When traveling, people often have the main purpose of sightseeing and having fun at interesting attractions, with cuisine being an integral part of the trips. Playing an important role in contributing to expressing the local culture, Vietnamese street food is diverse and addictively delicious, drawing in food lovers from all over the world. So let's find out more about this topic, in order to see why street food is one of the outstanding cultural features of this country.
I - Vietnamese street food culture
Street food has appeared in many parts of the world, but street food in Vietnam has its own unique features that you can hardly find anywhere else. Traveling to Vietnam, you can easily encounter small sidewalk shops, along with street vendors or bicycles, selling Pho soup, Vietnamese crepe, and Banh mi,... These seemingly simple dishes reflect the social development and cultural identity of Vietnam, as well as the lifestyle and way of thinking of the Vietnamese, who are good at adapting. They can make a living in any situation - just 2 - 3m2 with a few sets of plastic tables and chairs, or a vendor, is enough to make it a roadside food shop.
Of course, there must be a market that demands them for this culture to flourish, and the reasons why Vietnamese street food is so popular are countless. For example, city houses in the past tended to be small and narrow, so people couldn’t welcome guests but led each other to street shops instead. In addition, those who migrate to big cities to work often live temporarily and alone in cheap rooms, so they can rarely cook for themselves and have to go out. Another reason is the weather - on hot days, people often don’t want to cook but enjoy the cheap and refreshing dishes on the streets.
Street food in Vietnam is also extremely diverse and rich, not only coming from the country’s long history and geographical location, but also from the process of cultural interference and acculturation. There are influences on Vietnamese street food from the ethnic groups living long in Vietnam such as the Cham, and Khmer,... from neighboring countries such as Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia, or from former colonizers such as China, France, and Japan. With their creativity, Vietnamese people have received and changed the dishes of other countries according to their own taste, creating the world’s top unique cuisine.
So, do you know what makes the culture of Vietnam street food so special?
The unique feature of Vietnamese street food first lies in the variety of dishes, ingredients, and processing methods. Being the same dish, but in each region, sometimes in each restaurant in the same region, they might have completely different tastes. Differences in tradition and culture create different tastes for people in each region, leading to different ways of using ingredients and adding spices, and herbs,...
An example is that the food of Northern Vietnam, with Hanoi as the center, tends to be more traditional, “reserved” and more elegant, with a light but rich, delicate flavor. Whereas in the South, the cuisine is more experimental, using strong seasonings such as salt or sugar, while the Central focuses more on cooking, producing sophisticated street food.
Besides that, the diversity of Vietnamese street food also comes from the differences in climates and soils, which create unique ingredients of the regions. For instance, Hanoians use freshwater fish to cook the famous fish noodle soup, while sea fish is the natural choice of people in the coastal city of Nha Trang. The vegetables and herbs will also be used depending on the region, and everyone has different ways of using ingredients to prepare the dish.
Another thing that makes Vietnamese food especially attractive to the world is the freshness and balanced use of ingredients, creating an attractive dish while still ensuring nutrients. At the same time, the use of natural, environmentally friendly materials such as dong leaves (phrynium placentarium leaves), banana leaves, and bamboo vine in the processing and decoration of dishes also creates a feature of Vietnamese street food that is so unique compared to the cuisine of other countries. Iced tea, lemon tea, or soy milk are typical accompanying drinks for any dish, although many shops will serve cold soft drinks if requested.
One of the things that make tourists excited about street food in Vietnam is the low cost. You can walk the streets and easily find a lot of roadside eateries selling all kinds of food for only $1 - 2. For example, a loaf of Banh mi is about 5,000 - 15,000 VND ($0.22 - 0.66), a bowl of Pho is 20.000 - 30,000 VND ($0.88 - 1.32). The food shops are present on every corner, and sidewalk,… serving from dawn to dusk, quickly and conveniently to help you not lose time in your exploration.
In addition, the way to enjoy Vietnamese street food is also a form of fascinating local culture - this is a time for people to communicate and connect with each other. Roadside food shops often consist of tiny plastic tables and chairs, diners will enjoy food in groups while chatting in a bustling and happy atmosphere. Besides using chopsticks, when eating you can also use toothpicks, sticks, or hands to pick up food depending on the dish.
II - Top 15 best Vietnamese street food
Vietnam street food has become famous worldwide, especially with two examples, namely Pho and Banh mi, which have been included in the Oxford Dictionary. Not only that, but this S-shaped country is also a paradise of countless other attractive dishes, including some such as:
1 - Noodle dishes in Vietnamese street cuisine
Bun cha (Rice vermicelli with grilled pork and patties)
Bun cha is one of the best Vietnamese street food on the list of famous dishes mentioned by CNN, has been eaten and praised by former US President Obama and the late renowned chef Bourdain.
