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Vietnamese desserts are one of Southeast Asia’s underrated delights. Beyond Vietnam’s famous savory dishes and spices, there’s a world of sweet and fruity flavors to explore.
From rainbow colors to mind-blowing textures, there are so many unique and wonderful dishes to enjoy. You’re in for a treat, that’s for sure.
So gear up for a wild, jaw-dropping culinary experience, as a native Vietnamese writer explores 20 of Vietnam’s most popular and traditional desserts.
There is actually a wide variation of this delicious three-color dessert, and there is no one right way to make it (unless you make it with only two colors; then it isn’t really a three-color dessert anymore).
The most common variation of the three-color dessert includes pandan jelly on top, red beans in the middle layer, and mung bean in the bottom layer.
Finally, the whole thing is topped with shaved ice. If you want extra richness, you can also add coconut cream.
So grab a spoon, mix the three layers up, and enjoy the refreshing chè 3 màu.
Sweet corn pudding, or chè bắp, is a sweet soup in Vietnam with the main ingredient being fresh corn.
When combined with coconut cream and some grapefruit concentrate, this sweet corn pudding produces a uniquely enticing aroma.
Sweet corn pudding can be eaten cold or hot, but it is most often served cold as Vietnam is a tropical country and everyone loves the refreshing coolness of a delicious dessert.
If sweet corn pudding is too rich for you, you can always ask the server to skip out on the coconut cream.
As coconut cream is usually added at the end, leaving it out is a simple thing to do.
Chè bà ba is the perfect sweet soup for all of those with a sweet tooth out there.
This sweet pudding has a coconut milk soup base, giving the entire bowl a richness that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Chè bà ba often includes sweet potato, cassava, and taro, so lots of starch there. The pearls are made from tapioca flour, giving them a texture almost like sticky rice.
Many places will add grass jelly to the mix as it complements the pudding well.
Bánh Da Lợn is translated directly as “pig skin cake” because each layer has the thickness of a pig’s skin, although there isn’t any trace of pork or pig skin in these cakes.
These steamed layer cakes have alternating layers of chewy tapioca flour and soft mung bean, so you can have some fun while eating by eating it layer by layer.
Bánh Da Lợn often has a pleasant green color. Instead of using food coloring, chefs use pandan leaves extract to create this color, thus ensuring it is healthy and appealing at the same time.
Bánh tiêu can be both a dessert and a snack, depending on your preference. The hollow donut doesn’t have a hole in the middle like the American donut.
Instead, it is more like a circular piece of bread where the inside is doughy and sort of hollow.
Bánh tiêu is only slightly sweet, so you won’t get sick of this dessert anytime soon. The dough is made similarly to how an American donut is made, except the surface is sprinkled with sesame seeds.
You can enjoy these donuts with sticky rice or Vietnamese honeycomb cake (see #7) as well.
While bánh đúc is the name of a savory dish, it is also the name of a dessert. Thus, I added the word “ngọt”, meaning “sweet” at the end to differentiate between these two dishes.
As the name suggests, sweet pandan rice cake is made from rice and pandan. Thus, the dessert has a cool green color to it due to the pandan.
As the rice cake is made from rice flour, it’s delightfully chewy although it might look similar to the biteable jelly.
The rice cake itself is not sweetened; it’s simply mixed with pandan concentrate to have the green color and the pandan smell.
After the rice cake is ready, sweetened coconut cream is served with it, and this is where the sweetness comes from.
Bánh bò is one of my favorite desserts. The chewiness, not-overwhelming sweetness, and the smell of pandan (if pandan concentrate is added) makes this a one-of-a-kind dessert.
Bánh bò is called Vietnamese honeycomb cake because, if cut into half, the inside looks like a tiny honeycomb.
Bánh bò can be either steamed or baked, and each method gives it a slightly different texture.
Steamed honeycomb cake is softer while baked honeycomb cake often has a crunchy outer layer. Although, bánh bò is steamed most of the time.
Bánh phu thê (or bánh xu xê) is a wonderful combination of coconut, mung bean, and tapioca flour’s chewiness.
This Vietnamese treat is named after an old tale about a husband and wife, and is one of the country’s most delicious desserts.
Grass jelly is cut into cubes in this sweet soup and often appears to be black. Basil seeds are soaked in water for hours until softened prior to cooking.
Together, they are simmered in water that has been sweetened with sugar cane.
While this sounds like a simple dessert (and it kind of is), it creates a great combination of flavors that makes you want to get seconds.
If you try this sweet soup on a hot day, you can add shaved ice to it to enjoy the refreshing coolness sương sáo hạt é offers.
Mung bean pastry are very delicate rectangles of mung bean. There are two types of mung bean pastry: the dry one versus the wet and fermented one.
Which one is better, you ask? Each type has its own deliciousness, but personally I slightly prefer the wet one.
Bánh đậu xanh is made by combining mung beans, sugar, flour, and other flavorings to create a fudge-like, rectangular pastry.
If you like tea then I must tell you that the mung bean pastry goes extremely well with a cup of green or lotus tea.
This is a great dessert partly because it’s not overwhelmingly rich or sweet but also because it has lotus seeds, which are considered a home remedy to help people sleep better.
This sweet soup’s base is simply water, sugar cane, and lotus. After being washed, lotus seeds are boiled in water and when they’re softened, sugar is added and the mix is left to cool.
Jelly is combined at the end as it can’t stand the boiling water.
You can eat this sweet soup warm or chilled. While it is a simple dessert, it is very refreshing due to its simplicity in addition to the health benefits lotus seeds bring.
