Vietnamese street food is one of the highlights of travelling in Southeast Asia! From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, the streets are alive with the smells and sizzling sounds of locals cooking delicious Vietnam dishes right by the roadside!
From the famous Bahn Mi, to the not so famous Bánh tráng nuog (AKA the Vietnamese pizza!), here are 23 Must-Try Vietnam Street Food Dishes to look out for during your adventures in the country!
About Vietnamese Cuisine
Vietnamese food is characterised by its use of herbs. Spearmint, Asian basil, perilla, betel leaf, sorrel and many varieties of coriander are used widely. Cooking focuses on the balance of flavours and chilli is usually added according to preference rather than as a compulsory ingredient. Vietnamese street food is much less spicy than Thai food and much less creamy than Malaysian or Indian food.
Vietnam food is rich in choice and flavour. Fresh herbs, succulent meats. Clear broths, thick soups, clay pot dishes. Finger foods and elaborate dishes rank equally; Vietnamese people are genuinely passionate about food and cooking and every street is alive with people eating, no matter what time of day it is! The choices are endless and the flavours are delicious and if you’re willing to be adventurous, point a lot and learn a few words in Vietnamese, you are in for the foodie experience of a lifetime! Simply put, you will never go hungry in Vietnam.
The Five Element Philosophy
When you think of Vietnamese food, you think of fragrance, colour, freshness and a huge variety in terms of textures and tastes! However, the essence of Vietnamese Cuisine is actually very philosophical and much more complex than that.
Historically, Vietnamese meals are influenced by the Asian principles of the five elements and the ancient philosophy of yin and yang. Each dish is created to appeal to each one of our five fundamental tastes: water (salty), earth (sweet), metal (spicy), wood (sour) and fire (bitter).
The five elements also correspond to five organs in our bodies (gall bladder, small intestine, large intestine, stomach and bladder), five colours (red, green, yellow, white and black), five senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, sound) and five nutrients (carbohydrates, fat, minerals, water and protein). Each dish is a celebration of the number five in a way that you would never have imagined – so remember that next time you sit down to eat a Pho!
The French Influence
The French were present in Vietnam from 1887 until 1954 when the Vietnamese won independence. French influences are still obvious in cooking; crusty baguettes, bread and pastries are widespread and obvious in dishes such as the popular Banh Mi (or Vietnamese sandwich). The pâté (or paste) used in the baguettes is reminiscent of fois gras. Frogs legs are also common, as are sea snails and duck, all French favourites today.
If you’ve been craving your dairy products whilst backpacking in Southeast Asia, you’ll be also pleased to hear that cheese and yoghurt are more easily bought in Vietnam than other Southeast Asian countries And wine lovers may like to try Dalat’s own homegrown wine – which isn’t half bad!
23 Must Try Vietnamese Street Food Dishes & Snacks!
1. Bún Chả
Widely considered as the best Vietnamese street food out there, Bun Cha is a Hanoi specialty and a must try when visiting the capital! This dish is often found at specialty food stalls, who serve nothing else but this one dish. This makes ordering very easy and is a good place to start exploring the street food scene! Be warned though – the plates are massive, so you better be hungry!
A solid favourite with locals and visitors alike, Bun Cha is made of chargrilled pork patties (which look like tiny little burgers), white vermicelli noodles and a variety of salad leaves, including mint and Asian basil.
The pork patties are barbecued over smouldering coals, usually smoked by a conical hat wearing lady with a hand fan! This tasty meat is served in big bowls with a vinegary fish sauce broth (known as Nuoc Cham) and crunchy pickled cabbage. One well known Hanoi restaurant in the old quarter serves their bun cha with crab spring rolls, a delightfully heady mix of flavours!
Arguably Vietnam’s most famous dish, a visit to Vietnam would not be complete without sitting down to a steaming bowl of Phở (pronounced ‘fuh’). Put simply, Phở is a noodle soup served with herbs and either chicken (Phở Gà) or beef (Phở Bò).
Phở is served all over Vietnam, but each place will have a slightly different flavour. The secret to a good Phở is undoubtedly in the broth. Often simmered for hours with ricj meat stock, the tastiness of the flavoursome broth makes or breaks the dish.
