Fresh ingredients and simplicity are the key to Vietnamese food; from stuffed steamed rice pancakes to beef noodle soup to barbecued pork skewers cooked over an open barbecue in the side streets. No matter where you go, it’s these small nuggets of deliciousness that make travelling and eating in Vietnam so memorable.
In Saigon we were delighted to stumble across Ngon Dac Biet. Next to the Bitexco Tower, an authentic Vietnamese eatery crammed with trestle tables and tiny plastic stools.
We can highly recommend Banh Cuon Nong; steamed rolled rice pancakes stuffed with minced meat, served with Vietnamese sausage on a bed of Thai basil and mint leaves. We would also suggest Banh My Thit ; a marinated pork kebab, served in a soft baguette with white cabbage, carrot, onion, lettuce and mayonnaise (burning-hot chilli sauce optional). Everything is prepared in front of you and it’s very easy on the wallet – just 30,000 VND for the Banh Cuon Nong and only 20,000 VND for the Banh My Thit.
For a more comfortable dining experience in Saigon, with adult sized chairs (my boyfriend of 6ft was thankful for the leg room), try Huong Viet (also known as Vietnamese Aroma) on Pham Ngu Lao Street. Serving a great mix of Vietnamese, Mexican and Western style food, it offers something for everyone. We thoroughly enjoyed our two dinners here, including pho, curry, fried rice and fajitas, finding the food fresh, tasty, great value for money and the service friendly and consistent.
Another delightful restaurant that we frequented was Baba’s Indian Restaurant. Offering divine Indian dishes, from bajis to biryanis, dahls to dosas, Baba’s hit the mark every time. It’s the little things that add up, like free iced water and a small portion of payasam (cold rice pudding flavoured with cardamom) to cool you down after your spicy mains – you also get a 5% discount per person if you fill in a comments card, bonus!
Click here to view our full guide for eating out in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
We spent a few weeks in Nha Trang and sampled a range of food, some great and some downright terrible. Our favourites were; Lanterns Restaurant serving simple yet delicious Vietnamese dishes (a favourite amongst tourists and ex-pats alike, although I do not rate the clay pot items) and Veranda Restaurant serving Vietnamese fusion cuisine and very well-priced set menus, their scallop starter in a light broth was just divine.
For some of the best sushi we have tasted anywhere, head on over to Oh!Sushi, you’ll never pay less for sushi this good. For a great tasting Pho, head on over to Yen’s Restaurant, next door to the Ha Van Hotel, great at any time of the day.
The best Ca Phe (Coffee) is served on Nguyen Thien Thuat, just opposite the ‘Booze Cruise Bar’ by a small street vendor selling hot dogs and Banh Mi. For just 10,000 VND they will make you a delicious Ca Phe Sua Da (Iced coffee with condensed milk). That was my secret to joining in with the Nha Trang Hash House Harriers the best bunch of people you will meet in Nha Trang, I urge you to give the Hash a go… (you need energy to keep up with this lot!)
Click here to view our full guide to eating out (including addresses) in Nha Trang
Our time in Dalat was unfortunately hindered by the constant hassle of Easy Rider drivers and we sought the refuge of restaurants and cafés rather than sample more of the street food. We did however eat out for a great price and enjoyed our food in Dalat. The abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, due to Dalat’s cooler and wetter climate is apparent in its menus, with a great emphasis on salads, soups and vegetarian dishes. Even a simple pho gets a makeover in Dalat with the addition of seasonal fresh vegetables (and the mountain of herbs).
Our favourites were M Café for the vegetable soups, salads and a shortcake dessert with fresh fruit, rum and vanilla ice cream (to die for).
V Café offered great live music and a fresh and very tasty menu, we sampled salads, soups and a stunning pasta and smoked salmon dish with dill, a little more expensive than other restaurants in Dalat but definitely worth the visit (you might be lucky to catch the Curtis King Band and Eric Swackhammer playing!).
For some of the best fresh spring rolls try Da Quay Restaurant, the service may be a little cold, but for the spring rolls alone it’s worth a visit. Do also try the barbecued meats at the lively night market next to the Xuan Huong Lake, this seems to be ‘the place to be’ during the evenings. Don’t forget to enjoy a glass or three of Dalat’s famous red wine (served all over Vietnam), although it is perhaps best to leave the white wine in the bottle.
For further information on eating out in Dalat, please take a look at our Dining in Dalat guide.
