Vietnamese food: 40 delicious dishes you’ll love
Vietnamese cuisine doesn’t win any points for complexity. Many of the most popular dishes can be made just as well on the side of the road as in a top-end restaurant.
But it’s precisely this simplicity, the subtle variations by region and the fresh ingredients, that keep us pulling up a plastic stool for more.
Here are 40 foods from Vietnam you can’t miss:
What list of Vietnamese cuisine would be complete without pho?
It’s almost impossible to walk a block in Vietnam’s major destinations without bumping into a crowd of hungry patrons slurping noodles at a makeshift pho stand. This simple staple consisting of a salty broth, fresh rice noodles, a sprinkling of herbs and chicken or beef, features predominately in the local diet — and understandably so. It’s cheap, tasty, and widely available at all hours.
Just look out for a mass of people on plastic stools — or try a tried and tested favorite: Pho Thin, 13 Lo Duc, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi
2. Cha ca
Hanoians consider cha ca to be so exceptional that there is a street in the capital dedicated to these fried morsels of fish. This namesake alley is home to Cha Ca La Vong, which serves sizzling chunks of fish seasoned with garlic, ginger, turmeric and dill on a hot pan tableside.
Cha Ca La Vong may be the busiest but the service is a bit gruff and the food overpriced. Instead make your way to Duong Than in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem district, where you’ll find plenty of more affordable but just as tasty options.
3. Banh xeo
A good banh xeo is a crispy crepe bulging with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, plus the garnish of fresh herbs that are characteristic of most authentic Vietnamese dishes. To enjoy one like a local, cut it into manageable slices, roll it up in rice paper or lettuce leaves and dunk it in whatever special sauce the chef has mixed up for you.
Banh Xeo 46A has mixed reviews but judging by the crowds that swarm there each night they must be doing something right. Banh Xeo, 46A Dinh Cong Trang, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)
4. Cao lau
This pork noodle dish from Hoi An is a bit like the various cultures that visited the trading port at its prime. The thicker noodles are similar to Japanese udon, the crispy won-ton crackers and pork are a Chinese touch, while the broth and herbs are clearly Vietnamese. Authentic cau lao is made only with water drawn from the local Ba Le well.
Try Morning Glory, 106 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An
5. Rau muong
Some might call it river weed — with good reason — but that doesn’t stop the masses from scarfing down platefuls of morning glory, usually stir-fried and seasoned with slithers of potent garlic. Rau muong is common at Vietnamese restaurants and beer gardens.
Chung Den Bia Hoi, 18B Hang Cot, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
6. Nem ran/cha gio
Vietnam’s bite-sized crunchy spring rolls might not enjoy the same popularity as their healthier fresh equivalent, but they deserve a special mention. The crispy shell with a soft veggie and meat filling dunked in a tangy sauce gets the gastronomic juices flowing before a main course. In the north these parcels go by the name nem ran while southerners call them cha gio.
Bun Cha, 1 Hang Manh, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
7. Goi cuon
These light and healthy fresh spring rolls are a wholesome choice when you’ve been indulging in too much of the fried food in Vietnam. The translucent parcels are first packed with salad greens, a slither of meat or seafood and a layer of coriander, before being neatly rolled and dunked in Vietnam’s favorite condiment — fish sauce.
Quan An Ngon, 18 Phan Boi Chau, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
8. Bun bo Hue
Central Vietnam’s take on noodles caters to carnivores with its meaty broth and piles of beef and pork. The thick slippery rice noodles also make for a heartier meal than noodles found in the north and south.
You don’t have to go to Hue to enjoy this dish; if in Ho Chi Minh City try Tib Express, 162 NguyenDinh Chieu, District 3, HCMC
9. Banh khot
This dainty variation of a Vietnamese pancake has all the same tasty ingredients but is a fraction of the size. Each banh knot can be scoffed in one ambitious but satisfying mouthful. The crunchy outside is made using coconut milk and the filling usually consists of shrimp, mung beans, and spring onions with a dusting of dried shrimp flakes on top.
