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12 Vietnamese Dishes That Everyone Should Try In Their Lifetime

You may remember Connie Bang-Co Aboubakare, also known as @occomestibles, the influencer who took us on a trip to Southern California’s Little Saigon and all the amazing Vietnamese restaurant foods highlighted during the tour of her Chomping Grounds.

Connie was a recent guest on the Foodbeast Katchup podcast and spoke about her origins as an influencer and how she had to learn to cook Vietnamese food once she got married. What set her apart from many food bloggers is that she photographs the Vietnamese meals she would make for her husband and sons and fills her feed with them.

Vietnamese food has always been a beloved cuisine here at the Foodbeast office and while many of us have tried it, there are always those few dishes that not too many know about, but wish they had sooner. Towards the end of the episode, host Geoffrey Kutnick asks Connie what were some essential dishes she could not live without, to which she replied with quite a few Vietnamese options.

Looking at all the different dishes in her feed really inspired us to dive into Vietnam’s rich cuisine.

Thanks to her Katchup visit, we’ve compiled a comprehensive Foodbeast list of all the amazing Vietnamese dishes everyone should try at least once in their life.


Cá Kho Tộ (Braised Claypot Fish)

 

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One of the first dishes Connie mentions, that she can’t live without, is a braised claypot fish dish called Cá Kho Tộ. Catfish is cooked in a braising liquid of sugar and fish sauce within a clay pot in a process referred to as “kho.” Because the dish is so rich in flavor, it’s typically served with plain white rice and vegetables. It’s one of the more common dishes she would make for her family, and looking back, my mom would make this about once a week as well.

Bánh Xèo (Savory Crepes)

 

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A while back, Connie also hosted a Foodbeast Kitchen live stream that highlighted her love of Bánh Xèo, another item she mentions in the podcast. Essentially, Bánh Xèo are thin Vietnamese crepes that are cooked with flour and turmeric powder and filled with fresh meats such as shrimp, chicken, or pork, as well as fresh vegetables. You can eat them directly with fish sauce, or rip them up and roll them into a spring roll.

Cơm Tấm (Broken Rice)

An inexpensive comfort dish, Cơm Tấm translates to “broken rice.” What originated as a street food item, you would typically find grilled meats on top of broken white rice, a steamed egg cake, julienne pork, and pickled greens.

Bánh Bột Chiên (Fried Flour Cake)

A hearty breakfast dish, Bánh Bột Chiên translates to fried flour cakes. Cooked with fried eggs and green onions, the dish is popular in both Vietnam and China. The flour is cut into thick rectagular strips, and served with a tangy soy sauce that the cakes can be dipped into. There is also a turnip cake and radish cake variation that can be cooked in the same way.

Cánh Gà Chiên Nước Mắm (Fish Sauce Fried Chicken Wings)

One of my personal favorite Vietnamese dishes, Cánh Gà Chiên Nước Mắm is mores an appetizer than a meal — unless you’re me and double up on orders. Not too different from how Cá Kho is made, the chicken wings are fried and coated in a glaze made from sugar and fish sauce. Sometimes, fried garlic is also added to the mix.

What I love most about fish sauce chicken wings are that every restaurant has their own take on them, and you can easily get yourself a few wings for relatively cheap.

Bánh Bột Lọc (Savory Tapioca Dumplings)

 

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Made with tapioca flour, the dumplings are stuffed with shrimp and pork, wrapped in banana leaves, and steamed. Once cooked, Bánh Bột Lọc is served with a sweet and spicy fish sauce and fried shallots. From Central Vietnam, the dish is eaten as an appetizer to a full meal. Foodbeast producer Theresa Tran mentions this as one of her favorite Vietnamese dishes, although it will take about 15 of them to fill her up.

