You probably won’t have any stomach issues in Vietnam — and that’s saying something, because there are some weird dishes here. But you really don’t need to worry that much. Overall, Vietnamese food is safe and delicious. There are some things, however, that are best avoided.
Might as well start with the obvious one. This is good advice for travelers to any country, but especially in a tropical country with a whole bunch of strange microbes your body hasn’t met before. We’ve never had a problem brushing our teeth with tap water in Vietnam, but the risk is all yours.
We don’t mean street meat, as street food in Vietnam is amazing. Seriously, get out there and try all the street food you can find. The food carts and sidewalk restaurants here consistently rate as among the best in the world. What we mean is meat that’s processed and sold cheap. You really can’t even tell what kind of meat it is most of the time. It’s not necessarily dangerous, but your stomach won’t be happy with you.
It’s no secret in Vietnam that many cheaper coffee places aren’t serving you just coffee. They’re adding fillers, which are often toxic. The competition for coffee in Vietnam is fierce, and some places inflate their profits by mixing in cheaper chemicals. Your best bet is to pay a bit more and go to a nice cafe. And even better yet, go to a place where the coffee is made right in front of you. Not all places that brew their coffee out of sight are adding fillers, but you never know unless you see the coffee dripping into your glass.
There was a big controversy in Vietnam a few years ago when it was found that some farmers were dousing their morning glory harvests with chemicals to make them look greener. There are also stories of farmers bleaching mushrooms — and other unequally unsavory tales. Just try to stick to vegetables that have been cooked. You won’t be able to avoid all the artificial means of faking the freshness of vegetables in Vietnam, but at least cooked veggies won’t mess with your stomach and ruin your holiday. The harmful chemicals are more of a long-term concern.
Tiết canh is a traditional dish in northern Vietnam made with fresh duck or pig’s blood. If that’s not enough to sway you, then keep in mind that swine blood has some lethally bad bacteria. People have died from eating this dish.
Any fan of The Simpsons should already know why this is a bad idea — and yet, every year, people continue to die by flirting with danger. Don’t be one of them. Avoid the Cá Nóc on the menu like your life depends on it.
If your bowl of phở isn’t hot enough to burn you right down to the bone, then you probably shouldn’t eat it. Soups are hot for good reason in Vietnam: The heat kills all the bad things that want to wreak havoc on your intestines. It’s why there really aren’t any cold soups in Vietnam.
But what’s the difference between cattle and dogs, right? We’re not going to get into that debate, because that’s not the reason we’ve included dog meat on the list. The reason we’ve included it here is because of the black market for dogs in Vietnam. There are dog thieves who steal family pets and sell them to the dog meat restaurants. We’re not big fans of farmed dogs either, but we understand. Family pets on the other hand? That’s something nobody should support.
While the milk in Vietnam certainly isn’t dangerous, there’s still a good chance your stomach will reject it. We made the mistake of drinking a big glass of milk after weeks without it, and we paid the price. The condensed sweet milk in Vietnamese coffee, however, is fine.
Vietnamese farmers, like many others around the world, rely on pesticides. For things like oranges and bananas it’s not much of a concern because we don’t eat the skin. But you should be wary of fruits like apples and guava. Always wash your fruits before you eat them, and check that the restaurant does the same if you’re worried at all.
Frogs are a staple of Vietnamese cuisine, but you don’t need to worry about them. Actually, you should give ếch a try. It’s pretty tasty. Toads, on the other hand, are best avoided. Their skin and some of their organs contain bufotoxins, which, if not treated correctly, can cause some serious problems.