Vietnamese cuisine is a thrilling symphony of tastes and textures, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients, subtle variations by region, and complex flavors. My goal is to walk you through the vibrant street stalls of Ho Chi Minh City, the traditional kitchens of Central Vietnam, and the bustling Vietnamese restaurants worldwide in the west, uncovering the stories behind popular Vietnamese foods and the best recipes you can find online to make your own dishes at home.
Vietnamese cuisine is a vibrant tapestry of flavors and aromas, ingeniously balancing the five fundamental taste elements: spicy, sour, bitter, salty, and sweet. This harmony is achieved through the use of fresh herbs, savory fish sauce, zesty lime, and a plethora of chili to add warmth. Rice, noodles, fresh vegetables, and herbs all play crucial roles, creating light yet nourishing dishes that are often enlivened with a touch of French influence—a remnant of colonial history. Whether it's the complex layers of a pho broth, the tangy crunch of a bánh mì, or the fresh simplicity of spring rolls, Vietnamese cuisine invites an exploration of its culinary landscapes, promising each palate an unforgettable journey. As we explore the following dishes and recipes, get ready to discover the rich and varied flavors of Vietnamese cuisine.
21 Top Popular Dishes of Vietnam
Popular Soup Noodle Recipes
1. Vietnamese Pho - The Quintessential Noodle Soup
Vietnamese pho is a classic noodle soup that is a cornerstone of the country's cuisine. It typically consists of a flavorful, aromatic broth made by simmering beef bones, onions, and a bouquet of spices including star anise, cinnamon, and cloves. Rice noodles and slices of beef or chicken are added to the broth, and the dish is completed with garnishes such as sliced onions, cilantro, bean sprouts, basil leaves, and lime wedges. Pho is both a popular street food and a staple in Vietnamese households, appreciated for its satisfying balance of hearty ingredients and refreshing herbs.
2. Bun Bo Hue - A Taste of Central Vietnam
Central Vietnam is known for its bold flavors, and Bun Bo Hue is a testament to this. This spicy and lemongrass-flavored beef noodle soup is more than just a popular dish; it’s a celebration of the region's gusto. The soup's complexity, with flat rice noodles and an assortment of meats including pork belly and beef, is further enriched with the addition of shrimp paste and mung beans.
3. Bun Rieu - Shrimp Noodle Soup
Bun Rieu is a traditional Vietnamese soup known for its distinct and flavorful tomato-based broth infused with the tartness of tamarind. Its signature ingredient is minced freshwater crab, which forms into small, delicate meatballs, providing the dish with its unique taste and name - "rieu" refers to these crab cakes. Rice vermicelli noodles form the base of the soup, while various toppings like fried tofu, sliced pork, fresh herbs, and sometimes, congealed pig's blood, add complexity and depth. Aromatic, hearty, and often garnished with a generous sprinkling of green onions and coriander, Bun Rieu is a beloved dish that reflects the freshness and ingenuity of Vietnamese cuisine.
4. Banh Canh - Thick Noodle Soup
Banh Canh is a hearty Vietnamese soup notable for its thick and chewy noodles made from a mix of rice and tapioca flour. The broth, often rich and slightly viscous, can be based on pork, chicken, or seafood, and it is typically seasoned with fish sauce, sugar, and a hint of shallot and garlic for added depth. Commonly, the soup is accompanied by toppings such as sliced meat, crab, shrimp, or fish cakes, and garnished with fresh herbs like cilantro or green onions. The soup's distinctive noodles and the comforting warmth of its broth make Banh Canh a satisfying meal, especially popular during breakfast or on rainy days.
5. Vietnamese Wonton Soup
Vietnamese wonton soup, known locally as "Hoanh Thanh," features delicate dumplings filled with seasoned ground pork, encased in a thin, supple wrapper, and served in a clear, aromatic broth. The broth is often infused with the flavors of chicken or pork bones, seasoned with soy sauce, and sometimes enhanced with a dash of sesame oil for a rich, comforting depth. The wontons themselves are a blend of Chinese culinary influence and Vietnamese flavors, with additions like shrimp, mushrooms, and traditional seasonings. This soup is commonly garnished with scallions, cilantro, and sometimes crispy garlic, making it a popular choice for a light meal or a satisfying starter in Vietnamese cuisine.
