Vietnamese cuisine is a favourite around the globe – from hearty bowls of Pho to flavourful Banh Mis – but the unique dessert recipes remain slightly under wraps. Check out seven scrumptious desserts you can find here in tropical Ho Chi Minh City, plus a few bonus desserts that are must-tries!
Sticky rice balls in ginger syrup – Chè Trôi Nước
This gooey, sweet dessert is served hot and usually topped with white sesame seeds. The chewy, glutinous rice ball is stuffed with mung bean paste and cooked in a fragrant ginger syrup. Chè Trôi Nước roughly translates to “fulfilment” and this dessert is often eaten on a child’s first birthday and other traditional holidays such as Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.
Sweet potato, taro, and cassava soup – Chè Bà Ba
This dessert is native to southern Vietnam and is a favourite for its famed combination of flavours. Sweet potato, taro and cassava (two other root vegetables) simmer in a coconut milk broth with tapioca pearls. This creamy dessert is eaten on both hot and cool days and can be made even more delicious by topping it off with crushed peanuts.
Mung bean pastry – Bánh Dau Xanh
Mung bean pastries are specialty Vietnamese desserts. Bánh Dau Xanh is made of mung beans, sugar, oil, and fat. The texture of the beans can be a little odd for foreigners to get behind, but taking a bite of a mung bean pastry while after sipping a cup of tea you’ll be hooked. These pastries are not overly sweet and are a must-try for any traveller who enjoys sampling traditional foods.
Sweet corn pudding – Chè Bắp
This typical Vietnamese pudding consists of sweet corn, glutinous rice, and rich coconut milk topped with sesame seeds. The flavours of the sweet corn and coconut milk combined with the chewy texture of glutinous rice make for a unique dessert experience. It’s best to try this dessert during the harvest season from March to September, when the local corn is fresh and sweet.
Black sesame soup – Xi Ma
The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” definitely applies to this dessert. From first glance it doesn’t look like something you’d be eager to ingest; it is a thick, black syrup usually sold by street vendors. It gets its colour from the main ingredient – black sesame seeds – and is not overly sweet. It has a rich, toasted sesame taste and is normally eaten as a mid-afternoon snack in Hoi An. Portions are small, served hot, and contain the herb pennywort, which is said to have strong healing properties. Don’t shy away from Xi Ma – buy a small cup and enjoy the unique flavour.
Mango sweet cakes – Bánh Xoai
This slightly deceptive sweet treat has nothing to do with mangoes; it gets its nickname from its mango-esque shape. This delectable street food can be regularly found in markets and near street food vendors. Bánh Xoai is made of a glutinous rice shell that is filled with a sweet mixture of peanuts and sesame seeds. It’s as delicious as it sounds!
The three-colour dessert – Chè Ba Mau
This popular dessert gets its name from its classic layers of yellow mung bean paste, red beans, and green pandan jelly that are topped with a layer of ice and a generous pouring of rich coconut cream. It’s served in a tall glass with a long spoon to mix the layers together, quickly turning it into to a multi-coloured masterpiece. It is the perfect treat on a hot and humid summer’s day in Vietnam. You can find Chè Ba Mau easily near major street food markets in the big cities.
Vietnamese doughnut – Banh Tieu
Ah, the delicious and addictive Vietnamese hollow doughnut. Banh tieu is the dessert you never knew you were missing in your life. The crispy, fried dough is perfectly sweet and covered in white sesame seeds, adding a crunchy texture and perfect balance of sweet and savoury. Banh tieu is the ultimate monsoon season treat – what could be better than kicking back with a hot cup of tea and some of these little doughnuts while listening to the rhythm of the rain falling outside? Spoiler alert: nothing. Vendors normally sell these in large metal saucers, so if you see them, buy a bag – you will not regret it!
Banana with sago pearls in coconut milk – Chè Chuối
This is one of the best desserts in the country. Sweet banana, rich coconut milk, sago pearls, sesame seeds, and crushed peanuts comprise this warm, heavenly treat. Much of the sweetness is owed to chuối sứ, a small banana native to Southeast Asia that is sweeter and more flavourful than its full-sized counterparts. Enjoying a small bowl of savoury Chè Chuối is a must for any traveller sporting a serious sweet tooth!
Iced coconut coffee at Cộng Cà Phê
Established in 2007, Cộng Cà Phê is a Vietnamese coffee chain that describes itself as a “hipster cafe and lounge”. These cafes have unique interiors full of plants, paintings, rustic tables and – of course – delicious coffee. One of their menu staples is traditional, strong Vietnamese espresso poured over a generous serving of iced coconut cream. Mixing the espresso into the iced coconut cream turns it into an iced coconut latte, which is definitely more of a dessert than a casual coffee. It’s sweet and cold, the perfect treat on a hot, humid day. Cộng Cà Phê is located throughout the country (more so in large cities), so you’ll have no trouble finding one to enjoy this rich, delightful iced coffee.
By Katie Kalmusky, The Culture Trip