Bún Riêu (Pork and Crab Soup)

 

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One of the more popularized Vietnamese dishes, Bún Riêu is a soup made with pork, crab, shrimp paste, dried shrimp, egg, rice vermicelli and lots of tomatoes. This leads to a super robust and umami flavor compared to the more classic Pho dish. After pho, this is one of the more popular Vietnamese soup dishes around.

Bánh Khọt (Savory Pancake Bites)

 

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Bánh Khọt, mini savory pancakes, feature pretty much the same exact ingredients as the more popular Banh Xeo, but comes in a sort of cupcake form. Because of this cooking method, the texture comes out much more different giving it a crispy exterior and a fluffy interior. Unlike Banh Xeo, the proteins of Bánh Khọt are cooked on top of the dish rather than inside. Not unlike a gourmet cupcake.

Gỏi Cuốn (Spring Rolls)

 

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One of the lighter Vietnamese dishes, spring rolls are served cold with fresh greens, prawns, pork, and rolled together with rice paper. Gỏi Cuốn can typically be enjoyed with a peanut flavored dipping sauce, or a simple fish sauce that’s mixed together with chilis. Easy to eat either as a snack or even for a long road trip in the car. Just make sure not to spill any fish sauce.

Canh Chua (Vietnamese Sour Soup)

 

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Tart and savory, this Vietnamese dish is typically served with rice. Made with a catfish base as well as tomatoes, pineapple, okra, beansprouts, and Vietnamese herbs. This is one of the dishes you wouldn’t typically find at a Vietnamese restaurant, but rather from the kitchen of a Vietnamese household. During the podcast Connie also mentions that this is one of her essential dishes that she likes to make at home.

Ốc Len Xào Dừa (Stir Fried Snails w/ Coconut Milk)

 

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A common street food in Vietnam, Ốc Len Xào Dừa roughly translates to stir fried snails in coconut milk. While the dish itself sounds pretty intimidating, the flavors that go into this dish make it a top contender for Foodbeast producer Theresa Tran. Made with coconut milk, lemongrass, Vietnamese coriander, chilies, and sea snails, you would find the Ốc Len Xào Dừa at street food carts throughout many Vietnamese cities.

“You can give me a cup of that broth and I’d drink it,” Tran says. “Also trying to get the snails out is pretty fun too.”

Phở (Rice Noodle Soup)

 

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One of the most iconic Vietnamese dishes, you can’t go wrong with phở. An elegant broth made from either chicken or beef, phở utilizes the flavors of charred ginger, onions, and other vegetables over a long period of time. Sure it’s on everyone’s list, but phở is so prolific to Vietnamese culture that you kind of just have to add it to the fold. Both Connie and myself enjoy beef pho, with strips of brisket that you can dip into a mixture of sriracha and hoisin sauce.

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The Unsung Vietnamese Dish That Everyone Needs To Try ONCE

When I hear people talk about Vietnamese food, it’s usually pho or banh mi. The occasional spring roll or savory crepe may also be mentioned. Each item is delicious, by all means, but far too hyped. It bums me out that there is one dish that hardly anyone ever talks about: com tam.

Com tam, translates to broken rice in Vietnamese. At its core, the broken grains of rice are served with a grilled protein and fish sauce, accompanied by a plethora of flavorful additions. A popular dish in Vietnam, broken rice is very cheap (undesirable leftovers from the rice milling process) making it a favored street food item.

Like Filpino silog dishes, there are different ways you can enjoy the broken rice dish. You can order it with thit nuong (grilled pork), ga nuong (grilled chicken), or tau hu ky (fried shrimp wrapped in bean curd skin). Other tasty additions like trung hap (a steamed egg cake), bi (thinly shredded pork), or a fried egg are possible. Nearly every version of the dish is garnished with mo hanh (scallions in oil), dua chua (pickled greens) and served with canh (broth to cleanse the palate).

Com tam can be enjoyed by its separate components, or mixed together in a euphoric spoonful of flavors and textures.

When I think of Vietnamese comfort food, my mind instantaneously goes to com tam rather than other popular dishes of my culture like pho or banh mi. Again, still delicious.