Co Ba Vung Tau, 59B Cao Thang, District 3, HCMC
10. Ga tan
Got the sniffles? Opt for ga tan, a broth that’s Vietnam’s answer to the proverbial cup of chicken noodle soup. Sure it’s not quite how your mother used to make it, with its greenish tinge from the herbs and hunks of chicken parts, but it’s worth a try if you’re needing a Vietnamese tonic.
Try this at one of the street stalls on Hanoi’s Tong Duy Tan aka Pho Am Thuc, or “Food Street,” Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
11. Nom hoa chuoi
Vietnam’s banana flower salad packs a much bigger punch than a typical plate of mixed greens. Banana flowers (thick purple lumps that will later turn into bunches of bananas) are peeled and thinly sliced then mixed with green papaya, carrots, and cilantro along with chicken and a heavy-handed pour of a salty fish sauce dressing and crunchy peanuts.
Highway 4 restaurant, 3 Hang Tre, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
12. Bun bo nam bo
This bowl of noodles comes sans broth, keeping the ingredients from becoming sodden and the various textures intact. The tender slices of beef mingle with crunchy peanuts and bean sprouts, and are flavored with fresh herbs, crisp dried shallots, and a splash of fish sauce and fiery chili pepper.
67 Hang Dieu, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
13. Hoa qua dam
This chunky blend of fresh tropical fruit in a cup is the perfect local treat when the heat of Vietnamese summer starts to wear you down. It could be considered a healthy alternative to ice cream — if you stick to the shaved ice variation — but for the full experience it’s best had with diabetes-inducing condensed milk mixed in.
14. Pho cuon
Pho cuon packages the flavors of pho and goi cuon in one neat little parcel. This Hanoi take on fresh spring rolls uses sheets of uncut pho noodles to encase fried beef, herbs and lettuce or cucumber.
The best place to find them is on Ngu Xa island on the capital’s Truc Bach Lake — specifically at 26 Nguyen Khac Hieu, Ba Dinh district, Hanoi
15. Ga nuong
KFC may be everywhere in Vietnam these days, but skip the fast food for the local version. Honey marinated then grilled over large flaming barbecues, the chicken legs, wings and feet served are unusually tender, while the skin stays crispy but not dry.
Viet Ha on Ly Van Phuc, Dong Da district, Hanoi
16. Pho xao
Pho xao may just be a slightly healthier take on my xao — but the beauty is in the details. The flat, smoother pho noodle doesn’t crisp up like its pre-boiled instant cousin. When done well the outer edges acquire a browned crunchiness, whilst the center stays soft and glutinous. This dish tastes best with a fried egg and seasoned with chili or soy sauce.
26 Nguyen Khac Sieu, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
17. Ca phe trung
Vietnamese “egg coffee” is technically a drink but we prefer to put it in the dessert category. The creamy soft, meringue-like egg white foam perched on the dense Vietnamese coffee will have even those who don’t normally crave a cup of joe licking their spoons with delight.
In Hanoi, follow the tiny alley between the kitschy souvenir shops at 11 Hang Gai into the clearing, and up several flights of increasingly dicey stairs to pair your ca phe trung with an unbeatable view of Hoan Kiem Lake.
18. Bo la lot
Vietnamese are masters of wrapping their food. Bo la lot is neither raw nor deep-fried, but flamed on an open grill to soften the exterior and infuse the betel leaf’s peppery aroma into the ground beef inside.
3T Quan Nuong, 29-31 Ton That Thiep, District 1, HCMC
Savory sticky rice is less of an accompaniment to meals in Vietnam, more a meal itself. The glutinous staple comes with any number of mix-ins (from slithers of chicken, or pork to fried or preserved eggs), but almost always with a scattering of dried shallots on top.
Xoi Yen, Nguyen Huu Huan, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
20. Banh cuon
These rolled up rice flour pancakes are best when served piping hot, still soft and delicate. Although seemingly slender and empty they have a savory filling of minced pork and mushrooms. Zest is also added by dunking the slippery parcels in a fishy dipping sauce.
21. Ca tim kho to
Eggplant alone tends not to get us excited. Although when it’s diced and sauteed in a clay pot along with tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar, and (depending on the recipe) minced meat, the once bland vegetable redeems itself.
