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Food is an integral part of Vietnam’s culture, and Vietnamese street food, with its explosive taste, alluring aroma, and vibrant color, is very much the beating heart of the country’s diverse and sumptuous cuisine.
No trip to Vietnam is complete without visiting food markets, watching food vendors cook magical dishes in front of your eyes, and sampling some of the wide range of unique and flavorsome dishes Vietnam has on offer.
Prepare for a magical culinary tour of one of Asia’s most beautiful countries, as a native writer takes us on a journey through Vietnamese street food and 16 of its most popular dishes that you simply have to try during your visit.
Must-Try Vietnamese Street Food
Appetizers and Mains
1 – Phở – Vietnamese Pho Noodles
Pho is internationally famous for its simplicity and deliciousness. Pho is also versatile, as you can use chicken, beef, or vegetables in the broth. There is no one correct recipe – some restaurants add cinnamon sticks, some add coriander seeds, and some simply boil onions and apples.
While pho is most commonly made with beef, some restaurants are making vegetable-based broth to appeal to the increasing number of vegetarian and vegan customers in Vietnam.
Pho is typically comprised of broth, rice noodles, beef or chicken, green onions, onions, and other assorted vegetables, depending on the restaurant or food vendor. It is very easy to find a place that sells pho in Vietnam, and in many cities, some vendors simply set up chairs and tables on the street selling this delicious Vietnamese street food.
2 – Bánh mì – Vietnamese Baguette
Banh mi is typically sold for 5,000 VND to 15,000 VND – that’s less than a dollar! Banh mi can be quite varied: some sellers add eggs, others add cucumber and pate, and some sellers even add BBQ pork and other meats.
While banh mi carts are not as common as they used to be, you should still be able to find a cart or store that sells them when taking a walk through the streets of many Vietnamese towns and cities.
Many banh mi sellers often add some slices of red pepper to the crusty baguette. If you find it too spicy, tell them ahead of time not to add any to your baguette. Many Vietnamese people are accustomed to eating spicy food, so the seller may just do so out of habit.
3 – Bánh tráng nướng – Grilled Rice Paper
Grilled rice paper, or banh trang nuong, is a fun street food. On busy streets, you will likely find groups of mostly young people hanging out eating this beloved dish. Many sellers set up chairs and tables on the pavement as a makeshift restaurant, so grilled rice paper, quite literally, is a street food.
Banh trang nuong is often made by pouring egg and other toppings on top of rice paper. The rice paper is then grilled, and its texture resembles that of a very crispy omelet. The typical toppings are sausages and green onions, but you can ask your seller for other available toppings.
4 – Bột chiên – Fried Dough
Bot chien is a delicious street food that is sold on the street and in restaurants. Depending on how much you eat, bot chien can be eaten as either a snack or a main meal.
Balls of dough are typically fried with eggs, and eaten with sweetened soy sauce, while an assortment of vegetables are usually provided by the seller. If you want to be healthy, eat the greens. If you are feeling a little rebellious and don’t want to eat your vegetables, eat bot chien without the veggies!
Bot chien is usually sold at around 30,000-50,000 VND, or about $1.5 to $2. At a very affordable price, bot chien is a delicious and fun street food that is much-loved by the younger generation of Vietnamese.
5 – Bún bò Huế – Hue’s Beef Noodles
Hue is a city in central Vietnam. The city is known for its Royal palace (though no king or queen lives there now) and its Royal cuisine with over 1,000 specialty dishes. Bun bo Hue, or Hue’s beef noodles, is one of Hue’s most famous dishes.
As the name suggests, Hue’s beef noodles are typically made with beef broth, although many places will add pork to make the broth even richer. The pork and beef are cooked with an assortment of vegetables to make the broth, and rice noodles are added at the end.
Compared to pho’s noodles, the noodles of Bun bo Hue are thicker and often cylindrical in shpe, while pho’s noodles are more rectangular. Regardless, both are wholesome and delicious.
6 – Gỏi cuốn – Spring Rolls
Spring rolls, or goi cuon, is another street food that is relatively easy to find. Many sellers will set up chairs and tables on the street to sell spring rolls.
If you want a dish that is prepared with lots of vegetables, spring rolls is the perfect option. To make, pork and/or shrimp are combined with a variety of vegetables (typically lettuce, cucumber, basil, and mint) and rolled inside softened rice paper. The spring rolls are then dipped in a peanut-based sauce before eaten.
