By Benazir Ahmed Siddique, Hoa Thanh, Tay Ninh, Vietnam
Every country in the world has its unique local foods many of which are sold at streets by local vendors. According to a survey of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, around 2.5 billion people eat street food regularly. Fast foods, traditional foods, drinks, or fruit mixtures, etc. are available on the street food list. There are a lot of buyers of these street foods because they are available at a slightly lower price than they are found at restaurants. The street food of each country in the world is almost different in taste and presentation. Vietnam also has a variety of street foods. Vietnamese street food culture emerged as a practical response to the local lifestyle, offering affordable and quick meals rooted in culinary traditions passed down through generations. Let us take a look at some of the traditional and regular street foods in Vietnam.
Phở (Rice noodle soup)
When it comes to street food in Vietnam, the most obvious choice would have to be Phở. The dish first appeared in the early 20th century and gained worldwide popularity after the Vietnam War. This local daily staple is made up of chewy rice noodles in piping hot savoury broth with tender slices of beef or chicken and topped with crunchy, spicy, herby garnishes. Definitely, nothing beats a good bowl of heartwarming Phở (rice noodle soup) to start your day when you’re in Vietnam. As iconic as it comes, you can explore hidden backstreets to discover the best spot to enjoy your Phở.
Bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich)
Bánh mì is the popular street food in Vietnam, a Vietnam style French baguette sandwich which has made a name for itself globally. The crusty baguette is packed with pickled vegetables, coriander, fresh chilli, cuts of meat (typically pork) and smeared with a coat of pâté. Other toppings can include egg, chicken, meatballs and more. Bánh mì became famous in the 1950s in Saigon and became one of the most famous street foods here. It can easily be found everywhere in the streets of Vietnam. This iconic sandwich type is an excellent choice for breakfast in Vietnam, but you can enjoy it anytime.
Bánh xèo (Vietnamese pancake)
It is a crispy stuffed pancake recipe paired with a wonderful diluted fish sauce. The name ‘Xèo’ describes the sound when the rice batter touches the hot pan. In the Southern region, Bánh xèo pancakes have a large size with thin edges. The treat has crispy edges that soften toward the center. Pork, prawns, and bean sprouts are the typical stuffing choices inside this folded treat. Bánh xèo pancakes in Northern Vietnam have a thicker structure and are often served unfolded. You can add fillings or enjoy the dish with pancakes with chili sauce. In central Vietnam, Bánh xèo is also called ‘Bánh xèo Huế’ or ‘Bánh khoái Huế’. These pancakes are smaller and thicker than the South’s version. This version uses a special sauce made from ‘Tương’ with a more buttery flavor.
Bún chả (Grilled pork with vermicelli)
People in Vietnam love to eat vermicelli noodles. They can mix this kind of noodle with many things, from delectable Vietnamese-style chicken curry to beef stew and many more. Bún Chả is another unique dish that serves ‘Chả’ grilled pork and caramelized pork belly in a bowl of broth with vermicelli. Herbs and vegetables are served as a side dish to boost the flavor of this dish. ‘Nem cua bể’ (fried crab spring roll) is often served along with Bún Chả.
Bún riêu cua (Meat and vermicelli tomato soup)
It is truly a treat from the North of Vietnam. It harmonizes the sour taste of tomatoes with the impressive flavor of crab paste. Tofu and blood pudding are common toppings for this beautiful bowl. Another version of Bún Riêu Cua, Bún Riêu Ốc, is often made from out of apple snail meat. This is the South variant with a sweeter taste and a more pungent flavor. You can add shrimp paste for a robust scent for the dish. Be careful because the paste has a bit of a strong odor. Bún Riêu Cua has a delicate sourness, so Vietnamese usually enjoy the dish in summer. You will find street food vendors selling the dish in a small cart in almost every region of Vietnam.
Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm (Fried tofu, vermicelli and fermented shrimp paste)
Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm is a must-try dish in this country. It originates in the North of Vietnam and is often used as a snack or a light meal. The tofu is fried until golden with a crispy cover, while the vermicelli gives a soft texture. The hit of this dish, fermented shrimp paste, will knock you out with its special flavor and robust scent. You can season the paste with kumquats and sugar to adjust its flavor. Vermicelli, fried tofu, herbs, and sausages are traditionally displayed on banana leaves. You can ask the seller to leave out any ingredient that you don’t like. Or, if you are a fan of any ingredient, you can order more. Some people can manage the odor of the shrimp paste, so they usually mix the topping with fish sauce or sometimes soy sauce. Local citizens usually have the dish for lunch, but you can enjoy it any time during the day.
Bánh Bột Lọc (Clear looking steamed dumplings)
In the middle area of Vietnam, there are beautiful tiny dumplings called ‘Bánh Bột Lọc’. The dish is a beautiful treat from Hue – a beautiful antique city. The city was the capital of the Nguyen dynasty. At that time, lots of sophisticated dishes in Vietnam were born. The dish uses tapioca as a cover, so its appearance is so clear that you can see the interior (shrimp or pork belly). Chewy, buttery, and a bit savory from diluted fish sauce, this treat will amaze you. Vietnamese often have Bánh Bột Lọc as a snack or an appetizer. Traditionally, you can steam or boil the dish with banana leaf wrapping around the flour. However, the ‘Bánh Bột Lọc Trần’ version doesn’t require a banana leaf. Besides pork belly, ground pork, onions, and mushrooms are other choices to pair with shrimp. Rice flour and cornstarch can be added to create an authentic, clear look of this specialty.
Bún Bò Huế (Vietnamese spicy neef noodle soup)
Bún Bò Huế is a beef noodle soup in Hue with a unique spicy flavor. ‘Bún’ in Central Vietnam has a cylindrical and thicker shape compared to the Northern or Southern region. The enchanting fragrance from lemongrass will make your mouth water for sure. Besides beef, ‘chả lụa’ and pork knuckles are often added to create more toppings for the dish. The name Bún Bò Huế is usually used outside of Hue city, in the city, people just use ‘Bún Bò’. Spicy is the signature flavor of this dish, so a thin layer of chili oil is added to boost the spiciness and mesmerizing red color. You can find Bún Bò Huế anywhere in Vietnam, from a street food vendor to a fancy restaurant.
Cao Lầu (Hoi An noodles)
The dish is a special noodle from Hoi An (a breathtaking ancient town) that will charm you with its scrumptious flavor. Cao Lầu is a unique rice noodle soaked in lye water. This makes the noodles chewy and slightly bouncy with gorgeous brown color. Cao Lầu is rarely found outside Hoi An territory due to the one-of-a-kind production of noodles. The water used for making Cao Lầu must be taken from an ancient well in Hoi An named ‘Bá Lễ’ to achieve its authentic flavor. You can mix the dish with plenty of fresh herbs. Bean sprouts, lettuce, and mints are common vegetables used to enhance the dish’s flavor. The taste of Cao Lầu is much sweeter than Phở and other noodles in the northern region.
Bánh Giò (Vietnamese rice and pork dumplings)
Banh gio is a tasty dumpling made from dough, ground meat, mushrooms, and more. It is a steamed dish wrapped in banana leaves. So the fragrance of banh gio is undeniable. In Vietnam, especially in Hanoi, banh gio is one of the best-selling foods on the street because of its low price.
Bánh tráng trộn (Rice paper salad)
Vietnamese Rice Paper Salad – Bánh Tráng Trộn is a mesmerizing creation from Vietnamese cuisine that will hypnotize you with its awesome flavor. The best Bánh Tráng Trộn can only be found in the streets of Vietnam from street food vendors. You will find these vendors carry all ingredients of this treat in special baskets with a pole on their shoulders. Metal carts are sometimes used to display and make this specialty. The dish originates in Tay Ninh, a province famous for rice paper. Rice paper is cut into small pieces and then mixed with chili, sliced mangoes, and boiled quail eggs. Vietnamese coriander and Kalamansi juice are added to boost the entire flavor for this beautiful mixture.
