Beyond the pho: a street-level guide to Vietnam’s tastiest food

written by Libby Shabada November 30, 2015

This is for all my fellow self-proclaimed foodies out there. We’ve all dabbled in Vietnamese cuisine: some ever-classic spring rolls to snack on, a flavourful bánh mì for lunch, and a hot bowl of phở on a cold day. But Vietnam has so many other delicious treasures to be discovered, it’d be a shame to spend your life sitting in a corner slurping a big bowl of beef broth (well, not that much of a shame).

To help with your Vietnamese food pilgrimage, I’ve come up with a list of the must-try dish for Vietnam’s major cities.

Bún Chả in Hanoi

If you’re in Vietnam, you’re likely visiting Hanoi. And if you’re visiting Hanoi, you should definitely try the city’s signature dish, bún chả. This beyond-tasty meal consists of grilled fatty pork served with rice vermicelli noodles, a mountain of herbs, dipping sauce, and often a side of fried spring rolls.

I tried bún chả at a tiny spot complete with child-sized plastic stools and a mother figure cooking in plain view. It was amazing. Check it out for yourself at 4 Ngo Gach, or for an equally delicious bún chả with adult-sized chairs, try Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim at 67 Duong Thanh Street.

Nem Lui in Hue

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Image c/o Le Dung, Flickr

Nem lui shatters all Vietnamese food stereotypes. No soup, no noodles, no rice. Just grilled pork skewed with lemongrass, herbs and vegetables, rice paper to roll it all up with, and a hoisin-peanut dipping sauce. The unlikely pairing of flavours mingle perfectly together and are sure to get your mouth watering.

You’ll find nem lui all over Hue, including Hanh Restaurant at 11 Pho Duc Chinh. So when you have a break from the Citadel touring, make sure to give one a try. Or several.


Cao Lầu in Hoi An

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Image c/o Alpha, Flickr

Hoi An is world heritage site brimming with lazily drifting boats, colourful lanterns, and striking temples. However, this charming ancient town is also known for one very important thing: cao lầu. This exclusive dish to Hoi An consists of wide noodles, simmered BBQ pork, bean sprouts, pork rind or croutons, lettuce, and herbs all mixed together in a glorious bowl of epic proportions.

My cao lầu experience was at one of the many riverside street vendors just west of the Japanese Covered Bridge, however, Miss Ly Cafeteria (22 Nguyen Hue St.) and Ty Cao Lau stand (just off Phan Chu Trinh St) are two infamous spots for A+ cao lầu too.


Vietnamese charcoal grill in Nha Trang

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Image c/o Leo Fung, Flickr

I don’t normally say this, but sometimes it’s funner to cook for yourself. And in Nha Trang, there’s a quintessential charcoal grill restaurant where you do just that. Lac Canh is tucked away at 44 D Nguyen Binh Khiem, but you’ll know you’re at the right place if it’s packed with locals and aromatic smoke.

First, you’ll be brought small charcoal grills for your table and get your pick of chicken, beef, fresh prawns, vegetables, and basically anything else you would want to cook on a grill. Then, the cooking part is up to you. Hands-on and delicious.


Cơm tấm, in Ho Chi Minh City

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Image c/o Foodie Baker, Flickr

Cơm tấm, aka “Broken Rice”, is essentially a way of repurposing the leftover broken rice pieces from the drying and milling process. Don’t let that fool you though, Cơm tấm is a tasty and popular dish throughout Ho Chi Minh. It is generally served with pork chops, fried egg, or shredded pork. Decisions, decisions.

Try authentic Saigon-style cơm tấm all over Ho Chi Minh or go with a guaranteed-to-please version at Com Tam Nguyen Van Cu (74 Nguyen Van Cu).

Sip, slurp and munch your way through Vietnam one an Intrepid small group adventure.

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