Living in Vietnam for 6 months gave us the opportunity to try so many of the best Vietnamese foods and regional specialties. Before traveling to Vietnam, we knew nothing about Vietnamese cuisine; we had only tried Pho noodles. We had A LOT to learn.
Vietnamese food immediately impressed us with its variety of noodles (we’re noodleholics), fresh vegetables, delicious greens and complex flavors. We felt very healthy eating so many vegetables all the time. Most Vietnamese foods aren’t too oily or fried, which made it easy for us to shed a few kilograms after having eaten Thai food for several months before.
At first, our main strategy would be just to walk into someplace new and order whatever it was they were cooking. Most Vietnamese restaurants have one main dish that they serve, so it was easy just to order two even when we weren’t quite sure what we were ordering.
Over time we began to develop a list of favorite Vietnamese dishes and restaurants that we found ourselves revisiting time and time again. We have a new appreciation for Vietnamese food, that will keep us coming back to Vietnam, time and time again.
HERE IS OUR LIST OF VIETNAMESE FOODS YOU MUST TRY IN VIETNAM
Com Chay is less of a dish, and more of a style of restaurant. 'An Chay' is a Vietnamese phrase for vegetarian. Most often an chay restaurants are run by Buddhists, as they mainly eat vegan. Com Chay restaurants serve all sorts of vegetables, tofus, and imitation meats on a big plate of rice. We were absolutely amazed by the variety of options, and every restaurant seemed to have something new and exciting we hadn’t tried before.
Sometimes, you can pick and choose what you want, other times they’ll just mix it all up for you on your plate. Other Buddhists in Vietnam observe a “Chay Day” approximately twice a month on the full moon and new moon. They eat no meat on these days, and you’ll find the Com Chay restaurants will be quite busy on these days.
Ok vegans, here’s your chance to check out. There are so many great vegan options while traveling in Vietnam, as most an chay restaurants make vegan versions of the dishes below, but there are probably a few dishes on this list you're not going to be into.
Our best advice to you is to check Happycow.net to find great vegan restaurants wherever you travel in Vietnam and the world
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Pho is definitely one of the most popular Vietnamese dishes around the world. Chances are, if you’ve tried Viet cuisine you’ve already developed a pretty solid pho habit.
Pho is a simple noodle soup made with wide flat rice noodles, a delicate bone broth, and topped with chopped green onions. Pho is usually served with a plate of fresh greens and regional herbs including fresh mint, and basil, and shaved banana flower.
There’s a never ending debate as to whether northern pho or southern pho is superior, you’ll have to try them both and let us know what you think.
Pho is typically served with sliced beef (Pho bo), but we also love the chicken version (Pho ga). The real Vietnamese pho is quite different from the international version, so don’t be surprised if the available toppings are different from what you’re used to.
Good news for the gluten intolerant traveler! Rice noodles and pho broth are gluten free. Check out this post for a guide to eating gluten free in Vietnam!
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Mì Quảng is one of our favorite Vietnamese noodle dishes consisting of wide flat rice noodles. They’re much wider, thicker, and chewier than pho noodles. A bowl of Mì Quảng usually has a small amount of broth at the bottom, some fresh veggies mixed in, and topped with crispy onions.
There are often a few meat options including beef and chicken, but the Vietnamese favorite is tom, thit, trung which includes shrimp, sliced pork, and boiled quail eggs. You’ll also be served a heaping pile of fresh greens on the side. We made it our goal to use all of those veggies.
The best Mì Quảng restaurants usually have low tables and plastic stools. Don’t be afraid to use the table toppings like chili jam, lime and fish sauce. That’s what they’re there for.
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Our new favorite Vietnamese noodle dish is Bánh Canh. Bánh Canh noodles are a round thick noodle (think of thick spaghetti) made from either rice (bột gạo) or cassava / tapioca (bột loc). The broth is slightly spicy, and the place we go always serves it with a generous hunk of short rib.
We love the chewiness of the clear cassava noodles, but the real selling point is the fried donut stick served on the side which is meant for dipping. On the table you’ll find jars of pickled onion and carrot, chili sauce, dry chili flake, lime, and freshly sliced green and red chilis. Spice it up to your liking and dive in.
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BUN THIT NUONG
Bun is one of the standard rice noodle options you’ll find in a lot of Vietnamese dishes. The noodles are thin and round and go great with just about anything you put on top of them.
Bùn thịt nướng consists of a bowl of fresh cold bun, roasted peanuts, sliced pickled carrots and cucumber, fresh herbs like mint and basil, and fried spring rolls.
