What is the national drink of Vietnam?
The beverage that is considered to be Vietnam’s national drink is green tea. Green tea is served at every social gathering and business meeting in Vietnam, and it is also typically consumed after meals. There is also rice wine, which is on the stronger end of the spectrum; however, some of the local beer is also very good, and there is an increasingly diverse selection of imported wines and spirits.
Eating and drinking in Vietnam
How does Vietnamese food taste?
The cuisine of the south is influenced by Indian and Thai cuisine, so curries and spices are commonplace; however, other regions have developed their own unique specialties, such as the dishes of Hué and Hoi An. Vegetarianism became popular in Vietnam thanks to Buddhist teachings, and the French later brought the country bread, dairy products, pastries, and the café culture. The major tourist hubs of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and the rest of Vietnam are now well supplied with everything from street hawkers to hotel and Western-style restaurants, and even ice cream parlors.
Shallots, coriander, and lemongrass are three of the most typical seasonings. Coconut milk lends a unique richness to some southern dishes, and ginger, saffron, mint, anise, and a herb similar to basil all play prominent roles.
Most Vietnamese cuisine, even that from the south, is not extremely spicy. Spicy condiments like hot sauce and fresh chilies are offered on the side. One of Vietnam’s most well-known seasonings is nuoc mam, a fish sauce that is both a staple in Vietnamese cooking and the foundation for many different dipping sauces. Large quantities of fish are fermented in salt vats for six months to a year, and then the resulting dark brown liquid is strained and categorized by age and flavor. Initially, the sauce has a rather offensive odor, but most visitors quickly grow to appreciate its unique salty-sweet flavor.
Some people have severe reactions to monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is often used in large quantities in northern cooking. In the major cities, you can find restaurants that cater to the tastes of tourists by not using MSG; outside of the cities, you can always try saying “Khong co my chinh” (without MSG) and crossing your fingers. Try before you buy; sometimes what appears to be salt on the table is actually MSG.
What are some typical dishes from Vietnam?
Rice is a mainstay of traditional Vietnamese cuisine, but noodles are often eaten for breakfast or as a snack. Fish or meat, vegetables, soup, and a green tea digestive typically round out a meal of rice. All over the country, people prefer fresh or dried seafood and fish caught in rivers, lakes, canals, and paddy fields or caught in the ocean.
Spring rolls, also known as cha gio, cha nem, nem ran, and plain nem, are arguably the most well-known Vietnamese dish. Minced pork, shrimp, or crab, rice vermicelli, onions, bean sprouts, and an edible fungus are rolled in rice-paper wrappers and then eaten fresh or deep-fried. A bowl of lettuce and/or mint may accompany them at some restaurants. Additionally, a southern variant is served with grilled pork strips wrapped in semi-transparent rice wrappers with raw ingredients like green banana and star fruit and doused in a rich peanut sauce; it tastes as good as it sounds. Check out our compiled list of must-eat Vietnamese dishes for a general introduction to the cuisine.
Noodle soups and dishes native to Vietnam.
Noodle soup pho (pronounced like the British say “fur”) can be found all over Vietnam, despite its northern origins, and is a popular breakfast food. A typical bowl of pho includes broad, flat rice noodles, spring onions, and slivers of chicken, pork, or beef in a light beef broth flavored with ginger, coriander, and sometimes cinnamon. A squeeze of lime and some chili flakes or a dollop of chili sauce are added at the table.
There are countless other soups to try at these sidewalk cafes. Another hearty soup option is bun bo, a beef and noodle dish that is popular all over Vietnam but is especially well-known in Hué; hu tieu, a soup made of vermicelli, pork, and seafood noodles, is a specialty of the southern city of My Tho. In contrast, chao (or xhao) is a hot, thick rice gruel typically made with chicken or fish fillets and flavored with dill and possibly a raw egg cooking at the bottom; it is often served with fried breadsticks (quay). Fish pairs well with sour soups, and lau is a staple at local restaurants; the steamboat’s vegetable broth is the main attraction (a ring-shaped metal dish on live coals or, nowadays, often electrically heated). Slivers of beef, prawns, or other meat or seafood are cooked in the soup while it simmers, and the leftover broth is drunk.