Pineapple Restaurant, 35 Hang Buom, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
22. Bot chien
Saigon’s favorite streetside snack, bot chien, is popular with both the afterschool and the after-midnight crowd. Chunks of rice flour dough are fried in a large wok until crispy and then an egg is broken into the mix. Once cooked it’s served with slices of papaya, shallots and green onions, before more flavor is added with pickled chili sauce and rice vinegar.
Night-time food vendors sell this at the corners of Pham Ngu Lao and Cong Quynh, District 1, HCMC
23. Bun dau mam tom
This plain-looking tofu and noodle dish is served with mam tom sauce — the Vegemite of Vietnam. The pungent purple dipping sauce is used to flavor the slabs of deep-fried tofu that are at the core of the meal.
24. Banh goi
These pockets of deep-fried goodness are often described as the equivalent of a Cornish pasty or as a Vietnamese samosa, depending on the nationality of the person explaining. Inside the crispy exterior you’ll find that it’s similar to neither description, with its filling of finely minced pork, mushrooms and vermicelli noodles.
25. Com suon nuong/Cơm Tấm
This simple meal is the Saigonese equivalent of bun cha — with rice in place of noodles. A tender pork cutlet is barbecued over hot coals to give it a rich, smoky flavor, and laid over the fluffy white “com” or broken rice.
Com Tam Cali has a number of branches across HCMC. Try Tam Cali 1 at 32 Nguyen Trai, District 1, HCMC
With its thick and creamy texture Vietnam’s rice porridge is the best pick when your queasy stomach can’t handle much else. If you want to jazz it up you can always add slices of chicken, fish, beef, duck or pork ribs, along with a sprinkling of herbs and shallots.
Chao Ca specializes in fish chao, 213 Hang Bong, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
27. Bo luc lac
Cubes of beef are tossed around a steaming wok with garlic, pepper, and some vegetables to make shaking beef. There’s nothing special about the beef that makes it shaking. The name is just a literal translation that refers to the process of mixing the beef around while cooking.
Nha Hang Ngon, 160 Pasteur, District 1, HCMC
28. Hat de nong
The smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire can bring back fond memories of Christmas carols — until a moped transporting a giant blow-up Santa whizzes by. Pick the street vendor with the most enticing smell.
29. Banh uot thit nuong
It’s all about the marinade when it comes to the grilled pork in fresh rice paper rolls that are popular in Central Vietnam. The typical mixture coats the meat in a blend of sugar, salt, chili, lemongrass and fish sauce. Cilantro, basil and mint are added when it’s served up to add some green to the appetizer.
Morning Glory, 106 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An
30. Bun cha
Pho might be Vietnam’s most famous dish but bun cha is the top choice when it comes to lunchtime in the capital. Just look for the clouds of meaty smoke after 11 a.m. when street-side restaurants start grilling up small patties of seasoned pork and slices of marinated pork belly over a charcoal fire. Once they’re charred and crispy the morsels are served with a large bowl of a fish sauce-heavy broth, a basket of herbs and a helping of rice noodles.
Hanoi’s most famous bun cha outlet is 1 Hang Manh, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
31. Banh mi
The French may have brought with them the baguette, but Vietnam takes it to a different level. How exactly depends on what end of the country you’re in.
In the north, chefs stick to the basic elements of carbohydrate, fat and protein — bread, margarine and pata — but head south and your banh mi may contain a more colorful combination of cheese, cold cuts, pickled vegetables, sausage, fried egg, fresh cilantro and chili sauce.
One of the better baguette vendors in Saigon sets up shop beside the Cherry mini-mart on DoQuang Dao, District 1, HCMC
Eating this hodgepodge hotpot dish is a communal affair with everyone digging in to the oversized boiling pot. We’ve found that just about anything can (and will) go into this soup from tofu to frogs. It’s best to stick to one main protein rather than opting for the mix of meat, poultry and seafood together.
On the northern edge of Hanoi’s Truc Bach lake you’ll find a number of restaurant staff crossing the street to deliver lau to lake-side diners
33. Banh bao
Steamed pork buns aren’t traditionally Vietnamese, but that doesn’t stop the spongy rolls from being sold by street vendors and in traditional Vietnamese restaurants. The best buns have a hard-boiled quail egg buried within the minced meat, while the cheaper ones come without any filling at all. Remember the lower the price the less stuffing, so you might not be getting the good deal you thought you were.
