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Vietnamese Cuisine & Regional Specialities

Vietnamese food is an essential part of the culture, reflecting the values and specialties of different regions. One of the best ways to experience Vietnam’s rich history and diverse culture is through its street food. While 'Vietnamese cuisine' often refers to popular dishes, there are many regional and ethnic variations. This cuisine is both simple and sophisticated, loved by people worldwide. Whether you're tasting a bowl of Phở in Hanoi or enjoying a Bánh mì in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnamese food offers a delicious and memorable experience.

What Makes Vietnamese Food Special?

Vietnamese food signature dishes to eat

Vietnamese food is known for its rich variety of flavors, blending five main tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy. Signature dishes like Phở, Bánh mì, and fresh spring rolls (also called summer rolls) perfectly combine different flavors and textures, delighting people around the world.

A hallmark of Vietnamese cuisine is its use of fresh ingredients. Each dish celebrates the natural flavors of herbs, vegetables, and meats from local markets. A unique feature is the use of Nước mắm (fish sauce), found in almost every household. This special sauce adds a savory taste to many dishes and highlights the deep culinary traditions of Vietnam. Discover the secrets of Vietnamese cooking on our private tour.

Exploring Vietnam's vibrant street food scene is a must for any visitor. The bustling streets are filled with the aroma of delicious dishes, from savory favorites like Bánh mì and Phở to sweet treats like Chè (Vietnamese sweet dessert soup) and Bánh tráng nướng (Vietnamese grilled rice paper). Best of all, street food is affordable, so you can enjoy a tasty meal without breaking the bank.

Experience Vietnam's street food with our guided tour. Sitting on a small plastic stool at a busy sidewalk stall is all part of the experience. Here, you'll join locals in savoring the flavors of Vietnam and soaking up its lively atmosphere. The sights, sounds, and smells of street food will create lasting memories of your time in this dynamic country.

Saigon street food motorbike Vietnam private tour

Vietnamese Regional Dishes

Vietnam culinary cooking scene

Vietnamese cuisine reflects the creativity of locals who utilize natural ingredients sourced from the environment. With rice, vegetables, and fish as main components, dishes are crafted with care and tradition. Each region of Vietnam boasts its own culinary identity. In the North, such as Hanoi, you’ll find dishes known for their light and delicate flavors. Central Vietnam, on the other hand, is renowned for its bold and spicy flavors.

Meanwhile, Southern cuisine, as found in Ho Chi Minh City, offers a fusion of flavors from both North and South. This regional diversity ensures that no matter where you go in Vietnam, you’ll encounter unique and delicious dishes that reflect the local culture and traditions.

Here are some must-try regional Vietnamese dishes:

  • Northern dishes: Phở, Bún chả, Bánh cuốn
  • Central dishes: Bánh mì, Bún bò Huế, Cao lầu
  • Southern dishes: Gỏi cuốn, Bánh xèo, Cơm tấm

Taste these regional dishes on your customized tour. Plan your trip with us today!

Vietnamese food you must eat while in Vietnam

What to Eat in Vietnam?

Vietnamese soup noodle dish Pho

1. Phở

You should definitely try Phở, the most famous Vietnamese dish globally. This broth-based noodle dish feels like a warm hug with its fragrant broth and zesty condiments. You can add lime juice, fish sauce, chopped chili, herbs, sliced green onion, chili sauce, or hoisin sauce to your phở. Making phở takes a lot of time and effort, but the excellent taste of rice noodles with bone broth is worth it.

Nowadays, you can enjoy a variety of beef cuts in your phở, such as thinly sliced rare beef, flank, brisket, tripe, tendon, and meatballs. There are also different versions of phở across Vietnam, including phở rolls, dry phở (without broth), and phở in red wine. For a step-by-step guide, check out our video on how to eat with Phở our Travel Director, Adrian.

2. Bún chả

When in Hanoi, Bún chả is a must-try. This signature dish features Vietnamese grilled pork with noodles, including delicious grilled pork patties and grilled pork belly slices. It's served with rice noodles, fresh herbs, and a dipping sauce made with diluted fish sauce, sliced carrots, and green papaya. The fish sauce has sweet and sour notes, making it lighter than sauces used in other Vietnamese dishes. This allows you to mix the rice noodles with the sauce to blend the flavors of meat and vegetables.

Bún chả gained international fame when former U.S. President Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain visited a local bún chả eatery. Since then, the place offers an “Obama combo” that includes a portion of bún chả, a crab spring roll, and a bottle of Hanoi beer.

Vietnamese northern dish Bun cha
Vietnamese steamed rice rolls banh cuon

3. Bánh cuốn

Bánh cuốn is a Vietnamese delicacy that delights your taste buds with its delicate texture and flavorful fillings. These rolls are made from thin, translucent sheets of steamed rice batter, typically filled with a mixture of ground pork and wood ear mushrooms. They are served with aromatic herbs like cilantro and Vietnamese mint, and a dipping sauce made from fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, and chili, which enhances their flavor and freshness.

Bánh cuốn varies across Vietnam, with each region adding its own unique twist. In some areas, you may find bánh cuốn filled with soft-boiled egg or grilled pork instead of the traditional fillings. Additionally, different versions of bánh cuốn may come with various dipping sauces, from traditional fish sauce mixture to peanut sauce or hoisin sauce.

