A Guide to Vietnamese Street Food

Like with its neighboring Asian countries, street food is vibrant and popular in Vietnam. You can find it everywhere, from the roving vendors, early morning local markets, sidewalk carts, and food joints, proving that it’s one of the heart and soul of mouthwatering Vietnamese cuisine. Despite such, you might be hesitant to try, being anxious about unfamiliar food. Once you’ve got the guts, knowing where to begin can also be a daunting task, with so many options available. To help out, we’ve collated this essential guide that will equip you with all the things you need to make your Vietnam street food experience seamless and simply memorable.

Top Reasons To Eat Street Food in Vietnam

If you’re in Vietnam, there are many reasons for you to try, explore, and get obsessed with their street food. To ease your worries and get you going, here are the top reasons why you should eat street food in Vietnam.

1. It’s absolutely delicious.

Street food tradition in Vietnam has been developed over many generations. Today, you’d experience how the stall owners and market vendors have mastered and perfected their food offerings. Don’t be surprised to hear them saying their stores have been passed on to them by the parents from their ancestors. Though little variations on the same dish are present in different stores, towns, cities, and regions, all are bound to satisfy your palate from the first sip or bite.

2. It’s affordable.

If you want to get a literal “bang for your buck,” Vietnamese street food will give you just that. Most street food dishes only cost from $1 to $3, depending on the stall. What’s great is that they come in decent portions. If you’re still satisfied, go ahead and get all the other food items available to fulfill your appetite. You sure won’t spend more than $20 to get satiated.

3. It’s fresh and authentic.

Vietnamese street food is super fresh and healthy. People in the country love to use fresh herbs and meat that comes from the market in the morning. Expect that ingredients are authentic as street food stall owners are proud of their food. They exert hard work, and only use authentic ingredients, from the sauces, toppings, to the actual to provide fresh and authentic flavors to their customers. Just be patient as dishes aren’t prepared in advance, and are usually cooked and processed right after you order. Rest assured that the wait is definitely worth it once you see the hot, fresh, and authentic fish served on your table.

4. It’s an adventure.

Like with other firsts, trying Vietnamese street food can be pretty intimidating and even fearful, mainly because of the unfamiliarity. Yet, you’ll never know unless you try, right? So, learn how to overcome your anxiety. You can do research prior to your trip to get a heads up. If you have loved ones or colleagues who’ve visited the country, ask them how’s their experience and if they can recommend dishes you should try. By expanding your understanding, things will be more exciting and you’d be more enticed to take the adventure of experiencing Vietnamese street food cuisine.

5. It’s a unique experience.

Each country is unique, and each one will be a distinct experience. Go ahead and enjoy the atmosphere. Grab those chairs and join the locals. Who knows you might even score a good conversation? Vietnamese people are congenial and would be happy to share their culture with you, part of which is tasting their amazing street food.

Tips on How to Enjoy Vietnamese Street Food

Before you navigate the streets of Vietnam in search of the best street food, it’s important to know a few things that will help you do it like a pro. Here are the tips on how to do so:

1. Eat like how locals would

If you’re a night person, time to adjust a bit as things in Vietnam tend to tone down at nighttime. So, finding delectable street foods in the woo hours will be challenging. If you want to get the most satisfying options, eat like how locals would. That means getting up and eating early.

For breakfast, go to areas close to markets. These locations have morning vendors that cater to market sellers, parents who bring their children to school, and people on their way to their work. From 11:30 am to 1:00 pm, catch the busy lunch stalls and eat alongside locals to get the best feel.

By 5:00 pm, restaurants, food carts, and kiosks are already preparing tables and stools for the dinner crowd. Make sure to be out between 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm so you won’t miss the barbecue, grilled seafood, and other tasty Vietnamese street foods while enjoying the aroma blending in the evening breeze.

2. Pick the right stalls

While it’s enticing to try all the tasty offerings you see from the stalls lining up in the alley, the safety and cleanliness of the food you’d be eating are still one of your top priorities. First, check the dishes and ingredients. Do they still look fresh? Are they properly presented or covered? How are the meals cooked? Are they laid out on the plate neatly?

Next, look at the setup of the eatery. Are the table, stools, and utensils organized? Is it the location far enough from the passing vehicles? Lastly, see if the flow of the customers. Is the stall busy? Are there many customers eating and lining up? If yes, chances are it’s patronized because the food is safe, cheap, and delicious.

3. Follow street food etiquette

Eating street food in Vietnam is pretty casual, but there are a few simple rules worth remembering. When eating at sidewalk stalls and small diners, one thing you should keep in mind is to eat first and pay later. Get your order in front and choose a comfortable spot. Just be mindful that other locals may join you at your table, especially during peak hours. Throwing a good smile is only what’s often needed to show courtesy. 

