South East Asia is a food lover’s paradise, and Vietnam is one of the culinary highlights. The food is delicious, fresh, cheap and you can find it anywhere. Street food, cheap eats and fine dining are all available. An important aspect of exploring any destination is finding and enjoying the authentic, local food. So for you the traveler and fellow food lover, this is a foodie guide to the best of Vietnam. Food tours, cooking schools and must try foods are all here!
Looking to gain a better understanding of the local food, we highly recommend taking a cooking class. It is a great way to spend a half or a full day and provides insight into Vietnamese food and culture. Many cooking schools include a trip to the local market and having a guide along provides someone to answer all your questions as you discover the exotic local ingredients.
Refrigeration is uncommon in homes so most people shop daily. This means fresh food at street food stalls and local restaurants. Most likely it was purchased only several hours ago at the market. Fruit and vegetables are picked and sold within a day or two at the most.
Busy food stalls and restaurants where the locals eat are signs the food is good and fresh.
So without further ado, here are our suggestions for where to go and what to do to find the best of food in Vietnam.
Foodie Guide to the Best of Vietnam: Hoi An
The food lover’s capital of Vietnam is Hoi An. Never heard of it? Often overshadowed by Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi, Hoi An is a one of those places you might not want to leave. It’s not just the scenery and the food but the vibe of the place. With only 120,000 people it’s relaxing. This is a town not an Asian megacity! Riding a bicycle is the most common form of transport.
Vietnamese food has quite a bit of regional difference in the ingredients due to the availability of local produce. But if you really want to enjoy great Vietnamese food, you must visit Hoi An.
Honestly, it was amazing. It is a historic fishing port that has always played an important role in Vietnamese commerce and trade with other countries. For you the food lover, this means there is a strong influence of other cultures and a wide range of styles and ingredients in the local food. We found dishes in Hoi An we saw nowhere else in Vietnam. And it is cheap and plentiful.
For such a small place, Hoi An has it all– great shopping, history, great food and lovely scenery.
Hoi An Recommendations for Food Lovers
Street Food Tour
The Last Great Taste of Hoi An is the best local food tour we have done anywhere! Don’t miss it. Book well before you get there as it is very popular. And go early in your visit to Hoi An so you can plan the rest of your meals.
Hoi An Cooking Schools
Attending a private, half-day cooking class was less than $20 per person! And it was fantastic.
We took two classes, a group class at the Red Bridge Cooking School which we had organized in advance and the second at the Red Dragon Restaurant. The Red Dragon cooking class was a bit opportunistic. The restaurant was recommended to us by our host at the hotel and was nearby. We ate dinner there and loved the food. Noticing they have a cooking class we took the opportunity to learn how to make some of the classics from the restaurant!
There are many other options in town, something for every budget and taste.
Must Try Foods in Hoi An
For a list of some of the foods, we found only in Hoi An, we compiled a list for you:
Check out Why Hội An Is the Culinary Capital of Vietnam
by Compass&Fork at Mode
Foodie Guide to the Best of Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City
This is a huge city! And the motorcycle traffic must be seen to be believed! Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City has a wide variety of dining options from some very upmarket restaurants, local eateries or a huge selection of street food.
The influence of the French occupation on both the city’s architecture and cuisine is evident in Ho Chi Minh City. Many of the elegant hotels and their famous bars are where the war correspondents stayed and reported from during the Vietnam War. From the 8th floor, the terrace of Jerome’s Bar at the Caravelle Hotel (near the Opera House) offers terrific views of the French District.
If you want to learn more about the local food, there are a number of options including the free student-run Hot Pot Tours. One of the local university students will tailor a tour for you.
More dining and tour options in HCMC are in our original post.
Foodie Guide to the Best of Vietnam: Hanoi
Hanoi Is one of the oldest cities in the world and wondering through the Old Quarter (Hoan Kiem District) is a must. Many of the streets are named after the type of business located there. Notably many of these are named after foods!
