What to eat in Vietnam

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When people ask “What to eat in Vietnam?” the replies can be confusing. Scorpions, snakes, crocodiles, silkworms, turtles or jellyfish – if you would like to try any of these specialties you will find them in Vietnam and it won’t even cost you much. Before coming to Vietnam we were convinced that there would be stalls offering grilled grasshoppers or pig heads everywhere. The truth is it is not so easy to find such “delicatessen” in the street and even more difficult in the areas swarming with tourists. So, let us clear this for you!

How is the Vietnamese cuisine

What to eat in Vietnam
What to eat in Vietnam

In Vietnam there are specialized restaurants that will serve you more extreme meals than soups or spring rolls. During our two-week stay we only came across three or four places like that. However, we didn’t really miss anything. We were amazed by the variety, sophistication and exquisitenes of the Vietnamese cuisine.
It is fresh, light and tasty, full of fresh herbs and flavours. The secret of its deliciousness is the perfect balance between four main features: sourness, sweetness, saltiness and spiciness. Local chefs usually go to the market twice per day to get the ingredients for their dishes!

Where to eat

The choice is huge. From street kitchens to luxurious restaurants, you won’t be disappointed. Apart from what to eat in Vietnam, you should also know where to satisfy your taste buds!

Street kitchens

Street “kitchens” are a very important part of the local cuisine in Vietnam. Why renting a building if everything you need in order to prepare a warm meal can be unpacked and packed in 10 minutes? You will see a lot of ladies in conical hats sitting by the road and stirring something unidentifiable in the pot. Most locals like to eat there but we (spoiled European people) could have serious stomach issues after eating such a meal (but that’s what vaccines are for, right?).

Grilled mini squid with lemongrass
Grilled mini squid with lemongrass

When it comes to hygiene, the ladies don’t worry about it too much so you just have to risk it and let your immunity do the job. We couldn’t resist and one evening we had dinner at a place which could hardly be called a restaurant. However, it was definitely one of the best meals we had in Vietnam. It was a place packed with locals, preparing fresh fish and seafood right in the street. We had grilled prawns with lemongrass and chili, steamed octopus and grilled mini-squid with lemongrass and sweet & sour sauce. Amazing!

Markets

Markets in Vietnam
Markets in Vietnam

What about markets in Vietnam? They are very far from being clean and it may happen that a rat will occassionally cross your path. Just like in all developing countries, even in Vietnam you have to negotiate the price but in the end it will be higher than the real value of the goods anyway. Not many people speak English but we can guarantee that when it comes to numbers and counting they are all experts :). In case you are really interested in buying you will need a lot of patience and resistance to get the best price.

Vegetarians and vegans will definitely feel sick at the food markets in Vietnam since most animals are still alive and the sellers will portion them right in front of your eyes. We do not recommend buying food at the markets and we had the impression that most tourists go there just out of curiosity. If you want to try to eat at a market, choose the place carefully. However, you can always buy fruits there such as papaya, mango, dragon fruit, jackfruit and much more. They are fresh and delicious!

Restaurants

Even if restaurants are mostly set for tourists, you will find authenthic local places with very good meals. The general rule is: the smaller the restaurant, the better the food! We always try to avoid the tourist traps, and so we did in Vietnam. Sometimes you really have no choice and you have to stop somewhere you don’t like from the outside…In that case, if you are not sure about the cuisine, go for a simple dish of noodles: they will be good anyway
Below you will find our favorite choices.

What to eat in Vietnam

Silkworm salad!
Silkworm salad!

The country has one of the greatest variety of dishes in the world. Vietnamese soups or fresh spring rolls are becoming very popular in European countries. But the offer is unlimited! You will find mainly tender pork, tasty marinated beef or chicken, together with different types of noodles and a bunch of vegetables and fresh herbs. Mint, cilantro, parsley and thai basil will add color and flavour to your dishes.

Famous Vietnamese meals

It’s not easy to orientate in a such big traditional cuisine. Moreover, there are several differences between northern, central and southern flavours. They often say that the cuisine of central Vietnam is the best one in the country: In case you are interested to know more about it, here’s a central Vietnam food guide.