6. Bo Kho
Vietnamese Bo Kho is a robust and flavorful beef stew, deeply infused with the warmth of star anise, cinnamon, and lemongrass. Tender chunks of beef, carrots, and sometimes potatoes are slow-cooked until succulent, absorbing the rich spices and tomato-based sauce. This hearty dish strikes a balance between sweet, savory, and a hint of spiciness, often mellowed with a splash of coconut water or beer in the braising liquid. Commonly served with a side of crusty bread, steamed rice, or over rice noodles, Bo Kho is a comforting staple, especially favored during cooler weather for its satisfying, complex flavors and aromatic allure.
Popular Dry and Stir Fry Noodles
7. Vietnamese Bun Bi
Bun Bi is a refreshing Vietnamese dish featuring thin rice vermicelli noodles as its base, topped with thin strips of tender, marinated pork and shredded pork skin. The dish is known for its contrasting textures and flavors, often dressed with a generous helping of fresh herbs, like mint and lettuce, and sprinkled with roasted peanuts for a nutty crunch. It's typically served with nuoc cham, a tangy and sweet fish sauce-based dressing, which soaks into the ingredients and brings the whole dish together. Light yet flavorful, Bun Bi is a testament to the balance and freshness central to Vietnamese cuisine, offering a satisfying meal that is especially popular in the warmer months.
8. Vermicelli Noodle with Egg Roll and Thit Nuong
Vietnamese vermicelli noodle dish with egg and thịt nướng (grilled pork) is a popular meal combining tender, marinated and grilled slices of pork with soft strands of rice vermicelli. The dish is topped with a fried egg, adding a rich and savory element. Fresh herbs, like basil and cilantro, pickled vegetables, fresh lettuce, and crunchy cucumbers are mixed in, contributing to its fresh and balanced profile. A drizzle of nước chấm, the classic Vietnamese dipping sauce made from fish sauce, lime, sugar, and chili, ties the dish together with a sweet, tangy, and slightly spicy flavor. This dish is a celebration of texture and taste, delivering a wholesome and satisfying dining experience.
9. Vietnamese Bun Cha
Bun Cha is a quintessential Northern Vietnamese dish that hails from Hanoi, combining grilled, flavorful pork patties and slices of pork belly with a plate of white rice vermicelli noodles (bun) and a bowl of nuoc cham, a fish sauce-based dipping broth. The pork is seasoned with garlic, shallots, sugar, fish sauce, and sometimes honey, then charred to perfection, lending a smoky flavor to the succulent meat. Accompanying the meat and noodles is a platter of fresh herbs, such as basil, mint, coriander, and lettuce, along with pickled vegetables, which diners can mix according to their taste. This dish encapsulates a harmony of textures and flavors - sweet, salty, smoky, and refreshing - making Bun Cha a beloved and iconic example of Vietnamese culinary tradition.
Vietnamese Meat Dishes
10. Thit Heo Quay
Vietnamese roasted pork belly, or Thit Heo Quay, is renowned for its crispy, crackling skin and succulent, flavorful meat. This beloved dish is prepared by marinating the pork in a blend of aromatic spices like five-spice powder, garlic, and shallots, ensuring the flavors penetrate deeply. The skin is scored and treated to achieve its signature crunch upon roasting. It's a process that requires skill to balance the fat rendering and the meat's tenderness. Typically served sliced, with a side of pickled vegetables to cut through the richness, Thit Heo Quay is a festive favorite and a staple in Vietnamese banquets, symbolizing celebration and abundance.