The dish is topped off with sweet barbecued pork (thịt nướng), and served with a dish of spicy fish sauce on the side. Grab your chopsticks, mix it all up, dump that fish sauce on top, and go for it.
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Bún Chả is a popular dish in Hanoi, very similar to bun thit nuong with a few key differences. Bún Chả is served with grilled pork meatballs rather than sweet bbq pork, and the ingredients (usually greens, herbs, and chilies) are typically all served separately to be mixed together (or not) at your discretion.
Some people prefer to dump the fish sauce over the top, others grab bits of bún and dip them in the fish sauce with each bite. Each person has their own style, so experiment with it, this is an eat it your way kind of meal.
Other variations of Bún Chả include Bún Chả Gio, Gabby's favorite version, (with crispy fried spring rolls instead of meat patties).
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BUN BO HUE
Bùn Bo Huế is a regional dish originating in Hue as the name suggests. This rice noodle soup is served with sliced beef in a spicy beef bone broth flavored with lemongrass and topped with sliced onion. Sometimes you’ll even find chunks of congealed pigs blood mixed in (don’t be afraid, it’s not as scary as you think).
On the side, you’ll be served a dish of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, banana flower and lime. You’ll enjoy the mix of spicy, sweet, and sour flavors and the oily feeling it leaves on your lips. Bùn Bo Huế is usually served early in the morning as a breakfast food, or late at night.
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Our final bun dish on our list of Vietnamese dishes is Bùn Riêu, a rice noodle soup with a sweet, red, crab and tomato broth. This hearty soup is quite popular in Dalat where we tried it for the first time.
Bùn Riêu is made by smashing freshwater crabs, shells and all, which are formed into crab cakes. The crab juice is then used to flavor the broth.
Often you’ll also find the congealed pigs blood, chunks of tomato, tofu, and onion. On the side you’ll be served the traditional plate of greens. Use the table toppings to season it up to your liking and enjoy!
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Cao lầu is a local specialty only found in Hoi An. The noodles in this dish are thick and chewy and must be made with the water from a very specific well in Hoi An. Any other cau lau noodles are just imitators.
You’ll find a small amount of broth, usually sliced pork, some fresh herbs, and crispy croutons. This is one of our favorite dishes, and we even found ourselves taking the 30 minute drive from Da Nang to Hoi An just to enjoy this dish on more than one occasion.
There are lots of great Cao lầu restaurants, but you can follow in the footsteps of the great Anthony Bourdain by sitting down and enjoying a bowl at the Hoi An Central Market.
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BANH UOT LONG GA
Just when you thought we were done with noodles, here comes another noodle dish.
Bánh ướt lòng gà is a local favorite in Da Lat and consists of cold sheet noodles cut into long wide strips, shredded chicken meat, and fresh herbs including spearmint, and crispy onions.
Sweet fish sauce is poured over the top.
The flavor is quite surprising, sweet and aromatic due to the fresh spearmint. We loved this dish and found ourselves craving it often while we lived in Dalat.
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Bánh Bèo are rice flour cakes served in their own little dishes. You’ll be served a big tray with about ten small dishes and a side dish of fish sauce. They’re originally from the Imperial City of Hue, but you can find them in many places in central Vietnam.
The little cakes are often topped with dried shrimps and crispy pork cracklins. The traditional method of eating involves drizzling a bit of fish sauce over the top, and spooning the flat cake out of it’s dish. Once it’s on your spoon, pop the whole thing in your mouth and eat it in one bite.
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BANH RAM IT
Another Hue specialty, Bánh ram ít are small rice dumplings filled with shrimp and pork. The sweet savory dumpling sits atop a deep fried crispy glutinous rice cake and should be dipped in fish sauce and eaten in one large bite.
The combination of flavors and textures is really something to behold, chewy and crunchy, savory and sweet, and we found ourselves coming back for seconds while we were visiting Hue, and we were only there for 2 days.
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BANH BOT LOC
Bánh bột lọc is a satisfyingly chewy little dumpling, made with tapioca flour, which gives it a clear translucent look. Usually the insides consist of shrimp, and pork belly, but since you can see straight through them, you’ll know before you take a bite.
Bánh bột lọc is typically served with chopped green onions, sprinkled with crispy onions, and the traditional side of fish sauce, unless they’re already swimming it it.
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WHITE ROSE DUMPLINGS
When you’re in Hoi An, be sure to try white rose dumplings or bánh bao vac, a locally made specialty. These little white dumplings are filled with shrimp or pork then steamed and topped with crispy onions and fresh chili, with a side of you guessed it… fish sauce!
You can find them almost anywhere in Hoi An, though we’ve heard they’re all made at the same restaurant and distributed around town daily. We would hit up the Central Market for this one.
