1. THE BEST VIETNAMESE FOOD IS FOUND ON THE SIDEWALKS WHILE YOU SWEAT OVER PLASTIC CHAIRS
If there is one tip you take from all these Vietnam travel tips, this is the most important! Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of fantastic fine dining in Vietnam. But if you want the most authentic and delicious versions of these dishes, you will find them outside on the sidewalks and buried in neighborhood markets. If they have an actual building, it’s open air and you’re still probably sitting on plastic chairs!
2. IT’S GOOD TO KNOW A FEW FOOD TERMS
The one time I remember totally freezing up is when I first started venturing out to the random food stalls to look for lunch or dinner. Beyond pho and banh mi, I had no idea what to look for! Here are some good terms to know:
pho: the ultimate soup dish
banh mi: bread, but also a baguette sandwich
mam: fish sauce
Beginner’s Tip: If you’re in Saigon, I recommend going to Ben Thanh Market first or booking a food tour. The food market there is very used to foreigners, so they have photos on their stalls! And, of course, if you do a food tour they can help explain the dishes and terms in person.
3. LET’S TALK ABOUT COFFEE FOR A MINUTE
I know I went into the cafe scene above, but let’s talk about the coffee itself! Did you know Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee exporter?! As you might guess, it was the French who introduced coffee to the country and began building plantations.
Today, coffee is truly a part of Vietnamese life. The most classic thing to get is a ca phe sua da, or iced milk coffee (it’s always listed as Vietnamese iced coffee in other countries). You fill a cup with ice and condensed milk, and then you drip your coffee over top. Mix and let the ice melt (easy to do in the tropics). When it’s melted just enough and your glass is sweating with condensation, that is the time to start drinking!
Of course, there are plenty of other variations, and in most trendy cafes you can get your classic lattes, cappuccinos, etc. But just once, while traveling sit down and get a nice big bowl of beef pho and an almost too-strong cup of ca phe sua da!
Variations: Some other variations of Vietnamese coffee to look for: cà phê trứng (egg coffee), more popular in Hanoi; cà phê muối (salt coffee) in Hue, and coconut coffee pretty much everywhere (start with the many Cong Caphes around the country).
4. MORE DRINKS TO TRY IN VIETNAM
I actually have a whole list of Vietnamese drinks to try! There are a lot of cool fruit juices, regional beers, and more worth trying while you’re here. I’m quite partial to lychee iced tea and nuoc mia (sugarecane juice)!
5. HOW VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN FRIENDLY IS VIETNAM?
Actually, I’d say it’s easier to find vegan and vegetarian-friendly food in Vietnam than I remember it being in Korea, especially in the cities. In the countryside, you’re pretty much shit out of luck, but in the cities big and small, there are also some really good vegetarian options! Try looking to see if there are practicing Buddhist monasteries around too and if they have a restaurant as Buddhist monks are all vegetarian, I believe!
6. IS IT EASY TO GET TAKEOUT?
Takeout culture is a big thing in the cities here! It’s almost too good, and I admittedly got very lazy. The easiest thing to do is order via Grab (other apps exist but Grab is the most reliable). However, I also found that many restaurants were easily reachable via Facebook and could arrange their own delivery drivers, so I did that whenever possible.