Foodies who love Vietnamese food find themselves in culinary paradise when visiting Vietnam, where finding delicious and iconic fare requires little more than a table and a set of chopsticks. One of Vietnam’s most enduring traditions is street food — where the country’s tastiest food is served up on sidewalks atop plastic stools in the open air.
Cooks here whip up family specialties right on the pavements as hungry passers-by gather around miniature furniture to get a taste. As a traveler, missing out on experiencing street food in its natural environment would mean missing out on one of Vietnam’s most important cultural elements.
But for visitors, street food culture in Vietnam is a difficult concept to wrap your head around. With the fare differing in each city you’ll visit, knowing what to try and where to try it is a tough decision to make. For any foodie in Vietnam, though, there are four cities that can’t be skipped when in search of the country’s best street food. So, we’re breaking down which cities to head to, what to eat there, and why it’s not-to-miss.
Hanoi is proud of its food, and that pride becomes pretty clear with just a stroll down a road in the Old Quarter, Hanoi’s historical center. Most pavements are packed with diners hunched over plastic tables at all times of the day and into the night, with the city’s most bustling nightlife centered squarely on where the best food stalls are located. While many city’s social gatherings take place over beers or cocktails, Hanoi’s almost always include food, and with prices of street food so low, it’s possible to enjoy an expertly cooked dish for every meal when traveling here.
What To Eat?
Hanoi is never, ever short on delicious food, and nearly everything you’ll try in the Old Quarter is delicious. That said, no visitor to Hanoi should ever be forgiven for skipping bun cha, bun rieu, bun ca, ngan nuong or bun ngao — and those that do will have missed out on some of Hanoi’s tastiest specialties.
The misty mountain town of Sapa is famous for its mysterious atmosphere and ethnic minority locals — but one of its best features is its incredible food. The cold, humid and foggy weather makes eating in Sapa equal parts an enjoyable past-time and a matter of staying warm. Eating in Sapa is an adventure in flavors and cooking, since much of the food in Sapa is cooked oven a sizzling open flame in the open.
What to Eat?
Sapa street food is more savory, warm and filling than the rest of the country, with flame-grilled barbeque along with beef, chicken or fresh seafood a particular favorite. Street vendors regularly grill up pork skewers, duck eggs, sweet potatoes and chestnuts, too, with a lighter snack of com lam, or sticky rice in a bamboo pipe.
Among all of the central cities renowned for delicious food, Hoi An is regularly touted as the best. The ancient city has centuries of history that it draws its distinct culinary flavors from, with influences from Japan, China and other neighboring countries thanks to its history as a major port city. Plus, the city is quieter than many of its more urban counterparts, so eating on the street here is as relaxing as it is delicious.
What to Eat?
Street food stalls along the Thu Bon River cook up Hoi An specialities year-round, but specialize in a few dishes that are found almost exclusively in Hoi An. The absolute favorite is cao lau, which features noodles with a distinct Japanese twist, but don’t miss out on a few other favorites, like mi quang, banh can and banh it.
Ho Chi Minh City
Just like its northern culinary cousins, Ho Chi Minh City is a hub for street food, but has a particular taste that’s different from the rest of the country. Thanks to the year-round heat, food in Ho Chi Minh City is thinner and sweeter than the north, so many of its iconic dishes (including pho) trade northern Vietnam’s thick and savory tastes for something decidedly lighter.
What to Eat?
Ho Chi Minh City’s signature sweetness is best showcased with its specialties, including pho cuon (fresh spring rolls in a sweet dipping sauce), com tam (broken rice with a choice of sides) and bun thit nuong (a peanut-infused noodle and meat dish in a sweet soup). End any meal with the city’s iconic sweet soup che, which can be found around Vietnam, but is especially popular in HCMC.
Want to get a taste of Vietnamese cuisine, behind and in front of the kitchen? Take a look at our Gourmet Vietnam tour for a delectable journey through this iconic destination!