11. Thịt Heo Nướng Xả - Lemongrass Pork
Vietnamese lemongrass pork, known as Thịt Heo Nướng Xả, is a tender and flavorful dish celebrated for its combination of charred, marinated pork and the aromatic punch of lemongrass. Thin slices or chunks of pork shoulder are imbued with a marinade of minced lemongrass, garlic, shallots, fish sauce, sugar, and a hint of soy sauce, which caramelizes beautifully when grilled or pan-fried. The meat's smokiness and the marinade's citrusy notes make it both mouth-watering and distinctive. This succulent pork is often served with rice, nestled in a noodle bowl, or wrapped in lettuce leaves with herbs and a dipping sauce, offering a versatile profile that is deeply satisfying and quintessentially Vietnamese.
12. Gà Xào Sả Ớt - Lemongrass Chicken
Vietnamese lemongrass chicken (Gà Xào Sả Ớt) is a fragrant and savory dish that marries the citrusy zing of lemongrass with the heat of chili peppers. Thinly sliced chicken is typically marinated with lemongrass, garlic, fish sauce, and a touch of sugar, then stir-fried until golden. The aromatic lemongrass not only tenderizes the chicken but also imparts a fresh, lemony flavor that's quintessential to this dish. Often, onions and bell peppers are added to the mix, enhancing its texture and sweetness. Served over a bed of steamed jasmine rice or with a side of fluffy baguette to sop up the flavorful sauce, Vietnamese lemongrass chicken is a simple yet delicious meal, showcasing the balance and simplicity at the heart of Vietnamese cooking.
13. Vietnamese Thit Kho
Thit Kho is a homely and comforting dish consisting of caramelized pork belly slowly braised in a blend of coconut juice, fish sauce, and sugar, which combines to create a rich and savory glaze with a hint of sweetness. The pork is typically simmered with hard-boiled eggs that absorb the delicious flavors of the sauce. This dish is a staple during the Lunar New Year (Tet) in Vietnam but is enjoyed year-round for its satisfying layers of flavor and tender texture. Served over steamed rice, Thit Kho is a beloved representation of the balance and depth in Vietnamese cuisine, with each bite offering a harmonious mix of umami, sweet, and savory.
14. Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Ribs - Sườn Ram Mặn
Vietnamese caramelized pork ribs, or Sườn Ram Mặn, are a delightful dish featuring succulent ribs glazed in a sweet and savory caramel sauce. The ribs are marinated with garlic, fish sauce, and sugar, then seared to perfection before being slow-cooked in a caramel that is traditionally made in the pan. This cooking technique ensures the ribs are richly coated with a sticky, umami-packed exterior while remaining tender and juicy inside. Often finished with a scattering of black pepper and spring onions, this dish is a celebration of flavors and textures, beloved for its ability to combine the punch of Vietnamese seasoning with the comforting, meaty satisfaction of well-cooked ribs.
15. Vietnamese Fried Quail
Vietnamese fried quail, or Chim Cut Chien, is a savory and indulgent dish that showcases the rich, gamey flavor of quail in a crispy, golden-brown package. Marinated with a blend of Asian spices, garlic, and soy sauce, the quail is deep-fried to achieve a crunchy exterior while retaining a tender and moist interior. This dish is often served with a salt, pepper, and lime juice dipping mixture that complements the meat's robust taste. As an appetizer or a main course, Vietnamese fried quail is a delightful treat, offering a unique poultry experience that's both flavorful and texturally satisfying.
Vietnamese Main Dishes
16. Banh Xeo
Banh Xeo is a sizzling Vietnamese crepe that is both crispy and light, named for the loud sizzling sound it makes when the rice batter hits a hot skillet. These thin, golden-brown crepes are filled with savory ingredients like pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, then folded over and served with a heap of fresh herbs and lettuce for wrapping. A side of tangy nuoc cham sauce for dipping complements the dish with its sweet, spicy, and sour notes. Banh Xeo masterfully combines a crunchy texture with a burst of umami and fresh flavors, standing as a favorite in the diverse landscape of Vietnamese cuisine.
