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The Language of Food: A Guide to Eating in Vietnam

September 20, 2018

Vietnam is not only famous for its coffee but also its fresh food. The country has a very special relationship with food. This relationship goes beyond just sustenance, becoming a part of the culture as a whole. Vietnam is famous for its fresh, sometimes exotic food. Around every corner, you are likely to find some sort of food available. Ranging from high-end restaurants to street-side stalls, there is a wide variety for all budgets and tastebuds. Each region of Vietnam has its own styles and popular foods so you can try something new almost every day. Here is a quick guide to ordering food in Vietnam and some of the popular options available.

First of all, you should get to know how to order food.

To order something, you can use the phrase ‘cho tôi’  followed by what you would like. For example: ‘Cho tôi bánh mì trứng’  for a bánh mì with egg or ‘Cho tôi bánh mì pâté’  for a bánh mì with pâté. You can also add the amount you want too: ‘Cho tôi một bún chả’  if you are happy with just one dish. When it comes to paying, use tính tiền, em ơi’  to let them know you are ready for the bill. When you finish, be sure to say ‘cảm ơn’  to thank them for the great food.

Chopsticks are the cutlery of choice and are usually used with a spoon for drinking soup. If you do need a fork for any reason, just say ‘Cho tôi xin cái dĩa’  and they should bring you one right away.

You should bear in mind that Vietnamese is a tonal language, and so getting the pronunciation and tone right may take some getting used to. It is also worth getting to know the different accents/ diacritics as they also affect how you say each word. If you give these phrases some practice, you should have no problem being understood. 

Now you know how to make an order, here are some of the more popular dishes you should try when in Vietnam.



Phở is a noodle soup that has become a national icon. Phở is synonymous with Vietnamese cuisine and is abundant throughout the country thanks to it being simple and delicious. Often served with either chicken or beef, every region throughout Vietnam have their own variant of the dish. What makes the dish however is the bánh phở noodles and the slow-cooked broth. 

Bún Chả

Bun Cha in Hanoi

Originating from the capital Hanoi, bún chả is a dish served with bún noodles, grilled pork, and a dipping sauce. A selection of herbs such as coriander, cabbage, and bean sprout are served alongside to compliment the sweet and slightly sour sauce. To eat bún chả, take the noodles and dip them into the sauce before taking a bite.

Bánh Mì

Banh Mi with pork 

More than just glorified sandwiches, bánh mì consist of freshly baked French-style rolls filled with a number of different fillings. Pâté is a common filling, along with coriander and cucumber. There is also ham bánh mì (Bánh mì thịt nguội), pork floss bánh mì (Bánh mì chà bông), and grilled pork bánh mì (Bánh mì thịt nướng) too. Often, they are served with mayonnaise and chili sauce, so be sure to say ‘không cay’  if you want to avoid anything too spicy. They make for great breakfast food or snack, so be sure to keep an eye out.


Xoi in Vietnam

Xôi is made with sticky rice. In Vietnam, it is a popular breakfast for people on the go, providing a particularly filling meal to begin the day. With both savory and sweet varieties, there are many different flavors to choose from, including Peanut (Xôi Lạc), black bean (Xôi đậu đen), and mung bean (Xôi đậu xanh).

Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm

Bun Dau Mam Tom

Bún đậu mắm tôm is perhaps the most unique option on this list. The highlight of this dish is the infamous mắm tôm sauce - made from fermented shrimp. This thick, purple-ish sauce has a ‘unique’ smell, taste, and texture that will truly test your taste buds. It is served to complement deep-fried tofu and noodles.

This list just scratches the surface of the variety of delicious food available in Vietnam. Using your new Vietnamese language skills, you can feel confident ordering food exactly how you want it and even make some friends along the way. 

Want to continue learning Vietnamese ready for your next visit? Try out our Ling Vietnamese app to help you learn the basics and continue on your culinary journey.

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4 comments on “The Language of Food: A Guide to Eating in Vietnam”

  1. I find the Vietnamese language very difficult just to pronounce the words. I say pho as fa and they look at me questioning what I’m saying. There is a tongue thing you have to use for them to understand but to me it is so slight I don’t notice the difference but they do. And one word can mean so many things just how you say it. And I can see a word but don’t have a clue how to say it. Thai I can Chinese nope, Russian nope, and others.

    1. Hi Michael,

      We agree with you that it's a bit difficult to pronounce Vietnamese correctly. One word with different tones has totally different meanings. For example, Dưa - Dừa - Dứa are 3 different fruits (watermelon, coconut, pineapple respectively). It's a good idea to practise speaking Vietnamese with local people as much as you can. You can also practise speaking with our Ling app which includes recordings of Vietnamese native speakers, common words/sentences and practical dialogues. Check it out

      If you have any questions about Vietnamese, just comment or send to [email protected]. We are happy to share with you more about the language. 🙂

      Simya Solutions

    2. Hi,
      You can use memory tricks.
      Dua is flat tone because watermelon grows on the ground
      Dùa descending tone because coconut falls down from the tree
      Dúa ascending tone because pineapple is growing up toward the sky.

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