As phở gains popularity all over the globe, a spotlight has been shined on Vietnamese cuisine. Some dishes are easily accessible to unfamiliar palates; others seem intimidating in comparison. Vietnamese cuisine is extremely diverse, ranging from fragrant soups and stews to colorful sponge cakes. The array of drinks is equally heterogeneous — from fermented rice to sweet iced coffee, all sorts of flavors are showcased.
Here are 20 Vietnamese dishes and drinks you need to try, whether you’re in Vietnam or at a Vietnamese restaurant in Nebraska. Just make it happen.
A beef rice-vermicelli soup originating in Huế, bún bò Huế typically contains sliced beef shank, oxtails, and pig knuckles. The soup is customarily served with chili sauce and fresh vegetables and herbs (including lime, cilantro, green onion, banana blossoms, and more).
Popular as a street food in Vietnam, phở gà is an aromatic rice-noodle soup flavored with chicken and herbs. Depending on the region in Vietnam, the style of noodles, types of herbs, and taste of the broth can vary.
While bánh mì typically refers to the baguette, the term is frequently applied to the whole sandwich too. The most common type is bánh mì pâté chả thịt, which contains pâté, vegetables (like cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrots, and pickled daikon), a type of meat, and several condiments. In Vietnam, you might find an egg included as well.
Found in southern Vietnamese cuisine, bánh cam are fried balls of glutinous rice flour filled with mung-bean paste and rolled in sesame seeds. Bánh rán is a similar food, scented with jasmine-flower essence.
Canh chua finds its home in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region. A sour soup seasoned with tamarind and complemented with pineapple, tomato, bean sprouts, and fish (typically from the Mekong), the dish is garnished with herbs and paired with white rice or rice noodles.
Bánh xèo’s literal translation is “sizzling cake,” which fits the dish rather perfectly due to the sound the batter makes when dropped into hot oil. It’s a savory rice pancake stuffed with pork, shrimp, scallions, and bean sprouts.
Typical of northern Vietnam, bánh cuốn are steamed rice rolls filled with pork, mushroom, and finely minced shallots. The dish is usually eaten for breakfast. A similar dish also exists in Thai cuisine.
Seen in a number of countries, cháo is Vietnam’s version of rice porridge or congee. Served plain or with pickled vegetables and fermented tofu, the dish is quite popular with Vietnam’s Buddhist monks.
Bánh bèo is a specialty of Huế, which was the capital of the Nguyễn Dynasty between 1802 and 1945. The dish is a savory steamed rice pancake accompanied by toppings like fried shallots, dried shrimp, mung-bean paste, fish sauce, rice vinegar, and more.
Cơm tấm is made with broken rice and topped with grilled and shredded pork and pork skin. Pickled and fresh vegetables, fried eggs, and prawn-paste cakes may appear alongside.
Bánh canh is a thick tapioca noodle that makes an appearance in a variety of soups featuring different ingredients.
A Vietnamese ‘bread’ cooked in small clay pans, bánh căn (not to be confused with bánh canh) are small pancakes made with quail eggs. The dish is popular in many of the southern parts of Vietnam.
Bánh bò is a dessert sponge cake made from rice flour. Cakes may be colored green (through the use of pandan leaves) or purple (through the use of magenta-plant extract).
A spicy Vietnamese beef and vegetable stew, hủ tiếu bò kho is made with braised or stewed beef, fish sauce, sugar, and water (or a substitute such as coconut juice). The dish is often eaten with rice, bread, or noodles.
Also originating in Huế, chạo tôm is made of ground shrimp skewed on sugarcane sticks. The dish is often served during special events such as weddings or holidays.
Considered by some the cheapest beer in the world, bia hơi is an unpasteurized beer sold throughout Vietnam. It’s brewed daily and is roughly 3% alcohol by volume. A glass will cost you something between 13 and 25 cents.
Cà phê sữa đá, or Vietnamese iced coffee with milk, is a dark-roast coffee brewed through a drip filter, mixed with sweetened condensed milk, and poured over ice.
A type of distilled rice wine produced in Vietnam, rượu gạo is made from cooked rice that’s been fermented and subsequently distilled.
This green tea infused with lotus flowers is consumed during Tet, the Vietnamese lunar new year. The production of high-quality lotus tea is labor intensive, requiring upwards of a thousand flowers per kilogram of tea.
Nước mía, sugarcane juice, is a popular beverage in Vietnam. The sweet, green juice can be extracted from the stalk by a motorized or hand-cranked machine.