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Bọt Chiến is a popular snack food consisting of bite size fried rice cakes mixed up with scrambled egg, and a bowl of soy sauce for dipping. You may also be served a dish of pickled vegetables on the side.
Each place does them a bit differently but they’re always a satisfying savory comfort food. Crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. We often ate these late at night in Da Lat, but you can find them any time of the day.
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Heo Quay is Vietnam’s version of crispy roasted pork. The careful preparation results in a fantastic sweet crispy skin, juicy fat that runs down your chin, and a satisfyingly tender meat. The combination of flavors and textures is something truly amazing.
Heo Quay can be served with rice, but you’ll most often find it in the front window of your favorite banh mi cart. Once you try it, you’re likely to be hooked, proceed with caution.
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Bánh Mì is less of a sandwich and more of a best friend who has always been there for me in a time of need. Bánh Mì is one of the most famous Vietnamese foods and for good reason. It’s so damn good.
You can find Bánh Mì served from little carts on just about any street in nearly any Vietnamese city, though it’s a little different everywhere you go. Our favorite toppings include egg (trung), sweet bbq pork (thit nuong), or roasted pork belly (heo quay).
Other ingredients typically include a schmear of pate, pickled vegetables, chili sauce, herbs, and other regional specialties. If you like spicy, make sure you ask for chili sauce, sometimes they’ll assume you can’t handle the heat.
You’re probably not going to have just one Bánh Mì on your trip to Vietnam, so try it a few different ways to see what you like!
READ OUR DA NANG LOCAL FOODS POST TO FIND OUR FAVORITE BANH MI CART IN VIETNAM
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BANH MI XIU MAI & BANH MI CHAO
Banh mi xiu mai is a typical Vietnamese street food popular in Dalat. Xiu mai is a sweet savory meatball soup served with a Banh mi bread on the side for dunking. This is a great dish when you need to warm up in the chilly mountain air of Dalat.
Some places serve a similar dish called Banh Mi Chao which not only has meatball soup, but also egg, vegetables, sausages, cheese, pate, ham and all sorts of other surprises on a hot skillet.
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Bò Né is one of the best Vietnamese foods you’ve probably never tried. It took us a while before we finally discovered this amazing dish, and we ate it a few times a week from then on. Bò Né is basically a Vietnamese version of steak and eggs and it’s great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The thinly sliced strip of marinated beef steak is served sizzling on a hot stone plate with an egg sunny side up, and some vegetables on the side. You’ll also be served a banh mi bread which can be used to form a sandwich or just soak up the sauce on the plate.
There’s no wrong way to eat this dish, you can thank us later.
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Bò Kho is a delicious beef stew (not the way your mom makes it) usually served with an egg and a mini baguette still bubbling in a hot skillet. The richly flavored stew varies from place to place so be sure to try a few different spots to discover which one makes it to your liking.
The chunks of tender beef combine with sliced carrots, onions, and egg make for a hearty breakfast you won’t soon forget. Bò Kho is always a good choice on a rainy day.
FIND OUR FAVORITE BO NE / BO KHO RESTAURANT IN DA NANG,
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Bánh Xèo are crispy rice flour pancakes filled with shrimp, pork, spring onions, bean sprouts and other veggies. These bright yellow pancakes are made with tumeric, and are served with a stack of rice papers, a dish of shredded papaya with cucumber slices, and a brown liver based sauce.
Grab a rice paper and lay your pancake inside, add some fixins, roll it up, and dunk it in the sauce. Your technique will hopefully improve by the third or fourth roll.
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Nem rán also known as Chả giò are crispy Vietnamese spring rolls. They may be famous everywhere, but unsurprisingly they’re far more delicious when you eat them in Vietnam. The insides will vary from vegetables, to pork, or even fish.
These delicate spring rolls are served either on their own with a side of vegetables like lettuce, cucumber, papaya, or carrot or as an accompaniment to dishes like Bun Cha.
One of our favorite places serves them with fresh veggies and rice paper on the side for rolling. Grab a piece of rice paper, add some vegetables like cucumber and shredded papaya, then add a crispy spring roll on top. Roll the whole thing up and dip it in the spicy fish sauce or red chilli sauce. The light crispy texture of the spring rolls will satisfy with every bite.
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Xôi, Vietnamese sticky rice, is one of our favorite breakfast foods in Vietnam. This dish is most popular in Hanoi, but you can find local variations in other parts of Vietnam. Xôi (pronounced like Soy) is sticky rice, sometimes glazed with saffron which gives it a yellow color.
