Northern Vietnamese food is a hidden gem in Vietnamese cuisine, known for its distinctive flavors shaped by centuries of history, geography, and cultural influences. When traveling to Vietnam, part of the experience is tasting all the unique flavors and regional dishes. However, with all the new words to process, we want you to experience it! Experience the most delicious dishes Northern Vietnam offers with this culinary journey, taking us through the northern provinces of Vietnam, where a unique fusion of Chinese and French influences has given rise to a rich and diverse food culture.
This article will take you through the region’s top 10 iconic dishes. From famous favorites like pho to lesser-known dishes, these foods embody the essence of Northern Vietnamese culture and history. Prepare to savor the flavors that make Northern Vietnamese food a unique and delicious experience!
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How Northern And Southern Vietnamese Cuisine Differ
Northern and Southern Vietnamese cuisine have several distinctions even though they draw from the same cultural traditions. The differences can be attributed to the contrasting geographies, climates, and historical influences of the two regions.
Northern Vietnamese food is characterized by light and balanced flavors compared to the bold, spicy tastes of southern cooking. This lighter profile is due to northern Vietnam’s cooler climate and Chinese cultural impact. Most Northern Vietnamese foods like pho noodle soup, bun cha pork, and banh cuon stuffed steamed rolls tend to use fewer spices and let the main ingredients shine. Especially, soy sauce is more common in this region.
In contrast, southern cuisine is tropical and heavily influenced by trade, including French, Indian, and Khmer flavors. Southern specialties like ca ri ga (curry chicken), banh xeo (savory crepes), and Hue style beef noodle soup (bun bo Hue) pack potent flavors like coconut milk, turmeric, lemongrass, and chilies. While both regions share common ingredients and dishes, northern Vietnamese food spotlights subtle aromas while the south embraces punchy, complex tastes.
Top 10 Northern Vietnamese Food Experiences
To showcase the diversity and essential flavors of this regional style, we will highlight the top 10 foods to try in northern Vietnam below. For an authentic taste of northern Vietnam, be sure to sample these top 10 dishes on your travels. This northern Vietnamese food tour will delight the senses and satisfy every palate!
No discussion of Vietnamese cuisine is complete without Pho, the soulful noodle soup that serves as the national dish. This northern staple features a complex bone broth simmered for hours with aromatics like star anise, complemented by fresh rice noodles, tender beef cuts, and herbs. What makes Pho special is the layering of flavors and textures – the savory, subtly spiced broth, the soft yet chewy noodles, the beef that soaks up the essence of the broth. Customizations like lime, chili, and bean sprouts add acidity, heat, and crunch.
While Pho restaurants abound across Vietnam, Hanoi offers some of the best opportunities to sample authentic versions. Famed establishments include Pho Gia Truyen at 49 Bat Dan Street, where the broth has been perfected for generations. Pho Thin at 13 Lo Duc Street draws lines for its northern-style pho with star anise notes!
2. Bun Cha – Best Northern Vietnamese Food?
Bun cha stands out as another beloved dish representing northern Vietnamese cuisine. This mouthwatering combination features charcoal grilled pork with a sweet and savory broth for dipping along with rice vermicelli noodles, herbs, and vegetables. What makes bun cha exceptional is the perfect balance of smoky grilled pork, the umami-rich dipping sauce, and fresh cool herbs like mint and cilantro. Thinly sliced pork belly and pork patties get marinated in fish sauce, lemongrass, and black pepper before hitting the charcoal grill to achieve that iconic caramelized edges and irresistible aroma.
Hanoi offers abundant spots to sample authentic bun cha like Bun Cha Dac Kim at 67 Duong Thanh Street, where they have perfected the art of the grill since the 1960s. Bun Cha Huong Lien at 24 Le Van Huu Street garnered fame for serving President Obama and Anthony Bourdain. For a local favorite try Bun Cha Cau Go at 19 Cau Go Street, where steaming baskets of bun cha arrive at your table straight from the charcoal fire.
