Finding street food in Vietnam is an adventure in itself! Bun cha Hanoi, banh cuon, banh tet and cafe trung are the street food in Vietnam that the locals eat, most of us have never heard of these delightful meals. This guide is here to help you enjoy authentic street food in Vietnam based on our experiences while living in the country.
If you have eaten proper street food in Vietnam, your mouth is already watering with the thoughts of bun cha Hanoi or banh cuon! Street food in Vietnam is largely safe to eat, cheaply priced and most of all, delicious. It’s something you can only experience by venturing out of the tourist areas and into the alleyways (Ngo) and street corners. Only in these areas will you find authentic street food in Vietnam.
This guide to authentic street food in Vietnam like bun chai Hanoi is based on our experiences while living in the country. If you have any additional street food in Vietnam to eat, please comment below.
Price of street food in Vietnam
The price of food in Vietnam is super low for the Western traveller. In Australia, the going rate for a bun bowl is about AUD 15, for the same food in Vietnam will cost you AUD 3. Why the low price of food in Vietnam? We don’t know for sure, but after living here for a few months, we gather food regulation is one reason. The street food carts is a clear indication of no food regulation in this country. I know what you’re thinking, is the food safe? For the most part, yes.
There seem to be more good things with little regulation than bad. The cost of doing food business here seems very low, which means anyone can open up shop and start making an income and keeping the price of food in Vietnam low. We found many street food vendors are family run business; the smaller ones operate outside of their home and work around the family schedule, making just lunch.
Speaking of lunch, here’s a list of the price of food in Vietnam with the amount in VND and AUD. For our US friends, you are paying less in USD!
What street food to eat in Vietnam
Besides pho and banh mi, I asked myself, what to eat in Vietnam? We just walked around and tried a few things; standing awkwardly at the street stall and stare until someone said something to us which was usually, “What to eat” in Vietnam jibber jabber. Don’t want to stand awkwardly in front of a shopkeeper? Here’s our list of what to eat in Vietnam. We’ve included Vietnamese names (with accents) and English labels so you can recognize them when you’re exploring.
Nem ran (nem rán), spring rolls
Okay, I know spring rolls are in every Asian country, but I have to say Vietnamese nem ran the best! Each street food vendor does their version of nem ran slightly different. There are a few commonly used ingredients when making nem ran – glass noodles, mushrooms, meat mince, garlic and onions. These ingredients are then wrapped in a rice paper rolls and slowly fried until golden brown.
Banh cuon (bánh cuốn), thin rice rolls
These crepe-like rolls get filled with a stuffing mixture of onions, mushrooms and pork mince. Normally, banh cuon is served alongside sweet-sour soup and a basket of fresh herbs. Making banh cuon is similar to making crepes; batter, made of rice flour is spread across a hot surface, steamed for a minute, then rolled with filling. A meal to eat fresh!
We searched ‘Banh cuon near Ho Chi Min City’ in Google Maps and found a handful nearby everywhere we stayed. We learned not all banh cuon places offer the rolls with filling; some places serve plain rolls, instead of sheets, of the thin rice. After eating so much of this delicious food in Vietnam, I can see us searching for banh cuon near me when we get home regularly. I watched how to make banh cuon and have a clip-on our Facebook page.
Banh te (bánh tẻ), steamed rice cake.
Banh te is filled with a pork-herb stuffing and can be eaten as is or dipped with sweet chilli soy sauce. To keep moisture in, banh te is wrapped with fresh banana leaves and steamed until the rice cake is cooked. If you’ve had Puerto Rican pasteles, I would consider banh te to be the Vietnamese version.
Banh tet, (bánh tét).
Banh tet is like the older sibling to banh te. This rice cake wrapped in a banana leaf like banh te; however, because of the more substantial portion of filling, banh tet is boiled rather than steamed. Mung bean, pork or sausage can be the filling for banh tet, once again it depends on the food vendor.
We had been trying most as savory dishes however learned, by accident, that there are sweet versions of banh tet as well! Best to ask someone if you can!
Bun cha Hanoi (bún chả), rice noodles with grilled meat
Don’t be surprised at the number of plates you get when ordering bun cha Hanoi. Grilled chopped meat and grilled meat patties served in a sweet, sour soup with pickled garlic slices. On the side, a basket of fresh herbs and a heaping plate of rice vermicelli noodles. Translated bun cha is rice vermicelli noodle pork.
Traditionally a northern Vietnam dish, we found the bun cha Hanoi is a style of bun cha and a staple dish in Hanoi. We got to try a variety of places while we stayed in Hanoi including the ‘Obama bun cha’ (which we call ‘the Anthony Bourdain bun cha’), it wasn’t our favourite but still enjoyable! Read this excellent article from Postcards from Yonder for more details on the restaurant.
Mien tron (miến trộn), a mixed noodle dish
Mixed noodles or mixed meat, not sure really. All I know, the name encompasses many dishes, made a million different ways. We’ve tried a simple version of this dish made with glass noodles, a mix of pork balls, fried tofu, fish cake, steamed veggies with chilli, peanuts and grilled shallots for toppings.
Bun dau mam tom (bún đậu mắm tôm), rice vermicelli noodle served with fried tofu and shrimp paste. Bun dau mam tom, normally served on a bamboo platter, includes rice noodles, fried tofu, fresh greens and sometimes ham. The real star of this dish is the mam tom or shrimp paste. If you want to ease yourself into the shrimp paste, start by lightly dipping the ingredients then gradually increase.
Xoi (xôi), sticky rice
Can be a sweet or savoury Vietnamese dish with the base ingredient being glutinous rice. It’s considered a main dish in Hanoi, however, in other places, it most likely will be a dessert. We tried a breakfast variety made with ham, mung bean shavings and dried squid.
