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15 Essential Tips For Eating Out in Vietnam

We Vietnamese people have a deep-rooted love for eating, which is why Vietnamese cuisine is one of the best in the world. 

While family meals are often quiet and quick, meals out are more fun. We talk more, bond more, and share more. During meals, we strengthen family and community relationships. Eating out, therefore, is considered a social connection and part of Vietnamese food culture.

When you travel to Vietnam, you will see Vietnamese people eating out often, especially on the weekends when we have more time for the ones we love. Eating out often doesn’t mean we are rich. It’s simply because good food is affordable and easy to find in Vietnam. 

The question is how to have the best food in Vietnam. I recommend going out more and joining the locals. But other concerns exist, such as which restaurant offers the best Pho in Hanoi when hundreds sell it, or how food hygiene is in Vietnam. 

The list goes on. 

But if you remember the 15 things we listed below, we assure you that you will always have good meals in Vietnam.

1. Eat where the locals eat

The #1 rule in searching for great local food is eating where the locals eat. Locals know where to find the best food. Stalls have a long queue, providing good food at reasonable prices. Restaurants have fewer tourists, providing authentic cuisine. 

Besides, the local atmosphere can enhance your dining experience by immersing yourself in the country’s culinary traditions. You have more chances to strike up conversations with the locals to get more insights into Vietnam.  

2. You don’t need to walk into an expensive restaurant (probably you shouldn’t)

The great thing about Vietnamese food is what you have at local restaurants tastes just as delicious as in fancy restaurants. The cuisine in Vietnam is diverse and flavorful, but it doesn’t require expensive ingredients and special cooking skills. Besides, Vietnamese people, even ordinary homemakers, know how to cook food and make it appealing to their palate. You don’t need to pay a lot for a good meal.

3. Choose restaurants that serve only one dish

You might hear about this: Many local restaurants in Vietnam serve only one dish. Think about Cha Ca La Vong (Grilled Fish), Bun Rieu Cua (Crab Paste Noodle Soup), Pho Bo (Beef Noodles), Banh Mi (Vietnamese Sandwich), Banh Gio (Vietnamese Pyramid Dumpling,) and so much more. If a restaurant can survive by selling one dish, then it must be able to do it well.

4. Go to busy places

It’s always true that there is something unique to offer in a busy restaurant. What do you think is the reason why customers keep coming back? If the customers sitting next to you have fun chats with the restaurant’s staff, don’t hesitate to ask them for recommendations. They likely are frequent patrons who know the best dishes hidden on the menu.

5. Learn some simple Vietnamese words

Just enough to order food. Say Xin Chào (Hello) – pronounced as sin chow; Cám ơn (Thank you) – gam uhn to the restaurant owner and staff; Xin lỗi (Sorry) – “sin loy”; and give compliments Ngon lắm (Very Delicious) – N-gawn lah-m with a thumbs up. And, of course, smiles. You never go wrong with a smile. 

Vietnamese people love you when you speak their language. You will be welcomed and served well.

6. Good restaurants come in clusters

In Vietnam, restaurants offering the same dishes likely come in clusters, creating food streets. In Hanoi, we have Tong Duy Tan Street for Vietnamese cuisine, Ngu Xa Street for Phở rolls, and Ho Hoan Kiem Street for Green Papaya Salad with Dried Beef. In Saigon, we often visit Vinh Khanh Street for seafood, Ho Thi Ky Street for grilled skewers, and Ha Ton Quyen Street in Chinatown for Chinese cuisine. 

Many eateries selling the same type of food in one location help increase competitiveness and encourage them to improve the quality of food and service.

7. Eat at the right time

Restaurants in Vietnam serve food at clear timetables. Come 6 am – 9 am for Phở, Bánh Cuốn (Steamed Rice Rolls), Xôi Xéo (Sticky Rice with Mung Bean) as breakfast; 11 am to 1 pm for Bun Cha (Grilled Pork with Rice Noodles), Bun Rieu Cua as lunch; 4 pm – 6 pm for supper as Banh Gio, Nom Bo Kho (Green Papaya Salad with Dried Beef); 6 pm – 8 pm for hotpots, grilled seafood and barbecue. Banh Mi is sold all day.

8. Don’t hesitate to put on condiments and sauces

Many Vietnamese restaurants serve small jars of fish sauce, garlic, and chili in vinegar, chili paste, and small containers for fresh sliced chili, limes, and herbs. You can ask your server for recommendations or customize sauces and spices to suit your preferences. Don’t be afraid of spoiling your food. Try a little at a time and adjust the flavor with other condiments until it’s balanced.

9. Taste morning coffee in Hanoi / Saigon

Coffee in Vietnam is not just about caffeine. Having morning coffee in Vietnam is not just a routine; it’s about embracing the local culture. Vietnamese people go to cafes in the morning to catch up with friends or to people-watch.

The best time would be around 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. when the temperature is lovely and the city is moving from its state of rest. Local coffee establishments offer various coffee options, from traditional Vietnamese and trendy coffee to international flavors. Enjoy your brew at a leisurely pace—there is no rush when you’re in Vietnam.

10. Try fresh drinks and fresh fruits

Coconut water and sugarcane water are super amazing and cheap. While coconut is more popular in the south and beach destinations, sugarcane is sold everywhere at 70 cents per serving. 

Vietnam is a haven for tropical, juicy fruits such as watermelon, mango, dragon fruit, pineapple, orange, bananas, lychee, pomelo, and papayas. Each season has its kind of fruit. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

11. Clean your cutlery if you eat on the sidewalk

In a country where food hygiene is something to worry about, like Vietnam, bringing your own napkin to clean chopsticks and spoons before you eat is suggested. If you forget, use lime, which is served in most restaurants, to brush as it’s a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent. Moreover, it leaves a fresh smell on your cutlery.

12. Learn some etiquette

As in other countries, certain eating etiquette is essential to know when you eat out. Learn to handle chopsticks properly, as Vietnamese people use chopsticks for most of their food. Rice is the main staple in Vietnam, so make sure you eat all the rice in your dish to show respect for the hard work of farmers. And sharing food is common if you have a meal with Vietnamese people.

13. Ask for the price

It’s often wise to search for information about restaurants before you go. It allows you to check the menu in advance, know the price range to see if the restaurant fits your budget and read reviews from other customers to see if it’s worth visiting.

14. Look it up

Vietnamese restaurants often have book menus. Some small ones have menus on the walls. But sidewalk street food stalls only sometimes have prices. What should you do?

In this situation, you can point to the item you want and ask politely, “Bao nhiêu tiền?” (How much is it?), pronounced as Bao nyew tee-en, before you decide. Asking for a price when it’s not displayed is perfectly normal in Vietnam. It helps avoid overcharging issues and misunderstandings when the bills arrive. 

15. Get used to the currency

Learn the denomination of Vietnamese banknotes, which include 1000 VND, 2000 VND, 5000 VND, 10,000 VND, 20,000 VND, 50,000 VND, 100,000 VND, 200,000 VND, and 500,000 VND. 

You can use an online converter to convert prices between Vietnamese đồng and your home currency to know how much things cost in terms of what you’re used to. 

One more thing: carry small denominations of Vietnamese đồng to buy snacks from street vendors or use public toilets (VND5,000 per one use.)

Overall, eating out reflects Vietnam’s social dynamics, which you want to experience when you visit the country. It allows you to savor the best Vietnamese cuisine in an authentic local setting, making this country one of the best destinations for food lovers worldwide.

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