Vietnam Travel, Insiders Guide to Vietnamese Food

You can be sure of getting excellent, fresh and tasty Vietnamese food during your Vietnam travel visit and at any time of the day or night.

Some Vietnamese food has been adopted from its near neighbors, (Laos, Cambodia, Thailand) and from some of the earlier interlopers to the country (Mongolia, France and the USA).

They’ve all left a legacy and Vietnamese food has greater variety because of this fusion.

The joy for the traveler to Vietnam is that they can indulge in this fresh, tasty food. Prices range from very cheap (around a USD1 for a meal) to the very expensive.

Here are some food ideas for dining out and also some self catering options.

Vietnamese Food Market, Sapa
Vietnamese Food Market, Sapa

Fusion Food

Vegetables are plentiful here and so too are herbs and spices. The north Vietnamese tend to use pepper more whereas in the south you can expect more flavoring using chillies.  Vietnamese food uses nuoc man (a fish sauce) as flavoring rather than salt.

The Mongolians introduced beef. Chopsticks were introduced by the Chinese. They also introduced the concept of stir fry to the mix.

Vietnam was colonized by the French (1858-1954) and they introduced baguettes, pate, coffee (with cream), milk and cakes.

Vietnamese Food street side - Old Quarter Hanoi
Vietnamese Food street side - Old Quarter Hanoi

Street food for your Vietnam travel experience?


The scene in any of the numerous streets cities like Hanoi, Haiphong or towns like Sapa changes as the day folds into night.

Street vendors get themselves ready for the breakfast, lunch or dinner time trade depending upon the time of day. It’s a colorful spectacle sitting watching the “making” of these instant outdoor dining cafes on the sidewalk.  It's cheap food too.

Typically small yellow or blue plastic tables and chairs are wheeled on rickety carts and placed on the pavement. Typically, the chairs and tables are small - perfect for the smaller framed Vietnamese but a little more difficult for taller, fatter westerners to sit comfortably. However, sitting awhile at one of these tables watching your food being prepared is a great experience.

The food on offer varies from delicately flavoured soups or pho, stir fried rice, noodle or vegetables, to barbequed pork, duck or chicken. Smelling the barbeques as you wander the streets is enough to whet your appetite.

The Vietnamese food from the pavement vendors is cheap, nutritious, tasty and varied. You can buy a large plate of rice, vegetables and meat for around $1-3US. Spring rolls, pork meatballs tasty rice packages wrapped in banana leaves abound.

It’s possible to eat even more cheaply than one dollar per meal. Vendors offer a meal in a roll too. You can buy freshly grilled pork in a bun or two eggs fried while you wait and put into a bread roll. For this quick and tasty meal you can expect to use pocket change – about .50cents.

Variety of Food

Today Vietnam offers the traveler a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, coffee and rice.

Rice and noodles are ever present in Vietnamese food. In the north the rice growing region is around the Red River Delta which provides rice for the North Vietnamese population.

High in the hills in northern Vietnam, Sapa’s rich soil is ideal for growing many fruits, vegetables and herbs. The markets display some of the freshest and finest raw ingredients you are ever likely to see.

Rice is a staple food and plentiful quantity is also grown here and during your Vietnam travel, if Sapa is on your itinerary you will be mesmerized by the rice paddies cascading down the hillsides.

The other main rice growing area for Vietnam food is in the south around Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where the area around the Mekong Delta provides fertile growing conditions.

French Bread and Pastries

In some areas of northern Vietnam bakeries are more prevalent than in others. In some parts of Hanoi there's a bakery every 50 metres or so but in other areas they're hard to find.

However, they are always good, generally have a large selection and they’re extremely cheap.

The bakiers sell bread, French sticks, pizza, steamed buns, pastries, delectable cakes, mousses etc. There's sure to be something to tempt anyone with a sweet tooth.

I’m sure the Vietnamese must consume even more French sticks per head of population than even the French themselves. They are readily available in the bakeries and beside the roadside.

