Vietnamese food has always been a personal favourite. If you are from North American like me, when we think of Vietnamese food, our first thoughts are mostly Pho, Vietnamese subs or lemongrass chicken, but there is so much more! There are many other delicious delicacies that we may have never heard of, but are part of the daily lives of locals in Vietnam.
Did you know that the Vietnamese food we are exposed to in North America is mostly the Southern style of cooking? There is a slight difference in cuisine styles between the North and the South part of Vietnam, and since we have mostly experienced Southern Vietnamese cuisine already, here are some top Vietnamese foods you should try up in the Northern part of the country, and in particular Hanoi where I have visited.
1. Pho Bo (Beef Pho)
Of course first things first is everyone’s favorite, Pho! The pho that we are used to with the beef, is actually called Pho Bo, where the Bo = beef in Vietnamese. In Hanoi, or northern Vietnam in general, the pho there does not come with all the bean sprouts and herbs on the side that we are used to, which is more of the Southern style. In the North, they just give you a bowl of pho with some herbs in it like cilantro in a slightly clearer soup base, and that is about it. A popular side dish that the locals up in the North like to order along with their Pho is actually dough fritters to dip or soak in the pho soup base, scrumptiously ingenious.
2. Pho Ga Tron (Dry Chicken Pho)
This is a signature dish in Hanoi. Chicken pho is actually quite popular and common in Vietnam, despite it being not as popular at Vietnamese restaurants in North America. The pho ga tron is a dry version of the normal soup-based chicken pho and is usually eaten for dinner instead of breakfast. The dish is a delightful mix of pho noodles, boiled chicken, herbs, and sauce with a little bit of chicken fat, that will make your mouth water.
3. Nom Bo (Beef Papaya Salad)
As the name suggests, this is a salad made from thinly chopped strips of papaya and a mixture of different cuts of beef on top with peanuts sprinkled over. Depending on how strong your stomach is, a word of caution since this does involve fresh vegetables/ fruits (papaya) that may not have been handled properly if you are eating it from a street stand or restaurant.
4. Banh Cuon (Steamed Rice Crepe)
This is a popular breakfast item for locals in Northern Vietnam. They are made from a paper-thin layer of rice batter rolled around meat filling, and are usually eaten by dipping it into fish sauce with fried shallots and herbs.
5. Bun Bo Nam Bo (Vermicelli with Grilled Beef)
This actually originates from the South, but they also make a delicious version of this up in Hanoi. This dish is usually a mix of marinated grilled beef with vermicelli noodles, fish sauce, vegetables and herbs, and peanuts thrown into a bowl. Stir it up and enjoy!
6. Bun Cha (Cold Noodles with Pork Patties)
A simple dish of cold bun noodles with fresh vegetables, herbs, and slices of grilled pork patties. Mix and dip in dipping sauce to eat.
7. Banh Mi (Vietnamese Sub)
The Vietnamese subs that we are used to but better, but maybe just because you are trying it in Vietnam. These subs have obvious French influences from back when Vietnam was colonized by the French, with the use of baguettes that they fill with a variety of different meats that you can choose from. The choice of filling is shown after the words Banh mi ____ when you see it on a sign in front of food carts or menus and if you cannot read them, be adventurous and just pick and try one. Otherwise, you can try an exchange of the pointing game to find out what they are putting in it.
8. Cafe Trung (Egg Coffee)
The coffee culture in Vietnam is pretty big, but this little-known beverage has been passed on from generation to generation with only a few families knowing how to make it in Hanoi with their own slight variations. Surprisingly, it does not actually have any eggs in the recipe but still has a slight egg-like taste to it. The café where I had mine is through a small alleyway so finding it without a local or tour guide to help you might be a bit difficult, but if you find this hidden gem you will be blown away by the rich flavor and sweetness of the coffee.
9. Exotic Fruits
When you are in Vietnam, you have got to try the variety of exotic tropical fruits that are available. Not only is the country well known for exotic fruits, they are also much cheaper and fresher than those you see in ethnic grocery stores abroad. Depending on the season you visit you can try some of the following: Mango, custard apples, mangosteen, rambutan, dragon fruit, star apple, jack fruit and many more.
10. Sua Chua Nep Cam (Yogurt with Sweet Sticky Rice)
Here is a dessert you can try if you are not full from trying all the foods above. This dessert has sweet glutinous (sticky) red rice with yogurt on top to be mixed and eaten. Some locals like to add and mix in some shaved or finely crushed ice to give it a bit more texture and coolness while eating.
We have gone through 10 Vietnamese foods you can try in Northern Vietnam but there are so much more that are not listed here that could be equally as delicious. Hope this serves as a good starting point in your food adventures and gives you some ideas on foods you can try. What is your favourite Vietnamese food on this list? or which of these do you want to try next?