This post – Vietnam Street Food Guide: What, Where and How to Eat – is in collaboration with The Dragon Trip. This piece of content is produced in exchange for, and based on my experience in joining one of their tours.
All imagery in this blog post is my own, unless otherwise credited (i.e. when my stomach got the better of me and I ate before taking a photo! Oops…)
When I visited Vietnam with The Dragon Trip in May, one of the things I was most excited about was the food! In fact, you can’t go to Vietnam and not follow your stomach, it would be practically criminal. Whether you’re embarking on a trip to this wonderful country any time soon or just simply living your wildest foodie dreams through me, read on for the ultimate Vietnam Street Food Guide. I hope you’ve had lunch…
Vietnam is a huge country. Whilst there are popular dishes available a little more universally, a lot of the must-try street foods are special to a particular region. All the more excuse to travel round! Whilst on The Dragon Trip 31 Day SE Asia tour, we visited 5 different destinations in Vietnam; Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Phong Nha, Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An. Pretty impressive, right?
Overcoming Street Food Fear
Don’t be afraid to eat street food in Vietnam (or anywhere for that matter). Often people miss out on some of the best and cheapest food a city has to offer through fear of poor sanitation or getting sick. Actually, food safety at street food stalls is often on par with or better than some of the fancy restaurants. Vendors buy in fresh every day and only purchase what they can sell as they don’t have the means to store food.
Usually a street food vendor will focus on just one or two dishes rather than attempting to juggle a large menu. If it’s not giving the frequenting locals food poisoning, it’s unlikely to make you sick. If it did, they’d soon be out of business! If you are concerned follow the general street food safety advice and order food that is cooked piping hot to order.
How to choose a street food vendor?
Unless you’ve got a specific recommendation from a friend or a blog then my advice would be to see where the crowds are at! Is it teeming with locals? Then it’s probably a great bet! I’ve pinned locations in this Vietnam Street Food Guide from some of my favourite hot spots.
How to Eat
Don’t miss out on the culinary adventure that is street food through fear of misunderstanding the etiquette. If you’re unsure or look totally lost, often the vendor will show you what to do! Otherwise, just make it up and enjoy.
Ordering can sometimes be daunting but one of the joys of street food is that there’s usually only one or two items on the menu. If you see someone else eating something that looks nice you can politely gesture and request.
One of the biggest differences in Vietnam is the amount of seasoning options that are brought to your table. In the west, we’re often used to our meals coming ready to go. Usually seasonings will include soy, fish sauce, hot sauce of some variety, occasionally salt, pepper and lime and almost always, fresh chilli. They’re small but they pack a punch! Experiment, it’s fun!
My cardinal rule is just try it. The worst thing that’s going to happen is you’re not going to like it! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
How Much Does Street Food in Vietnam Cost?
The cost of street food varies but often it’s as little as 50,ooo VND (approx £1.70) for a portion. You’ll find more sanitised versions (aka geared towards tourists) cost a little more and usually the only actual difference is they’ve made themselves look a bit more presentable! Sometimes street food will also be more expensive at tourist-centric night markets, such as in Hoi An, or where it’s a westernised take on a dish.
If there’s no price shown, don’t be afraid to ask. Most vendors understand ‘how much?’ and know English numbers too but if there’s any confusion, just show them the calculator on your phone! Sometimes you’ll pay immediately, other times they’ll usher you to a little plastic stool and then tell you how much you owe later. Either way, you’re not about to break the bank.
Vietnamese Street Food Guide
Think of Vietnamese food and you probably think of Phở, right? Phở is a hot broth soup made from herbs, rice noodles and meat, usually chicken or beef and deserves a place on any Vietnam Street Food Guide. It originates from Hanoi and you’ll find some of the best I’ve ever tasted here for as little as 50,ooo VND (approx £1.70). You’ll likely find Phở all round the country and in many Vietnamese joints internationally too.
