After living in South Korea and a few months in Thailand, my palate was ready for super spicy and flavorful food when we arrived to Vietnam. Although we settled down in Vietnam and first lived a year in Saigon and then two in Da Nang, this guide will be perfect for you to keep close while you travel to the best places to visit in Vietnam.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t blown away at first. I look back at myself when we first moved to Vietnam though and realized I didn't give Vietnamese food the fair chance it deserves.
Once you know what to order and you’re willing to try things that you have no idea what they are, the world of Vietnamese food will open up to you. The more adventurous I got with trying things, the more delicious things I found.
Trust me, the best food in Vietnam is eaten off tiny red plastic stools from push-carts parked on the broken sidewalk.
In this guide, I’m going to skip over phở, bún chả, and bún bò Huế and instead focus on the dishes you might not find on other Vietnamese food guides.
When you're out eating all of the delicious food below, be sure to pair it with a Vietnamese coffee, a fresh juice, or one of the many different types of teas (my favorite it with lime!) that you'll be offered. The drinks in Vietnam were honestly a highlight for me.
Just writing this has gotten my mouth watering and belly rumbling. Let’s dive in with these delicious 10 Vietnamese dishes you really need to try.
1. Mì Quảng
Mì quảng will forever be my favorite Vietnamese dish. No matter how good other things were, I always went back for more mì quảng.
Mì quảng is a thick noodle soup originating from central Vietnam, so although you’ll see it in other parts of the country, it’s everywhere in central Vietnam spots like Da Nang.
The rice noodles in this dish are thick and the broth is thicker than other soups here. You can have it topped with most meat or go all veg but my personal favorite is fish (mì quảng cá). I recommend getting it served with a big bánh tráng, or crispy fried rice paper.
2. Xôi Gà
Now that you know my favorite Vietnamese dish, it’s time to introduce my husband’s: xôi gà, or sticky rice with shredded chicken. It’s usually also topped with fried onions and crushed peanuts.
Just as I could eat mì quảng for every meal, he could do the same with xôi gà.
Sticky rice might not sound too exciting but trust me, it’s fantastic. This is another common street food that’s most often sold in the mornings. A small portion is big enough for you to feel full and ready for the day...or a nap!
There are a few different variations with xôi xéo as the most common one sold in the Northern part of the country. The biggest difference between the two is xôi xéos topped with mashed mung beans (resembling mashed potatoes) and xôi gà is topped with chicken.
3. Bánh xèo
Bánh xèo crept into my heart during the last year of Vietnam and honestly, I wish I gave it more of a chance sooner. This crispy, stuffed rice pancake is the guilty pleasure that really isn’t all too guilty. I mean, they do fry the things in an exorbitant amount of oil but it’s supplemented with veggies so it balances out, right?
You can think of bánh xèo as the Vietnamese version of a crepe.
The pancakes themselves are usually stuffed with shrimp and bean sprouts. The shrimp typically still have their shells on so if that crunch isn’t for you, I’d recommend deshelling the shrimp before you bite right in.
From there, you build your own spring roll. You pull off a bit of bánh xèo, put it inside a piece of rice paper, stuff it with greens, roll it up, and dip it in the delectable dipping sauce. I’ll be honest I’m not quite sure what the dipping sauce has in it, it’s like a meaty peanut sauce, but it’s not to be missed!
4. Nem Lụi
Another dish that uses the same yummy, mysterious dipping sauce and the rice paper wraps as the bánh xèo is nem lụi. Nem lụi is skewered BBQ pork served with rice paper, unripe fruits, greens, and pickled veggies for you to make you roll-up to your tastes.
Many places that sell nem lụi are the same ones that sell bánh xèo so you can check both of them off your list at the same time.
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5. Bánh Mì ốp La
Bánh mì ốp la is by far my favorite breakfast in Vietnam. It sounds simple enough, it’s a fried egg sandwich after all, but they pack some flavor into it. Always served in a baguette, the best bánh mì ốp las have pate, pickled veggies, greens, chill paste and soy sauce. Now that’s a good sandwich.
You won’t have to look far for a little push cart selling bánh mìs in the morning but each one will have their own slight variation so try a few before settling on your favorite.
6. Grilled Oysters, Clams, and Scallops
I’m putting these all together because they’re all prepared similarly and all so delicious.
If you’re used to eating raw oysters, these are different and better. I love raw oysters but I completely think the Vietnamese way is the ultimate way to eat oysters, clams and scallops.
Typically, they’re grilled and topped with peanuts, green onions, and fish sauce. While I know that might not sound like the amazing combo I’m selling it as, don’t knock it ‘til you try it.
The first time I had oysters prepared this way, I was sitting on the beach and a woman prepared them with her portable grill in the sand. I honestly thought I had stumbled onto something special, which in that moment it really was, but soon found out all seafood restaurants prepare their shellfish the same way.
8. Bún thịt nướng
Bún thịt nướng is a popular dish you won’t have too much trouble finding anywhere in the country. It’s a noodle dish with cold vermicelli noodles served with grilled pork, pickled veggies, and topped with plenty of greens and peanuts.
My favorite part of bún thịt nướng is the sauce it’s served with. Every place will have its own variety but in general, it’s a fish sauce mixed with soy sauce and chopped red chili peppers.
While I love bún thịt nướng, it’s a bit of a hit or miss dish for most since the noodles are served cold. People tend to expect hot noodles and are thrown off when they’re cold.
8. Com Sườn Nướng
Com sườn nướng is yet another dish that I should have tried sooner. This dish is grilled lemongrass pork chop with broken rice. I’ve never paid much attention to pork chops before and it’s not something I’ve ever ordered from a menu before but I was getting bored with my husband’s constant craving for cơm tấm gà, broken rice with chicken, so I decided to try out the pork chop instead.
I never ordered chicken again.
Usually, the plate is served also with pickled veggies and a fried egg. It’s a cheap and filling lunch.
9. Bún ốc
Bún ốc is a dish that really surprised me. A Vietnamese friend messaged me one morning asking, “Do you want to go for snail soup tomorrow morning around 8am?” While I do love seafood, eating snail soup for breakfast wouldn’t have been my first idea. I said yes though and am so glad I did.
This is a soup served with tiny snails, thin noodles and tofu. It’s even better when you add a little hot sauce and lime!
I highly recommend not avoiding this dish simply because snails for breakfast seems a bit weird. You might make it part of your morning routine before you know it!
10. Bánh canh
Bánh canh is a noodle soup made with a tapioca flour or rice flour broth, leaving the broth way thicker than usual. The noodles in this soup are also thick cut and more “doughy” than usual.
As you can imagine, bánh canh has a unique texture that most soups don’t have. Don’t cross it off your list because of this though! If you’re not bothered by textures, this soup is rich and flavorful and will leave you wanting more.
A common version of this soup is crab but I personally prefer the fish one best.
The best part about all the dishes on this list? You certainly won’t break your bank trying them all. No need to search for these items on tourist restaurants or anywhere fancy. You’ll get the best of the best from any pushcart or small spot in the front room of someone’s home.
Be adventurous and eat up!