Over the past few years, Vietnamese cuisine has slowly but steadily gained a foothold on a global culinary stage. From ranking amongst the top 15 cuisines in the world to claiming 9th spot on Instagram's list of most popular cuisines, Vietnamese cuisine is gaining momentum and debuting around the world. On the fine-dining front, Anan Saigon even placed 39th on the coveted culinary Asia's 50 Best Restaurants (2021) list, a commendable feat last seen 8 years ago.

While crowd favourites including 'pho' and 'com tam' (broken rice with grilled pork chop) continue to ride the digital culinary craze (thanks Instagram!) and increase in popularity around the world, here are 10 Vietnamese dishes you might not know existed.

1. Vermicelli with tofu and fermented shrimp paste (Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm)

Not for the faint of heart, Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm is a signature dish of Hanoi and a must-try on your visit to the country's capital. Known for its powerfully pungent yet umami fermented shrimp paste (Mắm Tôm), the dish comes served with 'bún' (vermicelli noodles), 'đậu' (fried tofu) as well as other flavourful condiments including boiled pork, fried intestines, 'cha com' (fried patty), fresh herbs and vegetables (fish mint and Vietnamese balm, sliced cucumbers). While this dish is deliciously addictive and enticing, we strongly suggest those new to 'mắm tôm' to consume the potent delicacy in small doses and only when you're ready to take the next step into Vietnamese umami, order yourself a Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm.

Bun dau mam tom
Bun dau mam tom @ xuanhuongho / Getty Images

For the brave, below are a few places to put your tastebuds to the test in Ho Chi Minh City (trust us, we fact-checked with the locals!)

Bun dau A Chanh

  • Address: 87 Xo Viet Nghe Tinh, District Binh Thanh
  • Open time: 8:00 AM – 10:00 PM

Bun dau Tien Hai

  • Address: 804 Su Van Hanh, District 10
  • Open time: 9:30 AM – 11:00 PM

Bun dau Homemade

  • Address: 1 Nguyen Van Trang, District 1
  • Open time: 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM

2. Dried Rice Noodles (Hủ Tiếu Khô Nam Vang)

'Hủ tiếu' is a popular noodle dish often eaten for breakfast in Southern Vietnam, especially in Saigon. It can be served as a soup or dry, which presents itself as rice noodles tossed in a bed of sweet and savoury sauce made from oyster sauce, chilli paste, soy sauce and generously topped with pork and a mix of herbs.

Hu tieu nam vang kho
Hu tieu nam vang kho Quynh @ Dia Diem An Uong

The noodle soup version of 'Hủ tiếu' is popularly consumed as rice noodles in an umami-rich broth made from pork bones and dried squid with an array of pork cuts including sliced pork, pork loin and fatty pork. The piping hot bowl of flavourful goodness is then garnished with chopped chives, bean sprouts, fried garlic and shallots. Those who hanker for more can also add quail eggs or shrimp.

Hu Tieu Nam Vang Thanh Dat

  • Address: 34 Co Bac, District 1
  • Open time: 8:00 AM – 10:00 PM

Hu Tieu Nam Vang Quynh

  • Address: 02 Duong So 11, District 2
  • Open time: 5:30 AM – 8:30 PM

Hu Tieu Nam Vang Nhan Quan

  • Address: 122D Cach Mang Thang 8, District 3
  • Open time: Everyday 24/7

3. Tumeric Fish (Chả Cá)

Coined a must-try Hanoian experience, 'Chả cá' is a dish (like many Vietnamese dishes) that's rich in both flavour and history. It features a popular Vietnamese fish doused in an aromatic marinade that gives rise to a bold yellow color, which comes from turmeric. The fish is then added to a sizzling skillet along with a handful of dill, green onion and garlic oil and sautéd for a few minutes. Once the fish turns golden brown on both sides, you're ready to dive in. To accompany, add vermicelli noodles, roasted peanuts, chillies, pickled vegetables and fish sauce for a bowlful of fresh flavourful goodness.

Cha ca De Vuong
Cha ca De Vuong @ Cha Ca De Vuong Fanpage

Cha Ca De Vuong

  • Address: 794 Su Van Hanh, District 10
  • Open time: 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM

Cha Ca La Vong

  • Address: 3-5 Ho Xuan Huong, District 3
  • Open time: 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM 5:00 PM - 10:00 PM

4. Claypot Braised Catfish (Cá Kho Tộ)

A dish that often debuts in Vietnamese films, 'Cá kho tộ' loosely translates into claypot braised catfish and is a popular food staple amongst many Vietnamese households. Known for its golden sticky glaze made from coconut water and fish sauce, this dish is often served smoking hot in a claypot along with a bowl of white rice and 'canh chua', a tamarind-based sweet and savoury fish soup. You can't go wrong with this wholesome comfort meal. Those looking for some extra spice can also add a little kick of chili to the mix.

Ca kho to
Ca kho to @ Internet

Chi Hoa Vietnamese Restaurant

  • Address: 98 Hai Ba Trung, District 1
  • Open time: 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM

Mountain Retreat

  • Address: 36 Le Loi, District 1
  • Open time: 10:00 AM – 9:30 PM

Quan Bui

  • Address: 55A Ngo Quang Huy, District 2
  • Open time: 7:30 AM – 11:00 PM

5. Hoi An Chicken Rice (Cơm Gà Hội An)

'Cơm gà Hội An' (Hoi An Chicken Rice) is one of the signature dishes of Hoi An, a small ancient town in Central Vietnam. It features shredded chicken (we hear rumors that only free-range chicken is used due to its firm texture) garnished with Vietnamese coriander, onions, fresh chillies and lime juice dressing. The chicken salad is then served with turmeric rice cooked directly in umami chicken stock. A dish full of flavors, textures and history, 'Cơm Gà Hội An' is a must-try for anyone visiting Vietnam.