Unlike Thai soups like ‘Tom Yam’ (which will blow your head off!) this Vietnamese soup is mild – to begin with. Served with spicy chili sauce, lime, garlic and sweet vinegar on the side, you can flavour your Phở however you like it.
Traditionally eaten as a breakfast item throughout Vietnam, if you want a good Phở, get in there early on – as the best ones are more readily available in the morning before the Vietnamese locals go to work. All in all, Phở is healthy, it’s warming, it’s filling, it’s super cheap (think $1 US per bowl) and that’s why it’s the breakfast of champions! If you’re looking to make Pho at home, this is a good Pho recipe to follow.
3. Bún Bò Nam Bộ
A light and refreshing dish, Bún Bò Nam Bộ is Vietnamese street food at its finest, originating from Southern Vietnam. Fine rice noodles (the bún) are piled on top of a bed of fresh lettuce and topped with beef (the bò bit), bean sprouts, onions and herbs.
A sweet broth made of fish sauce is then ladled over these key ingredients and topped with roasted peanuts and dried shallots. Some fresh mint is a welcome addition and, as with a lot of Vietnamese street food, chili, garlic and lime are served on the side. It’s the perfect mixture of sweet and sour flavours, with justa little hint of spice!
If you’re in Hanoi, the atmospheric 67 Hang Dieu Street is famous for its Bún Bò Nam Bộ. Head here around midday to rub shoulders with local Vietnamese workers on their lunch break.
4. Nem Ran
Nem Ran (also known as Chả Giò) are fried Vietnamese spring rolls and can be found all over the country, usually only costing 10,000 VND per sizeable piece. There are lots of variations on classic Nem up and down the country, meaning it is advisable to try as many as you can while here!
Crispy, fried and stuffed with glass noodles, mushroom and anything ranging from minced pork to crab meat. Nem are often served as an accompaniment to Bun Cha but more than hold their own as a meal or delicious appetiser before a meal.
Nem are almost always served with the famous Vietnamese dipping sauce ‘Nuoc Cham’ which is a wonderfully sweet and sour concoction of lime juice, fish sauce, lemon grass and chili. One of the not to be missed authentic things to eat in Vietnam!
5. Bánh Gối
Bánh Gối translates as ‘pillow cake’ and is a wonderful tasty Vietnamese appetiser. A light pastry is stuffed with mushrooms, glass noodles, minced pork and various seasonings, folded and deep fried – admittedly not the healthiest of street foods!
Bánh Gối is served with a side of fresh leaves, herbs and ‘Nuoc Cham’ dipping sauce to balance it out (of course). Simply delicious and downright addictive! In Hanoi, 52 Ly Quoc Street, beside St Joseph’s Cathedral, is the main player in town making this dish. While there try the Nem Cua Be (crab spring rolls) as well, they’re delicious!
6. Phở Cuốn or Gỏi Cuốn
Phở Cuốn often causes confusion when seen on a menu boards and is not to be mixed up with Vietnam’s famous noodle soup (second on this list). It is also known as Gỏi cuốn. ‘Cuốn’ refers to the fresh rice paper sheets which are used to roll meat, seafood or prawns, vegetables and fresh herbs, making a sort of fresh spring roll.
These are served with ‘Nuoc Cham’ and are a fairly recent but warmly received addition to Vietnam’s famous street food scene. To try this dish, why not head to Truch Bach lake in the Tay Ho district of Hanoi where you will find a whole street dedicated to Phở Cuốn dishes. Heaven.
7. Bánh Mi
Along with Pho, Banh Mi is THE go to meal for backpackers and regarded by many travellers as the best street food in Vietnam! Bánh Mi simply translates as bread and is a poignant, lasting symbol of French colonialism. In Vietnam, these baguettes are given a local twist by stuffing them with pickled vegetables, shredded daikon, slices of cold meat, egg, mayonnaise, chili sauce and pork liver paté.