“Oh no, I’m allergic to peanuts! How will I eat these?” Worry not! Many sellers provide an alternative for this sauce, which is usually a fish-based sauce. You can make an alternative sauce yourself – I recommend mixing fish sauce with some lemon, sugar, and water to taste.
7 – Chả giò – Egg Rolls
The name ‘egg rolls’ can be a little misleading, as egg rolls usually only have a small amount of eggs used as the “glue” to stabilize the rolls and prevent them from unrolling.
Egg rolls typically contain pork and/or crab meat, black pepper, onions, carrot, and glass noodles. While egg rolls are deep-fried, the Vietnamese make them healthier by consuming them with an assortment of vegetables, including lettuce, basil, and mint.
Egg rolls are typically dipped in a range of fish-based sauces. However, if fish sauce gives off too strong a smell for you, you can eat egg rolls without sauce, and they are just as delicious.
8 – Bánh khọt – Vietnamese Mini Pancakes
Banh khot may not technically be a street food these days, as many who sell banh khot do so in restaurants nowadays. However, that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t look for Vietnamese mini pancakes on your travels. Banh khot are crispy, wonderfully greasy, and eaten with vegetables. What more can one ask for?
Banh khot is made by mixing flour and coconut milk together, then frying the mix. They are often shaped like mini bowls. The cook then adds shrimp, green onions, and mung bean to the top. If this sounds too unhealthy for you, most places provide an assortment of vegetables to wrap banh khot in. There, problem fixed!
9 – Bún cá – Fish Noodles
Bun ca originates from Nha Trang, a city right by the ocean, and therefore, has access to some of the freshest fish and seafood throughout Vietnam.
The broth of bun ca is made of, you guessed it, fish! Some chefs and vendors may also add a few slices of tomato to the broth, too. These delicious fish noodles are commonly served with fish balls, Vietnamese ham (cha lua), or grilled fish (cha ca), as there is no one absolute right way to make it.
Bun ca is a popular dish for breakfast and lunch in Vietnam. You can find this dish easily, as it is sold by both restaurants and street vendors. Bun ca is sold at around 35,000 VND to 60,000 VND, no more than $2, which is an amazing price for such a rich and flavorful seafood dish.
10 – Cơm gà – Chicken Rice
If you’re in Vietnam, you may notice this dish goes by a variety of names: com ga Hai Nam, com ga Thuong Hai, com ga Hoi An, and others. Don’t let the names confuse you, as chicken rice is practically the same dish, regardless of the name.
The rice in com ga typically has a pleasant yellow color, created by cooking it in both chicken broth and chicken fat. Many cooks will also intensify the yellow color by adding a little curry or turmeric powder.
Although its name is “chicken rice”, com ga does not have to be eaten with chicken. Many Vietnamese enjoy com ga with Chinese BBQ pork or roasted pork. Com ga can be eaten with regular soy sauce or sweetened soy sauce.
11 – Nước rau má – Pennywort Smoothie
Pennywort is a very uncommon vegetable that most people have never heard of. And while pennywort, or rau ma in Vietnamese, may not be the most appealing when eaten raw, it does however make a surprisingly refreshing, delicious, and healthy smoothie!
While pennywort smoothie is not sold as widely on the streets as it used to be, you can still find many stores or food carts that sell this filling smoothie. The seller may sell it per bottle or cup.
Pennywort smoothie is made by simply blending pennywort in a blender or food processor with water and sugar. Some sellers also like to add other herbs, to enhance the flavor.
12 – Sữa bắp – Corn Milk
“Wait, corn has milk??” That would be a great scientific discovery, I’m sure we can agree, but corn milk isn’t literally corn milk. This Vietnamese dish is made from corn, which is first boiled until cooked and then blended.
Many street food vendors will add pandan, a tropical plant with a pleasant smell, to the beverage to elevate the flavor. The corn smoothie, once blended, is filtered either through a cloth or strainer, so that no chunks of corn make it into the final, smooth drink. Milk and sugar are then added and simmered until blended together.
Corn milk is commonly sold per bottle but some places also sell it by the cup. You can find corn milk in stores or buy it from street vendors. Corn milk can be served hot or cold, depending on your preference.
13 – Cà phê trứng – Egg Coffee
‘Eggs and coffee’ sounds like a typical breakfast, but egg in coffee? I know what you’re thinking, but I urge you to be open-minded until you have tried this drink.
