30 Best Vietnam Street Foods & Local Dishes
Our small taxi exited the freeway and began to enter the city. Thousands of motorbikes, a few with three people squeezed onto a single seat, began swarming all around us. The windows were up but we could hear the sounds of honking all around and smell the smoke from exhaust. Accidents were not uncommon on these busy streets. Our taxi driver even slightly bumped the side of one motorbike, resulting in accusatory pointing and screams from the driver as she nearly fell over. It was rush hour. Vietnam street food carts with plastic tables and chairs began to sprawl onto the sidewalks. Though the multi-colored plastic furniture appeared child-size, it was commonly used for hungry diners. Huge cauldrons of soups and stews bubbled on some corners. Small barbecues with grilled meats and vegetables appeared on others. The intoxicating smells from the street food vendors clashed with exhaust fuses.
This is chaos. This is Vietnam. But only in part.
I would soon learn that when venturing outside the busiest cities another world emerges. Fresh mountain air, beautiful smells of sweet flowers, sounds of waterfalls and tweets from birds of the jungle.
Peace. Tranquility. The other half of Vietnam.
This was to be one of the most adventurous months of my life. Crazy motorbike rides through misty mountains, abseiling down waterfalls and a breathtaking boat trip through Ha Long Bay. Everywhere I looked there were smiling locals. As I wandered, I could usually smell new foods before I saw them.
This was also to be one of the most affordable countries I visited, spending a mere $1,200 in 30 days. Hostel dorms were commonly $5-12, budget hotel rooms $15-20, most meals $2-5, beers around $1.
My journey started in Hanoi and went south along the coast to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Though I’ve broken this into sections by city, many of these dishes can be found throughout broader areas or all of Vietnam. Specifics are indicated in italics.
Now buckle your seat belt and prepare to get hungry as I show you the 30 best Vietnam street foods & local dishes!
This busy city in the north of Vietnam is a common starting point for many who visit here. It’s location is also ideal for trips north to beautiful Ha Long Bay and trekking through the hills of Sapa.
There are endless streets packed with restaurants and at night, countless Vietnam street food vendors with their mobile tables and chairs.
Pho – Beef Noodle Soup
As the plane touched down in Hanoi, my stomach was already growling. I had one thing on my mind. Pho. Anthony Bourdain’s obsession with Vietnam street food, specifically pho, had sparked an interest in this country, and I couldn’t wait to slurp some pho on the street beside the locals.
As rush hour was calming down, restaurants and street vendors were almost completely full. After a few minutes of wandering, we sat down at one of the busiest pho spots we could find.
Huge smiles on our faces, an older woman took our order and smiled back. She poured giant soup spoons full of boiling broth into our bowls, along with rice noodles, then some nearly raw beef. We sat down at a tiny table on children’s plastic stools. A large plate of Thai basil, bean sprouts, chili peppers and halved pieces of lime. Next to that were chili oil, soy sauce, fish sauce and hoisin.
Moments later we were loudly slurping up the hot broth, just like the locals. The soup was delicious and the condiments just added to the fun of the culinary adventure. It remains one of my favorite memories in Vietnam.
Pho is perhaps the most ubiquitous dish you’ll find in this country. Look for it at Vietnam street food vendors and restaurants everywhere.
Bánh Canh – Ribbon Noodle Soup
Another popular soup involves a thicker noodle, called banh canh. It’s often made from rice and tapioca flour. These noodles can be added in place of rice noodles to pho as well as served in other variations of thick beef rib or pork soups and stews.
Found at Vietnam street food vendors and restaurants throughout the country.
Nuong – Gas Grill
At night, many restaurants spill out onto the streets and sidewalks along with the the local street food vendors. One of my favorite things to do was order meats that they bring out a small personal grill on which to cook your ingredients.
They heat the unit up and them return a few minutes later with a plate full of raw meat or seafood, based on your preference, and a variety of veggies. Though it might be a lot for one person to finish off, it’s a great way to enjoy dinner with a friend.
We ordered the beef and seafood combo. Personally, I thought the marinade for the beef made it the standout. Along with the fresh local vegetables and enoki mushrooms, this is a really fun and interactive meal.
Available throughout Vietnam. More commonly served for dinner than lunch.
Sa Ga – Lemongrass Chicken
The slow cooked lemongrass chicken is another particularly enjoyable meal in Hanoi. Simple and just requiring a little extra time to prepare, it was incredible the amount of flavor packed into each bite, just with the primary additive of lemongrass. It appears to be a large portion, but the lemongrass is inedible, so many sure to order something else if you’re hungry.
Found commonly throughout Vietnam.
