A friend and I were eating at a Vietnamese place in Berlin last year, talking about travel and possible destinations, when he commented how tasty the food was (which is surprising since he is more of an eat out of necessity kinda guy). I concurred cause I love Vietnamese food… suddenly thinking about the criteria for my next travel destination (something new, culture, relaxing, sun, beaches and tasty food) a spark was lit and the decision to travel to Vietnam was born.
Before traveling I started researching where to go and what to see and through my travel guide and online vlogs I also found a lot of inspiration what food to try to even specific places to go to, but I also just wandered around and tried whichever place caught my attention.
I liked almost all of the Vietnamese food I tried, of course as with everything there were some dishes that did not blow me away, but all in all I now like their food even more than before. Vietnamese Cuisine uses a lot of fresh ingredients like herbs, vegetables and meat. The textures in the different dishes compliment each other very well and the spices and herbs do not overpower the flavour of the other components. And if you are looking for fresh fruit and juices there is plenty to choose from, and they taste delicious.
In Vietnam you can find many places to eat, regular restaurants, small simple restaurants and a lot of street food. I tried a bit of everything and can say that from my experience, that the best food I had during my trip, was the street food or the dishes in the small unassuming restaurants.
Whenever I was offered food as part of a tour, the quality was not as good as when I sought out the place to eat myself.
The following are the best dishes and/or places I experienced during my Vietnam trip.
One of the first Vietnamese meals I ever tried was Phò, this soup was high on the to-eat-list once I got to Vietnam, so on my second night in Ho Chi Minh City I seeked out Pho Le Nguyen Trai where they serve different types of Phò. The broth with rice noodles is served with the meat (bo-beef, ga-chicken) or non meat of your choice and in this restaurant you get a huge side plate with herbs and veggies, such as bean sprouts, green onion, coriander, Thai basil,chilli and lime. This soup is just wholesome goodness, even though it was a hot day I enjoyed this hot soup a lot, but I will not lie … I prefer it on a winter’s day so much more.
Bún chà consists out of grilled pork over rice noodles, on the side one gets served herbs, such as Thai basil and coriander; as well as bean sprouts and maybe some pickled vegetables. An integral part is the dipping sauce, made with fish sauce, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic and chilli,in which you bit by bit mix your ingredients together as you eat. The meat can be served as small meatballs and/or as regularly grilled pork slices.
This dish was one of my favourites since you can mix as you please and eat as much of the ingredients as you want and it tasted super fresh and filling. I got to eat it in Hanoi where it is said to be originally from and to top it of the cost was 20.000 Dong (ca. 0,75 €). The place I went to is called Bun Cha 34 and I was the only tourist there and was able to communicate what I wanted, with hand and feet (since it was the only dish they serve) and shared a table with very lovely locals.
Since the cities I visited where next to the coast and or the river there was always fresh fish and seafood to try, and I certainly took any chance I got to have some. The best was some sea bream and some small octopus grilled with garlic. The weirdest fish I tried was one called “elephant ear fish” which looked pretty interesting and tasted good. So, if you are a fan of Seafood, go ahead and enjoy.
Cong caphe is the Vietnamese hipster equivalent of Starbucks (but better!), with a more rustic and military feel. And as the heat and dehydration loomed I loved spending some time in these coffee shops getting some drinks, as well as some shade. This coffee chain offers also other drinks besides coffee (which as a non-coffee drinker I highly appreciate), such as tea, juices and others. When I visited a Cong Caphe I either got a fresh fruit juice or an ice drink. The best wasthe Cacao Coconut drink, very tasty! While the Coconut and Green Rice Drink was also good it was more of a filling sweet dessert in drink form. There are Cong Caphe shops all around Hanoi, so you can always take a refreshing break here (and use the wi-fi).
In the homestay I stayed in during my time in Hoi An I had breakfast included and the best choice was banana pancakes, which is something you can also get as street food around the city, it was a bit oily but delicious and I always accompanied it with fresh fruit and fresh juice.
A great- start to the day if you ask me!
Summer rolls are rice paper wraps filled with fresh veggies such as lettuce, carrots, herbs, etc., as well as noodles and maybe some chicken, tofu or prawns. It can come with different dipping sauces, but the standard is either a peanut sauce or a sweet-savoury sauce called Nuoc Cham.
Great as a starter, maybe even to share, or a small snack dish during the day.
In Saigon I was aware of some ladies that sell Papaya Salad in Le Van Tam Park, I spend the day walking around the city catching the sights, but once it was time to get some lunch I walked all the way to Le Van Tam Park to see what the hype was about, since I am a fan of Thai Papaya Salad and wanted to see what the difference was with Vietnamese Papaya Salad.
I asked the ladies for a salad and they ask you to sit using one of their canvas protection so as to not get dirty pants while sitting on a park surface. The Vietnamese Papaya Salad (goi du du) was simple but fresh with green papaya, herbs, beef jerky, some crisps, peanuts and a salty yet sweet dressing. A perfect meal for a hot day and the perfect spot to people watch.
On my last day in Saigon I finally had time to visit the legend that is “the Lunch Lady“. She is a well-known street food vendor and you will find locals here as well as tourists. Her stall has been visited and recommended by top chef Anthony Bourdain. What you need to know here, is that she only makes one dish per day, so you cannot choose from different dishes. Once you sit down however, side dishes like spring rolls are placed on your table, these cost extra and you have to say something if you do not want them, otherwise you are stuck paying for those dishes too.
The day I was there I got a plate of Bun Thit Nuóng – Vietnamese grilled pork & rice noodles, which is not her regular item on the menu, as she mostly does soups. This dish is very similar to the Bun Cha and on that day it was a great Brunch. If this is her back up dish then her soups must be amazing. In case I ever come back to Saigon I will make sure to come back.
Banh mi is a dish that started with the french colonialism in Vietnam, the crunchy yet light baguette is filled with paté and mayo, as well as with some other meat, coriander, pickled carrots and other herbs. There are different variations and ingredients you can add to this sandwich.
Great for a snack on the go or as breakfast. The best one I ate, was in Hoi An, at Phi Banh Mi.
King Roti – Coffee Buns. If you are in Hanoi looking for a sweet dish to maybe accompany a coffee or tea, look no further, King Roti has these sweet buns with different toppings as coffee, chocolate, vanilla and matcha. My favourite was the matcha one. I liked them so much I went back just before heading to the airport to go back home .
As you can tell I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Vietnam not only visiting and exploring the country, but also learning about their culture trough food. And do not worry even without being able to speak the Vietnamese language, I was able to communicate somehow with the locals.