Often sold by wandering vendors patrolling Hanoi’s Old Quarter at all hours. In the south try Banh Bao Tho Phat, 78 Nguyen Tri Phuong, District 5, HCMC
34. Com rang
Fried rice may not be the most adventurous option, but sometimes you just want some familiar grub done right. Baby-sized chunks of meat and colorful vegetables are mixed with soy and fish sauce in a wok streetside to create a rice dish that is still moist but slightly smoky. Make it Vietnamese by supplementing with Bia Hanoi.
Try one of the vendors on Tong Duy Tan aka “Food Street,” Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
35. Bo bit tet
Vietnam’s equivalent to steak and eggs fills the void when you’re hankering for some greasy pub tucker. The thin flank steak is usually served with eggs, thick potato wedges, and Vietnamese meatballs on a sizzling cast iron plate.
36. Com chay
Com chay refers to two things in Vietnam: vegetarian food, or Vietnam’s homemade rice crispies that are popular with children. Unlike the sweet treats in the United States, Vietnam’s version of a crispy comes with meat instead of marshmallows. Vietnam’s vegetarian restaurants use mock meats to create all the traditional dishes and usually do a pretty good job. Although some places include artificial creations we would rather not try. Fake rubbery snails anyone?
Try Hoa Dang vegetarian restaurant, 38 Huynh Khuong Ninh, District 1, HCMC
This dessert can be served in either a bowl or a glass. The latter is the more enticing option with the visible layers of bean jelly, coconut milk, fruit, and ice. Best had when you’re craving something sweet on a scorching day in Saigon.
Nha Hang Ngon, 160 Pasteur, District 1, HCMC
38. My xao bo
Mix noodles with a dollop of oil, then add beef, onions, garlic, morning glory and some tomato for color and you have a platter of my xao bo. The whole dish takes about as long to make as instant noodles — but oh so much more flavor.
Any bia hoi establishment serves this dish, but the eateries on Tang Bat Ho, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, have perfected it
39. Dau phu sot ca chua
The English translation of “tofu in tomato sauce” doesn’t really do this dish justice. The slabs of deep-fried soy are doused in a rich fresh tomato and spring onion coating, and seasoned with a speckle of fresh herbs.
Chim Sao at 65 Ngo Hue, Hai Ba Trung district, Hanoi
40. Canh bun
Another hearty soup that’s high on the lunchtime agenda, this is a crab and morning glory noodle soup. Canh bun is similar to the more well-known bun rieu crab soup, but has a small handful of variations — including the type of noodle used.
Look for street food vendors with Canh Bun on handwritten signs surrounded by lunchtime crowds, or visit Bun Saigon at 73 Ly Tu Trong, District 1, HCMC
41. Cơm Gà
Chicken and rice is a foolproof combination. But in Hội An, this delicious duo is elevated using fresh ingredients from the countryside. Strips of tender chicken are shredded, mixed with flavoured fish sauce and onions to accompany a bowl of turmeric rice. Pickled shallots, radish and herbs are served on the side. Cooks from all over the country have their own secrets to set their turmeric rice apart. Classic Hội An chicken rice is topped with a few leaves of Vietnamese coriander and hot mint to balance out the zesty chicken marinade and soft, young eggs. After a day exploring the Ancient Town on foot, a plate of golden chicken rice is simply the perfect treat.
Try it: Com Ga Hien, 539 Hai Ba Trung St, Hoi An
Part soup, part salad, mì quảng gracefully pulls off an identity crisis. That being said, don’t let the elegance of mì quảng fool you. This light and springy noodle dish from the Quang Nam province in Central Vietnam is street food. The vibrantly yellow noodles owe their rich colour to the turmeric-infused broth made rich with peanut oil. Only a ladleful is used in the making of this “soup”, which can be topped with anything from shrimp and chicken to pork belly and snakehead fish. Eat mì quảng with sliced banana flowers, Vietnamese coriander, basil and bánh tráng me, toasted sesame rice crackers.