3. Banh Mi
Among the best Northern Vietnamese dishes, Banh mi has become a worldwide sensation, but sampling an authentic version in Vietnam offers an unparalleled experience. This Vietnamese-style sandwich showcases a perfect synthesis of French and Vietnamese ingredients and flavors. What makes banh mi special is the fluffy yet crisp Vietnamese baguette combined with various meat fillings like cha lua sausage, ham, barbecued pork, or grilled chicken, fragrant herbs, fried shallots, crunchy pickled vegetables, and spicy chili peppers. The variety of textures and bright, contrasting flavors in each bite is what makes banh mi so craveable.
While banh mi shops proliferate across Vietnam, Hanoi offers exceptional places to try this sandwich. Head to Banh Mi 25 at 25 Hang Ca Street for warm, freshly baked bread with fillings like sauteed mushrooms with chicken or pork belly. Banh Mi Pho Co at 38 Dinh Liet Street also offer unique banh mi!
4. Mien Xao Luon
Mien xao luon offers a taste of Vietnamese noodle innovation at its best. Rice vermicelli noodles stir-fried with savory eel and aromatic vegetables makes for an exceptional combination of textures and flavors. What makes this Northern Vietnamese cuisine special is the smoky grilled eel and velvety scrambled egg, contrasted by crunchy bean sprouts and wood ear mushrooms. The noodles soak up the savory flavors while retaining their distinct springy bite. Traditional ingredients like fish sauce, black pepper, and scallions add that distinctive Vietnamese flair.
Hanoi restaurants provide some of the best opportunities to savor mien xao luon. For a historic spot, try it at Mien Luon Nguyen Tu Gian at 46 Nguyen Tu Gian Street, cooking this specialty for over 30 years. Mien Luon Yen Ninh at 34 Yen Ninh Street puts a creative spin on the classic dish. A local favorite is found at Mien Xao Nguyen Che Nghia at 7 Nguyen Che Nghi Street, where their wok skills perfect the sear on the eel.
5. Nem Cua Be
Nem cua be exemplifies the skill and creativity involved in Vietnamese cuisine. These deep-fried crab spring rolls pack flavors and textures into each bite. What makes them special is the filling of fresh crab meat, crispy wood ear mushrooms, and julienne vegetables wrapped in a delicate rice paper roll. Signature dipping sauces like fermented soybean and chili lime sauce complement the rolls. The crisp outer layer gives way to a savory, meaty interior accented by herbs.
Hanoi offers abundant spots to try nem cua be. For classic, fresh nem cua be, head to Nem Vuong Pho Co at 37 Dao Duy Tu Street in the Old Quarter. Their take spotlights the simple wonders of plump crab, vermicelli noodles, lettuce, mint, and pickled carrots wrapped in rice paper. You could also head to Nem Cua Be Thuan Yen at 88 Tran Nhat Duat, Hai Phong. This restaurant has been serving their signature nem cua be crab spring rolls for over 40 years, making them one of the most renowned and long-standing establishments in the city for this signature dish.
6. Cha Ca
Cha ca represents the essence of Vietnamese culinary tradition with its simple yet spectacular flavors. This Hanoi specialty features tender grilled fish traditionally made with hemibagrus, one of the most prized catches of the Red River. What makes the grilled fish dish exceptional is the turmeric-infused fish marinated in galangal, garlic, and lemongrass, then fried on a hot skillet at the table in dill and shrimp paste sauce. It is served with fresh rice noodles, peanuts, fresh herbs, and greens on the side. The hands-on cooking and complex layers of taste create an immersive dining experience.
Hanoi provides the ideal setting to savor authentic cha ca. Head to Cha Ca La Vong on 14 Cha Ca Street, where the dish originates from over 100 years ago. They use only hemibagrus fish caught fresh daily. Cha Ca Thang Long at 21 Duong Thanh Street offers up cha ca in a restored French colonial villa. For a modern take, try Cha Ca Anh Vu at 120 Giang Vo Street, where chef Anh Vu puts his personal spin on the traditional preparation.
6. Bun Dau Mam Tom
Bun dau mam tom stands out as a quintessential Vietnamese comfort food. This noodle bowl features slender rice vermicelli, fried tofu, and pork shoulder simmered in a shrimp paste broth. What makes it special is the complex sweet-sour-savory flavors of the broth made from fermented shrimp, contrasted by fresh herbs, crunchy bean sprouts, and tender noodles. The hearty components come together in a perfectly balanced bowl. Customizations like cha lua sausage, crab spring rolls, or extra shrimp paste blend taste and texture.
