5 things to eat in Vietnam (and one you might not want to)


Part of being an adventurous traveler is getting out of your comfort zone, trying new things, and embracing the fact that you may not find the foods or creature comforts that you are used to. It’s hard to be completely immersed in a new culture without sampling the cuisine, and in Vietnam, you’ll want to try everything, trust me. If you only try the first 5 dishes on this list, you’ll have a good sampling of the delicacies Vietnam has to offer, and if you are adventurous enough to try #6, you’ll have earned bragging rights!

Spring rolls

This classic Vietnamese appetizer is on every lunch and dinner menu. Fresh, cold spring rolls (goi cuon) consist of pork or shrimp and vegetables that are tightly wrapped in rice paper (banh trang). The fried version, cha gio, may look similar to an egg roll from your local Chinese restaurant but are SO. MUCH. BETTER. We learn to make spring rolls on our tour’s cooking class, which begins in a bustling market. We learn about the different uses of fresh noodles and how to recognize the freshest ingredients, and we end with a feast of our own making.

Pho

The famous noodle soup is traditionally eaten for breakfast but can be found on restaurant menus for every meal. Rice noodles and broth make up the base while beef or chicken and herbs add to the flavor. The types of noodles and herbs vary depending upon the region, so you can have two very different but equally delicious phos in Ho Chi Minh City in the south and in Hanoi in the north.

Cao lau

This rice noodle dish is native to central Vietnam’s Hoi An city. What makes it so special is that the noodles are made from rice soaked in lye water, which gives a distinct taste that can’t be replicated elsewhere in Vietnam or abroad. Meat (typically pork), bean sprouts, and various herbs & greens make up the rest of the dish.

Banh mi

Banh mi is the Vietnamese word for bread, but it’s used to refer to a sandwich that consists of a baguette (there’s that French influence!) filled with meat, vegetables, and herbs. This might not sound like anything to write home about, but this is a special sandwich that many people go bananas for. There is a famous banh mi shop in Hoi An (reportedly featured on one of Anthony Bourdain’s TV shows), make sure you make a reservation because the line is usually out the door.

Egg coffee

Coffee was introduced into Vietnam supposedly in 1857 by a French Catholic priest. The Vietnamese proceeded to enthusiastically embrace the drink, and coffee shops are everywhere in the country. Coffee beans are grown in Vietnam in the central highlands, and apparently, Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world. The Vietnamese have created two coffee oddities—weasel coffee and egg coffee. The controversial and expensive weasel coffee is made from coffee beans that have passed through a weasel’s digestive system intact, then collected from the weasel poo, cleaned (obviously) and roasted. Many think this process produces a smoother and more aromatic taste. Egg coffee, however, is more affordable, appealing (in my opinion), and doesn’t involve any animal exploitation. Egg yolk and sweetened condensed milk are mixed in to produce a thick, sweet drink. Our guide also took us to a famous coffee shop in Hanoi to try their egg coffee. I thought it was delicious, and I don’t drink coffee!

Crickets

While not a part of North American diets, in many places in the world, including Vietnam, insects are consumed as a wonderful source of protein. There are cricket farms open to the public where you can see how these critters are rasied and, if you’re so inclined, taste some deep friend ones. As you might expect, they are super crunchy!

Matt Holmes is the Founder & President of Boundless Journeys. Boundless Journeys is an award-winning tour operator that goes off the beaten path for immersive and authentic travel experiences.

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Comments (10)

  1. Amy Hutchins says:

    Mmm I like spring rolls so I could go for a goi cuon. Is that pronounced how it’s written? I love noodle dishes too so I’d be curious to try cao lau and how different the lye water makes it taste. I don’t even know what lye water is! Can’t say I’m keen not he idea of egg in my coffee but I’d still rather that than weasel coffee. Ugh, how was that even invented? Who decided, ‘let’s see what happens if we feed a weasel some coffee and wait for him to poop out the beans and use them in a cuppa’? Bizarre. I’ve read about other oddities like this and it’s always baffled me as to how they were thought of in the first place. Is that popular over there, or is it more of a novelty? I can see tourists going for it for the novelty factor. Likewise with the crickets, which would get a strong no from me. I couldn’t be paid enough to try those!

    • Matt Holmes says:

      The spring rolls are pronounced “goy coon”. The yolk/sweetened condensed milk mixture in egg coffee is whipped up, almost like cappuccino foam, and then added to the top. The whole thing actually tastes like a liquid version of tiramisu dessert! As for weasel coffee, it is popular and also a novelty for tourists. It is a strange process, to be sure!

    • Amy Hutchins says:

      Aah, when you say tiramisu dessert I start to think the egg coffee might not be that bad after all! I could probably even nearly be tempted by the weasel coffee, just to said I had tried it. Crickets will forever be a firm no. It’s fascinating to read about the sorts of food available in Vietnam and what’s popular, really enjoyed your post Matt.

  2. Alex T says:

    I’ve had Pho in restaurants in the UK but like most foods copied over here, I don’t imagine it could live up to the genuine article in Vietnam. Same goes for the spring rolls. The weasel coffee made me think of that panda poo tea that’s popular in China.

    • Adam says:

      I’ve had pho in four different places in Vietnam, and I can tell you that it always depends on the person who makes it. I’ve had it in my home country, the U.S., and I had it in different places in Eastern Europe last year. For sure, it’s wildly cheap in Vietnam. And it’s typically served differently wherever you go. But I’ve had pho that’s just as good outside of Vietnam as in it.

  3. David Todd says:

    I’ve tried their spring rolls, bahn mi, and pho — all were very good and very flavourful. I especially liked the citrusy, fresh taste of the coriander they like to put in their dishes a lot. Also, they have this knack of combining sweet and savoury flavours in their food that’s really quite different for me. But I really like it. What’s most interesting to me is their egg coffee. I haven’t heard or tried such a concoction anywhere else. Or have heard about it in any place except here, so I was quite surprised. I would think it would be creamy, but I wonder about the taste being that the egg would be raw. Also, the safety of ingesting something with raw egg in it is something that alarms me. I’m curious enough to try it because I love coffee and would love to be able to say I’ve tasted coffee from around the world. But have a bit of qualm about the raw egg.

    • Matt Holmes says:

      The raw egg does concern some people. Of course, I am not a doctor, but for generally healthy people, I don’t think there’s much to worry about. If lots of people got sick from drinking egg coffee, it wouldn’t be as popular as it is, especially not with travelers. That being said, it’s definitely worth going to a place with a good reputation, such as Cafe Giang. They’ve been making them for decades and wouldn’t be in business if they were not hygienic. As for the taste, if whipped correctly and with the right amount of sweetened condensed milk, there is really no eggy taste, it’s just creamy and sweet, like a richer cappuccino foam.

  4. Alistair Syme says:

    Crickets – I’d give them a try! They’re supposed to be super-nutritious.

    • Matt Holmes says:

      Glad to hear you’re an adventurous eater! Yes, they are a complete protein. Eating insects may be the wave of the future…they are quite popular in many places in the world.

  5. Pete says:

    Excellent breakdown of the great foods here in Vietnam. They take food very seriously over here and it’s almost like a ritual when they sit down to eat with their bowls of rice, vegetables, meat, egg, etc. Nobody eats too much, it’s always with chopsticks obviously. So the people are smaller and skinnier. And there are more traditional dishes within different localities. It’s incredibly worthwhile to visit Vietnam just for the food, and the people who will serve you will probably be the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.

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