It's amazing to me that Pho, or Vietnamese noodle soup, is the most internationally well-known Vietnamese dish, when there are so many other incredible Vietnamese dishes to try. Here are ten of my favorites:
1. Bahn Khot & Banh Xeo
Vietnamese style savory, rice pancakes filled with seafood or pork, scallions, bean sprouts; wrap them in lettuce with herbs and pickled carrots/green papaya, dip in sweet/spicy fish sauce. Banh Xeo are large and crispy, loaded with toppings; banh khot are much smaller, disc-shaped pancakes–dense in the middle, crispy on the outside, large enough for a single prawn.
In Vietnam? There are loads of tasty banh xeo and banh khot places in Saigon, but if you want to try to real deal hop on a bus and head to the nearest coastal city of Vung Tau, where Banh khot was born. In Saigon, I tend to get my fill at the Cong Quyen Market at the end of Pham Ngu Lao street, where prices are cheap and I can supplement my meal with a fresh fruit juice.
2. Bun Thit Nuong
A hands-down favorite of mine. Glorious. Grilled pork, rice vermicelli, tossed with green papaya/carrots, fresh Vietnamese basil and scallions, chopped peanuts, fresh fried spring rolls; served with spicy fish sauce.
In Vietnam? My favorite in all of Saigon can be found at Chi Thong on 195 Co Giang, district 1.
3. Gỏi Khô Bò
Green (or unripe) papaya salad with beef liver jerky, topped with mint, peanuts, doused in a sweet, spicy dressing, served with fried rice crackers.
In Vietnam: You've got to try the green papaya salad sold in the evening at the Hai Ba Trung entrance of Lê Văn Tám Park. So fantastic, that I wrote about it for HCMC.com; read about my favorite spot in Saigon for Goi Kho Bo.
Faraway? You could try this recipe.
4. Goi Xoai
Green mango salad with shrimp, garnished with fried onions, peanuts, and mint, in a sweet, spicy, chili dressing.
In Vietnam? Once again, in Saigon, I'd vote for the Vietnamese beer & BBQ joints or the "higher end," Vietnamese restaurants, the majority of which serve this dish. It has been difficult for me to find this one on the street.
Faraway? I will definitely be trying this recipe, when I return to the West.
5. Bo Nuong La Lot
Betel-leaf-wrapped-grilled-beef rolls, often served with herbs, green bananas, sour starfruit, and with rice paper for rolling your own spring rolls; plus a sweet, tangy fermented pineapple dipping sauce.
In Vietnam? I like the vender selling it just outside the markets on Co Giang, shortly after turning off of Nguyen Thai Hoc. I've also had good Bo Nuong La Lot from a street vender on Dien Bien Phu.
Faraway? You could try this recipe, which offers alternatives to betel leaves.
6. Com Tam
Grilled Marinated Pork or Chicken, with fried egg and pickled veggies on broken rice; sweet and spicy fish sauce for dipping.
In Vietnam? Take your pick, these places are so plentiful, and so cheap, you'll find at least one on every street. Pick the one's with lots of locals and a visible grill. There are a few good Com Tam places on Hai Ba Trung, district 3, around the markets, after the pink Cathedral.
7. Bun Cha
Flavorful grilled pork paddies in a savory broth, served with rice noodles, greens, picked carrot, daikon and garlic.
In Vietnam? I love the Bun Cha nestled down an alleyway off Ly Chinh Thang, district 3. Nearing Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, look out for (or smell) the men grilling pork near the entrance to the alley.
Faraway? This could fit in well at a summer BBQ. Luke Nguyen, a well-known Australian-Vietnamese chef has a yummy recipe.
8. Goi Cuon
Spring Rolls in their many varieties; shrimp, pork, rice noodles and herbs wrapped in rice paper, either fresh or fried. Served with a variety of different sauces–my favorite being a dark, rich peanut sauce with nuts and pickled green papaya.
In Vietnam? The best spring rolls I've had have been consistently purchased from moving street venders. The ladies wearing conical hats, balancing baskets of materials between a pole on their shoulders, spotted all over the city, but especially frequent in the streets surround Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao, district 1. A must try if you can spot them. Otherwise, I have a favorite vender permanently located on Nguyen Thai Binh, District 1.
9. Banh Bot Loc
Pork/Shrimp dumplings garnished with Vietnamese mint, fried onions, green papaya, peanuts.
In Vietnam? My favorite can be found across the street from Saigon's Ben Thanh Market, on Phan Boi Chau, from a woman selling them in the street, during the early evening hours.
Faraway? You could try this recipe from the Daily Rice Bowl, however it could be tricky to make on your own, unless you visit a specialty Asian or Vietnamese grocer.
10. Bun Bo Xeo
Rice noodles and thinly sliced lemongrass beef, mint, carrots, cucumbers, garnished with peanuts and fried onions, with a rich, broth-based sauce.
In Vietnam? I've found that Vietnamese Beer/BBQ outdoor restaurants do this dish best. I've had a good variation at my neighborhood BBQ spot on Ham Nghi.
Faraway? Make it yourself: try Luke Nguyen's recipe.