Vietnamese food is distinct and unforgettable, according to UK magazine Rough Guides.
The cuisine relies on a balance of salty, sweet, sour, and hot flavors, achieved through nuoc mam, a fermented fish sauce, cane sugar, the juice of kalamansi citrus fruit, or tamarind and chili peppers.
Dishes use plenty of fresh herbs but are not overly spicy, as chili sauces are served separately. From the new Rough Guide to Vietnam, we’ve picked ten essential Vietnamese foods everyone should try.
01. Goi Cuon
Vietnam’s most famous dish: translucent spring rolls packed with greens, coriander, and various combinations of minced pork, shrimp, or crab. In some places, they’re served with a bowl of lettuce and mint. A southern variation has barbecued strips of pork wrapped up with green banana and star fruit and then dunked in a rich peanut sauce – every bit as tasty as it sounds.
02. Banh Mi
This baguette sandwich filled with greens and a choice of fillings, including paté and freshly made omelet, is so good it’s been imitated around the world.
03. Banh Xeo
These enormous, cheap, and filling Vietnamese pancakes translate (Banh xeo means “sizzling pancake”) contain shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, and egg, which are then fried, wrapped in rice paper with greens, and dunked in a spicy sauce before being eaten.
04. Bun Cha
A Hanoi specialty, you’ll find bun cha at food stalls and street kitchens across the city. Essentially a small hamburger, the pork patties are barbecued on an open charcoal brazier and served on a bed of cold rice noodles with assorted foliage and a slightly sweetish sauce.
Vietnam’s national dish, a country’s great staple, is pho (pronounced “fur”), a noodle soup is eaten at any time of day but primarily at breakfast. The basic bowl of pho consists of a light beef or chicken broth flavored with ginger and coriander, added broad, flat rice noodles, spring onions, and slivers of chicken, pork, or beef.
06. Cao Lau
Central Vietnam does it best. Among Hoi An’s tasty specialties is Cao Lau, a mouthwatering bowlful of thick rice-flour noodles, bean sprouts, and pork-rind croutons in a light soup flavored with mint and star anise, topped with thin slices of pork and served with grilled rice-flour crackers or sprinkled with crispy rice paper.
07. Cha Ca
Seafood dishes are among the standouts of Vietnamese cuisine. Cha ca reportedly devise in Hanoi is perhaps the best known. It sees white fish sautéed in butter with dill and spring onions, then served with rice noodles and a scattering of peanuts.
08. My Quang
This unheralded and affordable noodle dish is a Hanoi specialty. Ingredients vary by the establishment but expect to see a simple bowl of meat noodles enlivened by additions like flavorsome oils, fresh sprigs of leaves, shrimp, peanuts, mint, and quail eggs.
09. Nom Hoa Chuoi
Vegetarians rejoice. Nom Hoa chuoi, or banana-flower salad, is a great meat-free option. Lime and chili are the essential flavors and add a refreshing punch to the shredded veg.
10. Com Tam
Com tam, “broken rice,” is a street-stand favorite. Recipes vary, but you’ll often find it served with barbecued pork or beef and a fried egg.