The Best Vietnamese Dishes
Writing this article is making me extremely hungry and terribly missing Vietnamese cuisine. I would kill for some fresh spring rolls right now!
Vietnamese cuisine has easily become one of our favourite in the world and after a month spent eating our way through the country, we almost cried when we had to leave pho and egg coffee behind.
I have no memories of a dish we didn’t like in Vietnam, every meal was a culinary revelation, an experience involving all our sense that only left us asking for more. Vietnam was also the first country during our year long travels where as a vegetarian I did not struggle to enjoy local cuisine and street food. In most countries around the world vegetarian options are always very limited and in Asia in particular street food always involves meat. Vietnam, on the other hand, has such a vast and varied menu that will be enjoyable for any type of diet you prefer.
The following list is a collection of our personal favourite Vietnamese dishes, the best of the best. But there is so much more to be discovered and enjoyed.
If you are traveling to Vietnam, know that we are very jealous :). Be prepared to embrace the extraordinary cuisine of this country. Be curious and try as many new dishes as you can, we promise you will never be disappointed.
Fresh spring rolls
During our month in Vietnam we had fresh spring rolls every day, often twice a day. This little roll of happiness is probably our favourite Vietnamese dish. Made of a think sheet of almost transparent rice paper, it is filled with fresh goodies. The staples ingredients are carrots, cucumber, salad leafs, green mango and basil and mint leafs. What makes a spring roll greta is actually its accompanying sauce. The original fish sauce served with the rolls is made of oyster sauce, sugar, chilis.
Fresh spring rolls are the perfect starter or snack. They are light, fresh and incredibly tasty.
→ The best fresh spring rolls we ate were in Ho Chi Minh at May Restaurant & Lounge. Really fresh and with the perfect fish side as a dip.
Possibly the most famous Vietnamese dish and certainly a staple of the local diet. Pho is a noodle soup made of rice noodles in a meat broth, with small pieces of meat (usually beef), some spring onion, cilantro, Thai basil, lime, bean sprouts, ginger. What makes a pho a pho are three spices that are added to the recipe: star anise, cinnamon and cloves. These are the base of any pho and what gives this dish its unique and delicious smell.
Being a soup, we always thought pho was a lunch or dinner dish, but turns out it is actually eaten mainly at breakfast. Regardless the time of the day, pho is the perfect dish if you feel like eating something light but nutritious, which warms your body from the inside out.
→ The best pho we ate was in Hoi An, in a small stall in the middle of the central market. To find it, just ask for the pho stall where Antony Bourdain ate once, everyone will be able to point you in the right direction!
Photo by Jennifer Schmidt
Banh Mi means bread in Vietnamese but it is often used to refer to the sandwich which you will find sold at every corner. The bread in question is a small baguette, which was introduced by the French during colonial times and stayed around, becoming a key element in Vietnamese cuisine. This perfectly cooked baguette, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, is usually filled with different types of meat, coriander, carrots, cucumber, pickles xxx.
Even though the above list of ingredients are the usual ones, you can find shops with alternative fillings like tofu and chicken.
→ The best Banh Mi we had was in Hanoi at Banh Mi 25. This little chain has a varied menu and plenty of vegetarian options.
Photo by Shanice Garcia on Unsplash
Op La is the son of the Banh Mi, made specifically for breakfast and literally translated mean 'sunny side up bread'. The crunchy baguette is filled with a fried egg and cilantro, cucumber, tomato, and pickled daikon/carrot. This is one of the best breakfast sandwiches we ever had and the perfect option for when you are a bit in rush and what to grab something on the way. In Vietnam you will find stalls cooking Op La everywhere on the streets.
→ The best Op La we ate was in Ho Chi Minh, in a little stall on the side of the road close to Saigon Square..
We know it sounds disgusting but you have to trust us on this one. Egg with coffee, why would anyone do that? That was our initial thought, but moved by endless curiosity, we decided to give it a try and never looked back. Egg coffee consist in Vietnamese black coffee, which is intense and short, served in a wide cup and covered by a soft, thick layer of beaten eggs. It basically tastes like eating tiramisu!
→ The best egg coffee we had was in Hanoi in the first cafe that ever served egg coffee, called Gian Cafe. The cafe itself is worth a visit, a piece of original Vietnamese history since 1946.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
This might not be the healthiest dish you will eat in Vietnam, but oh boy it will delicious!
Ban Xiao is an omelette, made of eggs, spring onions, tomatoes and xxx, deep fried in oil.
It is usually a dinner dish, served with side dishes. The perfect comfort food when you are in need of something that will bring some joy to your day.
→ The best Banh Xeo we ate was in Hoi An during our cooking class with Hoi An Eco Cooking class. Even though we saw how much oil it goes into the preparation of this dish, we couldn’t resist it’s rich and incredible taste.
Aubergine with tomatoes
Much to our surprise and delight, aubergine are used very frequently in Vietnamese cuisine. Our favourite aubergine dish was a pretty simple one, but the taste took us home to Italy and the classic parmigiana. This dish is made of pan fried aubergine, cooked until they are grilled, covered with a roughly cut tomato sauce with basil, chilli, ginger, oyster sauce, garlic and green onion. A simple dish with two key ingredients, where the flavours work perfectly together.
This dish is usually served for lunch or dinner, either with rice or as a side dish.
→ The best aubergine we ate was in Hoi An during our cooking class with Hoi An Eco Cooking class. They really have some of the best recipes we ever tasted!