What list of Vietnamese cuisine would be complete without pho? According to CNN, it's almost impossible to walk a block in any major Vietnamese destination without bumping into a crowd of hungry patrons slurping noodles at a makeshift pho stand. This simple staple consisting of a salty broth, fresh rice noodles, a sprinkling of herbs and chicken or beef, features predominately in the local diet -and understandably so. It's cheap, tasty, and widely available at all hours.
2. Cha ca
Hanoians consider cha ca to be so exceptional that there is a street in the capital dedicated to these fried morsels of fish. This namesake alley is home to Cha Ca La Vong, which serves sizzling chunks of fish seasoned with garlic, ginger, turmeric and dill on a hot pan tableside. “Cha Ca La Vong may be the busiest but the service is a bit gruff and the food is overpriced. Instead make your way to Duong Thanh in Ha Noi's Hoan Kiem district, where you'll find plenty of more affordable but just as tasty options”, CNN reported.
3. Banh xeo
A good banh xeo is a crispy crepe bulging with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, plus a garnish of fresh herbs that are characteristic of most authentic Vietnamese dishes. To enjoy one like a local, cut it into manageable slices, roll it up in rice paper or lettuce leaves and dunk it in whatever special sauce the chef has mixed up for you.
4. Cao lau
This pork noodle dish from Hoi An is a bit like the various cultures that visited the trading port in its prime. The thicker noodles are similar to Japanese udon, the crispy won-ton crackers and pork are a Chinese touch, while the broth and herbs are clearly Vietnamese. Authentic cao lau is made only with water drawn from the local Ba Le well.
5. Rau muong
Some might call it river weed - with good reason - but that doesn't stop the masses from scoffing down platefuls of morning glory, usually stir-fried and seasoned with chunks of potent garlic. Rau muong is common at all Vietnamese restaurants and beer gardens.
6. Nem ran/cha gio
Viet Nam's bite-sized crunchy spring rolls might not enjoy the same popularity as their healthier fresh equivalent, but they deserve a special mention. The crispy shell with a soft veggie and meat filling dunked in a tangy sauce gets the gastronomic juices flowing before the main course. In the north these parcels go by the name nem ran while southerners call the cha gio.
7. Goi cuon
These light and healthy fresh spring rolls are a wholesome choice when you've been indulging in too much of the fried food in Viet Nam. The translucent parcels are first packed with salad greens, a slither of meat or seafood and a layer of coriander, before being neatly rolled and dunked in Viet Nam's favourite condiment - fish sauce.
8. Bun bo Hue
Central Viet Nam's take on noodles caters to carnivores with its meaty broth and piles of beef and pork. The thick slippery rice noodles also make for a heartier meal than noodles found in the north or south.
9. Banh khot
This dainty variation of a Vietnamese pancake has all the same tasty ingredients but is a fraction of the size. Each banh knot can be scoffed in one ambitious but satisfying mouthful. The crunchy outside is made using coconut milk and the filling usually consists of shrimp, mung beans and spring onions with a dusting of dried shrimp flakes on top.
10. Ga tan
“Got the sniffles? Opt for ga tan, a broth that's Viet Nam's answer to the proverbial cup of chicken noodle soup. Sure it's not quite how your mother used to make it, with its greenish tinge from the herbs and hunks of chicken parts, but it's worth a try if you need a Vietnamese tonic.”, CNN wrote.
11. Nom hoa chuoi
Viet Nam's banana flower salad packs a much bigger punch than a typical plate of mixed greens. Banana flowers (thick purple lumps that will later turn into bunches of bananas) are peeled and thinly sliced then mixed with green papaya, carrots, and coriander along with chicken and a heavy-handed pour of a salty fish sauce dressing and crunchy peanuts.
12. Bun bo nam bo
This bowl of noodles comes without broth, keeping the ingredients from becoming sodden and the various textures intact. The tender slices of beef mingle with crunchy peanuts and bean sprouts, and are flavoured with fresh herbs, crispy dried shallots, and a splash of fish sauce and fiery chilli pepper.
