Posted on April 30, 2019 | By Isabelle Sudron
All Things TEFL
08th Mar 2019
Vietnamese cuisine is not only delicious but incredibly healthy! And, when eating Vietnamese food in Vietnam, it’s cheap too…
Most dishes encompass lots of fresh vegetables, herbs and spices, minimal oil and very little dairy products. Popular dishes are usually soup, rice or noodle dishes which are known to be flavoursome and colourful. In fact, most Vietnamese dishes include five elements; spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet.
#1 Banh mi
Nope, this isn’t just a sandwich, it’s a Vietnamese sandwich – and it’s totally different, trust us! It’s made up of a crispy banh mi loaf, coriander, pickled carrots and daikon, a delicious homemade sandwich sauce, and a filling of your choice. Popular fillings include barbecued pork, roasted chicken, pork patties, egg, sausages or pork patties. You can find banh mi stalls in every city in Vietnam and you can buy one of these traditional sandwiches for less than a dollar.
#2 Goi cuon
Otherwise known as Vietnamese spring rolls, goi cuon usually consists of pork, prawn, lettuce, mint and rice noodles wrapped with extra thin rice paper. These light bites are often served with a fish sauce dip and can be eaten as a small meal or a side dish.
#3 Bun cha
A popular street food dish in Northern Vietnam, bun cha is a noodle soup served with barbecued pork patties. You’ll usually be given a soup with the pork patties inside and a separate plate of white rice noodles. Take a chunk of noodles with your chopsticks, drop them into your soup and enjoy!
If there’s bun cha around, you’ll be able to smell it! Restaurants will barbecue fresh pork patties for as long as they’re serving food – and the delicious scent of chargrilled pork is a great advertisement for the dish!
#4 Banh cuon
Often eaten for breakfast, bahn cuon are small rolls made with rice batter and filled with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms. You’ll be served a little mountain of these mini rolls along with a small bowl of nuoc cham (a sweet and spicy fish sauce dip). Dip the rolls into the sauce for a hearty meal with a sweet and spicy kick.
At most Vietnamese restaurants that serve this dish, you’ll be able to watch the chef make the rice batter pancakes and fill them right before your eyes! In fact, many street food dishes in Vietnam will be prepared in front of you, but this is a particularly interesting one to watch being made.
#5 Hu tieu
This noodle dish is most popular in South Vietnam and has some similarities to Vietnam’s most famous noodle dish, pho. It’s made with pork stock, sliced pork, rice noodles, and a selection of herbs and spices. The dish originates from China and can also be found in Cambodia and Thailand. There are a number of different variations of hu tieu in Vietnam, lots of them with sea food added, but no matter which you get, you can guarantee it’ll be pretty tasty!
#6 Cao lau
Mostly served in Hoi An, cao lau uses thick, brown rice noodles, sliced char siu-style pork, crisp squares of deep fried noodles, and lots of bean sprouts and greens. The noodles have a particularly distinguishable taste because they are soaked in lye water – traditionally lye water from a specific well in Hoi An! – which makes them springier and chewier than usual rice noodles.
Pho (pronounced a bit like ‘fur’) is a Vietnamese staple soup, often served with chicken or beef and flavoured with bean sprouts, culantro, chili peppers, lime, onion and Thai basil. If you’re a fan of Vietnamese food in your home country, this is probably the dish you’ve tried already. Though, you may be surprised to find that the pho in Vietnam is somewhat less flavoursome in Vietnam than it is elsewhere. This is because it’s common to flavour your own pho in lots of Vietnamese restaurants. So, we beg you not to dig into this soup and be disappointed – instead, dig into the extra chili peppers, lime and coriander on your table!
#8 Com binh dan
Com binh dan translates as ‘commoner’s rice’ and on first appearance looks a bit like a buffet. (You will be charged for what you eat but the price is usually very reasonable!) You’ll be given a plate of rice and will then choose from a selection of toppings, such as braised meat, marinated tofu, fried fish, various vegetables, nuts and more.
Although this is not the most exciting dish on the menu, it’s extremely popular with Vietnamese locals. If you decide to become an EFL teacher in Vietnam, this will likely become a typical, hearty lunchtime meal for you.
There aren’t a whole lot of Vietnamese desserts to choose from, but if you’ve got a sweet tooth, che is the way to go. This dessert soup is usually made up of crushed ice, coconut cream and your choice of toppings. Popular toppings include tapioca, jelly, fruit, seed and various beans and peas. You can easily spot a che shop or stand by looking out for glass bowls filled with lots of colours ingredients. Some of these toppings may look savoury rather than sweet, but they’re often sweetened and taste great with coconut cream!
#10 Ca phe phin
Although it’s not a meal, Vietnamese coffee cannot be missed when it comes to trying the local cuisine. There’s a huge range of coffees to try, most of which are distinguished by mind-blowingly strong coffee and a sweet mixer.
Directly translated, ca phe phin (pronounced café fin) means ‘filtered coffee’. If you order this, you can expect to receive a glass with a traditional metal coffee filter (phin) placed on top – perfect for watching a fresh coffee brew before your eyes.
If you’re not a fan of black coffee, you can try ca phe sua – coffee with condensed milk, a favourite among Vietnamese locals, or ca phe trung – egg coffee – a Hanoian speciality that’s much nicer than it sounds! And if you don’t like coffee at all, you can still enjoy Vietnam’s terrific café culture. Stop by Hanoi Hideaway to view some of the best cafes in the capital.
If you want to know more about working in Vietnam, check out our guide: Everything you need to know about teaching English in Vietnam.