Bánh Tráng Nướng (Vietnamese rice paper pizza)
The dish is adored by most young generations in Vietnam. This is a must-have dish in this country. Bánh Tráng Nướng was created in Da Lat city with a delightful smokey flavor. Bánh Tráng Nướng is a cuisine influenced by the French culinary culture while Vietnam is still a colonial territory of France. The rice paper is grilled in a hot oven with burning charcoal. Toppings like sausages, minced meat, and quail eggs will charm your soul. The grilled rice paper is so crispy that it complements the toppings placed on the treat.
Cơm Tấm (Vietnamese broken rice)
Cơm Tấm will surprise you with its taste. Cơm Tấm is a special type of rice that is broken during the production of this rice. This is much cheaper than ordinary rice. The dish was commonly used in the Mekong Delta region among the poor class (rice farmers). Cơm Tấm was like a way of saving money when the harvest season was not going well. The dish started gaining its reputation when it arrived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city). The dish is so famous on Saigon’s streets that people call it ‘Cơm tấm Sài Gòn’. Sườn (grilled pork), fish sauce, scallion, and oil garnishing make this dish so memorable. Besides Vietnamese-style pork chops, the locals also enjoy Cơm Tấm with Bì Heo (shredded pork skin) and sunny-side-up eggs. Sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and pickles are some nice side dishes for the dish.
Xôi Đậu Phộng (Vietnamese peanut sticky rice)
If you want a delicious on-the-go dish for breakfast, Xôi is a perfect choice for you. The dish is a staple food in Vietnam with tons of variants. You can have the sweet varies with a nutty flavor and beautiful color or the meat version with boiled quail eggs and Chả lụa. In the North, there are some common meat toppings like shredded chicken or broiled caramelized pork with outstanding flavor. Some variants also have Pâté and buttery mayonnaise to enhance the dish’s flavor. The sticky rice is called ‘Nếp’ in Vietnam with an enchanting chewy, and soft texture. This ingredient is found by the ancestors of Tay – Thai and Mon-Khmer in Vietnam.
Gỏi cuốn/Chả giò (Spring rolls)
A classic Vietnamese crowd favourite, spring rolls! A variety of fillings like meat, vegetables, shrimps wrapped in rice paper, you can find them deep fried or served fresh. Best eaten with a dipping sauce, these are suitable for everyone. Picky eaters, we’re looking at you!
The fresh ones are called gỏi cuốn and also sometimes referred to as ‘summer rolls’, while the fried ones are called chả giò.
Cà Phê Trứng (Egg coffee)
Cà phê trứng is an authentic Vietnamese sweet course that complements the bold coffee with a creamy touch of eggs. This is a common breakfast drink in Vietnam that you must try in visiting the country. Traditionally, Eggs and milk are whipped until fluffy, and then the bold coffee is added to make Cà phê trứng. Other ingredients are sometimes added for extra flavors like chocolate, vanilla extract, or cocoa powder. The drink was first introduced in Vietnam in the 1940s when Vietnam was still a French colony. Because milk was so rare at that time, a man called ‘Nguyen Van Giang’ created this yummy egg coffee. Nowadays, his coffee shop, lying in the middle of Hanoi, is one of the most famous shops that sell the best egg coffee. The coffee is thick and hot, so you should enjoy it slowly. Hot or cold depends on your choice.
Chè (Vietnamese sweet dessert)
This sweet dessert has become a most-liked dish in almost every region of Vietnam with so many recipes. It includes ‘Che troi nuoc‘ with floating dough inside caramel water or a couple of ‘Che dau’ made of different kinds of peas inside coconut juice. Besides, there will also come with seasonal fruits inside the dish as well, like durian, jackfruit, or mango. All these elements contribute to the delightful sweetness of the dish.
Vietnamese street foods are a crucial part of building the diversity of this Southeast Asian country’s culinary culture. Having a beautiful shore and spectacular mountains, Vietnam will enchant you with the most delicate specialties. This savory journey will help you discover the best Vietnamese street foods. Vietnam will welcome you not only with its cuisines but also with its wonderful people. Believe me, street vendors in Vietnam are well-known for their heartwarming hospitality. What are you waiting for? You don’t have to wait any longer, let’s go!