These long ubiquitous French sticks are sold from bicycle baskets which are parked beside the road. In fact, if you travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay, you will see dozens of these vendors lined up beside the highway – actually on the road. Its an accepted custom to pull your motor cycle or car up, stock up and then continue with your journey.

The French sticks are always fresh, always available and always cheap at just 40cents for a huge stick of this yummy bread.

Of course, the French left another food legacy. Cakes, pastries and flakey, buttery croissants. The Vietnamese have adopted these, made them their own and they sell them like they were a Vietnamese invention! You take a tray when entering the bakery and take a selection from the wide range of goods to put on the tray.

For under a dollar you can buy several pastries and croissants. Add some butter and jam and you have a quick tasty breakfast.

Hanoi Cheap Food by the Cathedral
Hanoi Cheap Food by the Cathedral
Gardens in Sapa
Gardens in Sapa

Cafes and Restaurants

Eating locally is very easy in this hospitable country. There are thousands of restaurants and cafes serving authentic Vietnamese food.  There are too many to even to list. However, a few in and around the Old Quarter in Hanoi worth trying are:

Café 69 on Hang Ma Street

Paradesio – 7 Nguyen Sieu, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi.  Paradesio offers outdoor dining and indoor dining.

Ngon Restaurant on Pan Boi Chau Street.  Ngon offers outdoor dining and indoor dining.. 

Caio – Hang Bai Street (at the southern end of HoanKiemLake)

KOTO - adjacent to the Temple of Literature. KOTO is a classy restaurant/cafe which trains street children. Its an amazing experience to dine here and watch these previous homeless children develop skills for an independent future!

For Excellent Coffee head for any one of the many Highland Coffee outlets. The coffee is locally grown and very good. Compared to food prices, coffee here is relatively expensive. Of course you should also sample the traditional Vietnamese coffee. It’s strong and sweet as it has lashings of condensed milk in it! They also make an excellent western breakfast.

Western food is readily available if you prefer to indulge during your Vietnam travel trip. Hanoi has numerous cafes serving western food.

There are many cafes in Church Street, Hanoi, near the Cathedral. Moka Cafe is there too and well worth a visit. So too is Highland Coffee.

It's difficult to price food at a variety of cafe's and western food is considerably more expensive than Vietnamese food. Allow a food budget for Vietnam travel expenses somewhere from USD8-20 depending on your preferences. The lower end possible if you eat street food and you could spend more than USD20 if you ate only western food.

Know Your Beef from Your Dog!

It’s really helpful if, before you venture out to try street food or in some of the authentic Vietnamese restaurants and cafes, if you have a little knowledge of the language. Many restaurants have an English menu and the staff speak some English but many more do not.

If you want to be sure that you eat beef and not dog keep this list or take a trusted Vietnam travel guidebook (with food translations) with you!

Name
Vietnamese Translation
Pork Thit lon
Thit lon
Chicken
Thit Ga
Beef
Thit Bo
Veal
Be
Dog
Thit Cho
Cat
Thit Meo
Fish
Ca
Shellfish
Thom Pandan
Seafood
Hai san
Crab
Hua
Frog
Coc
Snail
oc
Snake
Ran

Self Catering

Sometimes, when you’re traveling its nice to shop yourself and prepare a simple dish at your hotel. Here that’s easily done.

Numerous street-side vendors sell fresh fruit such as watermelon, mango, pineapple (already prepared!), passionfruit, apples, pomelo etc.

Vegetables and herbs are plentiful too. There’s a wide choice and the quality is excellent.

In the main centres supermarkets cater to many tastes. Although it’s possible to get western food such as peanut butter, jam, crackers and biscuits (Oreo’s are very common here) the selection is limited.

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Comments 23 comments

jasonycc profile image

jasonycc 6 years ago from South East Asia

I am amazed by how much you know about Vietnam food. I definitely won't go for Thit cho. We have quite a number Vietnamese restaurants in Kuala Lumpur, but nothing like the authentic street food in Vietnam. Will be sure to try them if I visit Vietnam. Another great hub. Rated up.