From there they’ll add toppings such as shredded chicken, crispy onions, chili sauce, flossy pork, and pate. This is like a Vietnamese comfort food. Outside of Hanoi we’ve had, Xôi with bbq pork, and roasted pork belly.
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Every asian country seems to have their own version of chicken (ga) and rice (com). Vietnam is no exception. Each place we’ve eaten this dish seems to serve it a little differently. The chicken is sometimes fried crispy on the outside, other places boil it in a stock. Sometimes it’s served with the whole leg and breast in tact, other times the chicken is chopped or shredded on top of the rice. Sometimes it’s mixed with local greens, herbs and pickled veggies.
Regardless of the way the chicken is prepared, the rice is typically the star of this dish, getting its rich flavor from the chicken stock it is cooked in. It’s perfect any time of day, or when you just need a comforting meal.
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Locals in Dalat love to eat Bánh căn for breakfast. These little round rice flour pancakes are crispy on the outside with a soft quail egg on the inside. They’re cooked over a charcoal fire in individual ceramic cups with little lids that go on top.
You’ll be served a plate of 5-10 little pancakes, a dish of sweet savory meatball soup, and fish sauce for dipping. Bánh căn is really only served in the morning, so you’ll have to get up early to enjoy it. Most places will stop serving them by nine or ten o’clock. On occasion you’ll find a late night Bánh căn joint.
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Com Chien is simply Vietnamese fried rice. This is an incredibly versatile dish and can be served with an endless combination of vegetables, meat, and eggs. If you want to make this dish yourself, the key is to cook the rice the day before so it can dry out a little.
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We’re not big seafood eaters, but we couldn’t put a list of best Vietnamese foods together without any seafood dishes. Seafood restaurants in Vietnam are quite an experience.
You’ll find several live tanks with all different varieties of fish, squid, crab, prawn, and whatever else they happen to have available that night. You’ll typically point to your selection and order by the kilo, or half kilo. Then tell the restaurant staff how you’d like it cooked. Do you prefer steamed, grilled, hot pot? Have it your way!
One of the must try Vietnamese seafood dishes is Tamarind crab which is cooked in a sweet tamarind sauce. Be prepared to get your fingers messy as you pull the sticky crabs apart. This is all part of the experience, so don’t worry about making a big mess.
At the end of the meal you’ll be given a small bowl of water with limes and lemon grass, do not drink this, it is to help remove the seafood smell from your hands.
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VIETNAMESE SNACKS AND VIETNAMESE DESSERTS
Few sounds can ignite my taste buds like the sound of a Bánh Bao man as his motorcycle drives down the street. You’ll become very familiar with the sound of an approaching Bánh Bao guy, and the chorus of dogs that bark as he rides past.
Bánh Bao is a steamed bun filled with many different variations of meat, eggs, and vegetables. These soft warm buns are steamed on the back of a moving motorbike. Look closely and you can see the open flames and smell the burning wood chips. They cost 10,000vnd, don’t ask “How much?” Or you risk being overcharged. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.
LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST ABOUT EXPAT LIFE IN DA NANG TO HEAR THE QUINTESSENTIAL BANH BAO MOTORBIKE SOUND
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BANH TRANG (VIETNAMESE PIZZA)
In Dalat, when the sun goes down the Vietnamese pizza (bánh tráng) ladies come out. You’ll see them working quickly over a small charcoal stove surrounded by hungry customers eagerly waiting on plastic stools.
She starts with a circular sheet of rice paper on the grill, then cracks a fresh egg on top which she frantically mixes and spreads across the top of the paper. Next she adds toppings such as spring onion, shrimp, minced pork or sliced sausage, and pho mai cheese.
Finally she drizzles chili sauce or mayo on top in a swirly design. The ingredients may vary from place to place, but the satisfying crunch of bánh tráng is the same everywhere.
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Xắp Xắp is a favorite Vietnamese snack food for locals in Dalat. Xắp Xắp is a grated papaya salad with sauteed pork liver (sort of like beef jerky), roasted peanuts, mint leaves, and a spicy fish sauce on top.
Xap Xap is usually eaten in the afternoon or late night. It’s normal to see groups of young people sitting around a table each with their own plate of Xắp Xắp. It may sound a bit strange, but trust me it’s worth a try.
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KEM BO (AVOCADO ICE CREAM)
Yes, you read that correctly. Kem Bơ is as delicious as it is surprising. First, Avocado flesh is blended with smooth cream or coconut milk to create a light fluffy texture. Next a scoop of fresh coconut or vanilla ice cream is added to round out this sweet treat.
Kem Bơ is a little different everywhere you go, so don’t be put off if you’re not a fan the first time you try it. Ask the locals where the best place is, and they’ll certainly point you in the right direction.