4. Bánh mì

An essential experience is tasting the authentic Bánh mì. This beloved Vietnamese dish has become a national symbol and one of the country's culinary icons. It is a type of sandwich made with a Vietnamese baguette, filled with various delicious ingredients. Bánh mì is popular for its convenience, offering a quick and satisfying bite on the go

Each region in Vietnam has its own unique version of bánh mì, creating many tasty variations to explore. A typical bánh mì can include fillings such as fried egg, roasted pork with crispy skin, ham, char siu pork, or pâté. These fillings are often garnished with fresh herbs, Vietnamese coriander, and pickled vegetables to add lightness and flavor. Sample the best Bánh mì on our guided food tour.

Vietnamese sandwich baguette banh mi
Vietnamese beef soup noodles Bun bo hue

5. Bún bò Huế

Make sure to taste Bún bò Huế, a famous traditional dish from Hue, a city in Central Vietnam. This dish represents the essence of Central Vietnam’s culinary culture. The flavorful broth is infused with lemongrass, annatto seeds, and shrimp paste, creating a perfect balance of tangy, spicy, and savory flavors. A typical bowl of bún bò Huế includes tender slices of beef, pork knuckles, pig’s blood cubes, and a variety of fresh herbs such as mint, cilantro, and shredded banana blossom.

In Hue, the broth is traditionally made with shrimp paste for a distinctive flavor. However, in other regions, the broth is often made by stewing beef bones and tendons, which may be more suitable for local tastes in the North and South.

6. Cao lầu

Don't leave without trying Cao lầu, a famous noodle dish originating from the historic town of Hoi An. Known for its unique flavors and texture, Cao Lầu is a must-try for anyone visiting the region. The dish features thick, chewy noodles made from rice that has been soaked in water from the local Ba Le well, giving them their distinctive texture.

The noodles are served with slices of savory roast pork, fresh herbs, crunchy bean sprouts, and crispy fried pork skin. A small amount of broth, seasoned with star anise and other spices, is added to enhance the flavor without making the dish soupy. Fresh herbs like mint and basil, along with lime wedges and chili, are served on the side to add bursts of freshness and spice.

Hoi An speciality dish Cao lau
Fresh spring rolls summer rolls goi cuon

7. Gỏi cuốn

Unlike fried spring rolls, Gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls) are served uncooked, preserving the natural flavors and crunch of the ingredients. These translucent rice paper rolls are filled with shrimp, pork, vermicelli noodles, and fresh herbs like mint and cilantro, providing a refreshing burst of flavor.

Gỏi cuốn is prepared by carefully wrapping the ingredients in delicate rice paper, creating a visually appealing and nutritious dish. They are often served with dipping sauces like hoisin-peanut sauce or spicy sauce. Learn the art of making these fresh spring rolls by watching our Business Executive, Trinh, demonstrate how to make Gỏi cuốn

8. Bánh xèo

You need to try Bánh xèo, Vietnamese rice-flour pancakes. These crunchy pancakes are typically stuffed with bean sprouts, mung bean, seasoned pork, and shrimp. For vegetarian options, tofu, mushrooms, and other vegetables are used. Turmeric, giving the dish its yellow color, is a key ingredient.

Bánh xèo varies by region. In Central Vietnam, they are smaller and crispier; in Southern Vietnam, they are larger, softer, and sometimes have a hint of coconut milk. They are always served with fresh herbs and vegetables like lettuce, mustard greens, basil, fish mint, and perilla. Wrapping the crispy pancake in greens and dipping it in fish sauce creates an explosion of flavor. Discover the best way to eat this dish with our Travel Manager, Łukasz, by watching his guide to eating Bánh xèo

Vietnamese crispy pancake Banh xeo
Vietnamese broken rice Com tam

9. Cơm tấm

Have you tried Cơm tấm? This very popular rice dish from Southern Vietnam consists of broken rice, grilled pork chop, pork skin, steamed egg meatloaf, a fried egg, and some vegetables. It is delicious, filling, affordable, and widely available. The taste can vary depending on where you get it, as each stall or diner has their own way of marinating the pork chop, giving each place a unique flavor.

The toppings for cơm tấm are quite varied. While pork chops are traditional, cơm tấm also goes well with Chinese sausages, ribs, braised pork, or fried chicken. We highly recommend stopping by any cơm tấm stand to try different toppings and experience the amazing flavors of Southern Vietnamese cuisine.

Vegetarian and vegan options in Vietnam

Vegetarian vegan food in Vietnam

Vietnam showcases its creativity with diverse variations to cater to every palate. There are plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans to enjoy. From meat-free versions of traditional favorites like Bánh xèo chay (vegetarian Vietnamese pancake) and Phở chay (vegetarian pho) to unique creations like Bánh cuốn chay (vegetarian steamed rice rolls) and Bún thịt nướng chay (vegetarian grilled pork vermicelli noodles).

When you visit a Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant, you'll find dishes featuring tofu, mushrooms, and a variety of fresh vegetables, complemented by aromatic herbs and zesty sauces. Enjoy this country's rich flavors and creativity for yourself!

Don't just read about Vietnamese cuisine, taste it for yourself! When you plan your customized trips with us, we will arrange them based on your dietary preferences.

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