I love to check the articles about many interesting things about food, sightseeings, adventures, travel tips…Especially about the food, very interesting to know how Western tourists taste what we love to eat, to drink in Asia…and how they think about it!
Many articles about the most stinky foods, most repulsive (disgusting) dishes in Thailand or those foods that will send you running to the bathroom…then running back for more!
Or best foods that Taiwanese or Hong Kong can’t live without!
So I wonder what could be the street foods that we can’t live without in Vietnam? I try to list down within 10 but as I’m living in Sài Gòn, probably my focus is more on the South! I may miss something that is your favorite, please add it to the list and make it 40 (*) street foods that we, Vietnamese, can’t live without!
To me, it should be more than 2 compared to our neighbor – Land of smile, but as usual that list of 50 always remains a subject of many discussions and argues!
1. Beef noodles (Phở bò)
This could be the No 1 street food in Vietnam and most recognizable Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam. Originated from the North, but has found home in the South since long time, that’s why we have “phở” in two different styles: northern and southern. According to some foodies, in Sài Gòn besides these two official northern and southern styles we still have some other “styles”, but I would say it’s more like taste. Good Phở should have all good three components: soup, beef and noodles! To me beef noodles should be a dish that inspires competitiveness and innovation in chefs, at that time everyone wants to claim the honor title “Beef noodles King”!
Beef noodles at Phở Tàu bay
2. Broken rice (Cơm tấm)
My all time favorite, but today “cơm tấm” is quite different and to be honest, I don’t like it as before. Cơm tấm An Dương Vương or Kiều Giang are far from the best, too commercial! They make so many dishes to go with broken rice and by somehow it makes the broken rice lost the traditional taste as in the old days: broken rice with pork skin (cơm tấm bì) or egg cake (chả trứng)! But even saying so, I still can enjoy good cơm tấm at different places: simpler but more original! To me, most important for broken rice is the rice itself and fish sauce, flavorful rice and a little bit sweet, a little bit salty, a little bit spicy fish sauce and by the way don’t forget to top broken rice with special minced green onion stirred in the oil (mở hành)!
Broken rice with roasted chicken, egg cake and pork skin at Ba Ghiền
3. Sticky rice (Xôi)
This is a great breakfast dish that give you a boost of added energy. Similar to beef noodles, sticky rice also has two styles: northern and southern and they are quite different. Example, corn sticky rice (xôi bắp) in a northern style is very different from a southern and to me tastier! Sticky rice has sweet and salty. My favorite for sweet is a corn sticky rice in a northern style (xôi bắp), there is many things: softly cooked corn mixed with sticky rice, topped with green mung bean, tasty fried shallots, sugar. For salty one (xôi mặn), my choice could be a sticky rice with dried shrimp, chinese sausage, green onion stirred with oil, flavored with soy sauce.
Sweet corn sticky rice in a northern style
Sticky rice with chicken floss
Sweet sticky rice in a southern style
4. Saigon baguette (Bánh mỳ Sài Gòn)
Along with beef noodles, Saigon baguette (bánh mỳ Saigon) is the most famous dish outside of Vietnam, something that tourist rave and hype about. But in Sài Gòn to taste the best Bánh mỳ, you should know the place! Not every place! A good, warm and crunchy bread is filled with many things!
It could be several kinds of Vietnamese pork ham, liver paste (pâté gan), veggies (cucumber, coriander, green onion, chili…) and sour things (đồ chua) which made from pickled shreds of carrot and white radish!
Saigon baguette is filled with “everything” Bánh mỳ đủ thứ!
5. Rice noodles (Bún)
There is many dishes with rice noodles. Many! I tried to count but then gave up. Because living in Sài Gòn I may know only those popular dishes here, but in North or Central? Anyway to me most popular dish with rice noodles (bún) could be bún thịt nướng (rice noodles with grilled pork), bún riêu (rice noodles with sour crab soup), bún chả giò (rice noodles with deep fried spring rolls)! I personally select two to represent rice noodles: bún thịt nướng for rice noodles served without soup category and bún riêu for rice noodles served in soup category!