Must try: Phở Gia Truyền (49 Bát Đàn) – a small, family run Phở restaurant popular with the locals and serving from 06:30 if you fancy an alternative breakfast like me! Usually they serve beef. Nobody speaks English but they’re friendly and welcoming and it’s virtually impossible to get it wrong when there’s only one thing on the menu!
Bánh mì is one of the cheapest and tastiest ways to line your belly in Vietnam. You’ll find it all over the country (so I’ll include my favourite hot spots under each city!), though I believe it originates in the south, and essentially it’s a Vietnamese take on a filled baguette, but like ten times more delicious. Oh, and it costs around 60p. Usually it’s stuffed with meat, vegetables and cheese and the southern versions you’ll find in Hoi An tend to be sloppier and messier (and better, in my opinion). Vegetarian versions are available too!
Must try: Bánh mì 25 (25 Hàng Cá) – an iconic Hanoi haunt to eat in or take away
Bún chả is one of the tastiest and most enjoyable things you’ll eat on your DIY street food tour of Vietnam. It arrives in several parts; a bowl of vermicelli, a bowl of salad and a bowl of pork meatballs or grilled squares in a herbaceous broth. You’ll also be given fresh chilli, garlic and herbs to season to taste.
Must try: Quán Phở Vân (57 Hàng Chiếu) – a classic street corner style street food restaurant complete with little plastic stools costing around 50,ooo VND (£1.70) for a generous portion
Bún Bò Nam Bộ
Bún Bò Nam Bộ is a light and refreshing dish made from rice noodles, salad, beef, onions and herbs. It’s topped with a sweet broth, fresh mint and peanuts and of course, lime and chilli will be available for you to season to taste. Technically this dish originate in the south, but it’s a popular lunch in Hanoi too.
Must try: Bún Bò Nam Bộ Bách Phương (67 Hàng Điếu)
A deep fried crispy spring roll made from rice paper and stuffed with veggies, herbs and meat or fish. You’ll find these everywhere from street food stalls to restaurants of varying prestige.
Must try: Don Duck (26 Nguyễn Siêu) – a small street food restaurant dedicated to fragrant duck, there spring rolls are easily one of their best offerings
Egg coffee is a Hanoi staple. It came about through a lack of condensed milk; instead the raw egg is blended with strong coffee to create a creamy, meringue like taste. It’s not for everyone but it is a must try! You’ll find it all over Hanoi.
Must try: Note Coffee (64 Lương Văn Can) – okay, this isn’t street food but Note Coffee is a Hanoi must visit!
Fancy something a bit different? You can even try Beer Trung (yes – egg beer!) at a cafe right by the cross road on Train Street. See the map for the location!
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Bún bò Huế
Bún bò Huế could be described as a central Vietnamese take on Pho. The broth is spicy, salty and pungently flavoured with lemongrass alongside staple vermicelli noodles and beef.
Must try: Bun Bo Hue Dong Ba (110A Nguyen Du, District 1)
Photo Credit: Legal Nomads
Bún thịt nướng
Bún thịt nướng is often associated with Bún chả and, whilst similar, they’re definitely not the same dish! Cold rice noodles are topped with fragrant grilled beef (usually on skewers on street food BBQs), fresh herbs like basil and mint, salad, fish sauce, roasted peanuts and sometimes pickled vegetables. It’s fresh, light and delicious.
Must try: Chi Thong (195 Co Giang, District 1)
Photo Credit: Inquiring Chef
Translation: broken rice! Cơm tấm is a clever dish made from rice kernels broken during the milling process; they were not good enough for export so instead became a savvy way to avoid waste and create a staple street food dish. You can’t replace the rice with ‘normal’ rice, it simply wouldn’t be Cơm tấm anymore! It’s served with grilled pork, vegetables and fried egg.