The Bánh Mi (bread) is essentially a blank slate and you can usually choose what the chef adds to it. In recent years, Bánh Mi kebabs have become very popular in Hanoi and these are a perfect accompaniment to cold bia hoi (local, organically brewed beer). You will find Bánh Mi carts on most street corners in cities and towns all over Vietnam.
Don’t be put off by the carts often grubby looking facade. No two places are the same and it’s readily available either in street side restaurants or takeaway karts. A flavoursome and cheap snack. Be brave and you will never look back. Celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain once visited Hoi An and claimed he had found the best Bahn Mi in the country in a shabby looking restaurant called Madame Khanh (or the Bahn Mi Queen) on 115 Trần Cao Vân Street.
8. Báhn Xeo
Bánh Xeo is a regional speciality from Hoi An, in the middle of Vietnam. Bánh Xeo is made using rice flour batter and beaten egg to make the outside, which is folded in half to make a casing, similar to a taco shell. Turmeric is sometimes added for colour. The filling is a mix of shrimp, pork and beansprouts.
As with most Vietnamese food, a plate of green leaves and herbs such as mints and coriander is on the table to be added to taste. Sliced tart star fruit can also be added. Banh Khoai is a similar dish, popular in nearby Hue. In Hue, a dipping sauce made from minced pork and liver with peanuts is added.
9. Cháo Cá
Cháo Cá translates as fish porridge. It might sound like all sorts of wrong but Cháo Cá is actually pretty delicious and wholesome! A hearty bowl of rice and sticky rice (double carb load, mmh!), fish sauce and stock, dill and shallots are topped with thick pieces of freshwater fish (like salmon or carp). In Thailand, a similar dish is called ‘jog’ and is usually eaten at breakfast time.
If you fancy something similar but a meatier version, you can go for some Cháo vịt instead, which is usually made with beer or chicken. The result? A warming and nutritious meal that can be enjoyed at any time of the day.
10. Bánh Cuốn
Bánh cuốn is one of the most delicious street eats originating from Hanoi and Northern Vietanem. It’s a really delicate snack, like a semi translucent dumpling filled with pork, mushroom, minced shallots and sometimes other vegetables. (‘Cuốn’ is the name for the fresh rice paper sheets.)
Topped with crispy fried onions, garlic or sweet “meat fluff”; a desiccated pork-based meat product with the consistency of candy floss, it’s a must try street food snack. Often served with a side of leaves and of course, a fish-sauce dipping sauce (Nuoc cam). Not a very hearty meal, but great as an appetiser – delicious in flavours and varied in textures!
11. Bánh Tráng Nướng
Bánh tráng nướng is also known as ‘Vietnamese Pizza’ or ‘Dalat Pizza’ and can be found in Dalat (of course!), as well as many other parts of the country. Okay, so it’s not exactly the standard cheese and tomato margarita pizza that you’d get on a trip to Italy – but it will surely satisfy your craving for some comfort food!
The base is made of a thin circle of rice paper, rolled out on a hot plate and grilled over hot coals into crispy deliciousness. Toppings vary, from shrimp to quail eggs to sausages but either way, Vietnamese pizza is a very welcome snack at any time of day. And, at around 12,000 VND ($0.50) per piece, it ain’t gonna break the bank either.
12. Bánh Mì ốp La
If you’re a fan of the Mexican dish ‘huevos rancheros’, you’ll love this unusual Vietnamese street food dish! Although it doesn’t include salsa – it’s a similar idea and equally as tasty! Literally translating as “sunnyside up bread”, the dish is basically a fried egg sandwich (with all of the trimmings!), perfect as a breakfast, brunch or lunch. The crusty baguette is a common feature of Vietnamese snacks or lunches and is a leftover from the French colonial period.
When ordering bánh mì ốp la, each person will get their own personal pan, in which eggs sizzle away before your watering mouth. The eggs are accompanied by onions, peppers and a dollop of chilli… plus a roll of crusty banh mi to scoop it all up. Yummy!
13. Bún Riêu Cua
This meat and vermicelli tomato soup is one the heartiest and richest meals you can find in Vietnam! All across the country you’ll see huge vats being stirred by old women in conical hats at the side of the road and if take a peek inside and see a tomato-coloured broth – you may just be in luck!
