19.09.2021, 10:00

Vietcetera’s Expat Employees Recommend Their Favorite Vietnamese Foods & Drinks

Have you ever been hit with endless pages about phở, banh mì or bun chả as you type “best Vietnamese food to try” into any search engine? Well, you’re not alone. 

Some years ago, our foreign-born friends at Vietcetera also found themselves in a similar situation, being fresh to Vietnam with a humble command of the food scene. Phở is no doubt heavenly and a timeless Vietnamese staple, but there are so many more delicacies beyond it to discover on the corner of any street here. 

Fast forward to today when they have better learned the ropes of dining like a local, Vietcetera’s expat cohorts hope to share with you below their favorite Vietnamese foods and drinks, as well as where to find some of them. We’re sure you’d find their selections highly relatable (and delectable!) if you’ve ever spent some time in the country or around the Vietnamese diaspora.

Olivier Garessus, Head of Client Solutions – from Basel, Switzerland


Food

I have quite a few favorite Vietnamese dishes! Banh cuốn Tay Sơn style, banh mì ca ri and banh mì bò kho… But barbecue and che sen (lotus seed sweet soup) will probably be at the top of that list. 

Barbecue is well-known all around the world, though in Switzerland we rarely do it — and when we do, I think it’s less tasty. The first time I had barbecue in Vietnam was probably five years ago, but I only started really loving it after going to a Panda BBQ location in Saigon last year. The food was affordable and served in a very Vietnamese casual ambiance.

Since then, I often have barbecues at home on my balcony together with my girlfriend and our dog, as a romantic family event every one to two weeks.

Vietcetera’s Expat Employees Recommend Their Favorite Vietnamese Foods & Drinks
Vietnamese barbecue is most often served sizzling hot on the sidewalk for takeout. | Source: Shutterstock 

Ratings /10

Presentation: 10

Aroma: 9

Taste: 10

Affordability: 5

As for che sen, I’d never had anything with lotus until I came to Vietnam and fell in love with this ingredient. I love sweet food and che sen is super easy to make, so I make the dish once a week at home. All you need is just lotus, water and sugar, and it comes out super delicious. We have nothing similar to it in Switzerland.

Che sen is a light, refreshing dessert that can be served warm or cold. | Source: Shutterstock

Ratings /10

Presentation: 8

Aroma: 9

Taste: 10

Affordability: 9

Drink

I get my bubble tea (tra sữa) fix around three times per week from Tiger Sugar. It’s kind of an addiction for me! I know it’s usually rather for teenagers, but I can’t help chewing on the tapioca bubbles. 

The first time I had bubble tea was when my Vietnamese friends asked me to try it in Switzerland, but one drink costs around VND200,000 there. Then my first apartment in Saigon was located on Su Van Hanh Street in District 10, which is probably the most well-known bubble tea hub in the city. So there was no way to escape the sensation.

Tiger Sugar's bestselling brown sugar milk tea. | Source: Shutterstock

Dan Q. Dao, International Digital Director – from Houston, Texas


Food

As a Vietnamese-American, I grew up eating all kinds of Vietnamese dishes! My top pick would be banh cuốn, because it perfectly represents Vietnamese cooking: it’s savory and hearty, uses a dipping sauce component and comes with tons of fresh herbs.

I’m currently based in the States, so I eat it every week at Thien Thanh Banh Cuốn Thanh Trì in Houston. But in Vietnam, my favorite banh cuốn is in Hanoi at Banh Cuốn Ba Hoanh. 

Banh cuốn can be said to perfectly represent Vietnamese cooking. | Source: Shutterstock

Ratings /10

Presentation: 10

Aroma: 10

Taste: 10

Affordability: 10

Drink

Ca phe sữa đa (iced coffee with condensed milk). Need I say more?

Ca phe sữa đa is arguably the cult-favorite of Vietnamese drinks for the majority of locals and expats alike. | Source: Shutterstock

Ratings /10

Presentation: 10

Aroma: 10

Taste: 10

Affordability: 10

Agnes Alpuerto, International Editor – from Cebu, Philippines


Food

My favorite Vietnamese food is thịt kho trung (braised pork with eggs). I know this one’s a traditional dish usually prepared during Tet celebration. We have our own version of it in the Philippines called “humba”, so every time I eat thịt kho here in Vietnam, I am always reminded of home.

Both the Vietnamese and Filipino versions taste very similar to me, except that we add vinegar to give humba that blend of sweet and sour flavors. Adding hard-boiled eggs in humba is also optional, while for the Vietnamese version, the eggs are pretty much a major ingredient. 

I always get thịt kho every time I eat at local restaurants or order food at work. But I make braised pork at home too, especially if there are special occasions. While I follow the Filipino way of cooking the dish, I always add the eggs — it’s just never complete without them! And I’d say I eat braised pork once a week — that’s how much I love it!