Com ga Hoi An
Com ga Hoi An @ DKN News

Hoi An Quan

  • Address: 285/94A Cach Mang Thang 8, District 10
  • Open time: 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM 4:00 PM - 9:30 PM

6. Bread With Combo Pan (Bánh Mì Chảo)

'Bánh Mì Chảo' features a sizzling hot pan generously decorated with sausages, pate and fried egg seasoned with chilli and soy sauce, and served with fresh 'bánh mì' (bread) as a dipping accompaniment. Other popular toppings also include decadent chunks of thick-cut beef or tuna. While this greasy dish is often consumed in the mornings, you can see small alleys flanked with locals dipping their 'bánh mìs' into their 'Chảo' (pan) throughout the day - a testament to how tantalising this dish is.

Banh mi Chao Hoa Ma
Banh mi Chao Hoa Ma @ Thanh Nien Newspaper

Banh mi Chao Hoa Ma

  • Address: 53 Cao Thang, District 3
  • Open time: 6:00 AM – 11:00 AM

Banh mi Chao 176

  • Address: 189 Dinh Tien Hoang, District 1
  • Open time: 7:000 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM

7. Grilled Pork Sausages (Nem Nướng)

'Nem nướng', loosely translates into 'Vietnamese grilled pork sausage' or 'grilled meatball', and is a popular Vietnamese food item that can be served as an individual appetizer or snack, or served with rice noodles or rice as a main course. A specialty of Khánh Hòa Province, 'Nem nướng' is made from grilled pork meatballs or sausages marinated with fatty minced pork and seasoned with shallots, garlic, fish sauce, sugar, and black pepper. Once prepared, it is then skewered and grilled over charcoal according this dish its savoury, smokey and delicious reputation. To eat, you simply wrap the 'Nem nướng' in rice paper, layer on some lettuce, vermicelli rice noodles or sticky rice, pickled carrots (plus any other condiments on the table) and dip it into a peanut sauce to finish.

Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa Co Nga
Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa Co Nga @ Internet

Nem Nuong Nia

  • Address: 50 Hoang Dieu, District 4
  • Open time: 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM

Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa Co Nga

  • Address: 389 Nguyen Thai Binh, District 1
  • Open time: 9:000 AM – 9:30 PM

8. Vietnamese Steamed Rice Cakes (Bánh Bèo/ Bánh Bột Lọc)

Originating from Hue, a city in Central Vietnam, Bánh bèo (Vietnamese steamed rice cakes) are made from a combination of rice flour and tapioca flour, steamed and served in round sauces. These mini steamed rice cakes are popular street food in Vietnam and can be eaten either plain or topped with dried baby shrimp, scallions, fried shallots or crispy pork skin. To finish, simply add a dash of fish sauce and there you have it - a quick and tasty Vietnamese street food snack.

Banh bot loc and Banh beo
Banh bot loc (left) and Banh beo (right) @ Canva Pro

Banh beo Thanh Nga

  • Address: 45 Ky Dong, District 3
  • Open time: 3:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Banh bot loc Ban Me

  • Address: 170 Phan Van Han , District Binh Thanh
  • Open time: 10:00AM – 8:30 PM

9. Vietnamese Pork Mince Rice Rolls (Bánh Cuốn)

'Bánh cuốn' are thin, wide sheets of rice flour filled with a mixture of cooked seasoned ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom and minced. The rice sheet is extremely thin and delicate and is made by steaming a slightly fermented rice batter on a cloth that is stretched over a pot of boiling water. The result is a simple and light dish that has become a popular breakfast dish eaten everywhere in Vietnam. Sides for this dish usually consist of bean sprouts, sliced cucumber, 'chả lụa' (Vietnamese pork sausage) and fried egg rolls and is often accompanied by a lightly sweetened dipping sauce called 'nước chấm' sauce.

Banh cuon Hai Nam
Banh cuon Hai Nam @ Internet

Banh Cuon Hong Hanh

  • Address: 17A Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1
  • Open time: 6:00 AM – 11:00 PM

Banh Cuon Thien Huong

  • Address: 173A 3 thang 2, District 10
  • Open time: 6:00 AM – 9:30 PM

Banh Cuon Hai Nam

  • Address: 11A Cao Thang, District 3
  • Open time: 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM

10. Vietnamese Sweet Dessert (Chè)

Probably one of the most underrated Asian dessert, 'Chè' is a traditional Vietnamese sweet beverage or 'dessert soup'. It boasts several colourful variations including mung beans, taro, kidney beans, tapioca, jelly (clear or grass), condensed milk, fruit (longan, mango, durian, lychee or jackfruit) and coconut cream. Some varieties, such as chè trôi nước, may also include dumplings. 

Che mam Khanh Vy
Che mam Khanh Vy @ Internet

Whether you prefer the traditional version served with three types of beans (yellow mung beans, black-eyed peas and red Kazuki beans called 'Chè ba màu') or its more modern rendition coined 'Chè khúc bạch', which resembles an Italian panna cotta typically served with lychee juice and roasted almonds, 'Chè' is a refreshing quintessential Vietnamese dessert that's perfect for those Saigon summers. Thankfully, they can be easily found all over Vietnam from street food stands to large-scale markets.

To start, we recommend the below places for some of Saigon's best -

Che Y Phuong

  • Address: 380 Nguyen Tri Phuong, District 10
  • Open time: 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM

Che Mam Khanh Vy

  • Address: 242B Su Van Hanh, District 10
  • Open time: 5:00 PM – 11:00 PM

Che Khuc Bach Thanh

  • Address: 68/210 Tran Quang Khai, District 1
  • Open time: 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM