Vietnamese street foods we can’t live without! (Part 1)

From time to time I love to check the articles on CNNGo, they have many interesting things about food, sightseeings, adventures, travel tips…Especially about the food, very interesting to know how tourists around the world taste what we eat, drink daily in our routine life in Asia and how they think about it!

Many articles about the most stinky foods, most repulsive (disgusting) dishes in Thailand or those foods that will send you right away to the bathroom but then running back for more!

Or best foods that Taiwanese or Hong Kong can’t live without!

So I wonder what could be the street foods that we can’t live without in Vietnam? I try to list down within 10 but as I’m living in Sài Gòn, my first part is for Saigon, Southern Vietnam, where I was born. I know my list not completed but it will be added more later!

By the way, from this list of 10, we have two – beef noodles and summer roll which are considered on CNNGo as ones of the world’s 50 most delicious foods. To me, definitely more but as usual that list of 50 always remains a subject of many discussions and argues!

Beef noodles (Phở bò)

This could be the No 1 street food in Vietnam and most recognizable Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam. Originated from the North, but has found home in the South since long time, that’s why we have “phở” in two different styles: northern and southern.

According to some foodies, in Sài Gòn besides these two northern and southern styles we still have some other “styles”, but I would say it’s more like taste. Good Phở should have all good three components: soup, beef and noodles! To me, beef noodles should be a dish that inspires competitiveness and innovation in chefs, at that time everyone wants to claim the honor title “Beef noodles King”!  As Vietnamese I have some preferable beef noodle store where I may frequent but that doesn’t mean the noodles there are the best!

434bc-viet-street-food_phobo                Beef noodles at Phở Tàu Bay, not really authentic northern style but close! 

Broken rice (Cơm tấm)

My all time favorite, but today “cơm tấm” is quite different, not like in the old days! One of my Japanese colleague loved Cơm tấm An Dương Vương and Kiều Giang, but to me  they are far from the best. They make too many dishes to go with broken rice these days and it makes the broken rice lost the traditional taste.

Before the broken rice only served with pork skin (cơm tấm bì) or egg cake (chả trứng)!  And most important – the rice itself and fish sauce, flavorful rice and the sauce – half sweet, half salty, a bit spicy fish sauce and never forget to top broken rice with special minced green onion stirred in the oil (mở hành)!

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Broken rice with roasted chicken, egg cake and pork skin at Ba Ghiền 

Sticky rice (Xôi) 

This is a great breakfast dish that give you a boost of added energy. Similar to beef noodles, sticky rice  also has two styles: northern and southern and they are quite different. Example, corn sticky rice (xôi bắp) in northern style is different from southern and I prefer the northern style.

Sticky rice has sweet and salty. My favorite for sweet is a corn sticky rice in a northern style (xôi bắp), there is many things: softly cooked corn mixed with sticky rice, topped with green mung bean, tasty fried shallots, sugar. For salty one (xôi mặn), my choice could be a sticky rice with dried shrimp, chinese sausage, green onion stirred with oil, flavored with soy sauce.

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 Sweet corn sticky rice in northern style

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Sticky rice with chicken floss

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Sweet sticky rice in southern style

Saigon baguette (Bánh mỳ Sài Gòn)

Along with beef noodles, Saigon baguette (bánh mỳ Saigon) is also most famous dish outside of Vietnam, something that tourist rave and hype about. But in Sài Gòn to taste the best Bánh mỳ, you should know the place! Not every place! A good, warm and crunchy bread is filled with many things!

It could be several kinds of Vietnamese pork ham, liver paste (pâté gan), veggies (cucumber, coriander, green onion, chili…) and sour things (đồ chua) which made from pickled shreds of carrot and white radish!

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Saigon baguette is filled with “everything” Bánh mỳ đủ thứ! 

Rice noodles (Bún) 

There is many dishes with rice noodles. Many! I tried to count but then gave up. Because living in Sài Gòn I know only those popular dishes here in Saigon, but in North or Central? Anyway to me most popular dish with rice noodles (bún) could be bún thịt nướng (rice noodles with grilled pork), bún riêu (rice noodles with sour crab soup), bún chả giò (rice noodles with deep fried spring rolls)! I personally select two to represent – bún thịt nướng (rice noodles with grilled pork) and rice noddles served with soup – bún riêu. 