Unlike the clearer soups of Vietnam, like Pho, the broth contains tomatoes, crab stock, tamarind paste and rice vinegar giving it a powerful taste and a unique colour.
The delicious broth is complimented by spaghetti-like noodles, golden fried tofu and moist meatballs… yep, it’s got it all! Add a squeeze of lime juice and the requisite garden of herbs, like coriander and mint, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a tastier dish in Vietnam.
14. Cau Lầu
Cao lầu is regionally specific, like Champagne, or Cornish Pasties. It can only be made in the Hoi An area of Central Vietnam because the noodles used in it are made using local well water and a specific ash, from Islands off the coast. This may seem unnecessarily elaborate but it’s all part of the charm and makes it an absolutely must-try dish when visiting Hoi An!
Cao lầu is historically a pork dish. Thin slices of roasted meat, green leaves, beansprouts, mint, fresh chilis and onions are all added to the special noodles and topped with small flat croutons that look more like pork crackling than croutons. Unlike a lot of other Asian noodle dishes, it’s neither soup based nor dry. Once all the other ingredients have been assembled, a spoon of stock is ladled on to make everything wet, nothing more.
15. Bún Mắm
Another vermicelli soup star is bún mắm, a dish that’s found in central and southern Vietnam and is sometimes referred to as ‘Vietnamese Gumbo’ (or stew). Available from street food stalls as well as more upmarket eateries, this dish may be a bit more difficult to track down but your efforts will be rewarded!
The sweet combination of its dark-coloured broth, prepared with fermented fish sauce, tamarind and sugar, vermicelli noodles and an assortment of seafood and meat, will make you glad you looked that little bit further. The addition of eggplant – to soak up the broth – is a nice and healthy touch.
16. Banh Tam Bi
This unusual dish, of sticky rice and thick tapioca noodles, topped with herbs and pork and mixed in a coconut cream dressing, is only available in the south of Vietnam. Sorry if that rules it out for you! If you’re lucky enough to be in the area, look out for shops with thicker noodles in their window and a tell-tale pan of coconut milk.
Give it a try and enjoy the sweet and buttery flavours of the ‘gravy’, the freshness of the herbs and the crunchiness of pig’s skin. It’s a noodle dish with a difference and more closely resembles Thai or Malaysian cuisine than traditional Vietnamese.
17. Cá Kho Tộ
Less of a street-food snack and more of a full dining experience, cá kho tộ will satisfy any cravings you have for a warming, comforting meal.
Braised catfish cooked in a sweet caramel gravy of soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, shallots and garlic, the dish comes in a clay pot and is usually served with rice. (The ‘to’ in ca kho to actually means ‘claypot’.) It’s a great comfort food and you’re likely to smell the tantalising aromas long before you see it.
18. Nem Lui
Nem Lui or New Lui Hue is a speciality street food from the Hue area in Central Vietnam. Basically, minced pork is moulded onto aromatic lemongrass skewers and cooked over a barbecue creating the perfect dipping snack!
Nem Lui Hue are often served with a variety of green leaves from Asian basil to mint, starfruit and wrapped up in a rice paper sheet, a bit like an oversized spring roll. As with many other street food snacks, Nem Lui is served with a chili or fish sauce dipping sauce. Delicious and totally addictive!
19. Bánh Bao bánh Vạc or White Rose
The unusually named, White Rose, is a Hoi An street food speciality, where minced prawns or spiced minced pork is wrapped in thin translucent dough. They are wonderfully addictive, single bites of joy and can be found in many street food stalls and markets in Hoi An, but nowhere else in the country!
Bánh Bao bánh Vạc is the Vietnamese name, but the snack was supposedly given the nickname ‘white rose’ by the French because each piece of dough is scrunched to resemble a small ‘white rose’ – or so they say.
Topped with fried caramelised onions, and dipped in sweet chilli sauce, they are the perfect afternoon snack! Many street sellers in Hoi An will focus solely on White Rose or Cao Lao, so be sure to try both while you are there.
