price Range: VND 30,000 - 60,000/set
The ingredient of this pancake is rice. Each stuffed pancake is spread into paper-thin, applied a little bit of green onion oil for the aroma. To get the best taste of Banh cuon, you cannot miss the sauce, and at Thanh Tri town, the dish is even more delicious accompanying the sauce seasoned carefully with the special fish sauce (their secret recipe) with vinegar, add a few slices of fresh peppers. Banh cuon can be served with roasted cinnamon pork and hot steamed shrimp inside.
Price Range: VND 30,000 - 40,000/dish
Cha ca La Vong is a marinated fish paste, grilled on charcoal and then fried. The fish used in the dish must be fresh, little, and little bones. To keep the dish's original flavor, people must choose the fish carefully; not all types of fish can be used to make this cuisine. This grilled fish can be served with rice or rice noodles, add some pieces of herbs and pounded peanut.
Price Range: VND 30,000 - 60,000/bowl
Green sticky rice is Hanoi's specialty. In autumn, people usually have to bring green sticky rice as a gift for their friends and family. The smell and the taste of this kind of food make many locals people feel homesick when they are away from home.
The most famous green sticky rice is originated from Vong village. The taste of green sticky rice is the most attractive during the sticky rice harvest which is in autumn. It is not only baked to make a sweet treat but also made into many other delicious dishes such as rice noodles, fried rice, grilled rice nuggets, and rice nuggets contributing to the diversity of Hanoi’s cuisine.
Price Range: VND 15,000/cake, 200,000/kg of green sticky rice
Mung bean cake is a must-try dessert in Vietnam because of its natural flavor. Made from mung bean powder, and pure sugar, the cake is simple, not too sophisticated, but it still contains the typical taste of the northern region. The sweetness of the cake goes perfectly well with the bitter green tea, which is a common drink in Northern Vietnam.
Price Range: VND 30,000 - 40,000/pack
A type of soup cooked with horse meat or beef. The original version of this dish made by the ethnic could be quite hard to enjoy because of the smell of horse meat, but in some restaurants, they have added ingredients to reduce this smell so that everyone can enjoy it.
Price range: VND 100,000 - 400,000/hotpot
The buffalo meat is marinated and smoked on the stove until dry like beef jerky. Vietnamese usually use it as a snack or eat with rice at lunch and dinner. The meat on its own is flavorful, but you can also dip it in hot sauce, lime-salt-pepper mixture, or sweet-sour fish sauce to enhance the taste.
Price range: VND 900,000/kg
Xoi Ngu Sac is a popular dish in the Northwestern holidays, especially with the Thai in Yen Bai. You can see the typical colors of sticky rice such as red, purple, yellow, green, and white. The talent of the ethnic people is the use of natural materials to dye for sticky rice. Each color represents ambition, wealth, health, nature, and pure love respectively. You can also eat this sticky rice with Thit Trau Gac Bep (Smoked buffalo meat).
Price Range: VND 10,000 - 30,000/set
The North of Vietnam, the region with the longest history in Vietnam, preserves so many features of food that represent Vietnamese culture and lifestyle. These foods should definitely be on the list of any travelers who are considering to explore tasteful and appetizing food while enjoying the breath-taking landscape. There are a lot more to the dishes in Northern Vietnam, from noodle soups for cold winter days, cool and refreshing Bun for hot summer days, or sweet treats to exotic meat in the mountainous areas. These dishes are only a part of all the signature dishes.
What dish have you tried? What is your favorite? Tell us in the comment below.
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Part 2: What to Eat in Central Vietnam
Part 3: What to Eat in Southern Vietnam
I had the smoked buffalo meat at one the roadside street stops at Sapa. The weather was chilly, and I had it next to the charcoal grill and enjoyed some hot tea, which was nice. The meat was tough and chewy, but it was a nice experience.
Vietnam has much to offer for any kind of tourist and traveler. From delicious street food in the old quarter to the beautiful architecture throughout the country.