It’s also a great place to try Vietnamese style coffee. A decadent concoction served over ice so perfect for the climate! You can also find the rather unique “egg coffee” in Hanoi. Pho, Bahn Mi, and a local noodle dish Bun Bo Nam Bo are all easy to find.
Foodie Guide to the Best of Vietnam: Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is the “breadbasket” or rice bowl of Vietnam. It is the largest agricultural area. A visit here is the opportunity to see how food is produced and visit the floating markets.
A visit to a Cham (Muslim) fishing village and nearby floating homes specializing in basa fish (catfish) production just outside the town of Chau Doc is fascinating.
The biggest and most colorful floating market in the Mekong delta is Cai Rang. Beginning early in the morning the waterway becomes a maze as hundreds of boats packed with fruits, vegetables, plants, and foods of all type begin to trade. Sellers hang a sample of what they stock from the top of a long pole so buyers can see from a distance what they sell.
Foodie Guide to the Best of Vietnam: Sapa
Getting outside the large cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) provides a glimpse of life that has changed little over the years.
In the Northern Highlands, Sapa is the hiking capital of Vietnam. Hiking provides an opportunity to walk through the local villages and see traditional life. Sapa was originally established as a hill station by the French in 1922 and the French influence can be seen in the cuisine and architecture.
The minority hill tribes have ties to Thailand and Laos and the food in the far north of Vietnam reflects their influence. Soups, stews and grilled foods are common. Rice is usually served as an accompaniment.
A wander through town to the local traditional medicine shops and a stop at the Sapa market are essential.
Foodie Guide to the Best of Vietnam: Ninh Binh and Mai Chau
A glimpse of village life is an opportunity to see how the locals live and learn about rice production in the villages. Rice is an important staple for Vietnamese families and an essential ingredient in much of their cuisine.
Standing in the idyllic Mai Chau Valley is like being in the middle of a postcard of rice fields. A slightly cooler part of the country, spending an afternoon in a local village drinking rice wine was one of the highlights of our trip.
Ninh Binh, often referred to as Ha Long Bay on land is also a great opportunity to explore the rice field and village life.
Foodie Guide to the Best of Vietnam
The Vietnamese foods you won’t want to miss are:
Beef Noodle Soup or Pho Bo
Fresh Spring Rolls
Vietnamese Omelette with Peanut Sauce
Five Spice Grilled Pork
If you are planning a trip to Vietnam, you can find more information and travel tips in:
- Cruising Spectacular Ha Long Bay in Luxury: Paradise Found?
- How to Save Money on Your Trip To Vietnam
- Introducing Vibrant Vietnam: What You Need to Know, this post also contains a hand-picked list of movies and books about Vietnam and a selection of Vietnamese cookbooks.
If you would like to try Vietnamese food at home or share some of the great food from your travels with friends, you can find a range of Vietnamese recipes here on Compass & Fork, and we have a complete menu (including recipes) for the Perfect Vietnamese Dinner Party.
A Traveler’s Guide to the Flavors of Vietnam
We have written a guide to all the flavors and ingredients common in both Vietnamese and Thai cuisines. It includes pictures of the ingredients, history and background as well as the common uses. If you are traveling to Vietnam and want to explore the food, it is an essential guide. Download it and take a copy with you on your tablet or e-reader. You can download a FREE copy by subscribing to the newsletter.
Leave a Comment Below About A Foodie Guide to the Best of Vietnam for Your Fellow Food Lovers!
We hope you enjoyed our Foodie Guide to the Best of Vietnam. Have you been to Vietnam? Are you planning a trip? Let us know if you have other Vietnamese favorites or tips for fellow foodies in the comments below! We would love to hear from you.
If you are heading to Thailand or would like to learn more about Thai cuisines read our Foodies Guide to the Best of Thailand..
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Great informative post! I’m going to Vietnam next year so I’ll take all of your advice with me! Annalise x
You will love Vietnam. We did. Enjoy.