17. Banh Khot
Banh Khot is a delightful Vietnamese mini pancake, crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, often likened to a smaller, thicker cousin of the Banh Xeo. Made from a similar turmeric-infused rice batter, these little pancakes are cooked in a special cast-iron pan that gives them their distinctive round shape. They are traditionally topped with a savory mix of shrimp and green onion, then garnished with fresh herbs and coconut milk. Served with lettuce leaves and a side of sweet and tangy nuoc cham sauce for dipping, Banh Khot is a popular choice for a snack or light meal, offering a unique bite-sized taste of Vietnam's rich culinary culture.
18. Banh Uot
Banh Uot is a delicate and comforting Vietnamese dish featuring thin, steamed rice sheets that boast a soft, silky texture. These sheets are made from a simple rice batter, spread onto a cloth over simmering water, and steamed until just set. Often served as a breakfast or light meal, Banh Uot can be enjoyed in various ways: rolled with minced pork and wood ear mushrooms, draped over a mixture of meats, or simply garnished with crispy fried shallots and fresh herbs. It's commonly accompanied by a flavorful dipping sauce made from fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili, which adds a tangy and savory dimension to the dish. Banh Uot is revered for its simplicity, delicate texture, and its ability to carry bold flavors.
19. Banh Tet and Banh Chung - Sticky Rice Cake
Banh Tet is a traditional Vietnamese dish that plays a central role during the Lunar New Year celebration, Tet. This cylindrical glutinous rice cake is tightly packed with a heart of mung bean paste and a strip of fatty pork, all wrapped in a banana leaf, which imparts a subtle, tea-like flavor upon cooking. The ingredients are compressed and boiled for hours, resulting in a dense, sticky cake that is sliced into discs and often pan-fried to a slight crisp before serving. Banh Tet not only carries the rich flavors of its components but also symbolizes prosperity and togetherness for the Vietnamese family during the festive season.
20. Banh Mi - Vietnam’s Iconic Sandwich
Vietnamese Banh Mi is a fusion sandwich that combines a crusty French baguette with a variety of vibrant Vietnamese fillings. Typically, it includes seasoned pork, pâté, and a spread of mayonnaise, along with a refreshing crunch of pickled carrots, daikon radishes, slices of cucumber, and sprigs of cilantro. A touch of soy sauce and a few slices of chili add depth and a spicy kick to the sandwich. Banh Mi stands out for its textural contrast and the interplay of flavors—salty, sweet, sour, and umami—that make it a beloved street food and a global culinary export.
21. Bitter Melon Soup
Vietnamese bitter melon soup, known as Canh Khổ Qua, is a traditional soup valued for both its distinctive taste and purported medicinal properties. This simple yet profound dish features the bitter melon, a gourd with a unique sharp flavor, stuffed with a savory mixture of pork, shrimp, and glass noodles, seasoned with hints of fish sauce and pepper. The stuffed melons are gently simmered in a clear, light broth until tender. The bitterness of the melon is artfully balanced by the rich and flavorful filling, creating a soup that is not only satisfying but also believed to offer health benefits, such as aiding digestion and cooling the body, making it a cherished part of Vietnamese home cooking.
Popular Appetizers and Side Dishes
22. Spring Rolls and Peanut Sauce
No exploration of Vietnamese cuisine would be complete without spring rolls. Wrapped in rice paper, these rolls are a harmony of pork, shrimp, fresh herbs, and vermicelli noodles, all complemented by the nutty flavor of peanut sauce. Whether you opt for the fried version or the fresh goi cuon, spring rolls are a true representation of Vietnam's culinary ethos.