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 6 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world. Author

The street food is fun and so readily available, but as for Thit cho? I agree with you! Thanks for your comment Jasonycc and for rating it up.


Loren's Gem profile image

Loren's Gem 6 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

Your hub introduced me to some great Vietnamese food! Thanks for sharing... great hub! :-)


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 6 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world. Author

Vietnamese food is great. Glad you enjoyed this hub Loren's Gem and thanks for commenting.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

Nice information. I think Vietnam is a beautiful country. I heard about Vietnam many times. And Vietnam restaurant also familiar in the capital city of Indonesia, in Jakarta. Because Vietnamese food contain various spices like Indonesian food. Thanks for share with us. I rate this one.

Prasetio


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Very interesting and really enjoyed your photos. Thanks for writing this hub.


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 6 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world. Author

Yes Vietnam is a beautiful country in parts and the food is very good. Thanks for rating my hub and for commenting.


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 6 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world. Author

I'm glad that you enjoyed my hub and photos PeggyW. I enjoyed taking the photos too. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


thesailor profile image

thesailor 6 years ago from Seven Seas

Vietnamese are friendly people; only altered by the occupancy of G.I.s (many young Americans and innocent Vietnamese because of it).

Those who fled reached Philippine shores and were known as "boat people".

I have friends whose here in our city (Naga City, Bicol, Philippines) who became acquainted with our culture.

Still, they cannot forget their homeland.

Now, I am sure that mony Filipinos were influenced to eat exotic foods (like dogs and cats), but not me.

Thanks for this awesome hub regarding your travel experience. Rated it up!


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 6 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world. Author

It's just about impossible to forget about ones homeland. I do hope that some of your friends can return to Vietnam one day. It's a country changing at a very rapid pace. I also have a hub on Hanoi you might want to check out.

Thanks for stopping by and for your heartfelt comments the sailor.


jtrader profile image

jtrader 6 years ago

I like fresh fruit. There seems to be a wide variety of food there.


MarieOaks profile image

MarieOaks 5 years ago from Mexico

Great article! You've inspired me to write a similar article for Mexican food. :)


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 5 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world. Author

I'd love to read an article similar to this on Mexican food. Thanks for stopping by and making a comment.


Edwin Clark profile image

Edwin Clark 5 years ago from Thailand by way of New York

I don't know what it is but the Vietnamese make really excellent crusty french bread. Even in NYC there is a popular Vietnamese restaurant that bakes their own French bread for their Ban Mih sandwiches and it's to die for. I also like it simply with butter especially when the bread is nice and warm out of the oven.


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 5 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world. Author

There's nothing nicer than warm fresh bread just from the oven! So far, I haven't found anywhere here where I can indulge in that particular treat but I totally agree with you. Yum!!!

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment EC.


Ms. Nomadica 5 years ago

Excellent information, worth reading just for the translations of dog and cat meat, thank you so much.


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 5 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world. Author

I don't want to eat dog or cat meat so the translations are important to me and I thought other travelers might like a heads up too! Nor do I want to eat bear meat which is also readily available in parts.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


Scriptore profile image

Scriptore 5 years ago from New York

Awesome! I'll be sure to brush up on this hub again before my next trip.


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 5 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world. Author

Glad you found it helpful. In many places menus are only in Vietnamese - not in the main tourist areas of course - but you don't have to go far to get off the beaten tourist track in Vietnam.


duyen 5 years ago

awesome


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 3 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world. Author

The food served in the numerous French restaurants is also divine. Thanks for your comment Julie.


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 12 months ago from Ontario, Canada

Looking at the pictures of the Old Quarter made me miss it so much. We had really come to love the city especially its food.


travelespresso profile image

travelespresso 12 months ago from Somewhere in this exciting world. Author

The Old Quarter in Hanoi is truly amazing. It provides a fascinating insight to life and past practices, but this area is changing very quickly. Thanks so much for your comment aesta1.

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