13. Hoa qua dam
This chunky blend of fresh tropical fruit in a cup is the perfect local treat in the Vietnamese summer. It could be considered as a healthy alternative to ice cream - if you stick to the shaved ice variation - but for the full experience it's best had with diabetes-inducing condensed milk mixed in.
14. Pho cuon
Pho cuon packages the flavours of pho and goi cuon in one neat little parcel. This Ha Noi take on fresh spring rolls uses sheets of uncut pho noodles to encase fried beef, herbs and lettuce or cucumber.
15. Ga nuong
KFC may be everywhere in Viet Nam these days, but skip the fast food for the local version. Honey marinated then grilled over large flaming barbecues, the chicken legs, wings and feet that are served are unusually tender, while the skin stays crispy but not dry.
16. Pho xao
Pho xao may just be a slightly healthier take on my xao - but the beauty is in the details. The flat, smoother pho noodle doesn't crisp up like its pre-boiled instant cousin. When done well the outer edges acquire a browned crunchiness, whilst the centre stays soft and glutinous. This dish tastes best with a fried egg and seasoned with chilli or soy sauce.
17. Ca phe trung
Vietnamese "egg coffee" is technically a drink but we prefer to put it in the dessert category. The creamy soft, meringue-like, egg white foam perched on the dense Vietnamese coffee will have even those who don't normally crave a cup of joe licking their spoons with delight.
In Ha Noi, follow the tiny alley between the kitschy souvenir shops at 11 Hang Gai into the clearing, and up several flights of increasingly dicey stairs to pair your ca phe trung with an unbeatable view of Hoan Kiem Lake.
18. Bo la lot
The Vietnamese are masters of wrapping their food. Bo la lot is neither raw nor deep-fried, but flamed on an open grill to soften the exterior and infuse the betel leaf's peppery aroma into the ground beef inside.
Savoury sticky rice is less of an accompaniment to meals in Viet Nam, more a meal itself. The glutinous staple comes with any number of mix-ins (from slithers of chicken, or pork to fried or preserved eggs), but almost always with a scattering of dried shallots on top.
20. Banh cuon
These rolled up rice flour pancakes are best when served piping hot, still soft and delicate. Although seemingly slender and empty they have a savoury filling of minced pork and mushrooms. Zest is also added by dunking the slippery parcels in a fishy dipping sauce.
21. Ca tim kho to
Eggplant alone tends not to get us excited. Although when it's diced and sautéed in a clay pot along with tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar, and (depending on the recipe) minced meat, the once bland vegetable redeems itself.
22. Bot chien
Sai Gon's favourite street-side snack, bot chien, is popular with both the afterschool and the after-midnight crowd. Chunks of rice flour dough are fried in a large wok until crispy and then an egg is broken into the mix. Once cooked, it's served with slices of papaya, shallots and green onions, before more flavour is added with pickled chilli sauce and rice vinegar.
23. Bun dau mam tom
This plain-looking tofu and noodle dish is served with mam tom sauce -- the Vegemite of Viet Nam. The pungent purple dipping sauce is used to flavour the slabs of deep-fried tofu that are at the core of the meal.
24. Banh goi
These pockets of deep-fried goodness are often described as the equivalent of a Cornish pasty or as a Vietnamese samosa, depending on the nationality of the person explaining. Inside the crispy exterior you'll find that it's similar to neither description, with its filling of finely minced pork, mushrooms and vermicelli noodles.
25. Com suon nuong
This simple meal is the Saigonese equivalent of bun cha -- with rice in place of noodles. A tender pork cutlet is barbecued over hot coals to give it a rich, smoky flavour, and laid over the fluffy white "com" or broken rice.
With its thick and creamy texture Viet Nam's rice porridge is the best pick when your queasy stomach can't handle much else. If you want to jazz it up you can always add slices of chicken, fish, beef, duck or pork ribs, along with a sprinkling of herbs and shallots.