20. Cơm Gà
Originating from the Quang Nam Province in Central Vietnam, Cơm Gà (or Cơm Gà Hội An) is the classic Vietnamese take on your basic chicken and rice dish, like ‘chicken fried rice’ in Thailand (khao-pad) or China. You will find it at street stalls in Hoi An and Hue and it will cost you less than a $1 US per plate – the perfect lunch!
Turmeric coloured rice is served with roast chicken, an array of green salad leaves and aromatic herbs, raw carrots and papaya and sprinkled with caramelised crispy onions. The dish is a delight of textures in the mouth and although simple – is very satisfying!
21. Bún Cá
Basically, the fishy version of Bun chá, this is an unbelievably tasty and healthy soup is as beautiful to look at as it is to devour! A delicious fishy broth, which contains white rice noodles, baked cat fish, fresh tomato, spring onions and lots of aromatic green herbs like dill that bring the taste of the fish to life.
The best bún cá to be found is at the K’Tu Restaurant in An Bang village, near Hoi An. The two lovely ladies serve up the best version of this dish, along with an awesome Pho Bo, and a Bun Cha to die for!
22. Cháo Gà
Cháo gà is a wholesome meaty porridge, sometimes called congee (common in China) made with rice and stock which is cooked out to become thicker. In Thailand, a similar dish is called jog and is eaten at breakfast time.
Gà (chicken) is added to the soup as well as green herbs, spring onions, vinegar, black pepper and chilli to taste. It is often eaten in the winter, and served with “Dau Chao Qui” a kind of deep fried breadstick to accompany soups and is great for dipping. It’s a very hearty and filling meal.
23. Chè Khúc Bạch
To finish on, we will share with you just one of the many weird and wonderful Vietnamese desserts! Chè Khúc Bạch is a concoction of floating ice, jelly like vanilla flavoured cubes, local lychees and coconut water. Served in a bowl, topped with crunchy muesli like pieces, it is magnificently refreshing and a perfect addition to a hot summers day!
Look out for any signs with any dishes preceded by Chè – this usually means desert. There are a vast amount of different “Chè” dishes to sample in Hanoi – not an easy job but someone’s got to do it! ChèThưng is another must-try dessert in Vietnam.
Where to find the best street food in Vietnam?
- Hanoi – The charming capital of Hanoi is a street food paradise with the interwoven alleys of the maze-like Old Quarter offering up a marvellous range of steaming local dishes. Venture beyond the touristic Old Quarter and you can find even more dishes ranging all the way from barbecued dog (thit cho) to snail soup (canh ốc).
- Ho Chi Minh City – Makeshift stalls, shabby looking shop fronts, pavement barbecues and plastic tables and chairs are common sights in Vietnam’s largest city. For those who venture off the beaten track, the signage and menus are often in Vietnamese and so as a newcomer to the city, the food scene that you’ve heard so much about can be fairly overwhelming! However, know that many street food vendors specialise in only one or two dishes so once you get your head around the ‘must try’ dishes, it becomes a lot easier.
- Hue – Famous for Nem Lui (lemongrass pork skewers) and other delicious dishes, Hue is another awesome spot for foodies. Particularly great for seafood and shellfish, another must-try dish is Cơm Hến or mussel rice.
- Hoi An – This central city is a heaven for foodies with original famous dishes such as Bahn Xeo (prawn pancakes) to Cau Lau (pork noodle soup) and ‘white rose’. The Central Market is a great and cheap place to try a variety of dishes and the local restaurants of An Bang (the beach area) are excellent value for money if you want a more restaurant atmosphere.
Vietnam Street Food Tour
Still wondering what to eat in Vietnam? An awesome way to get under the skin of the Vietnam street food scene is to take a guided tour with a local foodie expert! It’s a great thing to do when you first arrive in the country, especially if you’re nervous to sample any unusual looking foods or you’re unsure how to order the different dishes.
We highly recommend the The Real Hanoi Street Food Experience in Vietnam’s capital where you can try an assortment of 15 Vietnamese street food snacks for just $19 US per person. After this introduction, you’ll never look back!
What’s your favourite Vietnamese street food?