My First Time

My earliest memory of the dish was at my grandparents’ house, in a time before I reached double digits in age. I was watching an episode of The Busy World of Richard Scarry, when my grandmother came into the living room. She handed me a plate of rice and meat and told me to eat.

Not wanting to take my eyes off whatever shenanigans Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm got into that week, I grabbed a spoonful and ate without a glance. Immediately, the first thing I noticed was that the rice tasted sweeter than usual. I asked my grandma what I was eating and she replied, “Com tam.”

“What’s that?” I asked, in Vietnamese.

She explained that it was a dish made with broken rice, served with different kinds of meat. She had marinated some pork chops and grilled them earlier that day to serve with the rice. Combined with the sweet fish sauce (and the fried egg my grandfather shortly threw on), com tam cemented itself as a dish I’ve loved since the very first bite.

Decades later, there’s still yet to be a Vietnamese dish that comforts me so easily.

com tam

Here’s my go-to com tam dish:

A bed of broken rice, grilled pork, and a fried egg topped with tons of scallions in oil. I could take or leave the pickled greens.

First, I pop the egg – the white-hot yolk smothering rice like molten steel over a reformed T-800. Next, it’s a spoonful of fish sauce over the golden rice. I fix myself a bite piled with as many components I can fit onto a spoon and brace myself for what comes next. Rice, egg, meat, sauce, and onions come together like multicolored lions forming a veritable Voltron of flavor in my mouth.

I feel like I can take on the entire galaxy after crushing a plate. Or take a really long nap. Probably the latter.

Here’s a little secret: my favorite com tam joint is only a few miles from the Foodbeast office. I’ve been going there since I was a kid, and I fear it may also be the reason I eagerly took a job here, being so close to such a wondrous place and all. I guess we’ll never really know though.

com tam

Costa’s First Time

Fellow Foodbeast, Constantine Spyrou (Costa for short), had never experienced broken rice before. Hearing me talk so lovingly about the dish, he decided to visit a food truck on campus that served broken rice. His experience at the food truck, although delicious, was pretty different from the traditional dish.

Letting my initial disappointment that this was his first broken rice experience subside, I messaged Costa that I was taking him to my secret spot for lunch.

Here are his thoughts after trying the real thing:

While [the food truck] was good and I enjoyed the texture, it was nothing compared to going to an authentic broken rice spot. You need the full experience there to fully enjoy it. You need the broth to entice your tastebuds, the toothsomeness of the rice mixing with the fish sauce and the egg yolk, the different types of meats, and the pickled cabbage to cleanse the palate. With the truck, I just got rice and meat. Having that fish sauce to soak up is paramount to getting the most out of your experience. To me, the food truck was a solid introduction, but going to an authentic spot was the full immersion I needed to really fall in love with com tam.

As we drove back to work, a sheepish smile rested on my coworker’s face. The normally chatty Costa was a quiet and full. He was happy.

Where to find com tam?

Most pho restaurants usually offer a similar dish, albeit with regular rice instead of broken. The key is finding the word “Tam” next to the rice. I highly recommend going to a restaurant that specializes in com tam, rather than one that specializes in another Vietnamese dish but carries it on the menu. Being the flawed, selfish human that I am, I can’t empart my favorite spot just yet. Eagle-eyed lovers of Vietnamese food in Orange County, however, may be able to recognize the plates from the photos.

Perhaps in a few years, when someone shouts “Let’s get Vietnamese food!” the first thing that comes to mind will be my favorite broken rice dish. Until that day, I’ll do my best to laud this lesser known comfort dish to anyone and everyone asking me for recommendations.


Other Vietnamese foods to try

If I haven’t already lost your attention at this point, there are tons of other amazing Vietnamese dishes out there. My friend and food blogger Connie (@occomestibles) recently did a tour of all the best Vietnamese eats in Orange County. If you have some time, I highly recommend you checking out that video.