Hanoi offers abundant spots to sample authentic bun dau mam tom. Try it at Bun Dau Trung Huong at 49 Phat Loc Street, where the broth is simmered for hours. The dish at Bun Dau Dong Thai at 11 Dong Thai Street adds homemade shrimp paste. For authentic street food versions, check out Bun Dau Hang Khay at 31 Hang Khay Street.
7. Com Lam
Com lam, or bamboo-tube sticky rice, is a beloved Vietnamese dish that holds a special place in the hearts of the northern Vietnamese people. What makes it truly special is the unique cooking method, where glutinous rice, fragrant with the aroma of bamboo, is packed into bamboo tubes and slow-cooked over an open flame. This traditional cooking technique imparts a distinct smoky flavor to the rice, making it a delightful treat for food enthusiasts. You can enhance the flavor of this dish by pairing it with Vietnamese rice wine to elevate the taste to the next level.
The dish is often accompanied by a variety of ingredients such as mushrooms, chicken, or pork, which are seasoned with local herbs and spices to create a harmonious and flavorful combination. The result is a delicious, aromatic, and visually appealing meal that captures the essence of Northern Vietnamese cuisine.
For an authentic com lam experience, don’t miss Com lam Ban Don in Hoa Muc village, Bac Kan province. If you are staying in Hanoi, you can visit Pao Quan restaurant at 78 Giang Vo Street. This spot is renowned for its traditional preparation methods and high-quality ingredients, ensuring an unforgettable dining experience.
8. Banh Cuon
Banh Cuon, or steamed rice rolls, a Vietnamese delicacy, is renowned for its unique texture and flavors. This dish is primarily composed of a delicate rice flour rolls filled with various fillings. What sets Banh Cuon apart is the skill required to make the rice paper, which should be paper-thin yet resilient. It is traditionally filled with minced pork or boiled chicken, wood ear mushrooms, and shallots, creating a harmonious blend of savory and earthy flavors. A crucial component of this dish is the dipping sauce, usually a mixture of fish sauce, lime, sugar, and garlic, adding a sweet and tangy contrast to the delicate rolls. The beauty of Banh Cuon lies in its simplicity, showcasing the Vietnamese culinary expertise in achieving a perfect balance of flavors and textures.
In northern Vietnam, there are two excellent places to savor Banh Cuon. First, Banh Cuon Gia An at 111/8 Lang Ha Street is a well-known chain with an undisclosed address in Hanoi, frequented by countless locals and food enthusiasts. Gia An is renowned for its incredibly thin and soft rice paper rolls, demonstrating the skill and dedication of their chefs. Another notable option is Banh Cuon Chi Su on 1C3, Hoang Ngoc Phach Street. The quick and precise craftsmanship of the chefs at this establishment is a sight to behold, as they create various Banh Cuon varieties like Banh Cuon Cao Bang, egg rolls, and grilled meat rolls.
9. Bun Oc
Bun Oc, a culinary gem in Vietnam, is a dish that encapsulates the essence of Vietnamese street food culture, offering a unique and unforgettable gastronomic experience. Among the most famous noodle soups, this iconic dish features petite snails paired with vermicelli noodles, bathed in an aromatic and flavorful broth that combines the sweetness of tomatoes, the tang of vinegar, and the richness of various spices. What sets Bun Oc apart is the harmonious interplay of flavors and textures – tender snails mingling with chewy noodles, creating a symphony of tastes that tantalize the taste buds, making it a quintessential dish beloved by locals and tourists alike.
