10 Local Foods not to miss while in Vietnam
One of my top 3 reasons for traveling across the world is to try authentic food. I’ve always considered my self a foodie, and thought I really knew Vietnamese food before arriving in this wonderful country. But I was dead wrong! There are countless great foods you should try, many of which cannot be found outside the country or even outside a specific region of the country. Over the past two months traveling throughout Vietnam and living with locals, I tried hundreds of different foods, and put together a list of the meals that most surprised me. Many of these you can only find if you ask a local, so I suggest you try to find one that speaks a bit of English and ask him/her to bring you to a local place that serves that specialty. So here it is, 10 local foods not to miss while in Vietnam.
Pho, AKA Tonkinese Noodle Soup, is a worldwide phenomenon that I am sure you have heard of. It is that wonderful broth, fresh noodles, and raw beef that cooks while in your soup. You can find it everywhere in Vietnam, and it will taste extremely different from place to place. Personaly I found the best ones in Hanoi, and the second best in Dalat.
I had to get it out of the way early in the list so we can get to foods that you can only find in Vietnam.
Pho Bo = Beef Pho (the best)
Pho Ga = Chicken Pho
Bun Bo Hue
As a good friend of mine put it, Bun Bo Hue is Pho Bo’s spicy cousin. While Pho became a worldwide phenomenon, Bun Bo Hue remained in Vietnam, namely in the old capital of Hue and its surroundings. This soup offers a nice blend of ginger, mixed meats, and fresh herbs; all of which come together in a subtle smokey taste.
Fun Fact: Did you know that there are over 300 types of soups in Vietnam? It would take a lifetime to try them all, so whenever you visit Vietnam make sure to at least try a few!! 🙂 To learn more about other great soups, check out this article by itchy feet on the cheap!.
Chao Vit can be translated to Duck Porridge. This is one of the “working man’s meals” as they call it. Chao Vit is a rice based porridge soup, topped with pieces of duck and fresh herbs. Ask for a side of chili ginger fish sauce as it makes the meal much more tasty.
Another one of the “working man’s meals” is Com Binh, which literally translates to “Working Man’s Rice”. If you order this, you can expect rice with 2-3 different dishes, which vary day by day. I strongly recommend trying it if you are traveling on a budget as it will allow you to experience many local foods at a great price.
Hoi An Cao Lau
Soooooooo goooooooodddd!!! Cao Lau is a specialty only found in and around Hoi An. Going to Hoi An and not trying the Cao Lau would be a true shame! Often times eaten at breakfast, you can find 100s of street food parlors that sell it between 6AM and 10AM. There are some that are open all day, but the best are usually packing up by 10AM because that are out of broth and noodles. Cao Lau consists of a bowl of noodles lying in a base of broth, topped with quail eggs, shrimp, pork, bread crumbs, and various fresh herbs.
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From my personal experience, Bun Cha seems different in each region of Vietnam, but everyone seems to agree on what it should look like (depicted on the picture above). Bun Cha is a favourite amongst locals, which I completely understand as its so good and different from most other meals. The best place to eat is in Hanoi, so when you go make sure not to miss them!!
Banh Cuon is a Northern delicacy that is usually eaten for breakfast. It consists of two main ingredients. First, there are rice crepes filled with a crunchy and often times sweet breading. Second, there is a chicken and/or vegetable broth that has been boiling for hours.
Banh Mi’s are also becoming a worldwide phenomenon. They are the equivalent of our baguette sandwiches in the Western World. Instead of using cheese and cold cuts, Vietnamese use great sauces and cooked meats (or pates). The toppings are often grated carrots, cucumber and coriander. If you are looking for a something to fill you up between meals, this is the perfect go-to!
Banh My Chao
Not to be confused with Banh Mi’s, Banh My Chao is one of the best homemade meals I had while traveling through Vietnam. My favourite was in a small hole-in-the-wall on Catba Island. This meal was so different than anything I had before; at first, I honestly thought it was Korean. But I was wrong! Banh My Chao is an authentic Vietnamese meal, and it would be a shame to leave without trying it. To learn more about it check out my article on the 5 alternative things to do in Catba.
Dinner with Locals in Northern Vietnam – Personal Favourite
I tried to list all the dishes from this specific experience in the caption, but unfortunately would not be able to tell you what any of them are called in Vietnamese. The only way to try most of these meals is to live with a local family, either through a homestay experience in a a small town in Northern Vietnam, meeting locals while riding off the beaten path or through a couchsurfing experience like the one we did in Hanoi.
Nem [Fried and Fresh Spring Rolls]
One of the main foods Vietnam is known for are friend and fresh spring rolls. Both are awesome; you should try them many times throughout your trip! Furthermore, for all the vegetarians out there, this is one of your best options as there are often vegetarian nems available in restaurants. There are three ways to experience Nems in Vietnam, all of which are awesome!
1) Trying Nems in various restaurants – Ask around to find out where the best nems in town are.
2) Making your own nems – One of the most fun and tasty activities you can do while in Vietnam. Many restaurants offer all the ingredients and allow you to make your own nems at the table.
3) Having someone make Nems for you at the table – This generally costs a lot more, but I found that many higher-class Vietnamese will often times have a personal waiter whose sole purpose is to make nems at the table for those want some. The benefit of this is that they make them really well as they have experience doing so.
And there it is – 10 local foods not to miss while in Vietnam
Picking only 10 local foods not to miss while in Vietnam was not easy. There are so many incredible foods to try, and I am sure that if I stayed for more than 3 months this list would evolve, adding some of the harder-to-find delicacies. Nevertheless, if you stick to this list I can guarantee you taste buds will remain happy throughout your entire trip. So get out there and try some of Vietnam’s local foods!!
Ps. If you find any other foods that you think are even better and should be on this list please comment about them!! 🙂
Until next time,
The Alternative Ways
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