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Rice noodles with grilled pork 

It would be a big miss if I don’t mention a glorious dish from Huế, super popular in Saigon! Beef noodles in Huế style, same as traditional beef noodles that I list down on the top, we have this bún bò Huế for breakfast, lunch or late dinner! The most distinctive is its flavor – thanks to the special Huế shrimp paste (ruốc Huế), the lemon grass added to the soup during cooking and the special satay paste while eating.

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 Beef noodles in Hue style – strong flavor and mildly spicy! 

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A popular rice noodles with sour soup, crab paste…bún riêu

Roll cake (Bánh cuốn) 

Again, we have two different: roll cake in northern style, filled with pork meat (bánh cuốn nhân thịt) and roll cake in southern style – we call bánh ướt (wet cake!).  Both are made from rice, steamed and served with sweet, spicy fish sauce, pork ham and blanched bean sprouts, herbs. Both are most popular but wet cake (bánh ướt) could be more popular as street food in Sài Gòn as it’s easy to sell from a moving cart!

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Roll cake in southern style – we call “wet” cake (bánh ướt) 

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 Roll cake filled with pork meat in northern style at Thiên Hương

Papaya salad with pork liver (gỏi bò)

My childhood favorite snack and until now I’m happy to have it whenever I have a chance! Used to be one of the most popular snacks with teens, esp. school children.  These days maybe the taste has been changed, we may not find this street stall selling this yummy papaya salad in front of many schools anymore but certain places are famous for this special street food.

Made from shreds of young papaya, served in sour-sweet spicy sauce, topped with roasted peanut, Vietnamese basil, shrimp cracker and most important beef liver or lung (!?) that has been braised in secret aromatic dark sweet sauce with probably different spices!

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Green papaya salad topped with secret beef liver, peanut…

Big noodles (Bánh canh)

I love the big noodles or I always call it jokingly “udon” due to its jumbo size! Vietnamese udon or bánh canh! We have a quite large variation of bánh canh, depends on the area. In South we have bánh canh with pork knuckle (bánh canh giò heo), or with crab (bánh canh cua). Very popular. Then in Central we have bánh canh with crab in Huế style or with snakehead (bánh canh cá lóc)…We even have sweet bánh canh in coconut soup, very tasty, the speciality from Mekong Delta!

Bánh canh is good for breakfast or light meal before dinner! My all-time favorite is bánh canh with crab. The soup with crab meat, crab cake or some other stuffs, we need to add only some fresh chili, squeeze some drops of lime juice, all of it makes bánh canh heavenly good!

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Vietnamese big noodles with crab (bánh canh cua)

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Big noodles with flower crab – another version from Central!

Yellow noodles  

Originated from China, but this noodles dish already found home here, probably hundred years ago! I did try yellow noodles in Beijing and in Hong Kong, I may prefer the Vietnamese version, probably I already used to the local taste here! Good for breakfast or late night meal! Yellow noodles can go with either seafood, chicken, pork or little of everything (mỳ đủ thứ). I love the noodles texture – should be a bit hard, chewy and not too soft! And, of course, the soup itself!

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Yellow noodles with everything at Minh Ký Mì Gia! 

Fresh spring roll (Gỏi cuốn) 

If talking about the roll in Vietnam, it would take days…as we have so many things that we can roll in rice paper (bánh tráng)! The most popular among the rolls – deep fried spring rolls but as street food – by somehow fresh spring roll or we simply call “gỏi cuốn” – more popular! When I moved to Paris and found it in some Asian store – oh dear, far from the original!

Just a good rice paper, we roll with rice noodles, veggies and veggies, then cooked pork meat (thịt heo luộc) and cooked prawn! Dip sauce is sweet soy sauce mixed with chopped roasted peanut!

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 Summer roll as it’s called on CNNGo – one of the world’s 50 delicious foods! 


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