Don’t mind wiping out your chopsticks or utensils before eating. You won’t be judged as it’s a normal practice and it’s essential for your safety. Trash bins are usually available under the table if you need to throw anything. After enjoying your meal, lay your spoon and fork or chopsticks on the top of the bowl. Don’t forget to ask the bill and pay before going or heading out.

As a form of respect to the locals, never ever dilly-dally. Local vendors earn money from the number of customers they have for the day. With that, eat as quickly as possible so other people may use the table. If you’re taking pictures for a memento, do it swiftly, too. Stall owners and customers lining up will appreciate it if you value their time.

4. Learn some Vietnamese words

Learn a few Vietnamese words to make the experience more fun. If you’re about ordering food but skipping meat, you can ask for “ăn chay” (vegetarian food) and get the best options. If you need any assistance, just shout “em di!” and a server will be there to help you. Once you’re done, request the bill by saying ‘tính tiền’ (Bill please!). And, before you go, compliment the vendor or the chef for the delicious meal by saying ‘ngon quá’ along with a sweet smile – expect to see their happy faces in return.

5. Enjoy all the sauces and condiments 

Sauces and condiments are indispensable in Vietnamese cuisine. Note that they are more than simple accouterments but they elevate the dishes and make them more flavorful. Expect different types of leafy greens and herbs, such as basil, mint, cilantro. Don’t fret, as you don’t need to pay extra for them. Feel free to splurge until you get the desired aroma and crunch.

Also, be sure to explore all the dipping sauces, from fish sauce to chili paste, vinegar with garlic and chili, shrimp paste, and limes. All these are available for different types of dishes. If you aren’t sure which one perfectly complements your dish, never hesitate to ask the stall owner or server for the best sauce or condiment to get.

Top Street Food in Vietnam

Now, you know the reason why you shouldn’t miss Vietnamese street food and the ways on how to enjoy them, it’s now time to find the best street eats in the country. To get you started, here are the best street foods in Vietnam – be ready to crave for more after your first try!

1. Pho 

Thinking about Vietnamese cuisine will quickly ring pho. It’s little wonder as it’s a staple in the country, with every alley having a stall selling pho, with customers slurping this delicious noodle soup. Pho is made of chewy, fresh rice noodles in a hot, salty, savory broth. It’s added with tender and juicy slices of chicken and beef and sprinkled with crunchy, fresh herbs and spices for the best flavors. The locals’ diet won’t be complete without pho. Why not? It’s affordable, delectable, and available ‘round the clock. Just look around the backstreet and see a makeshift pho stand to enjoy this memorable dish.

2. Bun Cha

Originating from Hanoi, Bun Cha is a top option if you’re looking for something tasty to eat at lunchtime. It consists of either seasoned pork patties or meatballs and grilled marinated pork slices, with tangy dipping sauce or broth, partnered with vermicelli rice noodles, and topped with fresh herbs and spices. Sidewalk stalls usually begin grilling the meat by 11:00 am, so expect to see white clouds of smoke here and there during that time. What you need to look out for is your appetite, as you’d surely be enticed to eat more after smelling the aroma from the charred and crispy pork lingering in the air.

3. Xoi

Xoi is savory sticky rice that comes with a wide range of mix-in ingredients. It’s commonly enjoyed at breakfast, as a snack, or as a dessert, though some regions in Vietnam consume it as a main dish at lunch or dinner. The variations of this dish are as many as you can probably imagine. It may come with slivers of pork or chicken, Vietnamese ham, dried shrimp, preserved eggs, fruits, beans, and even silkworm pupae! One of Vietnam’s most favorite street foods, you can quickly find xoi from roadside stalls and are even available in restaurants.

4. Goi Cuon

Goi Cuon is light, fresh, translucent spring rolls, perfect if you want to veer away from fried or grilled food. These healthy and tasty neatly rolled rice paper parcels are packed with coriander, leafy greens, a slice of seafood or meat, and vermicelli. You can see the vibrant colors of the ingredients outside the wrapping, making them more appealing. Dip in fish sauce and enjoy the yummy goodness.

5. Banh Xeo

Banh Xeo is the Vietnamese version of crepe or crispy pancake made of rice powder with turmeric, which gives its distinct yellow color. It’s bursting with pork, shrimp, egg, and fresh herbs, ingredients representing Vietnamese cuisine. To eat Banh xeo, simply cut it into decent slices, wrap it in lettuce or rice paper, and splash in the fish sauce or other special sauces the stall may have for you.

