The best word of advice that I could give to someone who is looking to explore the country of Vietnam, is to follow your nose. Vietnamese street food is by far, one of the most incredible and unforgettable experiences you will have on this earth. In addition, there is a special beauty and bond that you have with a child sized chair and table. Not to mention, you are just a few blocks away from one of the best culinary experiences you will ever have and a few Tiger beers away from an unforgettable evening.
Welcome To Vietnam
Known as the “Middle Country,” this coastal nation in Southeast Asia, adjacent to the South China Sea is home to places to visit such as the Halong Bay, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, My Son, Hoi An, the Sapa Countryside, Hanoi, Nha Trang, Cu Chi Tunnels, Ba Be National Park, the Mekong Delta, and more.
Furthermore, for food lovers, Vietnam is simply paradise. Among the best foods you should not miss when you are in the country are the Pho noodles, the Banh Mi or their version of the Subway, Banh Xeo or crispy pancake, Goi Cuon or Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, and Mi Quang or Vietnamese turmeric noodles, among others. They are served either in sophisticated restaurants, or along the food streets in Vietnam.
Vietnam is a simple country that believes in very simple and fundamental values. Moreover, they treasure moments of togetherness and family, most likely all surrounded by some form of food or beverage.
A day in Vietnam most likely starts very early in the morning with coffee. Unlike America, coffee isn’t taboo. In Vietnam, it’s a lifestyle. Coffee starts in the morning, but if it gets too hot and you need to cool down, you can have coffee in the middle of the day, and then again at night. In conclusion, coffee is everything to the Vietnamese community.
Some of the best coffee I’ve ever had in the country was never given to me by a barista. Instead, it was an old grandmother on the side of the road, or an absolute legend who goes against the law by adding a few shots of your favorite liquor in order to jump start your day on a bike stand.
For one, your average coffee should charge you about $.25 or ₫10,000. Even then ₫10,000 is on the high end of the spectrum.
This blog is a catalog of some of the absolute best dishes I’ve had during my two plus weeks in Vietnam. I can say that most of my entries are from the city of Ho Chi Minh or as the locals call it; Saigon. We did travel to Mỹ Tho and Nha Trang.
For First Time Travelers To Vietnam
Before we begin with the food pictures, a quick background behind Vietnam if you have never been. When you go, do your best to find a way or friend that understand the general language. Or if not, find a way to have a general understanding of the language itself. Now, I’m not saying that you should know way’s to converse, but understand how to order food. Remember words like:
- Bottled water
- Some numbers
- Names of food
I had the luxury of going on this trip with two Vietnamese speaking friends and it absolutely enhanced the experience. If you do not have any of these luxuries nor do you care about understanding the language, that’s ok. Just do me one huge favor. DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT eat at any sit down formal restaurant that has an English word on the menu. In fact, stay clear of places that have menu’s entirely. (unless you’re going to a Quan…and then in that case…drink until you begin to have the laughs.)
In America, we are spoiled. We are used to having a ton of options. We like options. But you see, in Vietnam, the best meals are only available to those who get there first. A lot of the restaurants are on the side of the road but they specialize in just one dish. They make one thing, every day, 365, rain or shine and they made it effing well.
For that reason the last thing I should mention is that although I am taking pictures of food and also some restaurants, most of the places I took pictures of, you will not find or won’t be available when you go to the country. My goal isn’t to necessarily try to get you to go these restaurants, it’s more so to humanize the country and make it more palpable to those who may be turned off by Vietnamese food or is interested in exploring the country.
With that said, here are my experiences with Vietnamese street food:
DISCLAIMER, I DID A POOR JOB DOCUMENTING AND KEEP TRACK OF MY DAYS. SORRY EVERYONE.
Vietnamese Street Food Day 1:
- Pho tai at Pho Phuong Bac
- Sauces balanced the dish, custom sauces
- Second dish- chicken balls that really had no idea what it was, with rice, and a very bitter vegetable that was way too bitter
- Com tam (broken rice, bacon bits, egg quiche, cucumber, pork, shredded pork, and sweet sauce
- Banh Mi
Day 3 (Best Vietnamese Street Food)
- Breakfast Bun Rieu in the history Ben Than Market. This was the dish that absolutely blew me away. It was absolutely perfect. The dish is a soup with crab meat balls, tofu, tomato, Vietnamese sausage
- Legendary coffee day. This young man offers the best home made coffee. He brews it himself and adds a specialty ingredient that helps you jump start your day 🙂
- Then, we explored the city and had some Vermicelli. The place that we ate at was known within the area and had one chef; a Vietnamese grandmother.
- Later that night, we had a few beers with a group of friends/coworkers. At the bar, we had a lot of good laughs and some salty foods. This is an image of what a normal bar looks like in Vietnam. Incredible experience.
Vietnamese Street Food Day 5
- Who would have thought that you can have an amazing meal in a dirty alley way? This was on of the better culinary experiences in Saigon. This was a random alley that we decided to go down. The alley had flags on it, but tucked away in a corner was a mother and daughter tag team that just blew us all away. The fan barely worked to keep us cool, but the food was cooked to perfection.
- Then, later that night, we went to what is equivalent to Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
- Following, in the morning we had beef steak. Which you’re probably thinking, what the heck is that? Well, it’s a cast iron skillet with a chunk of steak, egg, French fries, a hot dog, and a side of break to soak up all of the oils!
- Later that day, we traveled to Nha Trang. The city itself is near the coast and is known as a fisherman town. That night we had lobster on the side of the road. That’s right…fresh lobster on the side of the road. It came out to being about $5 for each lobster that were easily a few pounds big.
- When we went to bed on night one, we looked out into the ocean and say nothing but darkness. We had absolutely no idea the true beauty to what we were going to wake up to. This was our view from our hotel in Nha Trang.
- Then after we woke up, we went out and got rice with honey pork
- For lunch we had fish and more seafood
- Pasta with noodles, croutons, pepper spice, sugar sauce,
Day 8 and beyond
This is the part where I am not quite sure what or when or where we ate these meals. So I decided to put a whole montage of food pictures to get an idea of the street food in Vietnam. From my experience, after the first week or so, I did start to feel sick, but it wasn’t because of the cooking. It was more so what we were consuming. Furthermore, the food in Vietnam has a lot of sodium. For me and my body (6’2″ 190lbs) I am extremely acceptable to salt. A lot of it destroys my body and makes me feel uncomfortable. I personally am in touch with my body and I know my limit. There were a few days in which all I ate were fruits to provide a sense of balance to my body. (Which I wish I did during my first trip to Vietnam)
The one dish that was absolutely stunning and took my breath away was the first few pictures. I am not entirely sure what the dish is, but if you can help me that would be great. Drop a comment below. It was buttery, garlicy, soupy, and absolutely perfect.
UPDATE: November 5th, 2018
The name of the winning dish is: Hi Tieu My Tho. Which is a dish made famous by the city of My Tho.
More pictures of Vietnamese Street Food
If you would like me to add your favorite Vietnamese street food on this blog, feel free to send it directly to Johnathan@penji.co and I will add it on here along with a brief description.