Written by @stackerslee_eats
I am a HUGE fan of Vietnam! It is easily one of my favourite places in the world – I have been twice and can see myself heading back many more times. From the hectic, non-stop buzzing vibe of Ho Chi Minh City, to the modern beachside town of Nha Trang with it’s very own super fun and slightly bizarre amusement park island, to the quiet, historic town of Hoi An full of pretty sites, endless tailor shops and delicious food – Vietnam is my ideal holiday destination. Every turn is met with a friendly smile, a new adventure, an amazing story and more often than not, the opportunity to barter with a street vendor for those authentic-replica holiday purchases!
I am particularly obsessed with the food in Vietnam. Always incredibly fresh and flavour packed, the local cuisine never fails to deliver. Think delicious combinations centred around ginger, chili, lime, fish sauce, lemongrass and always with a mountain of herbs including coriander, mint and Thai basil – for me, Vietnam is my foodie paradise. And there is no better way to dive right in than by hitting the local street food stalls!
I understand that many people can be hesitant to try street food – we’ve all heard the horror stories of meals gone wrong! Being stuck next to the toilet in your hotel room for days on end when you’re supposed to be enjoying an amazing trip would be a total nightmare! However, some of the best meals of my life have come from the street vendors of Vietnam, and none of them made me sick. In my opinion, street food really is the way to go to experience the most authentic and next-level tasty local food – not to mention the fact that it is also a much cheaper way to eat! You’ll find me sitting on a tiny plastic stool at a curb-side food stop, chopsticks in hand and a steaming bowl of delicious noodle soup in front of me well before you’ll find me seated at a nice table in a nice restaurant, scoping out my options from a long menu.
Here are my tips for getting the most out of your street food eating experiences in Vietnam.
Do a street food tour
Jumping straight in to the local foodie scene with a street food tour at the start of your holiday will set you up well for a trip full of delicious eats. I find street food tour guides to be a wealth of knowledge not only the local cuisine but also on the do’s / don’ts / must sees / history of your holiday destination. You’ll be filled in on the food ways of Vietnam as you’re led down busy, narrow laneways to often-hidden but always popular street food gems – where dedicated tastings will quickly bring you up to speed on why there’s standing room only!
A favourite memory of mine is eating perfectly crispy and fresh savoury pancakes called Banh Xeo on a Saigon Street Eats 101 Tour in 2015. This street vendor had been serving Banh Xeo to the local community for 30 years – watching him expertly create these tasty masterpieces, then learning the proper way to eat them topped with a pile of herbs, wrapped in fresh lettuce leaves, and dunked in dipping sauce was incredible. Banh Xeo was promptly added to my list of fave foods ever!
I also had the pleasure of trying Xi Ma on The Original Taste of Hoi An tour in 2012. This sweet watergrass and black sesame elixir resembled engine grease, but surprisingly tasted great! A serving of this every day was credited for keeping many locals happy and healthy!
I have never walked away from a street food tour feeling anything less than a beached whale. Every tour has at least doubled my bodyweight in delicious local food, leaving me happy, unable to move easily and therefore inevitably followed by an afternoon of recovery napping.
Go where the locals go
It goes without saying, people know where the good food is in their area. If you see a street food outlet that is buzzing with locals, chances are there is something super tasty on the menu! One of my street food tour guides also told me that napkins or rubbish thrown on the floor of a street food venue is a sign of respect – if you like the food, throw your napkins on the ground!
Look for places with a fresh source of water
Street food stalls don’t always have access to fresh running water – vendors may be using a basin of water carried with them to their location. Outlets with access to a tap or other source of fresh water have an added level of safety when it comes to food hygiene, so I generally prefer to seek these ones out. I also pick places where I can easily see the food being cooked by the chef over places where I can’t see the food prep in action.
The local markets are great for cheap, authentic dishes!
I make a point of stopping by local markets for cheap and always-flavour-packed meals whenever I can! I have a slight noodle soup obsession – perfectly aligned to Vietnam holidays! - and had the best Bun Rieu Cua of my life in the middle of the hectic Ben Tanh Markets in Ho Chi Minh City. This sweet, slightly tangy noodle soup with tomato, tofu, blood jelly cubes (be adventurous! Go on!) and crab meat was served with bean sprouts, lime wedges, fermented shrimp paste and of course, a pile of fresh herbs. Literally, my idea of happiness in a bowl! The cost? Under $2.50AUD. Such a win!
Do your research beforehand!
There is a lot to be said for doing a bit of local food research before you head on your holiday. I start following local food accounts on Instagram, scoping Trip Advisor reviews and reading travel or food blogs before I head off on an adventure. A particular favourite of mine is Legal Nomads – especially for delicious food finds in Vietnam!
I also like to have a list of the top 5 local dishes I want to try in any new destination. For Vietnam, I would recommend the following:
- Pho Bo: The go-to favourite Vietnamese dish – beef noodle soup!
- Bun Rieu Cua: As above, sweet, tangy, tomato-based noodle soup with tofu, crab meat, fresh herbs and if you’re feeling adventurous, blood jelly cubes and fermented shrimp paste! Yum!
- Banh Mi Thit: Another famous Vietnamese fave – pork rolls! Delicious light fluffy bread filled with combinations of pork, pate, mayonnaise, pickled vegetables and chili. I find the rolls in Vietnam to be much lighter than the ones we’re used to here in Australia. So good!
- Banh Xeo: Crispy savoury Vietnamese pancakes made with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts. These are eaten wrapped in fresh lettuce leaves or rice paper (depending on the region you’re in), topped with fresh herbs and a delicious Vietnamese dressing.
- Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio: Thin rice noodles topped with grilled pork, a crispy spring roll, fresh herbs, cucumber, peanuts and a super yummy fish sauce dressing. Fresh and delicious – a solid choice!
So there you go - I hope these tips help you on your quest for delicious eats in Vietnam! In fact, after writing that I think I am ready to start planning my next trip back……
Image source: https://www.wendywutours.com.au/resource/upload/0/-hoi-an-colorful-vegetables-for-sale-at-the-central-market-of-hoi-an-vietnam.jpg