One serving of Bun cha includes pork sliced into small pieces, marinated with rich spices, and then grilled over a charcoal fire, served with vermicelli and fresh vegetables, along with a typical sweet and sour dipping sauce. In some places, people will add to this combination a plate of Vietnamese egg rolls.
Bun dau mam tom (Rice vermicelli with fried tofu and shrimp paste)
Known as a simple, rustic but famous food of Northern Vietnamese cuisine, this street food in Vietnam can make many people falter by the smell of shrimp paste, which is considered the “soul” of bun dau mam tom. The harmony of sour - spicy - salty - sweet flavors goes along with the freshness of vegetables, making many people fall in love with this Vietnamese street food. Besides those that are already mentioned in the name, the main ingredients of rice vermicelli with fried tofu and shrimp paste include Vietnamese egg rolls, chili, and herbs such as basil, lettuce,…
Bun bo Hue (Hue beef noodle soup)
As a specialty of the dreamy Hue City, this dish is loved for its eye-catching form and unforgettable rich taste. A standard bowl of Hue beef noodle soup must have vermicelli with large fibers, thinly sliced beef, pork blood, crab cakes, and red-orange colored bone broth. The chewy and sweet taste of vermicelli blends with the rich meat, and the fatty crab, creating an attractive pungent taste, added with the freshness of onions, and bean sprouts,…
Bun mam (Rice vermicelli with fish sauces)
As one of the most famous Vietnamese street foods, especially in the Southwestern provinces, bun mam actually originates from Cambodia. The prominent feature of this Vietnam street food is the broth, which is usually made from Linh fish sauce or Sac fish sauce, adding shrimp, squid,... served with water spinach, bananas, bean sprouts, lettuce…
Hu tieu go (“knock” noodle soup)
As a rustic dish but containing a unique feature in the culinary culture of Ho Chi Minh City, hu tieu go is chosen by many to eat at night. The noodles are made from rice, and depending on the restaurant, they will be chewy, soft, dry, or watery, topped with thin slices of pork. The rich flavor of beef and pork combined with the freshness of bean sprouts, and the sweetness of the broth will definitely make your mouth water.
Mi Quang (Quang noodles)
Mi Quang has now become one of the famous Vietnamese street foods that is loved by many people, although originally a simple specialty of the Central region, especially Da Nang City and Quang Nam Province.
Quang noodles are also made from rice flour like vermicelli or pho noodles but have a completely different color and flavor from mixing with gardenia seeds and eggs served with rich broth. On top of the noodles are pork or snakehead fish, chicken,… as well as roasted peanuts, finely chopped green onions, and so on, below are raw vegetables, eaten with big green peppers, sesame rice paper, and roasted peanuts.
Cao Lau Noodle soup
This famous dish in Hoi An is a clear indicator of the intersection of culture and the creativity in Vietnamese street food culture, a product of the city that was once the trading center. It is made of noodles similar to Japanese udon noodles, served with deep-fried pork and wontons like Chinese food, but the broth and herbs are completely traditional. Only here can you eat a bowl with the most original flavor made from Ba Le Well water, Cham Islands wood ashes, and Tra Que vegetables, giving it the title of 1 of the 10 best street food in Vietnam.
2 - Vietnam street food: Vietnam roll dishes
This Vietnamese street food is called by different names in each region of Vietnam and is made of a variety of ingredients. However, most of the making methods are still quite similar. Traditional egg rolls usually have the main ingredients like pork, glass noodles, chicken eggs, mushrooms, green onions, and pepper… All of them are minced and wrapped in Vietnamese rice paper, fried until golden crispy. Vietnamese egg rolls are often served with sweet and sour fish sauce and vermicelli or rice.
Pho rolls (Phở cuốn) are cleverly modified from traditional pho, made in many different combinations. The main ingredients of this Vietnamese street food are very simple such as rice noodles, meats, fried eggs, roasted peanuts, and fried onions, served with fresh vegetables. Each roll of pho is round, soft, and chewy with a rich filling inside, accompanied by a dipping sauce made of garlic, chili, and vinegar ... giving you unforgettable impressions.
Nha Trang grilled spring rolls
This extremely trendy street food in the coastal city of Nha Trang is created from the meticulousness of choosing ingredients to the way of cooking, along with the perfect blend of ingredients. Called spring rolls, these are actually grilled pork or grilled meatballs, sometimes served as an appetizer or snack. The taste of this Vietnamese street food is delicious, rich, and balanced to perfection, suitable for eating with vermicelli or rice.
