Me and my daughter went backpacking through Vietnam last March. We went around, stopping in places like Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), Hoi An, Da Nang, Ha Noi, Halong Bay and Phu Quoc. We explored these amazing places, making new friends and tasting loads of different foods.
In Vietnam, It is impossible to really go wrong when it comes to food. Vietnamese people know their stuff, and their food is for sure amazing. Here I made a list of things IMHO are a MUST TRY when you are in in this culinary destination.
1. Bun Cha Ha Noi
Or as the locals call it "Obama Bun Cha". I had to laugh so hard when I heard they call it Obama. The story is that during a 3-day-visit to the vietnamese capitol, Ex-President Obama and Anthony Bourdain had a cheap meal in tiny plastic chairs. It was everywhere on Social Media, Everywhere! They both said it was delicious while drinking some local beer and having a great time.
I decided to try this fatty grilled pork, served with noodles at the same place he did. But the locals told me the best place to eat them was at Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim.
Bun Cha Ha Noi is served in different bowls and you have to mix it all in your plate. Rice Noodles, Braised pork slices, Pork meatballs in a delicious sauce, fresh herbs, Chili, garlic and the best: Spring Rolls.
You are supposed to add the chili and garlic to the sauce and dip the noodles and herbs before you munch them. It was mouth-watering! Dont be afraid to sit in a plastic chair in the middle of the street, it is totally worth it.
Restaurant: "Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim" - 1 Hàng Mành - Ha Noi
2. Pho or Soup at the Lunch Lady
The Lunch Lady is almost a Landmark in Saigon. Or at least she should! I heard from several foodies, bloggers and travel eaters (like my pal Nick from Eatacity) that I should get there and try the soup of the day. What I mean with this, is that she has a rotating menu, a different dish every day of the week.
Thi Thanh aka. The Lunch Lady, Warmly welcomed us (after a sweaty 2-hour-walk with a baby on a carrier) and we were the last customers of the day. We almost didn't make it... damn heat! But we were there and we got our table served in 2 seconds. Spring rolls, sweet potato and shrimps fritters (Bahn Tom) and my soup: Bun Bo Hue!
Bun Bo Hue is a Spicy beef and Pork soup with vermicelli noodles. Full body and loads of taste. The pork sausages reminds me of a bratwurst somehow, and the beef meat was as soft as is gets. It was an explosion of umami in my mouth.
Thi Thanh surprised me with her knowledge of german. She was in Germany many years ago and she can have a fluent conversation. The ladies closed the stand and we kept talking about food and Germany (i eat very slow) What a great afternoon.
Street Food: "Lunch Lady" Saigon 23 Hoang Sa St., District 1 - Ho Chi Mihn
3. Cao Lau
We were staying at a Homestay next to the beach, And the lovely hostess told me to try the restaurant Sen at the beach. I took Pepa and my towel and went for a swim and after some hours enjoying the sun and some local beer, we were ready for food. And after reading a bit online, Cao Lau was the one to try.
I was really amazed by this regional dish from the town of Hoi An. It reminded me on "Tallarin Saltado" from Peru. Pork sauteed with chili and onions, served on special chewy rice noodles and some fresh mint and coriander with it. I am a sucker for Tallarin Saltado, so this one became instantly my favorite dish of the trip.
This special noodles can only be made in Hoi An, they are like Soba noodles, but they are not made out of buckwheat but reis. The rice has to be stone ground and mixed with ash and water. The ash is made with firewood from the Cham Islands. The noodles are cut and then cooked three times with firewood. The water to cook the noodles is also very special because it only comes from specific wells in Hội An. This is why Cao Lau is a dish that can only be prepared in Hội An.
Restaurant: "Nha Hang Sen" - 12 Lạc Long Quân, Cửa Đại - Hoi An
4. Vietnamese BBQ
To cover more areas in the island of Phu Quoc, I rented a scooter. Everytime I passed next to the BBQs on the streets of the island I got soooo hungry. I asked the people working at the resort we were staying where was the best place to eat this. They told me that they go all together to celebrate birthdays or special occasions at the "No Name" BBQ place. So I had to try it, What a great name!
You could choose the ingredients next to the grill and make your own mix. I chose a whole squid, okra, pork ribs and some other small things. After a short while, All came to the table and it was amazing! the taste and freshness of the ingredients left you licking your fingers. I had to order more food as Pepa was eating it all.
The warmth, music and atmosphere was like eating in a backyard with friends while listening people having fun and watching the dogs wander around. I wish I was more hungry to try more things, but the heat was killing me those days.
Restaurant: "No Name BBQ" - Ông Lang, Cửa Dương - Phu Quoc
6. Hot Pot
Hot Pot has been a favorite of mine for a long time. There was this tiny restaurant in Oslo I used to go all the time. While walking through the night markets I saw some fishtanks with live seafood, and I thought it was just for buying, for an aquarium maybe? But I was so wrong!