Hoi An was our favourite city in Vietnam. A friendly and much more easy-going pace, it’s not hard to see why Hoi An is so popular with visitors. Our favourite dining experiences were the Won-Tons with shrimp, pork, vegetables and home-made sweet and sour chilli sauce and the chicken and vegetable noodle soup served at Miss Ly Café near to the food food market in the Old Quarter. The White Rose with home-made chilli dipping sauce and crispy shrimp and squid at 19 Restaurant were divine, we returned three times, although it may have been the Bia Hoi (fresh beer) at 5,000 VND that kept us coming back for more.
For a touch of decadence, we sampled a few of Cargo Club’s stunning cakes and pastries: the Mango and Chocolate mousse and Chocolate Truffle Mousse being the most memorable sweet treats.
For addresses, reviews and pictures of where to dine in Hoi An, please click here to see our full dining guide.
We did not do so well in Hue. Perhaps it was just our bad planning or bad luck, we cross referenced the Lonely Planet Guide and Trip Advisor and were very disappointed with what we found. We visited Anh Binh (a ‘Top Choice’ in the LP guide), where we were the only diners and felt like we were treated with disdain by the ten members of staff who just hung around the restaurant (one even went for a lie down on the floor next to us). Even though the restaurant was recommended for fresh crab – as listed in most of the dishes, there was no crab available, our salads were wilted and our drinks warm. This was just one of the many restaurants that did not endear us to dining in Hue. The Citadel was however a worthwhile reason for our stop over, even if the food and service was atrocious.
One light in the darkness was Lien Hoa, hard to find through a maze of alleyways on Le Quy Don, it surprised us with simple yet tasty stir-fried, rice and Pho dishes served by a delightful family at low prices, it was worth the hunt.
Our favourite and most memorable food in Hue was a superb Banh Mi cart, located just outside of the Sinh Café office on Nguyen Tri Phuong. Serving a selection of pork and chicken skewers with pickled carrots and cabbage, chilli, coriander (cilantro), Thai basil, tomatoes and cucumber. Just try not to drool as you watch the fat dripping off the pork before it goes into your baguette. We purchased three for our onward night bus to Hanoi (and wished we had ordered more).
Saving the best street food for last, Hanoi won hands down in our opinion.
Banh Bao Thit (meat dumplings) and Banh Goi (a ‘pasty’ style meat in pastry) are best eaten at a small stall-cum-restaurant at Banh Goi next to the big banyan tree near St Joseph’s Cathedral. Expect a busy and messy hole-in-the-wall, where queuing is normal and it’s very usual to have to pick your way through the discarded napkins and greens that litter the floor. This really is a genuine Vietnamese street food experience, we enjoyed our selection so much, we ordered a second plate with another mountain of fresh herbs and sweet dipping sauce (and two more bottles of Bia Hanoi).
Our favourite Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) was served on Bat Dan Street, thanks to a recommendation from the Tu Linh Palace, we stopped here numerous times for the stunningly delicious noodle soup served from gigantic vats and with as little (or as much) laceratingly hot chilli sauce as you want.
New Day Restaurant served up the best Nem Cua Be (sea crab spring rolls) we had tried in Vietnam, beating the vegetable version we had tried at Da Quay in Dalat hands down (and we thought that would be hard to do).
Eating out in Vietnam isn’t as easy as say Thailand (in our opinion):
- You need to know a little Vietnamese (even if your pronunciation is bad, it is better to try than not make an effort).
- It helps to know where the locals eat and to follow them.
- It helps to check out the reviews such as Trip Advisor (not that you can always trust the reviews) or a Lonely Planet guide.
Don’t be scared, I have read many blogs warning people of the risks of eating street food and most of the time it is unnecessary. Use your head, follow the crowd and eat early (just like the Vietnamese) – A bowl of Pho at 10pm from a street vendor will be nothing in comparison to one from a busy vendor at 11am, hence all the Vietnamese workers sat in the alleyway come lunch time, slurping from their bowl. Banh Mi (baguettes) are pretty ‘safe’ as they use nothing but a knife – so no worries of cross-contamination from utensils. But don’t worry too much….you won’t enjoy Vietnam if you think in western terms!
A helping hand:
- Bò: beef
- Gà: chicken
- Cá: fish
- Thịt: meat
- Cơm: rice
- Mì, Bún, and Phở: varieties of noodle
- Cám ơn (rất nhiều)!: thank you (very much)
- Chào anh: hi / hello
- Chào: googbye
Want to know more about Pho? – eatingasia.typepad.com
Heres a brilliant article about the basics of Vietnamese cuisine – www.seriouseats.com
Did we miss anything out? What were your top eats in Vietnam? What was your favourite restaurant? Best food memory? Feel free to comment using the form below.