Must try: Cơm tấm Ba Ghiền (84 Đặng Văn Ngữ)
Photo Credit: Where Goes Rose
Bún mắm is a seafood noodle soup with fresh prawns, fleshy white fish, vegetables and vermicelli. It’s served in a dark, tangy broth and sometimes nicknamed Vietnamese gumbo. Usually served with fresh chilli to season and salad.
Must try: Quán Bún Mắm Cửa Đông (22 Đường Phan Bội Châu)
Photo Credit: Legal Nomads
Bánh xèo is a large sizzling pancake made with tumeric spiced rice powder and stuffed with vegetables and usually prawns or pork. It’s sort of omelette style but the batter is lighter and crispier.
Must try: Bánh Xèo (46A Đinh Công Tráng)
Photo Credit: Where Goes Rose
Cafe sua da (condensed milk coffee)
Strong Vietnamese iced coffee made with sweet condensed milk. It’s popular all over Vietnam but you’ll find plenty of stalls around Saigon
A light and fresh rice paper spring roll stuffed with veggies herbs and anything from minced pork to shrimp or crab meat. You’ll find them as cheap as 10,000 VND from various stalls around the city, usually served with a sweet, tangy dipping sauce or something peanut based.
Must try: Central Market
Cao lầu is the most famous Hoi An street food and an absolute must try because it can’t be found anywhere else in the country! It consists of thick noodles served with BBQ style pork, crispy crackling pieces and and salad.
Must try: Cao lầu Không Gian Xanh (687 Hai Bà Trưng)
Com ga is served absolutely everywhere and is a great way to enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner for around £1. It literally translates to ‘chicken rice’, piled high with meat, salad, herbs, lime and chilli. It’s a very filling dish if not a particularly enthralling one!
Must try: Phan Chu Trinh street is teaming with Com ga street food vendors, take your pick!
Photo Credit: Hidden Hoi An
White Rose Dumplings
White Rose dumplings are another famed Hoi An dish exclusive to the city. Light, rice dumplings filled with minced prawn creates the pretty rose appearance.
Must try: White Rose Restaurant is the only place in the city to try freshly made White Rose Dumplings; they then distribute them to restaurants! Personally, I had them at Morning Glory which was a really lovely (air-conned!) place for lunch. Not exactly a street food setting but I was just about ready to melt.
Bahn tráng nuong (Vietnamese Pizza)
The loosely named Vietnamese Pizza is a delicious tasty snack or light meal consisting of a large sheet of rice paper topped with various fillings held together with quail egg. At the multiple stalls around the night market you can usually choose your toppings; meat, fish or vegetable or a combination.
Must try: pick a vendor making them fresh, rather than serving pre-made pizzas and don’t pay more than around 30,000 VND
In my opinion, the Bánh mì you’ll find in Hoi An, at one joint in particular, blows all other Bánh mì out of the water! This Bánh mì is much sloppier and altogether more delicious. In fact it’s one of my favourite things on this Vietnam Street Food Guide and makes me hungry just thinking about it…
Must try: Bánh Mì Queen (Madame Kahn)
Ice Cream Roll
Okay, this one is definitely not actually Vietnamese. I’m including it anyway because when you need a sweet treat, an ice cream roll from the Hoi An night market definitely hits the sweet spot! They’re so impressive to watch too.
Sticky Baked Bananas
Swimming in sweet condensed milk with shredded coconut and toasted peanuts. Uhm, yum?!
The Dragon Trip
I joined The Dragon Trip, a fun, vibrant and young tour company, on their 31 Day Tour of SE Asia. 16 of us made our way through northern Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Vietnam was without a doubt my favourite of our destinations on the trip; we had 11 days there and although it was tiring with 5 destinations packed in, there was still plenty of time to explore…and eat!
The Dragon Trip operate 18-35 tours (though I do think this particular tour is best suited to the lower end of that age scale due to it’s very ‘backpacky’ nature) across several Asian destinations including India, China and Indonesia as well as SE Asia.
The Dragon Trip Discount Code: Use ‘bethsandland/TDT19′ at checkout for 10% off any trip*!
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