A gorgeous bowl of pho from Hanoi

A foodie’s fortnight in Vietnam

In Be inspired, Eat well, Travel by Rebecca Comments

At the start of this year I spent two weeks in Vietnam as part of an incredible study tour through my uni, QUT. When we weren’t giving nutrition lessons at primary schools or visiting lively street markets, we were enjoying the huge variety of Vietnamese cuisine.

A vegetarian in Vietnam

Travelling is probably the biggest hurdle when it comes to my choice to be vegetarian. After travelling a fair bit and often struggling to find any options (oddly I had the hardest time in western Europe) I decided that I wanted a full experience of Vietnamese cuisine and if that meant meat, so be it.

To my surprise and delight, the few dishes of meat I ate paled in comparison to their vegetarian alternatives, and I soon realised I wasn’t going to have a shoddy food experience as a vego in Vietnam! Rejoice!

The backbone of my trip: coffee

No, it’s not ‘food’ per se, but it was fundamental in our daily experience of Vietnamese life. I’m not lying when I say I came back to Australia with a full-blown coffee addiction thanks to the intense strength of Vietnamese coffee. Thanks to the substitution of sugar and milk for condensed milk, they’re sweet yet potent, very creamy and pack a helluva punch. Now I’m Viet coffee dreaming.

Vietnamese coffee served hot and iced

Whether served hot or over ice, Vietnamese coffee hits the spot

Phở – the classic Vietnamese soup

Phở is addictive. In all its endless varieties, there is something about it that just keeps you wanting more. What I love about Vietnamese cuisine is the use of subtle flavours to bring out the perfect balance between sweet and umami to give one of the most moreish meals I’ve ever had. It’s packed full of fresh herbs, seasonal greens, delicious silky noodles, a wide variety of meats/alternatives, all soaking up that unmistakeable broth.

Pro tip: next time you order phở, do your best to get the pronunciation right – it’s more of a ‘fuh’ than a ‘foe’. Here’s how you pronounce it, according to Wikipedia.

Three bowls of pho, demonstrating regional varieties

Phở comes in all shapes and sizes! A light veggie dish (left), a simple but very fragrant version (top right), and a jam-packed variety (bottom right) were just three of the countless varieties I tried in Vietnam.

Bún bò Huế – a DIY hot pot

This was one of the first meals I had in Ho Chi Minh City and it set the bar high for the rest of the trip. Bún bò Huế is a hot pot dish that vaguely reminded me of dining out in South Korea, where many meals are centred on adding items to the soup to cook or heat as you go. I love this concept because the food tastes that much fresher, you’re in control of the mix, and it’s a more engaging and mindful way of eating.

The potent mix of lemongrass, lime, coriander, mint, basil, shallots, banana blossom and chilli make this dish super fresh. There were actually so many flavours expertly layered in this dish it’s no wonder the end product is incredible!

Bún bò Huế

Bún bò Huế, a heady mix of herbs and flavours combine to create a surprisingly light and refreshing dish.

Other tasty delights

I’ve cherry-picked some of my other favourites in the interest of keeping this post short and sweet, but trust me the list could go on and on!

Prawn casserole

A prawn casserole from a lovely French-Vietnamese fusion restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam

Elephant fish

Ok I admit it, I didn’t actually try any of this glorious, macabre elephant fish as I’m not a fan of freshwater fish. But isn’t it something!

Water spinach

Morning glory, aka water spinach, was one of my favourite side dishes! We had this little beauty on our cruise around the islands of the Mekong Delta.

Spring rolls

We tried spring rolls and rice paper rolls in every variety. My favourite were definitely the crispy noodle wrapped ones (top right – I need to look into these more, I’m actually not sure how they’re made or what they’re made of). Yum!

HCMC student meal

Definitely one of the most memorable meals I had was this banquet prepared by our friends at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy, HCMC. Nothing beats homemade!

Obviously this only scratches the surface of the huge variety within Vietnamese cuisine. What I learned about food from my time in Vietnam is the joy in discovering regional variations on dishes, which shows just how diverse one country’s food offerings can be.

What a trip! Now I’m hungry. Who knows where I can get a tasty bowl of phở in Brisbane?


This blog post is Part Three in a three part series about my study tour to Vietnam:

  1. Veggie Man visits Vietnam: a look at primary school nutrition in HCMC and Hanoi
  2. Abundance: Vietnam’s marketplaces
  3. A foodie’s fortnight in Vietnam

Curious about the study trip? Check out this post for a little background information.