Thịt kho trung features braised pork belly and hard-boiled eggs in a caramelized sauce. | Source: Shutterstock

Ratings /10

Presentation: 7

Aroma: 9

Taste: 9

Affordability: 8

Drink 

I’m not a tea person, but the first time I tried tra chanh đa (lemon iced tea) back in late 2019, it instantly became my go-to drink. I used to have it after every lunch, though I no longer work near that place so I never found any great tra chanh đa again, sadly.

I’ve tried to recreate it at home or buy from other vendors, but they just weren’t as good. I know it’s a simple tea and lemon drink, but there was just something about that specific tra chanh đa that was refreshing and stress-relieving. It was so good that I even asked my friend to come to my workplace so she could try it too — and she was working in D4, while I in Tan Binh!

The best tra chanh đa is almost never something too fancy. | Source: vuaphache.net

Ratings /10

Presentation: 9

Aroma: 9

Taste: 9

Affordability: 9

Hiezle Bual, International Editor – from Cebu, Philippines


Food

Banh giò (pyramid-shaped sticky rice cake) is by far my favorite Vietnamese dish. I had it for the first time in July 2019 as an afternoon snack.

I was told it comes in different flavors or fillings, but I’ve only had the one with quail eggs. The smell is delicious, although the portion is a bit too big for me to finish in one sitting. I’ve only eaten banh giò twice or thrice but I see it sold everywhere, so I might try it again when the situation allows.

My former officemates used to get banh giò for me because they thought it’s cooked and hence the “safest” Vietnamese thing for me to try, as I’ve had two food poisoning incidents after trying out other random street food!

In the Philippines, we have this sticky rice snack called “budbod” that’s made of glutinous rice, coconut milk, sugar and ginger then wrapped in banana leaves; banh giò’s sticky cover reminds me of that.

I can’t give this a perfect 10 yet, as I’m sure there are more great dishes out there that I just haven’t tried. But it’s certainly the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had!

Banh giò is usually served with chili sauce as a street food. | Source: Shutterstock

Ratings /10

Presentation: 9

Aroma: 10

Taste: 9

Affordability: 9

Drink

Like Agnes, I also love tra chanh đa. Whenever I go to coffee shops and they don’t have an English menu, I just tell them “tra chanh đa” — one of the few Vietnamese words I can say! It’s a simple, refreshing and healthy drink. 

The best tra chanh đa I ever got was from Thien Hạt Specialty Coffee in Da Kao, District 1. They added special ingredients to it and I loved that.

You can always attempt to make tra chanh đa at home with ingredients likely already in your fridge. | Source: toinayangi.vn

Ratings /10

Presentation: 10

Aroma: 10

Taste: 10

Affordability: 10

Sean Campbell, Branded Content Writer – from County Tyrone, Northern Ireland


Food

It’s a tough call, but I like bun thịt nưong the most. It’s the simplicity of the ingredients, yet the complexity of the flavors. It fills you up, but doesn’t weigh you down. It might be the greatest meal on earth, you know?

I first had it a day or two after arriving in Saigon in 2013. In truth, I didn’t even know what it was called back then — I was just walking past when I smelled the grilling pork and had my first ever whiff of sweet, sour, indescribable nưoc chấm! I was in love. 

In Cape Town where I'm living, there’s an amazing Saigonese lady named Yen, who sells Vietnamese food at a local weekend market — the Oranjezicht Market if you’re ever in town! Her bun thịt nưong is pretty good, but I’ll admit her phở and banh khọt are the winners. 

Back in Saigon, 01 Nguyen Trung Truc in District 1 is my personal favorite bun thịt nưong one-stop. Just walk up, raise your hand, pull up a chair and enjoy. It’s a little more expensive at around VND50,000, but it’s worth the extra penny. Their meat is perfectly cooked and the chả giò is a thing of beauty!

Bun thịt nưong, a wildly popular and beloved meal in Saigon. | Source: Shutterstock

Ratings /10

Presentation: 10

Aroma: 10 

Taste: 10

Affordability: 7

Drink

I'm going to be the next one to say it HAS to be ca phe sữa đa. I used to knock back five or six of them a day. Then I realized they were the reason my heart was pumping so fast and I was always on edge!

The key is the environment rather than the drink. It has to be at a little neighborhood cafe, with nowhere to go anytime soon, just watching the world go by. I actually haven’t tried to buy it in Cape Town at all, but I’ve made it at home a few times, to just sit and sip on the porch and reminisce about Saigon. 

My absolute favorite spot back there was Boong Coffee on Le Quoc Hung in District 4. Simple, wooden chairs facing the street and cheap, tasty coffee for around VND15,000. But the location is what really makes it for me — Le Quoc Hung is pretty old fashioned, even though it’s overshadowed by the Icon 56 building — quiet, shaded, unhurried, with some trees and beautiful textured walls. It's the perfect place to fall in love with the city while filling yourself with caffeine and sugar.

Vietnamese iced coffee made the Vietnamese way: using a phin. | Source: Shutterstock 

Ratings /10

Presentation: 8

Aroma: 8

Taste: 9

Affordability: 10

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