6. Bun Dau Mam Tom

Featuring a palatable combination of noodles, fried tofu, Vietnamese sausage, trotter, beans, herbs, and shrimp paste, bun dau mam tom is one of Vietnam’s favorite street foods. It’s cheap and tasty, no surprise that it’s preferred by all ages. Its unique flavor comes from the strong shrimp paste that might shock you at first, but tasting it will soon let you know why it’s an indispensable part of the dish. Locals casually enjoy bun dau mam tom sitting on plastic stools and eating on tables lined up on the street, usually while sharing stories about their daily life.

7. Banh Mi

Banh mi is one of the most popular dishes in Vietnam, a food item that takes influence from the French Baguette. The twist is that the Vietnamese fill this long, crispy tasty bread with lots of flavors and filling, from white radish, cucumber slices, spicy chili, cilantro, coriander, egg, pork, chicken balls, and pate. You can find Banh mi anywhere, almost on every street corner. Its distinctive and attractive taste will show you why it gained popularity, from a breakfast dish to a street food staple in Vietnam.

8. Cao Lau

Another street food noodle dish you should miss is cao lau. Hailing from Hoi An, this dish incorporates influences from all the people and cultures that once visited the trading port during its heyday. Its pork and won-crackers came from the Chinese, the thicker noodles resemble the Japan udon, while you can see the Vietnamese touch with its delicious broth and herbs. Authentic cao lau only uses water drawn from a special local well. So, you may need to visit Hoi An if you want to taste the dish. Don’t worry, once you arrive, many street food stalls are offering it and just waiting for you to take a sip. This mouthwatering dish is truly unique and can be one of the highlights of your street food journey in Vietnam.

9. Bun Bo Hue

Originating from Vietnam’s old capital Hue, bun bo hue is the bolder and spicier counterpart of pho. It’s made of thick rice noodles, beef shank, beef broth, blood cubes, pig’s feet, and lemongrass. It’s then served with lime, herbs, sliced banana flowers, and other toppings and condiments. Today, you can find this exceptionally savory and tasty dish in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, which means you don’t need to go to central Vietnam to enjoy the amazing flavors of Hue.

10. Banh Goi 

You’ll surely be attracted to Banh hoi at first sight. These Vietnamese dumplings look like golden baby pillows, which are crispy and delicious to taste and fragrant to smell. Its wrapper is made of flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, fish sauce, and water. The filling is made of minced pork, mushroom, shallots, glass noodles, wood ears, shredded carrots, and white parts of spring onions. It then comes with a colorful dipping sauce consisting of water, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, and chili. To balance the oily taste, Banh goi is served with fresh herbs like coriander, lettuce, and basil.

11. Bun Rieu

Though Bun Rieu traces its roots from Northern Vietnam, you can quickly find it in many food joints across the country. It’s typically a noodle dish with crabs harvested from rice paddy fields, tomatoes that add natural sweetness and tart, and fried tofu. Other versions use fish or shellfish and have pork or pork legs as added ingredients. Eat with the fresh pile of herbs and vegetables and you’re in for a tasty treat.

12. Hu Tieu Go

Hu Tieu Go is another noodle dish, but comes with thinner and chewier noodles compared to pho. Its main ingredients include broth, pork, egg, meatballs, sausage, bean sprouts, herbs, and coriander. Another staple, hu tieu go is associated with daily life and a simple sidewalk dish you could enjoy any time of the day to warm your hungry appetite.

13. Banh Bao

Another Vietnamese dish of Chinese influence is Banh bao. It’s a ball-shaped bun filled with chicken or pork meat, sausage, eggs, onions, mushrooms, and vegetables. These buns are steamed, topped with shallots, and come with a special tangy sauce, perfect as a breakfast or afternoon snack. 

14. Che

Che is a sweet dessert beverage and one of the most liked street foods in Vietnam. It’s available everywhere, from local markets to sidewalk stalls and even bigger restaurants. There are many types, forms, sizes, flavors, and colors of Che, but the usual ingredients you can find include beans, glutinous rice, coconut milk, fruits and jellies. If you want to cool off during a hot afternoon, you know what’s your best bet.

15. Ca phe trung

Capping this list is another dessert drink, ca phe trung or popularly known as the Vietnamese egg coffee. It’s typically black coffee topped with a creamy, soft foam made of egg yolk and condensed milk. You can find it in small souvenir shops along the street. Drink one if you need a boost to start a lovely day in Vietnam.

Final Words

Indeed, Vietnam has a colorful food scene just waiting for you to discover. We hope this list scrapes off all your worries and instead invites you to explore the wonders of Vietnamese foods. You’ll never know, you might just discover your new favorite dishes. Happy eating!