I met a great family at the resort and we took our scooters to the night market. We were starving and found a place at the market that was filled with locals. Hot Pot was a great choice for 3 adults and 3 kids. You choose the living fish and seafood and they bring it to the table with a hot pot filled with broth. You add the food and 5 minutes later is ready to eat.
The kids wanted shrimps, so we got this gigantic ones and they were in heaven! The hot pot was great and it was more than us could eat. I really like eating very hot dishes when is hot outside, it cools me down in a way. I totally recommend trying a hot pot when you are in Vietnam!
Night Market: "Night Market Phu Quoc" - Khu 1, Dương Đông - Phu Quoc
7. Sugar Cane Juice
Sugar cane juice or Nuoc Mia or just Mia is served EVERYWHERE in Vietnam. It is a yellow semi-sweet, tropical refreshing drink that is perfect for the HOT HOT days and nights. The sugarcane produces a really musty, tropical flavor. The froth is irresistible.
Stands selling Mia are everywhere They have a machine to grind the sugar cane. The sugar cane gets pressed through a few times until there is no liquid left. The sugar cane carcasses are left in a pile in front of the machine.
Stand: "Nouc Mia", Everywhere in Vietnam
8. Market Food
I know sometimes Asian markets don't look like a place to eat food. They look dark and dirty and probably the best place to get food poisoning. But you HAVE TO eat at a market in Vietnam!
There is a few tricks to it:
- Eat food that has been fried or boiled
- See if the ice was made by a machine (cold beverages) do not drink anything containing self made ice.
- Clean your chopsticks and spoons with desinfectant
- See when they open your beer/drinks
- If you are still afraid, avoid fresh leaves of lettuce and soy sprouts
We both had food at the market and we were not sick at all. I had a delicious soup and spring rolls with a local beer, it was terrific, we went around to see what else to try. (OMG my hair was SHORT!)
I found a lotus seeds drink (AWESOMEEEEE!) very refreshing and it has Anti-aging properties. And on my way out of the Ben Thanh Market, I found a Lady selling Mang Cut or Purple Mangosteen, it is a bit pricey (4 units for the price of a meal) but definitely a delicious fruit.
Market: "Ben Thanh" - Đường Lê Lợi, Bến Thành, District 1 - Hồ Chí Minh,
9. Vietnamese Contemporary Haute Cuisine
I was very curious about the "contemporary" Vietnamese Food. I was looking for a high end restaurant to try the most delicate version of their food fused with non-vietnamese ingredients. In the island of Phu Quoc, next to my Resort was the best restaurant on the island: Mango Bay. A beautiful restaurant by the beach where you can enjoy dinner while watching the sunset.
After a whole day at the beach with our new friends: Ina & Lisa from Germany, we headed to Mango Bay. We had seafood tempura, chicken wings, spicy watermelon Squid salad, bun cha, stuffed squid, vietnamese pancakes in between others.
The sunset was beautiful, the location and food was just dreamy and romantic. The price was higher than a regular meal, but the amount of food was incredible. I don't think any of us were able to finish the dishes.
Restaurant: "Mango Resort & Restaurant" - Cửa Dương - Phu Quoc
10. A place where just locals eat
Get out of your comfort zone! I walked through many places in Vietnam that didn't seem like it was a restaurant or a sanitary place to eat. Though all this places where PACKED with locals. Very close to my hotel was a street that is know for their great restaurants called "De Tham".
I walked many times through that street before I dared to get in a restaurant and eat the food. It was a restaurant where they repaired scooters, filled with old parts, oil cans, screws and more. Every night it was filled with locals eating in plastic chairs drinking beer and singing karaoke.
We went inside, And I ordered Banh pho xao bo, a Stir-fried rice noodles with beef made with Mì quảng Noodles (the rice cousin of a pappardelle), a side of Garlic Morning Glory and to go WAY out of my comfort zone: Hot Tamarind Chicken Feet.
The food was outstanding, as well as the service. It was by far the best Chicken feet I ever had. Dont get scared of trying a restaurant in Vietnam that doesnt look like a european restaurant, I am pretty sure you will have an amazing dinner and feel like a local sipping noodles while listening some vietnamese karaoke.
Restaurant: "Qua An 26" - 28 Đề Thám, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh
Extra Tip: Kem Cuon
And as a final tip, for those hot night walks through the streets, Try the Ice Cream rolls! Check for the stands that make them with real fruits instead of syrups. I ordered a Mango Chocolate one. And here is how they make them:
Stand: "Kem Cuon", Everywhere in Vietnam
Have you been to Vietnam? Have you try any of these? Any tips for my next trip there?
I am Andrea, or as my friends call me, Jinx. I am a foodie living in Berlin, eating my way through life. Here are my recipes, cooking events, dining experiences and more...