What to eat and drink

Vietnam is synonymous with eating. You can’t turn a street corner without encountering something that looks, smells and tastes delicious. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have hip, contemporary dining scenes, but the country is still best known for its street food and bolthole shops specialising in one dish.


Street vendor selling fruit in Hanoi


No trip should go without joining locals on the footpaths sipping tumblers of Bia Hoi draught beer or strong Vietnamese coffee, a national pastime. Enjoy it hot, iced or sweetened with condensed milk. In Hanoi, hot coffee whipped with egg and sugar transforms it into an indulgent sweet treat.

Pho has become the international ambassador for Vietnamese cuisine. Inexpensive and deceptively simple, the noodle soup is made by slowly simmering beef bones with charred ginger, onions and spices like star anise, cinnamon, black cardamom and cloves. Pho in the north is a simpler affair. Only sliced onions and scallions are added to the clear, delicate broth. Southern-style pho is sweeter and richer. Adding fresh herbs and bean sprouts are part of the eating ritual. Which is better? Try both to decide for yourself.


Phở soup

Banh mi is an example of French colonial influence on Vietnamese cuisine. The East-meets-West baguette sandwich is a sum of many good things: crusty baguette, paté, a medley of cold cuts, pickled daikon and carrots, scallions, mayonnaise, chilli and coriander.

However, Vietnamese cuisine is much more than just pho and banh mi, and is extremely regional. A journey through the country could be told in noodle soups. Hue Province's signature is bun bo Hue, an umami and lemongrass rich soup of beef and rice vermicelli. Turmeric-infused mi quang is a staple in Quang Nam Province. Popular in the south, banh canh cua are starchy tapioca noodles and crab in a thick broth. Another southern soup is bun rieu cua, rice vermicelli, pork broth and a cake of freshwater crab.


Vietnamese Pork Banh Mi Sandwich

Walk along any city street, river or beach in Vietnam and chances are there’s something sizzling on a charcoal barbecue. Joints where people can grill their own meat, fresh seafood and snails at the table are popular. So are places serving nem nuong, garlicky pork sausage that diners make into lettuce wraps. In fact, grilled pork is the star of several favourite dishes like com tam – pork and a helping of cooked broken rice grains, fried egg, pickles and tangy nuoc cham dressing. It tops bun thit nuong, a vermicelli noodle salad. In 2016, Barack Obama and chef Anthony Bourdain ate Hanoi bun cha – grilled pork patties and noodles dipped into a flavourful broth.

Finally, don’t leave Vietnam without trying the riot of tropical fruits like rambutans, mangosteen, pomelo, jackfruit, durian and dragonfruit.


Vendors selling street food, Hanoi

About the author

What to eat in Vietnam

Cindy Fan

Cindy Fan is a writer specialising in experiential travel, food, culture and destination guides. The author of Travelfish’s Laos and Vietnam guides since 2014, her stories and guides have been published in CNN Travel, The Australian, The Toronto Star and various inflight magazines.

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