Inspiration Asia Banh Apetit! 8 Foodie Experiences to Try in Vietnam 

Banh Apetit! 8 Foodie Experiences to Try in Vietnam 

Assorted Vietnamese food spread out on several plates, photographed from above

With an incredible array of French-inspired Asian fusion dining – from high-brow to low-brow – no place does food like Vietnam. 

Of all the zesty and aromatic Southeast Asian cuisines, Vietnamese tops many foodies’ lists – and for good reason. Unique philosophies, like Taoist balancing of flavours across the five elements and culinary traditions inherited from the Napoleonic French period, blend to create a cuisine unlike any other. Plus, the country’s natural proliferation of exotic produce means you’ll find fresh herbs, spices and sauces zhuzhing even the most unassuming of dishes. 

Read on for some of the most delicious Vietnam foodie experiences that make it gastronomically bucket-list-worthy. 

Feeling hungry? Join our Vietnam Gourmet Food Tour designed by former Masterchef judges, Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan. 

1. Dinner at the Michelin-starred GIA Restaurant 

Like a gift wrapped in shimmering jade paper and sealed with an anise star, GIA Restaurant promises an intimate education, just opposite Hanoi’s hallowed Temple of Literature. Only one of four chefs to see their restaurant graced by a star at Michelin’s inaugural Vietnamese awards in 2023, Sam Tran mixes a savvy Melbournian training with native ingredients to present stunning degustations that whisper tales of tradition. Each seasonal menu comes presented on an elegantly decorated scroll, your exclusive invitation to sample delicacies like native indigo-skinned chicken or naturally jade sticky rice from the Tu Le valley. 

2. Learn how to cook classic dishes at KOTO 

Raised in Sydney, KOTO founder Jimmy Pham touts an Aussie penchant for 'rooting for the underdog’. Since 1999, his social enterprise has provided hospitality educations to more than 1,200 disadvantaged youth in Vietnam, and there's no better way to support the cause than by taking a cooking class with its internationally accredited chefs, many of whom are graduates of the program. Follow them on a fresh market tour, discovering classic Vietnamese flavours like green papaya and pomelo, before returning to the kitchen to whip up all-around favourites like rice paper spring rolls and marinated fish baked in banana leaves.

Dishes and utensils spread out across a table for a cooking demonstration.
Cooking Class at KOTO, Hanoi.

3. Have a bite of ‘the best banh mi in the world’ 

Even since Anthony Bourdain brought then-President Obama to sample Banh Mi Phuong back in 2013, with 30 years of business under her belt, Madam Phuong’s uncompromising dedication to quality has not yet waned. Her sandwiches are the perfect combination of French flavours – crisp baguette, succulent pate and mayonnaise – melding with coriander, pork belly and pickled vegetables. And since her humble street cart’s 2023 relocation to Hoi An’s Phan Chau Trinh Street, you can now appreciate them among the peach-coloured colonial facades, with drapes of blooming fuchsia and paper lantern streamers, dressing Ancient Town’s latest pedestrian-only thoroughfare. 

4. Taste all five fine courses on La Maison 1888’s seasonal menu 

Within the monochrome interiors of InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort’s recreation of a colonial Indochine mansion, Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s culinary prowess is matched only by the wine list – a six-year-straight winner of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence. Past menus have featured ingenious flavours like Hokkaido scallop with roasted banana and parmesan crust, and an eye-catching emerald charentais melon sorbet laced with pine nuts. For a breather between courses, head to the cliffside terrace for an intoxicating rush of tamanu musk and salt as you take in epic views of the East Vietnam Sea.

5. Zip through Ho Chi Minh City on a Vespa street food tour 

Picture Ho Chi Minh City and what do you see? If the image of thronging food carts and scooters flooding sweltering streets as city dwellers race past comes to mind, you’re not alone. During their occupation, the French brought their notoriously good taste with them – even now the iconic Italian Vespa and French-inspired fusion cuisine are staples of Vietnam’s culture. Combine these quintessential experiences, skidding past Chinatown, the Flower Market and other famous sites as you sample banh xeo (turmeric and rice flour crepes filled with dried shrimp, pork and bean sprouts), classic banh mi on French baguettes and buttery grilled shellfish. 

6. Eat your heart out at a bean-to-bar chocolate workshop 

Founded in 2010 by two Frenchmen who’d tired of their office grinds, Marou Chocolate has become Vietnam’s favourite chocolatier. After meeting on a visit to a cacao plantation in the jungles outside Ho Chi Minh City, they decided to launch Maison Marou. Today, working directly with farmers, they purchase only the best beans from six unique regions, tempering and moulding them into single-origin bars. And every Saturday, each of their flagships hosts a tasting workshop where anyone can sign up to learn about this ‘terroir approach’, while discovering subtle notes of fruit and spice in free-flow chocolate samples from individual regions. 

7. Explore Vietnamese coffee culture 

Vietnamese coffee being filtered by a street vendor - Luxury Escapes

Cafe boomed in Vietnam once French colonists realised it had a great climate for cultivating beans. Sadly, that same hot, humid air is not so bien for the au lait. Enter Vietnamese iced coffee, the refreshing pairing of Robusta and long-lasting condensed milk that compensated for Southeast Asia’s general lack of dairy industry. When even the tins ran low after World War II, egg coffee appeared next, substituting yummy, yolky custard into the mix. Ever innovative, today’s baristas will serve your fix tableside from a phin filter – the uniquely Vietnamese lovechild of a French press and pour over – mixed with everything from coconut milk to sea salt to tantalisingly tart yoghurt.

8. Taste the best pho in Vietnam 

Raised by a hawker who specialised in noodles, it’s no surprise pho is a dish Chef Peter Cuong decided to master. His degustation at Anan Saigon (the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City) features molecular pho – a bite-size bubble of black-truffle-scented broth – and ‘new-style’ pho made with consomme, foie gras and delightfully chewy round noodles. There’s a secret ‘hundred-dollar pho’ as well, featuring roasted bone marrow, marinated quail egg and marbled, ruby slabs of wagyu beef. Or just head to Pot Au Pho around back where you can keep it simple with Cuong’s classic pho ga, decorated with kaffir lime, crispy noodles and chargrilled chicken.

Read our exclusive interview with Gary Mehigan to discover Vietnam through a chef’s eyes. 

About Dana Cape
Dana likes her whisky neat, her beaches Pacific and her modifiers kept to a minimum.

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