Most travelers only scratch the surface of Vietnamese cuisine’s true depth of flavor, but our list of the country’s 12 most popular dishes to try on your vacation will give you an authentic taste.
Soup and noodles feature prominently on Vietnamese menus and there is a range of spicy, sweet, and salty variations to try. Beyond popular soups like pho and noodle bowls like cao lau, fried spring rolls, egg coffee, and other delicacies will tantalize your taste buds on a Vietnam vacation.
Find everything you might like to know about top dishes and where to try them when you visit the bustling and beautiful country.
Vietnam’s number one dish, pho is found in almost every restaurant, market, and food stall across the country’s highland, coastal, and riverside cities and towns. The bowl of broth and rice noodles, which commonly includes fragrant spices and meats, is reminiscent of Japan’s famous ramen noodle soup.
Red chilies add a spicy touch, a squeeze of lime elevates the flavor profile, bean sprouts give a crunchy texture, and holy basil or cilantro provide a hint of freshness. When visiting Vietnam, you may slurp down a steamy bowl of pho on a small red stool at a food stall in a Hanoi market or try a gourmet version at an upmarket restaurant in Saigon.
The second-most widely known Vietnamese dish, bahn mi is another staple street food with French colonial influence. Quite simply, bahn mi is a baguette with a variety of fillings. But what sets the Vietnamese version apart from other baguettes is the ingredients chosen to fill the sandwich.
When exploring street-food stalls and local markets littering the streets of Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City, or Hanoi, you will find bahn mi stuffed with regional ingredients such as boiled pork sausage, pork liver pate, and pickled vegetables. Bahn mi is the perfect lunch snack to sink your teeth into between tours of the cities.
Com tam is a rice dish comprising fractured rice grains paired with a variety of sides. With a long and humble history as a working-class meal prepared for Vietnamese farmers, the dish has since become a popular delicacy, with decadent preparations making even the most discerning travelers’ mouths water.
Food-stall vendors and chefs typically serve caramelized grilled pork chop with the dish. They then drizzle a blend of chili, fish sauce, sugar, and green onion oil over the plate. Finally, a garnish of shredded pickled vegetables and crushed fried pork rinds complete a dish you will devour when visiting Ho Chi Minh City.
Ancient Hue royalty would tuck into a bright red bowl of bun bo soup after a day of delegating and national duties. Today, bun bo remains a revered Vietnamese dish and its distinctly Hue variation is among the top versions you will come across as you explore Vietnam on vacation.
Beef bones and lemongrass stalks boil for hours to create the spicy, salty, and umami flavors, with citrusy notes. You will find the addition of tender beef shanks and vegetables delicious, and the occasional bite of Vietnamese cha lua, a sausage made of ham paste, will bring its unique edge to the dish.
Cao lau is a regional dish distinct to Hoi An and you will unravel the rich history of the meal as you savor the sumptuous flavors of this noodle dish while gazing across the East Vietnam Sea.
As a result of Hoi An’s location on the Vietnamese coastline, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese influences gave rise to the bowl of cao lau noodles, layered with Chinese barbecued pork.
Thick noodles inspired by Japanese udon noodles create the base of the dish. They are submerged in a spiced broth, before being topped with fresh herbs and crushed pork crackling.
Hoi An is a treasure trove of culinary highlights for you to enjoy when visiting Vietnam’s coast and com ga is one of the must-try dishes to indulge in during your stay. This dish takes what you know about a chicken and rice combination and flips the script, delivering an impeccable flavor profile born from ancient culinary traditions.
Chefs concoct the dish from fresh countryside ingredients, using tender shredded chicken strips, flavored fish sauce, and onions to cover a bowl of turmeric rice. Vietnamese coriander and hot mint bring balance to the golden dish, commonly served with pickled shallots, radish, and regional herbs.
Salad, soup, and noodles have never been as perfectly paired as they are in an authentic mi quang bowl that you will indulge in during your stay in the Quang Nam province in Central Vietnam. Considering its stunning visual appeal, you will find it hard to believe the breathtaking bowl of salad, soup, and noodles is a typical street food.
Eat with your eyes as you savor the flavors of the turmeric- and peanut oil-infused broth that gives the springy noodles a vibrant yellow color. For toppings, you can choose from shrimp, chicken, pork belly, or snakehead fish to complete a dish served with sliced banana flowers, coriander, and sesame rice crackers.
Vietnamese fried spring rolls, nem ran, are a quintessential tapas treat to try when visiting Northern Vietnam. They vary from one province to another, yet one thing remains the same, their combination of crunchy texture and tantalizing ingredients can be enjoyed with one hand as you wander through the bustling markets and tour nearby cultural landmarks.
You will find the tightly wrapped rice-paper pockets housing vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs, prawns, fermented pork, barbequed meat, or regional vegetables as you taste nem ran in each destination that you visit.
Don’t let the name fool you, banh xeo is completely different from banh xi. When it comes to similar dishes you may have tried, banh xeo sits somewhere on the culinary spectrum between a crepe, pancake, and omelet.
The name banh, meaning cake, comes from the fluffy texture of the rice batter that forms the pancake essential to the dish, and the name xeo, meaning sizzle, comes from the vigorous crackling sound that occurs when the batter hits the piping hot oil of the skillet. The crispy fried crepe is stuffed with all sorts of ingredients and you will be particularly fond of the savory meat filling in Central Vietnam.
Maybe you have tried bun bo hue during your vacation and are eager to see how Hanoi’s regional culinary traditions differ from the coastal regions. Maybe you have not yet experienced the mouthwatering noodle salad during your Vietnam vacation.
Either way, bun bo nam bo is an essential dish to try when exploring the markets and restaurants of Hanoi. You will enjoy the hearty combination of beef, noodles, and salad as you try to figure out why this dish, which originated in Southern Vietnam, is more popular in the country’s northern cities and highlands.
Ca phe trung is certainly the most interesting delicacy to feature on this list of the 12 most popular dishes of Vietnam. In English, ca phe trung refers to Vietnamese egg coffee. This odd-sounding typical morning beverage is one of the highlights of any Vietnamese culinary vacation.
Prepared with egg yolks, sugar, a generous slather of condensed milk, and coffee, this sweet and bitter drink provides a soothing sip to start your day in Vietnam and gives you the energy you will need to tour the cultural highlights of the cities, towns, or open countryside.
Sticky rice is a common Asian side dish and in Vietnam, it constitutes a famous chicken sticky rice dish known as xoi ga.
It is uncommon for sticky rice to feature as a main dish, but that has not stopped Vietnamese food-stall vendors in Ho Chi Minh City from preparing hearty servings of sticky rice covered with tender chicken strips, fresh Vietnamese herbs, and crispy shallots.
Soy sauce and sesame oil are the perfect addition to drizzle over the dish before you indulge in a massive plate of xoi ga.
Do you wish to try these 12 most popular dishes of Vietnam on a stunning tour of the country’s best restaurants, magnificent markets, and sensational street-food stalls? We can take you to Vietnam and help plan your culinary trip based on our customizable Vietnam tours and vacations.
If you want to learn more about Vietnam, where to go, and what to do when you visit, then check out our Vietnam travel guide.