Try it: Quan Mi Quang Ba Mua, 95 Nguyen Tri Phuong, Chinh Gian, Thanh Khe, Da Nang
More of an appetizer, bánh bèo is a quick fix from Hue in Central Vietnam. These steamed rice cakes come in bite-sized servings, akin to Vietnamese tapas. Each delicate, chewy disk is topped with a spoonful of creamy mung bean paste and toasted shrimps. The cakes are then trimmed with either croutons or the more indulgent tép mỡ—crunchy fried pork fat. At the centre of a good bánh bèo should be a dimple, signalling a well-steamed batch. This is paired nicely with nước chấm.
Try it: Quan Hanh, 11 Pho Duc Chinh (South Bank), Hue
The interplay between crab and tomato makes bún riêu a truly standout dish. A hearty soup bursting with acidity, the components of this meal include slippery bún, fresh crab meat, blocks of tofu and stewed tomatoes. Cooking an authentic bowl of bún riêu is a labour-intensive process. After the crab meat is separated from the body, the shell is then pulverized using a mortar and pestle and then strained through to form the base of the broth. Floating around the bowl are pillowy clusters of minced crab combined with ground pork and egg that melt in your mouth.
Try it: Bún Riêu Cua Thanh Hồng, 42 Hòa Mã, Ngô Thì Nhậm, Hai Bà Trưng, Hanoi
Bite-sized savoury pancakes bánh căn are a beloved south-central speciality. Made from a combination of rice batter, a cracked quail egg and green onions cooked over flame in an earthenware grill, each bite is more satisfying than the last. Traditionally served plain, bánh căn is now topped with either shrimp or pork and dipped in a bowl of broth loaded with green onions and a few floating meatballs.
Try it: Phan Rang, 106 Trương Định, Phường 9, Quận 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
This is the standard street food item in the south. The Vietnamese version of the kuy teav in Cambodia and guay tiew in Thailand, hủ tiếu is a bowl of noodles served either wet (nước) or dry (khô). Typically, an opaque broth made from pork bones is eaten with hủ tiếu noodles. The definitive rendition of hủ tiếu is Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang. The recipe calls for pork on the bone, boiled liver, a quail egg and some shrimp. If you’re squeamish, ask them to hold off on the congealed pork blood chunks, which make their way into a bowl every now and then. The peppery broth speckled with chopped green onions also has a noticeable sweetness to it, coming from the addition of rock sugar.
Try it: Hu Tieu Co Huong, 152/7/2 Ly Chinh Thang, Ward 7, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Bún Chả Cá
Bún chả cá is a dish with many variations depending on where you find it. They all contain spaghetti-like rice vermicelli (bún), fish cakes (chả cá) and fresh herbs, with a little local twist. Pictured above, bún chả cá Nha Trang, from the central coastal city has the basic ingredients, plus bouncy squid cakes, dill, fried green onion and tomato, for a light and sour flavour. Slurp it up with a side of greens and a squeeze of lime.
Try it: Bún Cá Mịn 170 Bạch Đằng, Tân Lập, Nha Trang
Chè is a sweet dessert, served either hot or cold and in the form of a pudding or dessert soup. Cold chè is filled with jellied ingredients and tropical fruits such as bananas, mangoes and longan, usually doused in coconut cream. Always a textural adventure, you’ll be surprised to encounter coconut shreds, crushed ice, lotus seed and jellies in these syrupy snacks. The beautiful three-coloured dessert, chè ba màu is often called the rainbow dessert. This is a layered spectacle of red beans, mashed mung beans and pandan jelly, topped with crushed ice and coconut milk.
Try it: Che 95, 95 Hang Bac, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Bún mắm (bun mam)
Graham Holliday, an author and expert on Vietnamese food labels bun mam, despite its pungent smell, as his wholly favorite Vietnamese noodle dish.
Bun mam is specifically a southern Vietnamese dish, and just like most other noodle soups, you’ll find it at both sit down restaurants and portable street food stalls around town – though it’s not nearly as common to spot as some other noodle dishes on this blog.
The base of any bowl of bun mam (bún mắm) is a dark colored broth prepared with fermented fish sauce (which I believe is similar to Thai pla ra).
The fermented fish sauce gives the soup broth a well rounded, balanced flavor, and it’s honestly not nearly as fishy as it might sound or smell.
