Vietnamese food is all about balance. Most of the famous Vietnamese dishes reflect this value very well. The bitter, sour, spicy, sweet, and salty flavors merge into delicious broth and sauces, while rice comes in different shapes and textures.
Many Vietnamese dishes have been influenced by China, which occupied Vietnam for about a thousand years. It is also possible to see the legacies left by French colonization, such as baguette bread and coffee.
Vietnam is a fascinating country to visit. The country’s complex phonetics and limited English can make it challenging to get off the tourist path and really get to know it.
I encourage you to go over these challenges and immerse yourself in Vietnamese cuisine. The more you interact with local people, the more authentic your experiences become, and you will be able to understand more about Vietnamese foods and culture.
This guide with traditional Vietnamese dishes will help you learn more about Vietnamese foods and flavors, which go far beyond spring rolls.
The most famous Vietnamese dishes
1. Bún chả
Bún Chả is thin rice noodles (Bún) with grilled pork (Chả) served in a surprisingly refreshing broth, a mix of vinegar, water, fish sauce, sugar and carrot slices with green papaya. The dish comes with a basket containing several leaves and herbs, lettuce, mint, and shiso.
Bún Chả represents Vietnamese cuisine very well: noodles, broths, leaves, and herbs. A balance of flavors and textures served in a way that you assemble and eat as you wish.
Phở is one of Vietnam’s most famous noodle soups. From a linguistic point of view, Phở refers to the long, flat rice noodle. It is so famous that anyone who says Pho immediately associates it with this noodle soup. In its main preparation, Phở is served in an aromatic broth with pieces of meat and fresh herbs.
It is relatively cheap and easy to find through the streets of Hanoi. It goes well any time of day but is commonly eaten at breakfast. There are several versions with different meats, seasonings, and preparation techniques. The secret of this Vietnamese dish is in the broth, a slow-cooking stew with bone, meats, and spices.
3. Bánh xèo
Bánh xèo refers to these yellow pancakes. It looks almost like an omelet, but it’s not. It’s a crispy crepe made with rice flour and turmeric stuffed with pork, shrimps, and bean sprouts.
The size and style of pancakes will vary depending on the region. But I assure you, they are all delicious!
4. Bánh bèo
Street food in the imperial city is a fancy thing! Bánh bèo was initially created in Hue to serve the Emperor. Today, it is a popular street food all over central Vietnam. It’s a mix of rice and tapioca flours steamed in small ceramic bowls giving it its round shape.
Once cooked comes the topping, which varies from city to city, cook to cook. The most traditional one takes ground shrimp, pieces of pork rinds, and chives. The special touch is the sweet sauce, served separately and made with fish sauce, shrimp sauce, pepper, and sugar.
5. Bánh cuốn
Bánh cuốn, most commonly found in northern Vietnam, is made with rice flour and water, and a few drops of oil.
Traditional versions are served with mushrooms, pork stuffing, and fried onions. It comes with a basket of leaves and Chả lụa sausage.
6. Bò lá lốt
Ground beef dumpling wrapped in an aromatic leaf called lá lốt, also known as wild betel leaves (piper sarmentosum).
These grilled rolls will delight your senses with herbal aromas and smoky flavor.
7. Thịt kho
Caramelized pork belly served in the clay pot. The version with boiled eggs (Thịt kho tàu) is one of the typical dishes widely consumed during the lunar new year, the famous Tết Festival.
The secret to this delicious Vietnamese dish is the marinade, which contains coconut water, fermented fish sauce, sugar, shallots, and garlic as its main ingredients.
8. Cơm hến
Cơm hến is a rice dish with clams, peanuts, and fried pork skin. The dish bears the same name as the islet where it is consumed, located right in the middle of the Perfume River in Huế, central Vietnam.
This off-the-beaten-path Vietnamese food is better consumed at the source, a super authentic experience, and outside the tourist circuit.
9. Bánh hỏi
Almost a work of art, rice noodles with the shape of a super delicate net. It is served with a basket of leaves and pork meat (sausages, skewers, or pieces).
How do you eat it? Wrap the noodles and pork meat in the leaves, roll it up, add some bittersweet sauce and Nhac!
10. Bánh Bao Bánh Vạc
Bánh Bao Bánh Vạc, known as White Rose, is an exclusive dish from Hoi An in central Vietnam. It is so exclusive that even today the same family supplies most restaurants in the city. Secret recipe kept under lock and key.
A translucent dumpling stuffed with shrimp, a delicacy.
11. Bánh canh
A noodle soup that is made from rice flour and cassava root starch. This mixture results in a thicker, rounder noodle that makes all the difference. You can make the soup with various ingredients, or even a combination of them, such as pork, fish cake, Vietnamese Ham, crab, shrimp, and tofu.
We loved the Banh Canh Cuá Tom with crab and shrimp.
12. Bún bò Huế
A bowl of Bún bò Huế bubbles with harmonious flavors: spicy, sour, salty, sweet touch, and lemongrass. The name of the dish is practically its description: Bún (rice noodle type) + Bò (meat) + Huế = Huế noodle soup with meat.
Favorite local breakfast for a long day at work. The broth is made with meat and bones, lemongrass, fermented shrimp paste (mam tom), pepper, and herbs.
13. Bánh mì
Bánh mì is a fusion of French and Vietnamese flavors inherited from the French colonization. There are many variations, but the basic principle is the same: The bread is cut in half, then it takes the pate (made from pork liver), mayonnaise, meats and sausages, lots of cilantro, pepper, and vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers that add crispiness, and finish with a bittersweet sauce.
One bite and you’re in Vietnam!
14. Bánh khọt
Mini dumplings made with rice flour (sometimes with leftover rice), cornstarch, turmeric, and coconut milk topped with shrimp and chives.
It’s similar to Bánh xèo, but has the advantage of being bite-sized!
15. Kem xôi
It is impossible to talk about Vietnamese food without mentioning at least one dessert.
Sticky rice cooked with pandan leaves. Coconut ice cream is added to the top with roasted coconut chips. It’s a delicious combination of flavors, aromas, textures, and colors!
Bonus! Cà phê trứng
Cà phê trứng means coffee with egg, famous in Hanoi, home of the original recipe which is internationally known as egg coffee. The recipe for the egg coffee takes robusta-type coffee beans, egg yolks, condensed milk, and other ingredients that may vary.
This Vietnamese dessert will surprise you. Try making at home, it’s easy!
Overall, How is Vietnamese Food?
Balance is the best word to describe Vietnamese food. There will be very few dishes that are more salty, bitter, or spicy than those of neighboring countries. The final touch always using fresh herbs is another feature that makes Vietnamese food so unique.
Read more: How to eat street food without getting sick