Rice noodles with grilled pork
It would be a big miss if I don’t mention a glorious dish from Huế, super popular in Saigon! Beef noodles in Huế style, same as traditional beef noodles that I list down on the top, we can have this bún bò Huế for breakfast, lunch or late dinner! The most distinctive is its flavor – thanks to the special Huế shrimp paste (ruốc Huế) and lemon grass added to the soup during cooking!
Beef noodles in Hue style – strong flavor and mildly spicy!
A popular rice noodles with sour soup, crab paste…bún riêu!
6. Roll cake (Bánh cuốn)
Again and again we have two different: roll cake in a northern style, filled with pork meat (bánh cuốn nhân thịt) and roll cake in a southern style – we call bánh ướt (wet cake!). Both are made from rice, steamed and served with sweet, spicy fish sauce, ham and blanched bean sprouts, herbs. Both are most popular but wet cake (bánh ướt) could be more popular as street food in Sài Gòn as it’s easy to sell from a moving cart! These days I saw many these carts on the street!
Roll cake in a southern style – we call “wet” cake (bánh ướt)
Roll cake filled with pork meat in a northern style at Thiên Hương
7. Papaya salad with pork liver (gỏi bò)
My childhood favorite snack and until now I’m happy to have it whenever I have a chance! Used to be one of the most popular snacks among the youth, esp. school teenagers. These days maybe the taste has been changed, we may not find this street stall selling this yummy papaya salad in front of many schools anymore but certain places are famous for this special salad. Made from shreds of young papaya, served in sour-sweet spicy sauce, topped with roasted peanut, Vietnamese basil, shrimp cracker and most important beef liver or lung (!?) that has been braised in secret aromatic dark sweet sauce with probably different spices!
Green papaya salad topped with secret beef liver, peanut…
8. Big noodles (Bánh canh)
I love the big noodles or I always call it jokingly “udon” due to its jumbo size! Vietnamese udon or bánh canh! We have a quite large variation of bánh canh, depends on the area. In South we have bánh canh with pork knuckle (bánh canh giò heo), or with crab (bánh canh cua). Very popular. Then in Central we have bánh canh with crab in a Huế style or with snakehead (bánh canh cá lóc)…We even have sweet bánh canh in coconut soup, very tasty, the speciality from Mekong Delta! Bánh canh is good for breakfast or light meal before dinner! My all-time favorite is bánh canh with crab. The soup with crab meat, crab cake or some other stuffs, we need to add only some fresh chili, squeeze some drops of lime juice, all of it makes bánh canh heavenly good!
Vietnamese big noodles with crab (bánh canh cua)
Big noodles with flower crab – another version from Central!
9. Yellow noodles
Originated from China, but this noodles dish already found home in here, probably hundred years ago!
I did try yellow noodles in Beijing and in Hong Kong, I may prefer the Vietnamese version, probably I already used to the local taste here! Good for breakfast or late night meal! Yellow noodles can go with either seafood, chicken, pork or little of everything (mỳ đủ thứ). I love the noodles texture – should be a bit hard, not too soft! And, of course, the soup itself!
Yellow noodles with everything at Minh Ký Mì Gia!
10. Fresh spring roll (Gỏi cuốn)
If talking about the roll in Vietnam, it would take days…as we have so many things that we can roll in rice paper (bánh tráng)! The most popular among the rolls – deep fried spring rolls but as street food – by somehow fresh spring roll or we simply call “gỏi cuốn” – more popular!
Just a good rice paper, we roll with rice noodles, veggies and veggies, then cooked pork meat (thịt heo luộc) and cooked prawn! Dip sauce is sweet soy sauce mixed with chopped roasted peanut!
Summer roll as it’s called – one of the world’s 50 delicious foods!
(*) The list still goes on! As we may end it up not with only 20 but 40! I don’t know why 40! Could be 100? 100 street foods that we can’t live without! It would be a good guidebook for any tourist in Vietnam!