Along with the broth, bun, or rice vermicelli noodles, are loaded into the bottom of the bowl, before the entire assortment of meats like squid, prawns, and pork are all scattered on top of the noodles.
Finally, a slice or two of eggplant, which soaks up all the broth, is another essential component of a bowl of southern Vietnamese bun mam.
In addition to the glorious fish flavor, the broth of a bowl of bun mam is usually sweetened with tamarind juice and sugar.
Although bun mam was honestly a little too sweet of a flavor for me (I’d go with a bowl of bun rieu most of the time), it is widely popular, and it’s a Vietnamese food you definitely need to try when you’re in the city.
Bún mọc (bun moc)
On one of my final days in Saigon, I was walking around a local neighborhood market and decided to try yet another Vietnamese noodle soup dish – this time, a dish called bun moc.
The noodles, bun, are the thin soft rice vermicelli noodles, which are so easy to eat and go down so easily as well.
The broth in bun moc is normally pork based, a simple and soothing soup, that’s not spicy at all, but just comforting. It’s the type of noodle soup you might want to eat relaxing rainy day.
Along with the rice vermicelli noodles and pork broth, a bowl of bun moc also typically includes some chunks of pork meat, maybe even a bone, meatballs, and Vietnamese sausage.
Although bun moc is said to have originated in the north of Vietnam, it’s extremely popular throughout Saigon as well.
Bánh canh cua (banh canh cua)
Banh canh, according to Wikipedia, actually means soup cake in Vietnamese, that’s the literal translation.
That’s likely because the noodles are so hearty and so thick.
Banh canh is quite similar to Japanese udon noodles, except I thought the noodles, which are typically made with a combination of rice and tapioca starch, were more sticky and a little chewier than udon, which are typically made with wheat flour.
Although there are a few different versions of banh canh, the one I ate, and fully enjoyed was banh canh cua, the thick starchy noodles with crab.
Instead of being a typical noodle soup with a thin stock, banh canh cua is more like a hearty stew, the broth is thickened like gravy, almost like Thai cuisine style radna.
The gravy normally has quite a mellow crab flavor, but what’s really impressive are the nuggets of crab meat that come in a bowl, and the toppings, including chilies and limes.
If you’re a crab lover like I am, this is a Vietnamese dish for you.
Bún thịt nướng (bun thit nuong)
Vietnamese cuisine is brilliant for combining a contrast of flavors and textures into a single dish, and I think bun thit nuong, or better yet bun thit nuong cha gio, is a great example of this.
The dish normally begins with a handful of chopped up herbs and lettuce at the bottom of a bowl, then in goes fresh rice vermicelli noodles (similar to Thai khanom jeen noodles), then a few skewers of grilled pork are layered on that, and finally a sweet and salty fish sauce, and a scoop of oily chives and green onions, and pickles are all added on top.
If you get the bun thit nuong cha gio, in addition to everything already mentioned, you’ll also get a fried spring or two chopped up on top, which bumps the delicious-meter up another notch.
The noodles are soft and silky, the pork is tender, salty, and sweet, and the egg rolls (cha gio) add a beautiful crunch to everything.
When I was in Vietnam, I enjoyed dousing my bowl of bun thit nuong with a few scoops of freshly ground chili (which should usually be on your table) to balance out the sweetness and make it fiery.
Bun thit nuong is a dish you should for sure not miss when you’re eating in Saigon.
Bánh tằm bì (banh tam bi)
Bánh tằm bì is a food that’s only available in the south of Vietnam, and if you love the flavor of coconut milk, you’re going to fully enjoy banh tam bi.
Just like banh canh cua (food featured above), banh tam bi is a dish that uses a similar thick noodle – yet the flavor and the toppings are much different.
A plate of banh tam bi often begins with a handful of roughly cut herbs, including lots of sweet basil and Vietnamese coriander on the bottom, topped by a pile of thick sticky rice noodles, a scoop of both finely shaved pig skin and pork meat, a garnish of green onions, and finally a ladle of thick coconut cream sauce.
The noodles are sticky and soft, the herbs add a nice fresh touch, and the gravy is typically sweet and buttery from the coconut milk.
While I did think banh tam bi was pretty good, it’s not a dish I really loved because it was on the sweet side for me, and lacking a strong or spicy flavor.