If you are asking yourself what to eat in Vietnam, these are the dishes you cannot miss:

  • Pho Bo: without doubt it is the most famous one, a beef soup with rice noodles, herbs and lime. The ingredients may vary a bit from region to region but you have to try it at least once when visiting Vietnam. The locals eat (or drink?) it while it’s still hot but we wanted to avoid having our tongues burned.
    Pho Bo
    Pho Bo
  • Goi Cuon: fresh spring rolls, made of rice paper wrapped around noodles, mint, coriander, shrimps, vegetables and pork or chicken. Served with fish sauce, they will make your day!
  • Benh khoai / Banh xeo: Rice pancake “Hue” style. Simply delicious!
Rice pancake
Rice pancake
  • Bun Bo Hue: another soup, another great dish. Rich, spicy beef broth with rice vermicelli, lemongrass and other ingredients will warm you up after a few spoons!
  • Banh Beo: rice pudding with shrimps and crispy shallot. Don’t miss it in your “what to eat in Vietnam” Tour!
Rice pudding with shrimps
Rice pudding with shrimps
  • Bun Cha: a culinary institution. Noodles with grilled fatty pork, vegetables, fresh herbs and sauces.
  • Green papaya salad with shrimps: this is one of Enrico’s favourite dishes. In this dish you will find all the Vietnamese magic: it’s sweet and sour, salty and tasty altogether. It’s so fresh and good that it will make you cry!
Papaya Salad
Papaya Salad with shrimps
  • Bánh mì / Vietnamese sandwich: it can be called “the king of the Vietnamese street food”. It’s a result of the French colonialism in Indochina, and it combines ingredients from France (baguette, jalapeño, mayonnaise) and from Vietnam (coriander, sliced pork, daikon and others).

Vietnamese fish and seafood

They say that if you want to eat fresh fish and seafood and pay a ridiculous amount of money you should go to Vietnam. The thing is that sometimes you have no idea what’s gonna appear on your plate. After a while we stopped thinking about what the names on the menu actually mean and we ordered everything that we hadn’t tried yet….and we never regretted.

The Vietnamese mastership lies in the simplicity of preparation and the way of adding the right flavour to the meals. You will find ginger, lemongrass, coriander, tamarind and chili in most of your seafood dishes. Crab, lobsters and shrimps are so easy to find and so tasty: you should add them to your “what to eat in Vietnam” list. If you still have no idea what to order, many restaurants display their offer of creatures and it is enough to point your fingers at what you would like to eat. Yes, it sounds cruel but being a vegetarian is not a fashionable thing in Vietnam.

Coffee and cakes

Vietnamese Coffee
Vietnamese Coffee

 

It looks like the Vietnamese have exhausted all their energy on starters, soups and main dishes. If you belong to those who like to have something sweet after dinner you will have to satisfy yourself with pancakes, fruit flambe or ice cream, which for a strange reason sometimes is imported from New Zealand.

We personally liked the Vietnamese coffee a lot. We even bought a coffee pack together with the typical steel filter, which works on a similar principle as Italian espresso. The interesting thing about the Vietnamese coffee is a very particular bittersweet taste and scent, that can be defined as “nutty”. Moreover, the Vietnamese use sweet milk instead of sugar, and in the south they turn it into ice coffee by adding a few ice cubes (which can be very refreshing in 37 degrees). It’s always time for a coffee in Vietnam!

 

Our favourite restaurants

Now that you know what to eat in Vietnam, it’s time to give you some tips on where to eat. We chose 4 restaurants for you. The first 3 are located in Hoi An, the last one in Hue:

Vy’s Market

Address: Nguyen Hoang, Hoi An – A favourite tourist destination, the aim of the restaurant is to imitate a typical Vietnamese market. The only difference is that the place is very clean, all the waiters speak English and the prices are a bit higher. But the meals are just amazing. This was one of the places where apart from traditional meals you could try some weird stuff. And actually….it didn’t look bad at all :). We tried a lot of things, among which squid filled with pork minced meat and tamarind sauce, amazing soups and beef in betel leaves.

Squid with minced meat
Squid with minced meat and tamarind sauce

Mermaid restaurant

Address: 2 Ð Tran Phu, Hoi An – It’s right in the center of the city. We tried the local meal called “White rose”: rice paper dumplings, filled with minced meat or shrimps, served with crispy shallots on top. You should also try their marinated pork with glass noodles and a super tasty mango salad with prawns.

White Roses
White Roses

Nhu Bau

Address: Cua Dai, Hoi An – It’s a bit far from the centre (somewhere in the hotel and golf resorts area) but it’s really worth the distance. Rent a bike and go there for the freshest food you will ever have! We had some delicious crispy seafood, scallops, crab with tamarind sauce, rice with mussels and tomato sauce and prawns with cashew nuts.

Family Home Restaurant

Address: 4 Nguyen Tri Phuong, Hue – It is true what they say. The Central Vietnam cuisine is really one of the best. We found this really unique restaurant in Hue and we went there both evenings. Here, you should try Banh Beo and Benh khoai / Banh xeo. Also, ask for the dish of the day: we had a huge portion of tuna fish with vegetables and mushrooms for a ridicolous price. If you need to use the toilet you actually have to cross the kitchen, and you will see a couple of old smiling ladies cooking for you. It’s a true family restaurant!

 

Did we miss anything in our what to eat in Vietnam article? Which is your favourite Vietnamese dish?
Let us know in the comments below and share it with your friends on social networks!

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