Traditional Vietnamese meat and fish dishes
Succulent seafood and freshwater fish are among the highlights of Vietnamese cuisine. The most well-known of these dishes is cha ca, which consists of white fish, dill, spring onions, butter, rice noodles, and peanuts, and was originally created in Hanoi but can now be found in most upscale eateries throughout Vietnam. Chao tom (or tom bao mia), savory shrimp pate wrapped in sweet sugar cane and fried, is another dish served at fancier establishments. One of the most notable dishes from the south is ca kho to, a fish stew prepared in a clay pot.
While beef, chicken, and pork are staples, every other kind of meat and every part of the animal are fair game in a Vietnamese restaurant. Stuffings often include ground meat, particularly pork, as seen in spring rolls or the similar banh cuon, a steamed, rice-flour “ravioli” filled with minced pork, black mushrooms, and bean sprouts; a popular variant swaps in prawns for the meat. Hanoi’s bun cha, which resembles mini-hamburgers and are barbecued over an open charcoal brazier before being served on a bed of cold rice noodles with greens and a slightly sweetish sauce, also makes extensive use of pork, as well as various herbs. Bo bay mon, also written bo 7 mon, is a popular southern dish that features beef prepared in seven different ways.
Traveling foodies may be interested in sampling some of the more exotic cuts of meat on offer. In the north, “yellow” dogs (sandy-haired varieties) are considered the tastiest, so dog meat (thit cay or thit cho) is considered a delicacy there. Dog meat is traditionally eaten during the winter months because it is thought to provide extra body heat and to dispel bad luck if eaten at the end of the lunar month. Similarly to the dog, the snake (thit con ran) is thought to increase male virility. As part of the ritual of eating snake, the honored guest must chew and swallow the organ while it is still beating. Trung vit lon, duck embryos boiled and eaten only five days before hatching, bill, webbed feet, and feathers and all, is another dish only for the brave.
Veggies, vegan, and vegetarian options in Vietnam
If the thought of eating meat again makes your stomach turn, don’t worry; vegetarian options do exist in Vietnam, albeit they may be harder to find than you’d like. Da Lat boasts an incredible array of tropical and temperate crops, making it the best place to find a wide variety of vegetables. Vegetarians can find a variety of options at most restaurants, including stewed spinach or similar greens, a more appetizing mix of onion, tomato, bean sprouts, various mushrooms, peppers, and so on, and vegetarian spring rolls at restaurants accustomed to serving foreigners (nem an chay or nem khong co thit). Tofu and a couple of dishes of pickled vegetables like cabbage or cucumber are standard fare at street kitchens; other seasonal options include aubergine, bamboo shoots, and avocado.
Soups are typically made with beef stock, bits of pork fat sneak into otherwise innocuous-looking dishes, and animal fat tends to be used for frying, making it difficult to find genuine vegetarian food unless you go to a specialist vegetarian outlet, of which there are some excellent examples in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Hué.
If you’re looking for vegetarian rice, just say “an chay” (vegetarian) or ask around (tiem com chay). Vegetarian options are more common on the first and fifteenth days of the lunar month when many Vietnamese Buddhists abstain from eating meat.
Favorite Vietnamese Munchies
Big rice flour crackers dotted with sesame seeds and all manner of dried fish, nuts, and seeds are just a few of the many options for filling up in Vietnam. Banh bao is steamed white buns filled with savory ingredients like pork, onions, and tangy mushrooms or sweet strands of coconut. Banh xeo (literally “sizzling pancake”) consists of shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, and egg that have been fried, then wrapped in rice paper with various greens, and finally dipped in a spicy sauce. Also popular in Hué, a city with a wide variety of street food options, is banh khoai, a flat pancake served with star fruit, green banana, aromatic herbs, and a rich peanut sauce.
Snacks can be found at many market stalls, such as freshly made soups and spring rolls, or more exotic items like pate (a popular accompaniment for bia hoi), pickled pork sausage, or a cake of sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves.
French bread, made with wheat flour in the north and rice flour in the south, is a relatively recent addition to the world’s cuisines. Baguettes are sliced open and stuffed with pate, soft cheese, or ham and pickled vegetables; these are sometimes sold warmly from streetside stoves.