Nevertheless, it was very enjoyable and I did like it, but it would be more of an occasional dish on my Vietnamese menu repertoire. But again, if you love coconut milk, you should by all means try banh tam bi.
Bánh tráng trộn (banh trang tron)
I received a number of recommendations to eat a Vietnamese snack called banh trang tron, which as you might remember from above, banh trang is the thin rice paper.
Banh trang tron is a relatively recent Vietnamese creation, a snack of shredded rice paper, seasoned with a chili sauce, and filled with herbs like Vietnamese coriander and basil and supplemented with pieces of squid, salty fish, and quail eggs. There are probably about ten more ingredients I’m forgetting to mention in the mix as well.
It’s basically a snack or junk food, and when I was in Saigon, I noticed that it’s especially popular with youth and the younger generation, and often available at parks and public places, and nearly always served in a plastic bag.
I’m not a huge snacker, I prefer to eat big meals and not indulge in little snacks, but when in Saigon, there’s no choice but to try banh trang tron – it seems the entire younger generation LOVES it.
Cá kho tộ (ca kho to)
Available at both Vietnamese sit down restaurants and com binh dan street food buffets (featured above), ca kho to is a Vietnamese food of catfish braised in a sweet caramel sauce, traditionally served in a clay-pot.
Ca kho to is extremely common, often prepared at home, and served at motherly style restaurants throughout Saigon.
The dish goes extremely well with a plate of hot rice, and I’m quite sure many Vietnamese would consider it a comfort food (at least I sure did when I took my first bite) – offering the flavors of home in each bite.
The catfish is cut into steak sliced pieces, then braised in a thick and rich gravy made from soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, shallots, and garlic, among a few other light spices and seasonings. Here’s a recipe I want to try when I have a chance.
Because ca kho to is braised, the aroma of the dish often fills the area around where it’s being made, so you might smell it before you see it!
Even though I was excited to eat everything else you’ve seen on this food guide so far, perhaps one of meals I was most excited to eat was a feast of Vietnamese seawater snails and shells.
Ốc (oc), as they are known in Vietnamese, can basically refer to any type of snails, usually saltwater, and they are so popular, they could be considered a major part of the Vietnamese culture of Saigon.
When you go to a quan oc, or a snail restaurant, there are typically dozens of different snails to choose from, as well as other shells like blood cockles, clams, and often shrimp and crab as well.
The seafood selection of the day is normally proudly displayed at the front of the food stall or restaurant, and you proceed to choose whatever looks good to you.
After you choose the type of raw snails you’d like to eat, then choose a method for it to be cooked – like grilled, sautéed, coated in salt and chili, steamed, curried, and so on – I think there are often about 5 – 6 different cooking methods.
Ordering can get a little confusing, but just keep in mind that even though you might not have a clue what you’re about to get on your dinner table, that’s part of the fun.
Shells are usually prepared on small plates, a bunch of different types of snail are all ordered, each cooked in a different method. Eating oc with family, friends, or co-workers, and enjoying a couple beers, is a favorite Saigon way to socialize.
Be sure to check out this excellent Vietnamese shell eating guide by Vietnamese Coracle.
If you love food (which I’m quite certain you do), and the culture that goes along with eating in Vietnam, a night of relaxing on small little chairs or stools, sipping beer, and slurping down snails and shells that you have no clue what they might be, is one of the finest ways to enjoy Saigon.
Bò kho (bo kho)
From Africa to North America, I’ve always been a lover of stew – it’s such a comforting and wholesome flavoring method of cooking. Vietnam also has a version of stew, bo kho, which means beef stew.
Bo kho in Vietnam is usually a stew that’s tomato based, filled with nuggets of deliciously tender beef, carrots, shallots, and other small vegetables, and slow simmered to pool all the flavors together.
Just like Vietnamese noodles, or nearly everything you’re served in Vietnam, bo kho is typically accompanied with a basket of fresh herbs and vegetables to garnish.
I like to load up my beef stew with cilantro and sawtooth herb, and add in a bunch of chilies for extra flavor.
Although I grew up normally eating beef stew with rice, in Saigon it’s common to eat bo kho with either bread or a type of noodles.
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