Lau Thap Cam – Hot Pot
Another common cook-it-yourself dish in Vietnam is the hot pot. Instead of a grill, a pot with broth or water is delivered to the table and heated until boiling. Then, meats and veggies are brought out. They can be dropped in a little at a time or sometimes all at once (if they’ll fit). Just be careful not to splash any boiling water!
Served with a spoon, this is more of a soup dish. It’s a fun experience but for overall taste, I preferred the grill.
Served across Vietnam. More popular for dinner than lunch.
Bánh Mì – Bread or Sandwich
Another staple Vietnamese street food, and one of my personal favorites, is the banh mi. When the French occupied this part of the world in the early 20th century, they brought over their famous baguette to make sandwiches. This dish was originally made with traditional French delicatessen ingredients but when they left, the Vietnamese evolved this sandwich to include their own traditional fare.
Roasted pork, pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, pate and a variety of other sauces and ingredients make this one of the best meals in Vietnam – some say it may even be the best sandwich in the world.
Banh mi sandwiches are common throughout Vietnam. Madam Khanh in Hoi An was my favorite. To see more, check out a guest post I wrote for one of my favorite street food blogs, BKPK.me.
Available at Vietnam street food vendors and restaurants throughout the country.
Cà Phê Trúng – Vietnamese Egg Coffee
For this local breakfast drink egg yolk, sugar and condensed milk are whipped by hand and combined with coffee. I thought this sounded a little weird at first but it was very tasty and unique. It’s also sometimes referred to as liquid tiramisu for a reason.
Available throughout Vietnam, particularly in larger cities.
Instant noodles are found on a variety of menus. Used in place of other noodles, they are able to be prepared quickly and is usually cheaper than fresh noodles. Instant noodles can be used in a stir fry dish prepared in a wok. They can also be boiled briefly and added to a bowl of soup. However you prefer them, their wide availability implies they are a traditional comfort food of Vietnamese cuisine.
Found at Vietnam street food vendors and restaurants throughout the country.
Mien Tron Tom Cua – Soya Noodles with Crab & Lobster (Shrimp)
Delicate crab and lobster (shrimp), rich soya noodles and hints of herbs sounded like a nice alternative to all the pho I had been eating. I was excited to find this dish at a spot called Tú Tôm in Hanoi.
The noodles were boiled, seasoned and a generous amount of crab and shrimp meat with herbs was placed on top. Soup was served on the side and was meant to be eaten separately, not to be used to pour over the noodles.
Lime, additional herbs and chili sauce were served on the side.
Check out local spot Tú Tôm at 2 Cua Dong St, Hoan Kiem District in Hanoi.
New Cua Be Hai Phong – Crab Rolls of Hai Phong
A dish I was sorry to miss at the same location was the crab rolls of Hai Phong. Here, crab and veggies were wrapped in a giant egg roll casing fried. Due to the language barrier I couldn’t understand whether they were out of the dish each time I came here or if it just wasn’t available at this time of year. Still, there was a small menu of about 8 items and this was one of them. Hopefully it’s available now, it looked incredible.
Also found at local spot Tú Tôm at 2 Cua Dong St, Hoan Kiem District in Hanoi.
Banh Goi Nong – Half Moon Spring Rolls
These giant spring rolls seem to resemble an empanada. They are actually made with cellophane noodles, minced pork, mushrooms, sausage, plus an extra surprise. The shape is rounded to accommodate a hard boiled egg. A truly unique creation.
These are great for snacks or to accompany a meal of multiple types of street food. Give them a try.
Found primarily from Vietnam street food vendors in the north.
Pork Bun with Egg
Similar to the spring roll listed above, many pork buns found in northern Vietnam have an egg inside as well. The buns appear larger than in neighboring countries to accommodate their traditional ingredient, in this case pork, along with extra room for an egg. Some eggs were the size of chicken eggs but others were larger, likely those of a duck.
Found primarily in the North, look for them at dim sum street food vendors and even convenience stores in Hanoi.
Phong Nha is a tiny city inside of a national park. It’s filled with greenery, caves and some of the best food in Vietnam. Though only open to tourism for a few years now, this area is catching on for a reason. Its beauty, friendly locals, activities and food make it one of Vietnam’s greatest off the beaten path destinations.
The city center only has one main street but rent a motorbike and head out into the surrounding areas. Explore the scenery and the restaurants. Easy Tiger is a great place to stay and the staff will give you everything you need on what to see and do.
Highlights include Paradise Cave, Dark Cave and riding a bicycle or scooter in the countryside. Stay at East Tiger and they’ll help direct you to local caves and each of the restaurants below. Online maps are still not the greatest in this area.
Roasted Chicken & Peanut Sauce
Truly a farm to table experience, The Pub With Cold Beer is a must try for every carnivore who visits Phong Nha.
