Finding Food in Vietnam

Profile picture of
Vicky Philpott

View Profile All Posts
Written by: Ben Turland

Finding Food in Vietnam

Ben Turland travelled the country tasting the delicacies on offer

Vietnam was one of the places I was most excited about eating on my recent Asian adventures and it did not disappoint, so much so that I spent the first few days in Hanoi sleeping off food comas with after-lunch naps.

Vietnamese food is incredibly diverse, and whilst it shares similarities with other South East Asian countries, such as bold spicy flavours, and the complex balance of sweet, sour and salty flavours. French influences are also obvious due to the colonial history and the proximity to China can also be apparent in northern cooking. Vietnam, from my experience, is far more noodle-orientated than some of the other South East Asian countries we have visited where rice is the dominant carbohydrate.

Standard restaurant in Vietnam


One of the most well-known Vietnamese dishes is pho, a rich, clear meaty stock filled with rice noodles and beef, (bo) as well as spring onions, beansprouts, Thai basil and fresh chillies. Many places will also offer fresh chilli sauce on the side and lime to liven it up; it can also be served with chicken (ga). Pho can vary in different areas and especially from north to south. While pho is considered to be a breakfast dish, it can be eaten at all times of the day, especially in the north where the weather is much colder in the winter months.

Bánh mì

Bánh mì is an edible fusion of Vietnam’s history, fresh single baguette, filled with pork, chilli sauce, pickled carrot, coriander and French influences, mayonnaise and pâté. The bread is not quite European style, it tends to have a lighter crust and a more airy texture; It’s a definite contender for best sandwich in the world. It’s pretty much perfect travellers food; portable, cheap and filling. Herbivores will be pleased to find many places offer a tofu version, too.

Bún chả

Bun Cha in Vietnam

Bún chả is probably my favourite Vietnamese food. Originating from Hanoi it’s a simple dish of Pork patties like tiny little burgers and strips of fatty pork meat which are seasoned with Nước chấm; A Vietnamese fish sauce. They are cooked over smoky coals and then served with cold vermicelli noodles, mixed herbs and more Nước chấm to serve. It’s sweet, and meaty with a hint of chilli and fresh herbs, delicious.

Bánh khoai

Banh Khoali in Vietnam

Bánh khoai is a central Vietnamese meal, and may sometimes be called a ‘Hue pancake’. A rice flour pancake filled with meat and/or seafood. It is served with the usual Vietnamese salad of green herbs and also crunchy tart star fruit. In Hue they served it with a peanut liver sauce, a sort of offal laced satay, which although an acquired taste is actually pretty good.

Bánh Khoai, and Bánh xèo are both Vietnamese pancake dishes and may vary depending on where in the country you order them – sometimes they come with rice paper to wrap around the pancake, sometimes just with a simple side of herbs.

Nem Lui

Nem Lui is another regional speciality of Hue, minced pork meat is moulded around lemongrass skewers and cooked over coals, it is then wrapped in a sheet of stiff rice paper, with Vietnamese herb salad and the peanut liver sauce.

Cao Lao

Cao Lau in Vietnam

Cao Lao (sometimes written as Cao Lau) is one of those regionally specific foods, like champagne and Melton Mowbray pork pies. It is geographically tied to the touristy town of Hoi An because historically the noodles are made using ash from a specific type of tree on the Cham islands off the coast of the town and water from a local well. The noodles are slightly thicker, and firmer than you would get in other Vietnamese noodle dishes. Whether these historical processes are still being followed is up for some debate, it makes for a great story and ultimately, great noodles.

The dish consists of noodles and sliced pork, with croutons, which seem more like little pieces of pork crackling than the accepted western crouton. The most important part to this dish is the stock – once all the ingredients have been put into the bowl a small amount of liquid is added, just to wet the noodles, nothing more. It is not a dry noodle dish but it’s not soupy either. It’s a very enjoyable, and a must if visiting Hoi An. Another local speciality worth trying is banh bao vac, a prawn dumpling often sold as ‘white rose’ due to its similar appearance.

Other foods to try

Basket Lady in Vietnam

The Vietnamese are also quite well known for a few less common delicacies such as Balut, a semi developed embryo which is cooked in its shell and eaten like a boiled egg. Another familiar site in Vietnam is big jars of rice wine, with whole snakes, lizards and other creatures inside to infuse the liquor.

A well known drink in Vietnam is bia hoi – essentially, it’s keg beer, which has a low alcohol level and is sold very cheap (5’000Dong = £0.15) Bia hoi is available all over Vietnam, and is well known by backpackers, many bia hoi bars will also sell small plates of food and bar snacks.

Check out these top Vietnam experiences


Southeast Asia Explorer with Gapforce

from £2200

28 - 56 days

Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam

From Bangkok to Halong Bay on an 8 week adventure!

Ho Chi Minh Community Involvement

from £620

7 - 56 days


Volunteer in Ho Chi Minh in an array of different volunteering projects to support this community in need.

South East Asia Highlights

from £1550

44 days

Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand...

From the hustle and bustle of some of South East Asia’s most dynamic and modern cities to tropical rainforests and...

China to Singapore Group Tour

from £2375

73 days

Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thaila...

Travel like a local and experience the wonders of South East Asia, from the hustel and bustle of its chaotic...

In-Class TEFL Course in Ho Chi Minh

from £1,140

20 days


Join our 4-week TEFL in-class course in Ho Chi Minh and become a TEFL/TESOL certified teacher of English as a...

Far East Explorer

from £1325

32 days

China, Laos, Vietnam

Uncover the mysteries of the Far East! A group adventure tour through China, Laos and Vietnam, including some of the...

Ultimate Vietnam

from £790

14 days


See the best of what Vietnam has to offer! Explore Hanoi, escape to Halong Bay on a Junk Boat, stay...

South East Asia Adventure Trail

from £1295

28 - 70 days

Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam

Travel with us to ancient Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, lands of unimaginable beauty, on an adventure that will take you...

The Southern Explorer

from £3405

From 30 days

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Hong Kong, Japan, Peru, ...

Visit mysterious Easter Island, idyllic Tahiti, explore South America, experience the wonderfully different world that is Japan before finishing up...

Find more Vietnam travel inspiration

[contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact form 1"]