1. Pho (Phở)
Easily the most popular Vietnamese food in the world, Pho lives up to its vaunted reputation when eaten in its homeland. Named after the flat, fettuccine-like Pho noodles that fill the bowl, Pho in Vietnam is pure magic. Ironically, though, Vietnamese noodle soup is different depending on where you slurp it.
In Hanoi, where Pho was invented back in the early 20th century, the French-influenced broth has clear flavors developed during a simmering process that marries the protein to the liquid. Despite its apparent simplicity, Hanoi Pho is a complex, satisfying meal in a bowl.
2. Banh Mi (Bánh Mì)
Unlike Pho which hails from northern Vietnam, the Banh Mi sandwich originates from the southern part of the country, allegedly in Saigon. You will find the best Banh Mi sandwiches in Vietnam’s southern and central cities.
Most Banh Mi vendors sell the popular snack from mobile metal food carts, though more established vendors have permanent stores. Regardless of the cart or store, all Banh Mi vendors sell baguettes filled with a range of meats, paté, cucumbers and other savory ingredients.
3. Bun Cha (Bún Chả)
Always a local favorite, Bun Cha hit the international radar when President Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain rolled up their sleeves to dip rice vermicelli noodles (bún) into little bowls filled with a grilled combination of ground and whole pork drenched in Nuoc Cham (Nước Chấm), a sweet yet savory sauce made with ingredients like fish sauce, sugar and vinegar.
When you eat Bun Cha, be sure to add greens like lettuce, purple and green Vietnamese shiso, cilantro, bean sprouts and banana blossoms to your dipping bowl. If you’re extra hungry, you can get a side of Nem to add to the mix. These fried spring rolls are the perfect Bun Cha accompaniment and are generally value priced.
4. Egg Coffee (Cà Phê Trứng)
Yet another Hanoi invention, Egg Coffee is more of a dessert (think Creme Brulee) than a beverage. Made with egg yolks, sugar and condensed milk, Egg Coffee is the best drink you will eat in Vietnam.
Egg Coffee in Hanoi at Cafe Giang, the bustling, back alley, two-story cafe where the dessert drink was invented. When you visit the cafe, you can order your egg coffee hot or iced. You can even order variations with chocolate, green beans, rum and beer.
5. Banh Xeo (Bánh Xèo)
What’s better than regular pancakes? In Vietnam, the answer is Banh Xeo or sizzling pancakes.
Inspired by French crepes and invented in Central Vietnam, Banh Xeo are yellow pancakes filled with a mix of ingredients including pork, shrimp and vegetables. Far from fine dining, diners often sit on little chairs in casual settings where they wrap Banh Xeo in rice paper and dip them in a special pork liver and peanut sauce before crunching into the crispy treats.
Like most of the best Vietnamese food, you should be able to find Banh Xeo in any large city. Just come to dinner hungry when you try them in the center of the country where they were invented.