While the food scene in Southeast Asia can be intimidating to tackle with odd sounding dishes and unique ingredients, the food in Vietnam is much more “user-friendly”, and some of the most popular locally made cuisine is what you’d find on a menu in a Vietnamese restaurant elsewhere in the world.
With that being said, Vietnamese classics taste overwhelmingly better in Vietnam. Fresh herbs, unique greens, and local spices give the food explosive flavor that is simply unattainable in other regions of the world given climate and growing capabilities.
Here are 5 dishes that can please even the pickiest eaters out there!
Pho, which is pronounced “fuh”, is one of the most popular Vietnamese street foods. It is a rather simple soup made from a flavorful broth, rice noodles, and meat (classically beef), then topped with bean sprouts, herbs, lime, and chili. Pho is fresh, light, and oh so tasty. You will be able to score a cheap bowl on just about any street in Vietnam.
Bun Cha is a grilled pork and rice noodle dish served with fresh herbs and dipping sauces. You will often be served a bowl of broth with grilled pork, meatballs, and seasonings with a separate plate with noodles and herbs you add in to your liking. The broth gets it’s flavor from vinegar, sugar, and fish sauce, and it is a dish that packs a strong flavor punch. Stray from pho and give Bun cha a try, you won’t regret it!
Springs rolls are a popular appetizer (or dim sum) in Vietnam that came to the country from Chinese immigrants, then adapted to fit Vietnamese ingredients and flavors. It is a simple dish composed of rice paper filled with fresh herbs and veggies alongside a dipping sauce, usually peanut or sweet chili. Your spring roll experience will vary depending on which region of Vietnam you are in given the fact each different area grows and favors specific fresh ingredients.
Spring rolls can be found in just about every Vietnamese restaurant whether you are dining in Hanoi or New York City, and is an ideal dish to start a meal.
Getting a Banh mi in Vietnam is like ordering a Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, it’s just something you have to do. Afterall, how can you say know to dirt cheap, delicious local food?
This quintessential Vietnamese dish was a product of French Colonialism in the 1800s as the French were looking to maintain their own European diet. However, the Vietnamese people were unable to afford the pricey imported bread, meats, and cheeses, and therefore it represented repression and divide. When the French left and Vietnam divided into two in 1954, the Vietnamese replaced the expensive meats and cheeses with local vegetables, mayo, spices, and herbs to make a cheap, calorie dense dish that catered to the hustling Vietnamese life. Bahn mi spread to the rest of the world as millions of Vietnamese people fled the country with the fall of Saigon in 1975.
On long travel days of exploring for hours and hours, a banh mi is the perfect snack that will give you an energy boost on the go that won’t slow you down or break the bank. Here is my bahn mi journey from my recent time spent in Vietnam.
This is the only dish on the list I haven’t seen anywhere in the USA, and it’s a unique Vietnamese food experience you should certainly try.
Banh Khot is a mini Vietnamese pancake that is made from a batter composed of rice flour, corn starch, and coconut milk that is fried, then topped with a prawn. You then wrap the Banh Khot in greens, dip it in a sweet sauce, and enjoy! The pancake is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and surprisingly light given the fact it is heavily fried.
I tried it out in Vung Tau, a beach town 2 hours out from Ho Chi Mihn that is apparently famous for it’s Banh Khot. Sure enough, it was delicious, and won’t be my last Banh khot experience.
Wrapping things up….
Vietnamese food is nothing short of amazing, and goes to shows how simple, well-seasoned dishes can be the tastiest. Not to mention, it is also cheap, easy to find, and perfect for all types of eaters out there!
If Western cultures had fresher, cheaper street/fast food, would there be as much obesity and related life-altering conditions? While a bowl of Pho and a Big Mac have comparable calories, one is much less processed, has more whole ingredients, is fresher, and doesn’t come with a side of fries. In 2019, the obesity rate in the United States hovered around 35% while it was a mere 3.6% in Vietnam, earning it the lowest obesity rate in ASEAN. Mind you, this was a massive increase since 2010, and the change is attributed to economic growth that tends to push people towards a more unhealthy lifestyle and diet, and it is a rising issue throughout Asia that is putting strains on the medical system. I’ll save more on that for future posts….
Of course, there are far more cultural and social factors attributed to the massive difference in obesity rates between the USA and Vietnam, making it nearly impossible to separate correlation from causation. The Vietnam War, income levels, availability of food, GDP, so and so forth all play a role. However, I think it is common sense to speculate that if we were all eating a bowl of $1 Pho loaded with veggies, herbs, meat, and rice noodles with tea as oppose to a Big Mac with Coke, things might be a little different…..