Thanks to its varied climate, Vietnam is home to a wide variety of fruit, including numerous types of bananas. South is where you’ll find the most prosperous orchards, brimming with pineapple, coconut, papaya, mango, mango, longan, and mangosteen. Strawberries from Da Lat are world-famous, while the “dragon fruit” from the Nha Trang area is truly unique (thanh long). The dragon fruit resembles a miniature pineapple in size and has a similarly pink, bumpy exterior; its smooth, white flesh is dotted with tiny black seeds. Crushed with ice, the slightly sweet, watery flesh makes a refreshing drink.
The durian is a spiky, yellow-green football-sized fruit with an unmistakably pungent odor reminiscent of mature cheese and caramel and a taste resembling onion-laced custard, and it is most definitely an acquired taste. The resemblance between jackfruit and durian is unsettling, but jackfruit is larger and has fewer spikes. The sweet yellow flesh of its segments is delicious.
Desserts in Vietnam are limited to ice cream and fruit at most restaurants, with the exception of a few upscale international eateries that may offer tiramisu. Those with a sweet tooth should seek out a bakery, as there will be one within walking distance in any urban area, or peruse street stalls, where one can find candied fruits and other Vietnamese sweetmeats on offer, as well as sugary displays of French-inspired cakes and pastries in the main tourist centers.
Banh com, a popular Vietnamese snack made with pounded glutinous rice and a sweet green-bean paste, stands out for its vibrant green color. The “earth cake,” banh deo, is a similar treatment that is unique to the Mid-Autumn Festival. It combines the sweet and savory flavors of candied fruits, sesame, and lotus seeds with a dice of savory pork fat. Banh chuoi (banana fritters) and banh chuoi khoai (shrimp and pork) are two types of fritters commonly sold by opportunistic hawkers in the areas surrounding schools because of the high demand among students (mixed slices of banana and sweet potato).
It’s best to avoid the street vendors and shop at the larger, busier ice cream parlors when purchasing a tub or stick of the local, hard ice in chocolate, vanilla, or green tea flavors. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City’s European and American-style ice cream parlors can satisfy your cravings for something more out-of-the-ordinary, and excellent yogurts are increasingly available at ice cream parlors and even some restaurants.
Vietnamese Drinks That You’d Expect to See Everywhere
Green tea is the national drink of Vietnam, and it is served at nearly every social or business event and often consumed as a digestif after meals. Harder drinks include rice wine, though some great local beer and an expanding selection of imported wines and spirits are also available.
You’ll see signs reading “giai khat,” which translates to “quench your thirst,” at any place selling a cold drink or fresh juice, as well as in front of cafes and bars serving bia hoi (draft beer). It’s best to avoid the ice that comes with many drinks, as tempting as it may be; saying “dung bo da, cam on” (which literally translates to “no ice, thanks”) should do the trick. Although you can trust the ice at most 5-star hotels and upscale eateries, a surprising number of people drink from less pristine water sources with no ill effects.
Drinking water and soft drinks
You shouldn’t risk drinking tap water in Vietnam because bottled water is readily available and inexpensive. Don’t drink anything that has ice in it or that might have been watered down with questionable water.
Locally produced soft drinks are available nearly everywhere, are extremely sugary, and are cheap as long as the bottle or carton looks sealed. Thanks to the dominance of brands like Coke, Sprite, and Fanta, you can even find carbonated soft drinks in unusually far-flung locations. Oddly, the cost of a soft drink or beer in a bottle of the same size is usually higher than the cost of the same beverage in a can, despite the fact that the bottle is clearly the more stylish option.
Fresh coconut juice is more effective at quenching thirst, but it’s harder to come by in the north. You can’t go wrong with fresh orange or lime juice; just make sure it hasn’t been diluted with tap water. Since sugar cane juice (mia da) is pressed right in front of you, it poses less of a health risk. Vinamilk’s pasteurized milk is now widely available across the country’s major urban centers.
Served over ice with fruit chunks, colored jellies, and even sweet corn or potato, ché is a drink-and-snack hybrid made from taro flour and green bean. Having a sugary drink like this can be very satisfying when it’s hot outside.