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Dalat yogurt, made by the Dalat milk company can be found everywhere in Vietnam, but the true Dalat Yaourt is homemade and served in nearly every cafe, bakery and restaurant in the city.
The slightly sweet, sour flavor and creamy texture make it the perfect treat in the early morning, or on cool evenings accompanied by a mug of hot chocolate, with Dalat cacao. Watch out for the cheese yogurt which is mixed with pho mai, the triangle shaped “cream cheese” packets.
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Sweet bean snacks are popular all over Asia and never fail to surprise Westerners. Che is a goopy glass of sweetened mixed beans, rice cakes, coconut milk, and ice typically enjoyed in the evening.
There are so many possible combinations of mix-ins, and the menu at our local Da Nang Che spot is intimidating with so many options to choose from. We haven’t even come close to trying them all, and tend to stick with the “special” which seems to be a little bit of everything.
Be sure to try it once, you may not love it but it’s not as gross as you might think.
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BANH BO (COW DONUTS)
We couldn’t have been more excited to find a fresh donut shop in Da Nang. Bánh Bò are small fried cakes about the size of the palm of your hand. Their subtly sweet vanilla flavor is complemented with the spicy chili jam they’re meant to be dipped in.
Unlike the name suggests, these donuts have nothing to do with beef, except that their shape resembles a cow’s udder. In fact they are made with 4 ingredients rice flour, water, sugar and yeast. The donuts are puffy and have a honeycomb like texture inside due to the many air bubbles that form while they float around on top of the hot oil!
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We could literally spend hours telling you about all the different styles of coffee drinks you can try in Vietnam. In fact, we’ve even written a post about Vietnamese Coffee. Here’s a quick taste before you dive into the caffeine. Beside the typical ca phe sua da (vietnamese iced coffee with sweet milk) which can accompany pretty much any meal, Vietnam has made a name for itself with its unique coffee concoctions.
Try a Cà phê Trứng (egg coffee) which sounds weird at first but one sip and you’ll be hooked on Hanoi’s liquid version of tiramisu. Coffee is delicately blended with egg yolk and sweet milk and served in a bowl of hot water to keep its temperature. The history behind this sweet dessert like drink is not nearly as sweet. Originally egg yolk was added to coffee as a creamy replacement when milk was scarce.
Maybe Cà phê trứng is too sweet for your taste, try a Cà phê Muối (salt coffee) instead. You’ll find this unconventional drink specialty in Hue, (though now it is making its way to other cities.)
A conventional ca phe sua with a twist of salt in the cream. The salt balances out the sweetness of the condensed milk and makes this Vietnamese coffee drink taste more like caramel.
Other Vietnamese coffee specialties include coconut coffee, and yogurt coffee, but you’ll want to
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NUOC MIA (SUGAR CANE JUICE)
Nước mía is a refreshing beverage for those hot Vietnamese summers. You’ll see just as many Nước mía carts as you will Banh Mi carts in the summertime. The Sugar cane is pressed through a wringer to extract the juice. Salt is added, and a tiny green citrus fruit (calamansi) is squeezed in for extra flavor. One cup is usually 5-6k vnd.
Other Vietnamese coffee specialties include coconut coffee, and yogurt coffee, but you’ll want to check out our post about how vietnamese coffee is made and how to order in a cafe to learn more.
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BIA (VIETNAMESE BEER)
Vietnam is traditionally known for its fresh beer, or Bia tươi. You’ll find many Bia tươi establishments, called Bia hơi, set up along sidewalks, or in small corner drinking spots. Bia tươi is a draught beer served directly from the keg, brewed daily. It lacks preservatives making it only good for 24 hours. You’ll see plenty of people sitting at low tables enjoying a few glasses of Bia and a smoke on most evenings.
Vietnam is also home to a few different craft breweries. Keep an eye out for Pasteur Street Brewing Company (from Saigon) on draught at pubs and cafes. They have a deliciously bitter Jasmine IPA and a Coffee Porter that we love. Our “hometown” favorite though is 7 Bridges brewery in Da Nang. Their ales hit the spot especially with their rooftop view of the famous Dragon Bridge.
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Vietnamese Cuisine has easily become one of our favorites because of the fresh vegetables, soft chewy noodles, spicy chillies and of course the fresh baked baguettes. The combination of flavors and textures and is what makes Vietnamese cuisine so special.
Be bold, try new things, and discover your new favorites. Let this list of popular Vietnamese dishes be just the start of your Vietnamese food journey, but don’t stop here, there are many more dishes to discover!
Let us know in the comments section below, which dishes you love, or love to hate, and especially tell us your favorites that didn’t make this list.