23. Vietnamese Egg Rolls
Vietnamese spring rolls, known as Gỏi cuốn, are a vibrant and fresh appetizer, distinct from their Chinese counterparts in both preparation and ingredients. Unlike the Chinese spring rolls which are typically deep-fried and have a crispy, golden-brown wrapper, Vietnamese spring rolls are wrapped in translucent rice paper and served fresh, not fried. They are filled with a colorful mix of herbs like basil and cilantro, crisp vegetables, rice vermicelli, and often include shrimp or pork. Dipped in a flavorful sauce such as hoisin or a fish sauce-based mixture, Gỏi cuốn offer a light, refreshing taste and a delicate crunch, making them a healthier alternative and a staple in Vietnamese cuisine. They encapsulate the essence of freshness in Vietnam's culinary tradition, highlighting the contrast with the savory, cooked fillings and crispy textures of traditional Chinese spring rolls.
Vietnamese Desserts and Beverages
25. Vietnamese Chè Bánh Lọt
Vietnamese Chè Bánh Lọt, often compared to the Southeast Asian dessert Cendol, is a popular sweet beverage or dessert soup that tantalizes the palate with its mix of textures and refreshing flavors. This treat is characterized by its signature green jelly noodles made from rice flour and pandan leaf extract, which give it a chewy texture and fragrant aroma. These jellies are combined with a bed of crushed ice and drenched in a generous amount of sweet coconut milk, creating a creamy consistency. To top it off, a drizzle of palm sugar syrup is added for a deep, caramel-like sweetness. Chè Bánh Lọt is a delightful, cool reprieve on hot days and a favored dessert after meals in Vietnamese cuisine.
26. Vietnamese Chè Bánh Lọt
Vietnamese soup dessert, known as Chè Bắp, is a sweet and refreshing treat often enjoyed as a palate cleanser or a light finish to a meal. This dessert soup features a base of sweetened coconut milk brimming with tender, juicy kernels of corn and sago pearls or tapioca, contributing pops of texture. The "green" typically comes from pandan leaves, which are steeped in the mixture to infuse it with a distinctive, aromatic flavor and a naturally vibrant hue. Served either hot or chilled, Chè Bắp is a harmonious blend of sweetness, creaminess, and the subtle grassy notes of pandan, making it a beloved comfort food and a quintessential taste of Vietnam's varied dessert landscape.
27. Vietnamese Mung Bean Rice - Xôi Vò
Vietnamese mung bean rice, known as Xôi Vò, is a cherished comfort food with a simple, hearty appeal. This sticky rice dish is infused with the nutty flavor of mung beans, which are hulled and mashed into a paste before being mixed back into the glutinous rice, giving the dish a characteristic yellow hue and creamy texture. Often flavored with coconut milk and a pinch of salt, Xôi Vò strikes a balance between savory and subtly sweet. It can be enjoyed on its own, as a snack, or as a complement to savory dishes like grilled meats or vegetarian accompaniments. This dish is a testament to the humble mung bean's versatility and its ability to transform a staple grain into a flavorful, nutritious meal or side.
28. Vietnamese Cà Phê
Vietnamese coffee, or cà phê, stands out in the global coffee scene with its strong, robust flavor and unique preparation method. Traditionally made with coarsely ground Vietnamese-grown beans, the coffee is brewed in a small metal drip filter (phin) that sits atop a cup; the slow process contributes to the coffee's intense flavor. Often enjoyed with sweetened condensed milk (cà phê sữa đá when served cold or cà phê sữa nóng when served hot), which balances the coffee’s bitterness with a creamy sweetness, it can also be served black for those who prefer a purer coffee experience. A staple in Vietnamese daily life, this coffee is not just a beverage but a cultural icon, savored in bustling city cafes and tranquil street corners alike.
The Endless Adventure of Vietnamese Cuisine
Vietnamese food is a mosaic of flavors and textures, each dish telling a story of cultural history and regional diversity. From the hearty broth of pho to the tangy crunch of Banh Xeo, the cuisine of Vietnam offers a window into the soul of its people. This journey across Vietnamese culinary landscapes shows that whether through a simple bowl of noodle soup or a complex array of spices and herbs, Vietnamese cuisine is an adventure that never ceases to delight and surprise.