8 Things You Didn't Know About Vietnamese Cuisine

Bún chả, a favourite Vietnamese dish
Bún chả, a favourite Vietnamese dish | © stu_spivack / Flickr
Hannah Stephenson

Vietnam’s food is one of the most fascinating parts of the country’s culture. It is complex, dynamic and often surprising – but never boring. Here are eight things you probably didn’t know about Vietnamese cuisine.

Phở and spring rolls are well-known dishes, but there’s so much more to Vietnamese food than you might expect. Full of intriguing foods and flavours, Vietnam’s cuisine is endlessly interesting and offers a valuable insight into the country’s culture. Read on to discover the most remarkable aspects of Vietnamese dining.

Five is the magic number

Like many Asian cuisines, Vietnamese food is underpinned by the Xu Wing and Mahābhūta principles. These philosophies emphasise the importance of the balance between the five elements for health and well-being. This means that each Vietnamese dish features a careful combination of five flavours: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and hot. This sensational synthesis makes every meal an invigorating and memorable experience.

Vietnamese food

Savoury breakfasts

Breakfast in Vietnam is strictly a savoury affair; you’re unlikely to find many people chowing down on sugary breakfast cereals here. The Vietnamese are early risers and they need serious fuel, so it’s all about steaming hot soup, broken rice and bánh mìs for starting the day. The country’s famous phở soup is in fact traditionally a breakfast dish – although it can be consumed any time of the day.

Vietnamese cuisine

Liquid desserts

Given the often sweltering temperatures in Vietnam, it’s no surprise that people tend to prefer cold, liquid desserts. Chè refers to Vietnamese dessert soups, drinks and puddings, which often consist of coconut milk, mung or kidney beans and fruit – to name just a few of many potential ingredients. The tastiest options include chè chuối (banana and coconut milk soup) and chè bắp (sweetcorn and glutinous rice pudding). If you’re looking for a photogenic dessert be sure to try chè ba màu, a traffic light-coloured drink made with beans and jelly that’s instantly refreshing.

Che is usually served in a glass over ice and eaten with a spoon

Regional differences

Vietnam is divided into three main regions: north, south and central. Although there are common threads between the cuisines of these areas, each boasts its own individual characteristics. In northern Vietnam, food tends to be less spicy and black pepper is strongly favoured over chilli. It’s also home to the legendary bún chả, which Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain famously enjoyed together in 2016. Central Vietnam, however, boasts complex mixtures of spicy flavours. The cuisine of Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam, is particularly revered for its variety of distinctive and delicious dishes. Southern Vietnamese cuisine tends to be sweeter and the region’s fertile soil means that herbs are used more liberally in cooking. The southern version of phở tends to be more popular than its northern counterpart, although it’s best to try both to be sure.

A wonderful bowl of Vietnamese bún mắm

Animal blood soup

Raw animal blood – usually from a duck or pig – is a delicacy in Vietnam. Tiết canh is a soup made from freshly slaughtered animal blood, fish sauce, cooked meat and herbs. Its taste is described as cool, sour and buttery, often washed down with some strong rice wine. Tiết canh can be found on the street but is also often consumed during festive occasions, such as the Lunar New Year, when the animal is typically slaughtered at the host’s home.

Blood pudding (Tiet Canh)

Coffee culture

Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee exporter and their beans are nothing short of phenomenal. Strong and full of flavour, Vietnamese coffee (known affectionately by some as ‘rocket fuel’) packs an intense punch, delighting your senses and keeping you buzzing all day. One of the most popular ways to enjoy it is with condensed milk over ice, otherwise known as cà phê sữa đá. The delightful cafes where it’s served are almost as enjoyable as the drink itself, with many of the best ones tucked away in little secret corners and narrow hems.

Vietnamese coffee

Fetal duck eggs

Hột vịt lộn – duck eggs containing partially developed foetuses – are a popular street food in Vietnam. Often washed down with beer, these eggs are boiled and eaten straight from the shell, with sides and condiments varying regionally. Hột vịt lộn are beloved in Vietnam due to their rich taste and high nutritional value, and are also popular in several other Southeast Asian countries. The eggs are traditionally consumed by pregnant women for strength and fortification.

Balut (boiled developing duck embryo) in Hoi An, Vietnam

Fish sauce

Fish sauce – or nước mắm – is a major component of Vietnamese cuisine. Made from fermented anchovies and salt, the sauce tends to lose its strong fish taste when combined with other ingredients and instead adds simultaneously sweet and salty flavours to the food. This incredibly versatile condiment is used in many popular dishes and as a delicious dipping sauce for spring rolls, bún chả and broken rice. No experience of Vietnamese cuisine is complete without a taste of nước mắm.

Fish sauce with chili
culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.