To make egg coffee, an egg and condensed milk are whipped together until the mixture is fluffy. Coffee, usually Vietnamese espresso, is then added to the mix.
Some Vietnamese resturants will add other ingredients to egg coffee to add a little spice, sweetness, or depth, including vanilla extract, tiramisu powder, dark chocolate, cocoa powder, and plenty of other delights.
You can be as simple or as fancy as you want with this wholesome drink; the choice is yours.
14 – Bánh bò – Vietnamese Honeycomb Cake
Banh bo, otherwise known as honeycomb cake because of its spongy, porous texture, or steamed rice cake, is a sweet and light dessert that can also be eaten as a snack. Banh bo can be either baked, steamed, or grilled.
Grilled and baked honeycomb cakes have a crispier outer layer, while steamed honeycomb cakes have a softer texture. Banh bo can take on many shapes; they can be divided into slices, like pies, or shaped with various molds.
Most bakers use pandan in the process of making banh bo, as this gives the cake a light green color and a pleasant smell. Banh bo is made by mixing pandan, flour, coconut cream, eggs, tapioca starch, and sugar together (along with other ingredients the baker might use), then steaming, baking, or grilling the mixture.
Some bakers also use food coloring to give banh bo different colors. You’ll often see yellow and pink banh bo in Vietnam. This decadent dessert brings so much color, sweetness, and flavor to Vietnamese street food.
15 – Chè khúc bạch – Almond Panna Cotta Lychee Dessert
Lychee is an important and abundant fruit in Vietnam, so it should come as no suprise this Vietnamese staple takes center stage in this refreshing dessert.
A typical bowl of che khuc bach conists of cubes of gelatin, lychee, and lychee soup, and is served with a sprinkle with chopped almonds. As almonds are not an essential part of the dessert, if you don’t like almonds, or have a nut allergy, simply ask the seller not to finish the dish with almonds.
Gelatin cubes come in many different flavors, including strawberry, pandan, vanilla, and chocolate. The explosion of sweetness with each and every mouthful will keep you coming back for more!
16 – Chè bảy màu – 7-Color Sweet Soup
You’ll very quickly spot a street food vendor selling che bay mau, as their food stall will look like something out of a candy store!
While there is no one recipe for che bay mau, common ingredients used to make this sweet dish are coconut milk, black beans, grass jelly, water chestnut, and mung bean. Often served with shaved ice on top, che bay mau is the perfect dessert to cool you down on a baking hot Vietnamese afternoon.
Vietnamese Street Food Summary
It is well-documented the importance of food in Vietnamese culture, and that very much comes through in some of the country’s must-try street foods.
In Vietnam, all food is seen as in some way connected to The Five Elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.
Hence, dishes of all shapes and sizes in Vietnam are prepared with precision, passion, and purpose.
Wander down a street in Hanoi or amble through the color and wonder of a food market in Hoi An, and you won’t fail to be drawn in by the aromas and flavors of all the food on offer.
Vietnamese street food offers such diversity, flavor, and texture, and it is a part of the culture you simply have to embrace when visiting Vietnam.
Embrace the colors, tastes, textures, and enjoy the mezmorizing world of Vietnamese street food when you next visit. Oh, and remember to keep this list handy, so that you can seek out certain dishes.
- Phở – Vietnamese Pho Noodles
- Bánh mì – Vietnamese Baguette
- Bánh tráng nướng – Grilled Rice Paper
- Bột chiên – Fried Dough
- Bún bò Huế – Hue’s Beef Noodles
- Gỏi cuốn – Spring Rolls
- Chả giò – Egg Rolls
- Bánh khọt – Vietnamese Mini Pancakes
- Bún cá – Fish Noodles
- Cơm gà – Chicken Rice
- Nước rau má – Pennywort Smoothie
- Sữa bắp – Corn Milk
- Cà phê trứng – Egg Coffee
- Bánh bò – Vietnamese Honeycomb Cake
- Chè khúc bạch – Almond Panna Cotta Lychee Dessert
- Chè bảy màu – 7-Color Sweet Soup
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Author: Jennifer Bui is a Vietnamese content writer and creator, currently based in Washington, US. She writes on a wide range of technical and creative topics and is passionate about sharing Vietnamese culture, cuisine, and travel through her writing.