For an exceptional Bun Oc adventure, don’t miss the opportunity to visit esteemed establishments like Ms. Hue’s Hanoi cold snail noodle shop at 43 Nguyen Sieu, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi. This beloved eatery, under the expert guidance of Ms. Hue for over two decades, is cherished by Hanoi residents for its remarkable broth and the option to choose snail sizes to suit individual palates. Additionally, the charming Bun Oc Hang Chai, situated at 6 Ward Hang Chai, Hang Ma, Hoan Kiem, is a testament to Ms. Them’s dedication, having evolved from a humble street-side stall into a culinary haven offering an authentic Bun Oc experience in the heart of Hanoi. These exceptional venues embody the allure and flavors of Bun Oc, ensuring an extraordinary culinary journey through the Red River Delta!
10. Bun Bo Nam Bo
Bun Bo Nam Bo, a cherished Vietnamese culinary treasure, is celebrated for its distinctive blend of flavors and fresh ingredients. This delightful dish is a harmonious marriage of sweet and sour fish sauce, tender beef, crisp vegetables, fragrant fried onions, and crunchy roasted peanuts. Its mouthwatering taste and refreshing character make it an irresistible option for those seeking a truly unique and satisfying dining experience.
When in Northern Vietnam, two standout destinations beckon you to savor the best Bun Bo Nam Bo. Nha Hang Bach Phuong, situated at 73-75 Hang Dieu Street in Hanoi, holds the crown as the ultimate champion of this dish. With an authentic preparation that captures the essence of Bun Bo Nam Bo, it’s the place to be!
Additionally, “Bun bo Nam Bo – 79 Chua Lang” at 79 Chua Lang Street, Hanoi, offers a delightful twist on the traditional dish with its sweet and sour fish sauce. The ambiance here is steeped in nostalgia, adorned with antique relics like antenna TVs, cassette speakers, and well-maintained vintage wooden furniture, creating an enchanting backdrop for savoring this delectable delicacy.
Bonus Tip: Sip a Delicious “Ca Phe Trung”
Among the best Northern Vietnamese dishes, Ca Phe Trung, known as egg coffee, is a unique and renowned Vietnamese coffee specialty. This delightful concoction is made by blending strong Vietnamese coffee with a mixture of egg yolks and condensed milk, resulting in a creamy, sweet, and aromatic beverage that has gained international acclaim. What sets Ca Phe Trung apart is its velvety texture and harmonious balance of flavors. The rich coffee notes are complemented by the subtle sweetness of the fresh cream and the richness of the egg yolks, creating a one-of-a-kind taste experience that has captured the hearts of coffee enthusiasts worldwide.
When in northern Vietnam, there are a couple of must-visit places to savor this exquisite drink. Giang Cafe, often referred to as the “birthplace” of egg coffee, is an iconic destination for this delectable treat. Located at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan Street, Hanoi, Giang Cafe has been perfecting its egg coffee recipe for decades, ensuring an authentic and unforgettable taste. Another notable spot is Cafe Dinh, a historic Hanoi egg cafe situated at 13 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District. What sets Cafe Dinh apart is its picturesque balcony overlooking the serene Hoan Kiem Lake, making it an ideal place to enjoy egg coffee while taking in the beauty of Sword Lake.
Ready For Your Best Northern Vietnamese Food Experiences?
In conclusion, the Northern region of Vietnam is a treasure trove of culinary delights, each dish telling a story of tradition, culture, and innovation. From the iconic Pho and its aromatic simplicity to the complex flavors of Bun Cha and the unique textures of Bun Oc, Northern Vietnamese cuisine is a testament to the rich tapestry of flavors this region has to offer. Whether you are strolling through the bustling streets of Hanoi or venturing into the countryside, you’ll find a gastronomic adventure waiting to unfold.
The top 10 Northern Vietnamese foods mentioned in this article are just a glimpse into the culinary wonders of this region. Each dish reflects the deep-rooted history and the dedication of the people who have perfected their craft over generations. Whether you’re a food enthusiast or a traveler with an adventurous palate, Northern Vietnam promises a remarkable and unforgettable culinary journey that will leave you savoring the flavors and longing to return for more. So, the next time you find yourself in the North of Vietnam, don’t miss the chance to explore this diverse and delectable world of tastes and textures that await your discovery!
Feeling hungry for a Northern Vietnamese food adventure? Explore our Restaurant Guides for a taste of the best local flavors or book a food tour/cooking class to savor these delights firsthand. Let’s embark on a culinary journey together!