How fresh is it? Them raise their own chickens on site. They also farm all of their own peanuts and vegetables. What makes this place unique? They actually butcher and pluck a chicken and roast it for you, made to order.
One option is to just order it up and they’ll do everything for you. A second option, if you’re interested in being a part of the experience, is they will teach you how to butcher the chicken yourself. This isn’t for the feint of heart but it’s certainly a unique opportunity. Then they pluck the chicken and roast it for you.
Note: No one is required to be a part of the process unless they want to. It may also get a little messy.
Only found at The Pub With Cold Beer in Phong Nha.
Wok-Tossed Fresh Cabbage
Grown in the surrounding shallow waters, this is often referred to as swamp cabbage. Don’t let that deter you from giving it a try. It’s fresh, flavorful and fantastic. This dish is prepared with a little oil and seasoning in a wok, made to order. A simple, healthy and tasty side dish.
Available throughout Vietnam served as a side dish or added to other dishes.
Thit Lon Tre – Bamboo Pork
Pork that is slow cooked inside bamboo, you say? When I heard about this dish it was at the top of my list to try. After a day of riding motorbikes to Paradise Cave, we headed here for dinner. Little did we know they were closed and opened back up just for us. The pork was so flavorful with lemongrass and other herbs, it’s worth the journey out of town on its own. Add to that their appetizers and it comes together as an unforgettable meal. I wrote Incredible Bamboo Pork at Moi Moi to describe the full experience.
It’s unclear if this dish is widely available. Make sure to try it at Moi Moi.
Ram Heo – Pork Spring Rolls
In the north, pork spring rolls have a thin, nearly translucent white wrapper. Pork spring rolls in the central and southern parts of Vietnam look more similar to egg rolls popular in Chinese fare. These were like the latter and were handrolled at Moi Moi. The combination of pork, veggies, mushrooms and cellophane noodles were delicious and the portions were such that we could barely finish them all.
Available in different styles throughout Vietnam.
Banh Bao Thit Bo – Beef Dumplings
These beef dumplings were made with a nearly trasluscent wrapping, likely made with tapioca and rice flour. They were then wrapped inside a banana leaf and steamed, rather than fried. This gave them an interesting flavor and a chewy texture. It was good, just different from what I was used to. Well worth a try.
It’s unclear if this dish is widely available. Make sure to try it at Moi Moi.
Slightly sweet and crispy, this was my favorite meal on the main strip of Phong Nha. Everything here is made to order and takes a little bit of time but it’s well worth the wait.
Bamboo Cafe is one of the busiest restaurants in tiny Phong Nha. If you’re planning to dine in, come early. Take away options are also available.
It’s unclear how common this dish is throughout Vietnam. This was ordered at Bamboo Cafe in Phong Na.
Veggies and a light breading are deep fried to make this fun and tasty appetizer. Crispy on the outside with a soft, savory center, these little veggie balls can be addictive. You’ve been warned
Found in restaurants throughout Vietnam. This was also ordered at Bamboo Cafe in Phong Na.
Hoi An is known for its affordable custom tailors. Many are able to take measurements and create custom clothing, shoes and accessories for customers, sometimes in as little as 24 hours. A short ride away, Hoi An is also near the coast and many beautiful views, including drives through misty mountains along the coast.
When we weren’t riding around on motorbikes, we found that Hoi An has a vast number of delicious and affordable restaurants to offer. Many dishes are specific only to this region. Here are a few of my favorites.
Hoanh Thanh Ga – Wontons with Shrimp
Wontons with shrimp and pineapple sounded almost like Vietnamese tostadas. In a way, they were. Large fried wonton pieces stacked high with sauteed shrimp, pineapple, a sweet sauce and a few herbs. A very interesting dish to try as an appetizer.
Available primarily in Hoi An.
Bánh Bao Bánh Vac – White Rose
This Hoi An specialty is similar to a traditional steamed dumpling except the filling remains only partially covered. Also, crispy wonton pieces are sprinkled on top and it’s served with a sweet and spicy sauce. Available throught the Hoi An region, this was my favorite spot to eat them, a place called Nha Hang Restaurant & Cafe.
This dish is found only in Hoi An. My favorite, pictured here, was found at Nha Hang Restaurant & Cafe at 39 Nguyen Phuc Chu, Hoi An.
Cao Lâu – Yello Noodles with Pork and Vegetables
Another Hoi An specialty, this dish is known for its variety of colors and textures. Notice the variation of yellow noodles, earthy pork, green herbs and a light broth. In each bite, you’ll notice textures of thin broth, tender noodles, thick pork, thin herbs and a crunch of peanuts. Flavors include salt, sweet, earthy meat and a pop of herbs.
This dish is said to only be found in Hoi An. My favorite is pictured here at Nha Hang Restaurant & Cafe at 39 Nguyen Phuc Chu, Hoi An.
Vit Giòn – Crispy Duck with Basil in Hoi An
I didn’t have a chance to enjoy a lot of duck during my time in Vietnam but it came highly recommended here. Perfectly crispy on the outside and tender in the middle with savory and a hint of sweet. A delicious dish. We tried several dishes here and everything was very good.
Available throughout Vietnam. My favorite was at Khanh Hoa II found at 88 Ba Trieu Street, Hoi An.
Banh Trang Bo Nuoung – Rice paper rolls with Baked Beef
In Nha Trang there are a number of restaurants that have rice paper rolls on the menu. The interesting thing in Nha Trang is that they bring out all of the ingredients to the table and you’re able to roll them up yourself. The baked beef here was some of the best I tried in Vietnam. Roll it up in a rice wrap with some herbs, lettuce, onion, cucumber and wontons. Then dip it in the sweet and sour sauce.
Found most commonly in Nha Trang.
Delat is home to some incredible outdoor experiences such as abseiling, trekking and tubing through the surrounding rivers. Delat Family Hostel is also well known for their friendly staff, warm hugs and family dinners which nearly everyone attends.
Note: If you do the abseiling or trekking, make sure to hire a licensed guide that provides full safety gear.
Banh Khot – Pancakes
Street food pancakes are everywhere in Delat. Eggs are placed on a heated surface with lots of diced veggies, meats and chilies to create this crispy and delicious snack. Though pancakes vary from region to region, these are some of the best you’ll find.
Pancakes are available at Vietnam street food vendors throughout the country but they might be the best in Dalat.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Still referred to as Saigon by many locals in Vietnam, this city seems to spark a love or hate relationship with most tourists. I found it to be bigger and busier than Hanoi but it also had many more little restaurants and street food vendors. Make sure not to miss the War Remnants Museum.
I’ve heard of a few people not doing well with the air quality in Saigon and I was no exception. For whatever reason, I came down with a nasty cold in Saigon and wasn’t able to explore as much as I wanted.
I managed to find a few great meals and have included some additional references below.
Hu Tieu Bo Kho – Beef and Vegetable Stew
This flavor-packed soup was one of my favorite dishes in Saigon. Rich red broth, bone-in beef, veggies, herbs and green onion come together for a great alternative to pho. Served with additional herbs, lime, chilies and fresh baguette, this is not to be missed. It might be harder to find a seat at a street vendor or restaurant in Saigon so be polite and patient.
Available at Vietnam street food vendors and restaurants, more common in the south.
Bún Cha with Nem Rán – Pork Cakes in Sauce & Spring Rolls
These two dishes are recommended together. First, grilled pork patties are brought out in a light broth with rice noodles. Hanoi pork spring rolls are recognizable with their thin wraps and robust flavor. Put pieces of herbs in the broth and try to get each bite to have either some pork or spring roll with some of the noodles and herbs, dipped in the broth. A delicious and interesting dish I didn’t see anywhere else in Vietnam. The menu stated it should be found in parts of Hanoi, as well as Saigon.
Originating in Hanoi, this dish was brought to Saigon. Try it at Bun Cha at 145 Bui Vien | Pham Ngu Lao Ward. District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
Fried Fish or Beef in Green Rice
These dishes certainly caught our eyes when we entered the restaurant. Pieces of fish, tofu, pork or beef can be ordered fried with green rice. Our server was very attentive but due to the language barrier we couldn’t determine how common this preparation style is. Regardless, this was a fun and flavorful treat that I recommend trying. Bun Cha was a great restaurant to check out.
Originating in Hanoi, this dish was brought to Saigon by Bun Cha at 26 Le Thanh Ton St. District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
Banh Khot & Banh Xeo – Mini Rice Cakes & Rice Crepes
These tiny rice cakes and larger rice crepes were two dishes that I was dying to try but just didn’t have the opportunity. I came across them over at this Saigon list on LegalNomads. If you haven’t already heard of her, Jodi might be the foremost authority on street food in many parts of the world and she’s a brilliant writer. For any other local Saigon dishes, as well as international restaurant options, check out her post.
Vietnam Street Food & Local Dishes Recap
Vietnam offers busy city streets packed with swarming motorbikes and endless street food. Further outside the cities, it also offers fresh air and clear views of beautiful jungles and oceans. I found it to be one of the most dynamic places I visited and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a mix of some city life, outdoor activities and friendly locals.
I find that many people who disliked their time in Vietnam spent too much time in the big cities. To them, I would recommend more time in places like Phong Nha and Delat.
Regardless of where you go, great food should not be too hard to find. Hopefully these recommendations help you during your time there. As always, please comment or reach out with any questions.
Một, hai, ba, yo! (1, 2, 3, go! – Cheers! in Vietnamese)
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