“Nhãn nhục” in Vietnamese refers to dried longan. While fresh longan is juicy and delicious, dried longan cooked in a sweet soup is equally mouth-watering.
Longan sweet soup is surprisingly simple to make, but also surprisingly tasty.
Dried longan is often soaked in water for hours to soften, then simmered along with water and cane sugar. Some people also add lotus seeds or jelly to make the content more “diverse.”
Longan sweet soup is often served chilled with shaved ice. However, on some cold days, you can eat a bowl of warm sweet soup as well.
Panna cotta lychee dessert offers a diversity of taste as the gelatin can be made to have many different flavors, including strawberry, green tea, vanilla, and chocolate.
Unlike most Vietnamese sweet soups that have added sugar or coconut cream in the base, chè khúc bạch uses lychee juice as the main “soup” ingredient, thereby giving this dessert a refreshing fruity sweetness with little added sugar.
For all of you tropical-fruit lovers, you will probably be glad to hear chè khúc bạch is often served with a variety of fruits, especially lychee (well, lychee is in the name of this dessert).
Thus, chè khúc bạch is the perfect fruity sweet soup for anyone who wants a healthy dessert.
Thai fruit cocktail has its inspiration from, you guessed it, a dessert from Thailand. Chè Thái is a rich and sweet soup that’s often served chilled.
The sliced jackfruit brings a fruity twist to this sweet soup while the dried pomegranate seeds add a fun chewiness to it.
Most places also add grass jelly to the Thai fruit cocktail. Coconut cream is added at the end to give chè Thái the final touch of richness.
Add some shaved ice if you like a cold dessert, and the cocktail is ready to be served.
While bánh pía’s English name is “mung bean mooncake,” it is sold all year round as opposed to the “Bánh Trung Thu” mooncake (see #16), which is sold only during a certain time of the year.
Bánh pía is readily recognized due to its flaky exterior (which can be pealed off easily) and a big, red stamp on the surface.
Beyond this flaky surface is a creamy filling that can be made of either mung bean, durian, or both.
Many mung bean mooncakes contain a salty egg yolk, which adds a nice change from the overall sweetness of the cake.
“Trung Thu” is an autumn festival celebrated on October 1st each year in Vietnam.
The festival centers around children; children often make, buy, or are given lanterns in many shapes and sizes, such as animal lanterns or car lanterns.
There are many legends around Trung Thu, but the most famous one is the story about the man whose magic tree flew to the moon after being watered with dirty water and took him along with it.
Mooncakes often have a shiny, smooth exterior with a variety of sweet fillings.
Nowadays, people make them with many different flavors such as green tea and taro. If you’re lucky, you might even find off-season mooncakes.
Bánh cốm is one of the famous foods from Ha Noi, the capital of Vietnam. The color green does not come from food coloring but rather from immature rice kernels which are often roasted over low heat.
Bánh cốm is sticky due to the sticky nature of rice. The outer layer of green rice embraces a sweet layer of mung bean and shaved coconut.
In addition to being a great dessert, bánh cốm can also be eaten as a snack or with tea.
Many places in Sai Gon have bánh cốm now, so you don’t need to travel to Ha Noi if you want to try these green cakes.
For those who have never seen bánh gai, it might look unappealing at first due to its black color. However, thorn leaf cake is black not because of any additional food coloring but because of the thorn leaf’s color.
Each thorn leaf cake is not much bigger than an adult’s palm and is wrapped in banana leaves.
The filling is made of sweetened mung bean, which is encompassed by a layer of chewy sticky rice colored by thorn leaves. Because of its slight sweetness, thorn leaf cake can be a great snack as well.
Tofu dessert in ginger syrup used to be a popular food sold on beaches, especially in areas with a lot of tourists and travelers.
When taking a break from swimming, a bowl of hot tofu dessert in sweet ginger syrup both satisfies you hunger and warms you up after playing in the cool ocean water.
Tàu hũ nước đường often includes small balls made from tapioca flour. While these flour balls don’t necessarily taste sweet, they add a nice chewiness to the mix.
Combined with the silky tofu and the sweet syrup, tapioca balls bring a texture that complements the whole dish extremely well.
Chè hột gà trà is directly translated as egg tea sweet soup and is inspired by the Chinese tea eggs.
While eggs and sweet soup don’t sound like they should go together, somehow people have found a way for them to combine perfectly in this dessert.
Chinese egg sweet soup includes chicken eggs, black tea, dried jujube, cane sugar, and quail eggs.
Personally, I love the quail eggs the most out of all the ingredients in this sweet soup as they offer the perfect bite-size and soak up the flavor extremely well.
Rarely can a country’s cuisine dazzle with such vibrant colors, unique platings, and mouthwatering flavors.
Vietnam’s fascinating array of desserts are a delight on the senses, that’s for sure!
As with savory foods, the influence of The Five Elements runs with such strength and power through Vietnamese food.
This has led to so many brilliant dishes, crafted with such precision and delicacy.
Vietnamese desserts are like works of art. They represent more than just flavor. They demonstrate the creativity and passion of the Vietnamese people.
And, they show how important food is in Vietnamese culture and beliefs. That is why these foods are so magnificent to touch, taste, smell, and behold.
So, before we leave Vietnam, let’s take one final look at all the traditional desserts in this article.
Be sure to have this list of Vietnamese desserts handy when you visit so that you can try one or more of these popular and traditional foods.
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Contributor: Jennifer Bui is a US-based Vietnamese content writer, who writes on a range of technical and creative topics. She is passionate about Vietnamese cuisine and culture, and shares detailed insight about it through her writing.
Images licensed via Shutterstock
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