Families planning a month-long trip to Vietnam should prepare themselves for the foodie adventure of a lifetime. Food is central to every aspect of life in Vietnam, and the scent and sizzle of delicious dishes being prepared provides the sensory backdrop to travels around this wonderfully colorful country.
It’s good news for foodie families with an eye on the budget, too – unless you’re absolutely intent on splashing some serious cash, there’s absolutely no need to blow the travel fund on eating out in Vietnam. With a handful of notable exceptions, family feasting in Vietnam is more about sampling delicious street food than formal dining at fancy restaurants, so there’s plenty of opportunity to give various foods a try without the risk of making an expensive mistake if the kids decide it’s not for them. Expect to pay the equivalent of a couple of dollars or less for a plateful of food.
? Vietnamese Fish Sauce
The kids may balk at the fishy flavors, but most grown up visitors find themselves developing an addiction to Nước Chấm, the salty fish sauce that is used as a dip for all manner of street snacks, lending the simplest of foods a rich umami flavor. The sauce is made with a number of different fish or even crab, but the ‘real deal’ is made with fermented anchovies, aged for several months in a barrel before the pungent liquor is extracted and mixed with garlic, vinegar, sugar and sometimes chilli, to create a sauce that is a vital component of Vietnamese dining.
Vietnamese food tends to be less fiery than other Southeast Asian cuisines, so there should be plenty for kids to get their teeth into – although those who like it hot can easily add a kick to their food thanks to the peppery sauces that accompany many dishes.
Kids with a taste for culinary adventure can even try chowing down on crickets and other beasties, while even those who are more timid in their tastes should be tempted by the bright and beautiful fruits, many of which are unheard of outside the country.
There are many regional variations to Vietnamese cuisine, so there’s little chance of getting bored on your month-long foodie trip. Pack those loose-fitting clothes, leave plenty of room in your suitcase for gourmet goodies to take home, and get ready for eating experiences that will reappear in your foodie dreams forever.
Visitors to Vietnam can follow a north-south route, or vice-versa. We’ve set out the north-south version here, flying into Hanoi rather than Saigon, but the same itinerary can be followed in reverse.
Although it’s often considered a less sophisticated city than southern foodie haven Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s capital is bursting with delicious dishes, many of which are prepared and served by the roadside. The city is also famous for its coffee, and your caffeine-fueled adventures in Hanoi should center largely around the beautiful Old Quarter, where characterful cafes abound.
There’s enough to keep you occupied in the city for at least four days and nights, so allow plenty of time in your schedule to discover the best of the eating and drinking scene. Be sure to check out Nam Dong market, which is notable for its che (sweet soups), which might be made with grapefruit and coconut milk, or chestnut, coconut and jackfruit served direct from the green coconut shell. Expect to pay the equivalent of around $1-2 dollars for a soup at the market.
Alongside the famous pho, the noodle-and-meat soup that is eaten with gusto at breakfast, Hanoi’s options include easy eats such as deep fried spring rolls, which can be dipped in spicy or fishy sauce if so desired. Even better news for kids – the legacy of French occupation has led to some enticing pastry shops – look out for spiced apple tarts and gato chuối (banana cake) served at famed cafes such as Cafe Loc Tai.
Ha Long Bay
Families in Vietnam should plan to take a couple of days’ trip to Ha Long Bay (cruises run from Hanoi, be sure to research the best options rather than booking on a whim), where the foodie adventures are all about supremely fresh fish and seafood, some of the best of which is served in kid-pleasing floating restaurants. The island-dotted bay offers plenty of scope for beach-hopping and cave-exploring, and most restaurants on ship and on shore will happily cook up chicken for those who don’t like fish.
? Ninh Binh Mountain Snails
If you’re in Ninh Binh during the August-May ‘snail season’, be sure to try the famous mountain snails. These hard-to-find critters live in limestone caves and grottoes, but will typically venture out in search of leaves during the rainy season. Considered a delicacy, the snails are cooked in a variety of ways – steamed with ginger and pungent lemongrass, or grilled with tamarind and/or garlic. The snails can be found at restaurants and street stalls during the rainy season. Check out the markets in Tam Diep the day after a heavy downfall, and you can chow down on snails for a dollar or less.
After a couple of overnight stopovers in Haiphong and Ninh Binh (try the delicious charred rice here).
Hue, which you can either fly to or take an overnight train– both from Hanoi- is one of Vietnam’s foodie hotspots and one that merits a few nights’ stay. This handsome city, formerly the royal capital, is known for a culinary scene that is fancier than elsewhere in Vietnam, with elaborate sweet confections, and dainty rice cakes such as banh beo. Heartier dishes include bun bo Hue, a spicy, meaty broth that can be enjoyed at hole-in-the wall quan restaurants as well as more upscale spots.
from Hue you can take a direct bus or a train to Da Nang and then a bus/taxi to:
If you eat just one thing in Hoi An, make it banh mi. This famous Vietnamese sandwich is Hoi An’s best-known dish, and it’s a favorite with kids and adult alike. Sold at bakeries and on the street, it’s a baguette (that French influence again) typically filled with creamy pates, bbq pork and cold cuts as well as fresh, crisp vegetables. Just point at the ingredients you do and don’t want on your sandwich. For the best in town, locals will point you to the Phuong Banh Mi stand, on Hoang Dieu Street
It’s easy to get here from hoi An as they’re so close to each other, just hop on a short bus that leaves Hoi An every half hour. Families may want to linger a few days to explore the beaches of Da Nang, and exploring the wealth of street food treats can be a time-consuming task in its own right, such is the appeal of of the foodie scene here. Navigating the maze of streets and the menus can be a challenge, but there are plenty of child-friendly options involving chicken and noodles, for picky eaters who don’t fancy pork skewers dipped into the pork-liver and hoisin sauce that characterizes Da Nang’s street food scene.
Ho Chi Minh/Saigon
Somewhat confusingly, Vietnam’s largest city is known as Ho Chi Minh by some people and Saigon by others, but no matter what you choose to call it, there are plenty of delicious things to try here, as well as some relaxing spas to escape to and prepare for your return flight. The busy city streets are ablaze with activity seemingly 24/7, and there’s a dazzling array of different sweet and savory treats to sample. Theme parks, water parks and expansive botanical gardens are among the family-friendly attractions and the coffee, sweetened with condensed milk, will give you an energy boost for exploring the city. Of all the foodie treats in the city, be sure to visit the Lunch Lady in District 1. Made famous by Anthony Bourdain, this is a long-standing favorite among locals, who line-up round the block for the daily noodle specials and summer rolls, cooked with flair before the drooling punters.
? Try the food zone at Vincom B shopping mall. they have a delicious ice cream shop.
AND You must try the ? smoothie counter (“the brothers”) in Bui Vien street, right in the heart of the tourist neighborhood in district 1. They mix fresh fruits (to your choice) with ice and sweet milk. costs- around 1$-1.5$.