Banh bot loc (bánh bột lọc), tapioca dumplings
Banh bot loc is a dumpling and served with grilled shallots, fresh herbs and sweet chilli sauce. These dumplings, made from tapioca which gives banh bot loc their clear look and chewy texture. Now, I’ve found the serving sizes vary for banh bot loc with one place serving four dumplings as an appetizer and another place serving twelve dumplings; which could have been the main dish for me!
Banh xeo (bánh xèo), sizzling pancake
At first, it looks like an egg omelette, but it’s actually a pancake! The yellow comes from turmeric powder in the rice batter. This savoury pancake made several ways you can choose the meat to accompany common veggies such as mung bean sprouts, green onion and fresh herbs.
Bun bo hue (bún bò huế), noodle soup from the central region of Hue
Bun bo Hue, or more commonly ‘bun bo’ is a famous Vietnamese soup containing rice vermicelli and beef. The soup comes with side serves of fresh herbs, citrus slice, chilli and mung bean sprouts.
Is pho and bun bo hue the same? Like many noodle soups, the base is bone broth however bun bo hue is primary flavour with lemongrass. Another key distinction is the noodles; pho in Vietnam is served with flat rice noodles while bun bo is served with vermicelli rice noodles. Think the difference between fettuccine and spaghetti and serving different sauces with each, same! Huế, where our soup originates, is a city in central Vietnam known best for the cooking style of the former royal court. We didn’t get the chance to visit Hue on our trip, but we did eat bowls on bowls of bun bo from the region.
Banh com (bánh cốm), sweet rice cake
This dark green, slightly sweetened rice cake snack has a sticky outside with a mung bean mixture on the inside. The colour of banh com is a result of young green rice that is pounded until it has the proper consistency. Then little balls of mung bean are pushed in and pressed flat, making a square cake. If you have ever seen a traditional making of Japanese mochi, the Banh com process is very similar.
Banh com in Vietnam made fresh daily, and as it has no preservatives should be consumed within 2-3 days. The desert is so yummy that they sell out in one sitting, an excellent afternoon tea snack to go along with your cafe trung.
Cafe trung (cà phê trứng), Vietnamese egg coffee
Vietnamese egg coffee, cafe trung, is lovely. Eggs in coffee, you say? I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it is entirely safe and incredibly delicious to drink. Cafe trung, or ca phe trung, is served with egg yolks vigorously whisked into sweet condensed milk. Once the egg yolks and the condensed milk are combined together, they are then added to black coffee and viola, cafe trung!
Depending on the coffee shop, cafe trung will be served sitting in a bowl of hot water or atop a little stand with a tea light candle underneath. I found this coffee to be lovely for afternoon tea because it is quite rich and I did it for dessert once and was up the whole night.
How to find street food in Vietnam
Don’t want to stand awkwardly in front of a shopkeeper? Here’s our list of what to eat in Vietnam. We’ve included Vietnamese names (with accents) and English labels so you can recognize them when you’re exploring. The first thing we do when we get to a new country or city is taking a food tour. In Vietnam, we had an incredible food tour in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)on. XO food tour Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) helped us to quickly navigate how to find street food in Vietnam and what to eat in Vietnam. Street food is everywhere but being comfortable, as a foreigner can be a challenge, check out our article on XO Tours here.
Besides a food tour, finding street food in Vietnam is very simple. Google Maps has been incredibly travel-friendly for us, and we searched for the food item in the app, and it populated restaurants in the area. For example, we searched ‘banh cuon near me’ in Google Maps and found a handful of vendors in each city we visited. Using Google Maps could be done for how to find street food in Vietnam search and a top tip is to use the Vietnamese spelling (listed above).
As you walk along notice the shop signs because the banners will show what the shop offers. For example, if you’re looking for bánh mì it will say bánh mì on their sign.
Hanoi Food Delivery with Grab in Vietnam, GoViet and vietnammm.com
Sometimes street food in Vietnam can be overwhelming, and you want a burger instead. Or you may not want to traverse into the chaos of buses, scooters revving and cars honking. We feel you, that’s why we recommend using Grab in Vietnam along with these other home delivery apps.
Grab in Vietnam
We’ve been using Grab app the most throughout our travels; it is convenient to have the app already downloaded and set up on our phone. Moreover, recently we started tapping into Grab Rewards Points, a loyalty program that rewards you for every transaction made through the app. Continuing to use the app lets us collect Grab Rewards Points which can be redeemed for all kinds of things from bubble tea to discounts on clothing.
Goviet vs Grab in Vietnam
Goviet is the Vietnam version of Gojek based in Indonesia. Similar to Grab in Vietnam you can have food delivered to you however setting up Goviet on your phone will require a local phone number which is the same with its sister app, Gojek. Josh wrote more on setting up GoJek here. A friend of mine uses the vietnammm.com app for home delivery. As a Westerner, sometimes you need a break from oodles of noodles and this app provides a variety of cuisines so that you can enjoy a night of pizza delivery, just like home! The best part, the app’s default language, is English.
The beautiful thing about eating in Vietnam is food. We learned that much of the food is fresh daily, only suitable for consuming within a few days. Because of this, you’ll find food here is preservative-free and delightfully healthy for you. If there is one thing we’d caution, some street vendors use MSG (monosodium glutamate) which is a flavour enhancer. You may not be able to see the difference, but you will taste the difference – a sharpness hitting all the savoury sensors in your mouth, giving you the first impression, this is delicious. Well, it tastes delicious, but it can give some people really bad side effects, like me, which were swelling in my joints, a bit of nausea and mild headaches. The last tip is on language. Each of those accent marks has a purpose and learning a little bit of the language goes a long way and can save from cultural embarrassment. Read more here for my language class experience and five phrases to know when travelling through Vietnam.