Beverages like tea and coffee
Vietnam is a country where sharing a cup of tea with friends is a common social practice. It is considered impolite to not at least try a sip of the strong green tea offered to all guests and visitors. The water has been thoroughly boiled and is safe to drink, provided the cup is clean. Even though your host will be refilling your cup as a gesture of hospitality, you are under no obligation to drink continuously. If you would like to politely decline a refill, simply place a hand over the cup as he or she goes to fill it. Moreover, green tea is served at the end of every meal, especially in the south, and is often complimentary.
Over the past few years, coffee production has skyrocketed, primarily for export, leading to negative effects on the environment and society. Vietnamese coffee is typically consumed in small amounts and is served with a generous amount of sweetened condensed milk. At the table, a small dripper is balanced over the cup or glass; the latter is sometimes placed in a bowl of hot water. Tourist areas, on the other hand, increasingly stock fresh (pasteurized) milk, and chic Western-style cafés serving up respectable lattes and cappuccinos have sprung up in the major cities. While in more rural areas a café with a Trung Nguyen sign is your best bet, Highland Coffee has become Vietnam’s own Starbucks-style chain.
Alcohol consumption in Vietnam is typically done as a group activity. Vietnamese people almost never consume alcohol in the absence of food. You can expect many toasts of good fortune, peace among nations, and other positive goals. It is customary to refill the glasses of your fellow guests, but someone else will attend to your needs.
Tiger, Heineken, Carlsberg, and San Miguel are just some of the imported beers that have been licensed to be brewed in Vietnam. However, there are many excellent and inexpensive local beers to choose from, such as Halida, 333 (Ba Ba Ba), and Bivina. Even though Saigon Export, Hanoi Beer, and BGI are also excellent beers, some beer experts recommend Da Nang’s Bière la Rue as the best. Hué (where the main brand is Huda), Hai Phong, and Thanh Hoa (where it’s simply named after the town) all have their own locally brewed beers that are worth trying.
Northerners, in particular, consume large quantities of bia hoi (draught beer) thanks to the introduction of Czechoslovakian technology for its production roughly forty years ago. Although the alcohol content of bia hoi is only up to 4%, the drink actually tastes much stronger than it is. Plus, it’s dirt cheap and purportedly chemical-free, so you shouldn’t feel too hungover the next day. Due to its short shelf life of 24 hours, the best bia hoi is usually gone by the early evening and you won’t find yourself drinking it until the wee hours. Southerners tend to favor bia tuoi (“fresh” beer), a close relative of bia hoi that is typically served from pressurized barrels. Stores are typically open from noon to 3 in the afternoon and again from 5 to 9 in the evening.
Even in smaller towns, you should have no trouble finding wine, and imported bottles keep turning up in the unlikeliest of places. Da Lat has been the center of local production since the French colonial era, and Vang Da Lat is the leading producer. Good imported bottles that have been properly stored are extremely rare and can only be found at upscale hotels, restaurants, or specialty stores, where they command exorbitant prices.
Rice-distilled liquor, or ruou can, is the national alcoholic beverage of Vietnam. Until recently, ruou can was considered the domain of working-class people, farmers, and people of minority backgrounds. However, as city-center bars and restaurants begin to offer better quality ruou can, it is gaining popularity among the middle class and especially young urban sophisticates, including an increasing number of women.
Ruou can is made with either regular or glutinous rice, the latter of which is said to be more aromatic and have a fuller, smoother taste. The recipes for ruou can are closely guarded secrets. To improve the taste and, ostensibly, add medicinal and health benefits, some people steep specific herbs and fruits in the liquor. Jars of snakes, geckos, and complete crows are also on display. The traditional method involves heating the primary ingredients together before burying them underground to ferment for a month or more. For mass consumption, ruou can is now produced using more up-to-date and sanitary methods. The Son Tinh brand is known for producing premium rice-distilled spirits.
The Thai and Muong peoples of the region’s northwest distill their own ruou can, also called stem alcohol, in their homes. In many cultures, guests are encouraged to congregate around the communal jar and sip the alcoholic beverage through thin bamboo straws. It is considered a great insult to be rude and refuse this ritual in more traditional communities. Chuc suc khoe (your health) and, for more serious drinking sessions, Tram phan tram (down in one) are common toasts you’ll hear.