There’s no question as to how Vietnamese cuisine has earned its place in the culinary stratosphere. The country’s history, geography, and people is reflected in its food. It is at once accessible and exotic, and simple and complex, but it is never forgettable. Whether you’re the type of person who loves to try new dishes, or would rather stick to familiar ingredients presented unpretentiously, you’re sure to find something you’ll love here.
Read on for a list of Vietnamese dishes and delicacies that will surely expand your palate. Later on, consider booking a Vietnam tour package to experience the country’s gastronomic traditions for yourself!
Soda chanh muối
The practice of preserving fruit is not something that is unique to just one cuisine. All over the world, people have pickled and jammed the produce that was available to them to prevent spoilage when refrigeration was not yet widely accessible. It was also a way for people to enjoy fruits even if they were not in season.
In Vietnam, key limes are packed in salt and placed under the sun to create preserved limes or chanh muối. It’s a vital ingredient in a traditional home remedy that is said to work miracles on those suffering from the common cold, even as it serves as a detoxifying tonic that can help with losing weight. When the ingredient is combined with carbonated water or lime soda, it creates the most refreshing drink for a hot day in Vietnam: soda chanh muối. It’s sold all over the country and is a great way to introduce a novice to the tart, fresh flavours of Vietnamese cuisine.
Cánh gà nhồi thịt
If you’ve tried the Vietnamese fresh spring rolls filled with pork and prawn called gỏi cuốn and liked them, then you may be ready for the next level. Cánh gà nhồi thịt is one of those dishes that seems like it was devised by a drunk or a mad man—and yet once you’ve taken a bite, you find yourself thinking, why didn’t I think of that?
Cánh gà nhồi thịt are chicken wings that have been expertly deboned without puncturing the skin. The narrow gap between it and the meat is then stuffed with all the things you’ve come to expect in a spring roll: ground pork, vegetables and aromatics. Deep-fried or baked, they are usually served with the ubiquitous Vietnamese dipping sauce called nước chấm.
Cooking meat in meat isn’t actually as alien a concept as you think it is and has been done for thousands of years by people all over the world! With Cánh gà nhồi thịt, in particular, the end result is a dish that will change your perception of spring rolls and chicken wings forever.
Cà phê trứng
If you’ve never tried Vietnamese coffee before, why not? If you have, then you already know how good it is. Even the way it’s prepared tells a story. Vietnamese-style coffee is typically brewed in a single-serving device called a phin, a drip filter that was introduced to the country by the French. Robusta coffee, in particular, is usually taken with sweetened condensed milk that balances out the intensity of the beans that the locals favour. Condensed milk is also far more available than fresh milk, and it is easier to store in a tropical country like Vietnam.
During the First Indochina War, there was a serious dearth of this crucial ingredient. An enterprising bartender in Hanoi had the idea of whisking eggs until they were frothy, and then using the foam to top the potent brew in place of condensed milk. Thus, cà phê trứng was born. The recipe has since been refined from the wartime original to now include the missing milk and optionally, cheese, at the guest’s request.
At first glance, there’s nothing about this Hanoi autumn specialty that seems out of the ordinary. Sold out of numerous street-side eateries and local markets between the months of September and November, they don’t really look too different from garden-variety fried ground pork omelets. What makes Chả rươi an intermediate-level dish on this list is the inclusion of the rươi, from which the dish takes its name. What’s that, you may ask? Well, they’re worms. Ragworms, to be specific—harvested from the sea and transported live from the port cities of Hai Phong and Nam Định.
After being boiled and de-shelled, the rươi is mixed with minced pork, eggs and aromatics that include citrus peel and dill before being deep fried to golden-brown perfection. Once cooked, tasters claim that the patties are crunchy and tart, with a distinct flavor similar to caviar from the eponymous ingredient. If you can distract yourself long enough from the fact that you’re eating worms, it’s got to be worth trying. Hanoians are absolutely crazy for the stuff and stock tends to run out fast.
Trứng vịt lộn
This dish—more of a snack, really—has gained a reputation for being “the weirdest duck dish in the world.” It’s been featured countless times in Western media as a novelty or taboo item that has shocked and awed many a potential diner. But don’t known it until you;ve tried it! Fertilized duck embryo has been enjoyed for centuries in the Philippines, China, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Trứng vịt lộn, as it is known in Vietnam, is prepared in the same manner as balut, the Filipino version of the same dish. The fertilized duck eggs are allowed to gestate over a period of two to three weeks, allowing its contents to develop before the process is halted by boiling or steaming. What results is a solid, gamey tasting yolk and an embryo that’s just this side of recognizable, meant to be consumed bones and all to prove one’s manliness. In coastal Da Nang, they serve it with pickled papaya strips seasoned with fish sauce and peanuts. Further north, they top it with salt, pepper, and Vietnamese coriander.
You’ve reached the end of this list, so we’re going to stop beating around the bush. Tiết canh is a popular Vietnamese breakfast made with fresh animal blood—commonly pork or duck—that is mixed with fish sauce or a saline mixture to prevent premature coagulation. Fried or baked protein is then added to the bowl, and it’s almost always chopped offal. It is then allowed to coagulate and become a silky pudding of sorts, commonly had as the first meal of the day in some parts of Northern Vietnam.
As with many Vietnamese dishes, tiết canh is served with a side of greens and peanuts that add flavour and texture to the meal. It has its fair share of fans and detractors, but what food doesn’t? Try it if you’re brave enough! It’s widely available in Northern Vietnam at eateries and markets.
Go from apprentice, to journeyman, to Vietnamese food master by eating your way through this list—or don’t, and just take it as a primer to the myriad of gustatory delights the country has to offer. We hope it’s inspired you to step out of your comfort zone and try new things! Travelling is always more fun when you do it with an open mind, so get out there and enjoy!