27. Bo luc lac
Cubes of beef are tossed around a steaming wok with garlic, pepper, and various vegetables to make shaking beef. There's nothing special about the beef that makes it shaking. The name is just a literal translation that refers to the process of mixing the beef around while cooking.
28. Hat de nong
The smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire can bring back fond memories of Christmas carols -- until a moped transporting a giant blow-up Santa whizzes by. Pick the street vendor with the most enticing smell.
29. Banh uot thit nuong
It's all about the marinade when it comes to the grilled pork in fresh rice paper rolls that are popular in Central Viet Nam. The typical mixture coats the meat in a blend of sugar, salt, chilli, lemongrass and fish sauce. Coriander, basil and mint are added when it's served up to add some green to the appetizer.
30. Bun cha
Pho might be Viet Nam's most famous dish but bun cha is the top choice when it comes to lunchtime in the capital. Just look for the clouds of meaty smoke after 11 a.m. when street-side restaurants start grilling up small patties of seasoned pork and slices of marinated pork belly over a charcoal fire. Once they're charred and crispy the morsels are served with a large bowl of a fish sauce-heavy broth, a basket of herbs and a helping of rice noodles.
31. Banh mi
The French may have brought with them the baguette, but Viet Nam takes it to a different level. How exactly depends on what end of the country you're in.
In the north, chefs stick to the basic elements of carbohydrate, fat and protein - bread, margarine and pate - but head south and your banh mi may contain a more colourful combination of cheese, cold cuts, pickled vegetables, sausage, fried egg, fresh coriander and chilli sauce.
Eating this hodgepodge hotpot dish is a communal affair with everyone digging in to the oversized boiling pot. We've found that just about anything can (and will) go into this soup from tofu to frogs. It's best to stick to one main protein rather than opting for the mix of meat, poultry and seafood together.
On the northern edge of Hanoi's Truc Bach Lake you'll find a number of restaurant staff crossing the street to deliver lau to lake-side diners
33. Banh bao
Steamed pork buns aren't traditionally Vietnamese, but that doesn't stop the spongy rolls from being sold by street vendors and in traditional Vietnamese restaurants. The best buns have a hard-boiled quail egg buried within the minced meat, while the cheaper ones come without any filling at all. Remember the lower the price the less stuffing, so you might not be getting the good deal you thought you were.
34. Com rang
Fried rice may not be the most adventurous option, but sometimes you just want some familiar grub done right. Baby-sized chunks of meat and colourful vegetables are mixed with soy and fish sauce in a wok to create a rice dish that is still moist but slightly smoky. Make it Vietnamese by supplementing it with Bia Ha Noi.
35. Bo bit tet
Viet Nam's equivalent to steak and eggs fills the void when you're hankering for some greasy pub tucker. The thin flank steak is usually served with eggs, thick potato wedges, and Vietnamese pate on a sizzling cast iron plate.
36. Com chay
Com chay refers to two things in Viet Nam: vegetarian food, or Viet Nam's homemade rice crispies that are popular with children. Unlike the sweet treats in the United States, Viet Nam's version of a rice crispy comes with meat instead of marshmallows. Viet Nam's vegetarian restaurants use mock meats to create all the traditional dishes and usually do a pretty good job.
This dessert can be served in either a bowl or a glass. The latter is the more enticing option with the visible layers of bean jelly, coconut milk, fruit, and ice. Best eaten when you're craving something sweet on a scorching hot day in Saigon.
38. My xao bo
Mix noodles with a dollop of oil, then add beef, onions, garlic, morning glory and some tomato for colour and you have a platter of my xao bo. The whole dish takes about as long to make as instant noodles – but has oh so much more flavour.
39. Dau phu sot ca chua
The English translation of "tofu in tomato sauce" doesn't really do this dish justice. The slabs of deep-fried soy are doused in a rich fresh tomato and spring onion coating, and seasoned with a speckle of fresh herbs.
40. Canh bun
Another hearty soup that's high on the lunchtime agenda, this is a crab and morning glory noodle soup. Canh bun is similar to the more well-known bun rieu crab soup, but has a small handful of variations -including the type of noodle used.