Bánh cuốn (Vietnamese steamed rice rolls)
Banh cuon is a portion of simple street food in Vietnam, made from thinly coated steamed rice flour, rolled and stuffed with meat or/and vegetables. The most common fillings include shoulder meat minced with wood ear, fried mushrooms, and adding spices such as fish sauce, and pepper… The top will be sprinkled with fried sliced onions and served with a dipping sauce full of sour, spicy, salty, and sweet flavors, prepared with each restaurant’s own recipe.
3 - Other best Vietnamese street food
Banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake)
Dubbed as a delicious Vietnamese-type crepe, this food is attractive with a crispy crust, filled with shrimp, meat, bean sprouts, and a bit of herb. To enjoy it, you just need to cut a corner of banh xeo and then wrap it with Vietnamese rice paper, raw vegetables and pickles then dip it with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.
Sticky rice made from Vietnamese glutinous rice, coming in many different varieties, with a multitude of other ingredients added such as shredded chicken, roasted meat or fried eggs. A lot of people also like to have some fried onions sprinkled, adding the sweetness to the savory of the sticky rice.
Broken rice - a famous Vietnam street food in Ho Chi Minh City
This Vietnamese street food is a famous and popular dish in South Vietnam, especially in Ho Chi Minh City, made from very simple ingredients but creates a unique flavor, difficult to mix with any other rice dish. The type of rice used is the first part of the rice grain that is broken during the milling process, giving best taste and aroma when cooked by an earthen pot or a cast iron pot over a fire. A traditional plate of broken rice consists of fragrant rice, greasy grilled ribs, pork skin and egg rolls, served with a few slices of cucumber and fresh tomatoes.
Snail dishes - a popular Vietnamese street food
Coming to the streets of Vietnam, you cannot ignore the fragrant snail shops, selling all kinds cooked in many different ways, from sweet and fragrant boiled snails to spicy stir-fried snails. The large snails are carefully cooked and marinated for flavor, salty and sweet to taste, dipped with sweet and sour fish sauce, with extra pieces of carrot and green papaya which are extremely attractive.
There are some tips for you when enjoying Vietnamese street food, such as:
- To ensure quality, you should eat at crowded restaurants because that means the food is constantly changing, and there will be no old food or leftovers.
- Choose restaurants with a transparent cooking area, smell to see if the food is fresh, and remember to use tissues/napkins to clean utensils before eating.
- In particular, some street restaurants in Vietnam still have excessive price increases, especially for foreign customers, so you should ask about the price first and bargain if you find it too high or unreasonable.
III - Top-rated Vietnamese street food tours
Having fun & enjoying street food in Vietnam’s capital - Source: klook
- Organizer: Hanoi Street Food Tour
- Time: 11am, 5pm & 6:30pm
- Tours: Varies from walking, scooter tours to daytime, nightlife tours,…
- Price range: $20 - 59
- Address: No.78A Tran Nhat Duat Street, Dong Xuan Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
- Contact: 0966 960 188
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: https://www.hanoistreetfoodtour.com/
In Da Nang City
- Organizer: Da Nang Food Tour
- Time: 4 hours
- Price range: $46.2
- Address: No.4 Tran Quoc Toan Street, Hai Chau 1 Ward, Hai Chau District, Da Nang City, Quang Nam Province.
- Contact: 002 497 199
- Website: https://danangfoodtour.com
In Hoi An City
Eat Hoi An offers one of the best Vietnamese street food tours - Source: hiddenhoian.com
- Organizer: Eat Hoi An
- Time: 4 hours at 3pm
- Price range: $45
- Address: No.37 Phan Chau Trinh Street, Minh An Ward, Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province.
- Contact: 0905 411 184
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: https://www.eathoian.com/
In Ho Chi Minh City
Anthony Bourdain in Vietnam - Source: saigonkisstours
- Organizer: Saigon Back Alley Tours Team
- Time: 4 hours at 8am, 1pm & 5:30pm
- Price range: $40
- Address: No.200/25A Xom Chieu Street, Ward 16, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
- Contact: 0932 181 106
- Website: https://saigonbackalleytours.com
It can be seen that Vietnamese street food has always won the upper hand in the hearts of foodies. The outstanding feature lies not only in their attractive taste but also in the unique and open eating space. If you have the opportunity to come to this S-shaped land, you should definitely not miss taking a walk and enjoying a variety of delicious street food.