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When it comes to highlights of our recent trip to Vietnam, Vietnamese cuisines was definitely one of them. We came to Vietnam looking forward to trying many of the dishes we’d heard about before but discovered so many more unique flavour combinations and local specialties than we expected.
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From street side soup stalls and baguette shops to elaborate fusion restaurants that incorporate the best of Vietnamese flavours into unique dishes, this country is full of culinary delights. One of our favourite aspects of Vietnamese cuisine is the lightness of its dishes and the variety of ingredients used to create the complex flavours in every dish. Everything is fresh, made to order, with many ingredients coming from local farms and local markets the morning of. It’s one of the best examples of farm to table we’ve seen in Asia!
Our short 2-week stay in Vietnam gave us an opportunity to sample a few of Vietnam’s best dishes. Here are our favourites!
1. Pho Bo
This northern specialty beef noodle soup has become ubiquitous all over Vietnam, but we found the taste of the soup to be very much of a hit or a miss. The quality of the Pho is reliant on the broth, which is made from beef bones boiled for hours with shallot, ginger, fish sauce, and a few other flavourings and spices.
This classic Hanoi dish consists of thin vermicelli noodles with barbecued pork, fresh herbs, green vegetables and a bowl of nuoc mam (fish sauce). All the ingredients are served on separate plates and are meant to be combined together at the very last minute. The explosion of flavours is unreal!
Bun Cha was surprisingly hard to find in Central Vietnam, but was a staple on almost every menu in Hanoi. Best Bun Cha spot was Bun Cha Ta in Hanoi’s historic district.
3. Banh Mi
A simple yet delicious Vietnamese sandwich was the cheapeststreet food option we came across during our time in Vietnam.
Our favourite Banh Mi was served at a street side stall in Hoi An and consisted of a French baguette (thanks to the lingering influence of French colonialism) stuffed with grilled pork, cucumber, fresh herbs, and a fish sauce based dressing. It cost us less than $1 and made for a perfect mid day snack.
4. Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Rice Pancake)
This DIY dish can look like an intimidating ensemble, but the effort is well worth it. Fresh rice paper is soaked in water and used to roll a variety of ingredients including herbs, vegetables, egg, and meats. The roll is then dipped into fish sauce for a kick in flavour.
We found the best variety at the Rice Drum Restaurant in Hoi An.
5. Banh Vac (White Roses Dumplings)
This delicately steamed dumpling with a subtle shrimp flavour is one of Hoi An’s most unique dishes. The dumplings are shaped like flowers and decorated with sprinkles of crispy onions. They make for a perfect appetizer.
This was another excellently done dish at the Rice Drum Restaurant in Hoi An.
6. Cao Lau
This delicious noodle stir fry is another unique dish found in Central Vietnam. Made with Japanese-style noodles and seasoned with herbs, greens and bean sprouts, the stir fry is most often served with slices of roast pork.
The best variety was served at the small mom and pop shop called the Bo Bo Cafe in Hoi An
7. Spring Rolls
Vietnamese sure know how to make spring rolls and even though each restaurant’s version of this popular appetizer is different from the next, for us, no meal was complete without a serving of rolls. Spring rolls in Vietnam come in two varieties: fresh and fried. Both are made using rice paper stuffed with vegetables, herbs, and sometimes meat.
8. Stuffed Squid
Seafood dishes can take up an article of their own with many varieties grazing the pages of menus all over beach front restaurants. Squid was a popular menu item but was often a bit of a disappointment (too dry, too rubbery, etc).
After trying a lot of varieties we fell in love with a unique take on this seafood dish served at the Purple Lantern restaurant in An Bang beach.
Here a large squid was stuffed with minced meat, cooked to perfection, and served with a side of fresh herbs and a selection of sauces. We loved it so much, we ended up going back for the same dish more than once.
9. Lau Hai San (Seafood Hot Pot)
While hot pot isn’t usually considered a Vietnamese specialty, it was recommended to us by a number of locals on An Bang beach. We tried it at one of local’s favourite seafood joints in Hoi An, the Canh Buom Trang Restaurant and were pleasantly surprised by the delicious broth and the variety of seafood that ended up in our pot.
10. Bamboo Shoot Salad
Vietnamese love their salads and, as it turned out, we do too! We ordered a salad with almost every meal, trying a a great variety of combinations during our time in the country. There was a green mango salad and green papaya salad, green bean salad, and banana flower salad, but our favourite was definitely the Bamboo Shoot Salad.
The salad was made with fresh bamboo shoots, mint, coriander, peanuts, and a delicious light fish sauce. For a more substantial meal, shrimp and bits of shredded pork were sometimes added on top.
Our list is by no means exhaustive. We sampled many other delicious dishes during our stay, but these ten filled our minds with the most delicious memories. Want to know our absolutely time favourites?
Oksana is a huge fan of Bun Cha and Max’s favourite Vietnamese dish was the unique Hoi An Cao Lau.
Have you ever been to Vietnam? What are some of your favourite Vietnamese dishes? Let us know in the comments below!
We are Oksana & Max, eco-conscious travelers on a mission to inspire responsible travel practices around the world. We are storytellers, photographers, and videographers traveling the world full-time in search of cultural experiences, human connections, and ways to make a positive impact on the destinations and communities we visit.