Food and Drink

Information about eating and drinking in Vietnam: Vietnamese cuisine, regional specialities and mealtime customs...

Vietnam has become known as something of a “food Mecca” in Southeast Asia, with a stunning variety of cuisines and dishes to be found along its length. Most traditional Vietnamese cuisine follows the concept of balance between the five essential elements and their corresponding tastes – known as ngu vi - (spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet) and the Chinese yin-yang. This means that most dishes nearly always include a presence of vegetables to counterbalance the meat. Rice is so prevalent and intrinsic to Vietnamese culture that it is known as the “staff of life”, and the Vietnamese way of saying “to go and eat”, is actually translated as “to go and eat rice” (di an com).

Regional Specialities

The Vietnamese attribute different tastes and styles to the three main regions of the country: the South, Central and North. Southern cuisine is generally considered to be “sweeter”, central is spicy, while northern dishes are considered to be more authentically Vietnamese, savoury and “warming”. However, in the main cities of Hanoi, and especially Ho Chi Minh City, cuisines from throughout the country can be found amid the huge array of stalls and restaurants.

As the south of Vietnam lies roughly at what can be considered part of the ancient “border” of the two great east Asian civilisations – China and India – dishes such as the famous cari ga/de (chicken/goat curry) very often present a fusion of both. Spices such as turmeric and cumin feature heavily, as do chilli and a massive array of different types of rice – steamed, fried, noodles, pancakes and rolls.

Useful Terminology

Vietnamese English
Banh mi Bread
Com Rice
Ca Fish
Ga Chicken
Thit bo Beef
Thit heo Pork
Thom to Prawn
Rau song Vegetables
Nuoc suoi Water
Tra Tea
Ca phe Coffee