5 Must-Try Foods in Vietnam

After discovering pho a few years ago in a little Vietnamese restaurant in my hometown, I couldn't wait to eat my weight in it when I finally got to Vietnam. Although I'm pretty sure my travel companion would've happily eaten it morning, noon and night, we did bring ourselves to try a few other dishes while we were there. Here's a look at our top 5, must-try favorites:

1. bánh Xèo

Typically known as the Vietnamese pancake, this savoury crepe is stuffed with pork, shrimp, onion and bean sprouts and served with fresh lettuce and peanut or fish sauce. To trick ourselves into thinking it was slightly healthy, we wrapped the fresh greens around slivers of the pancake to make a sort of lettuce wrap before we dunked it in the sauce, totally negating the healthy illusion.

2. Bánh Mì

For less than a dollar, you can treat yourself to a delicious French baguette packed with the ingredients of your choice. Play it safe with chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes and cheese, or get a little more adventurous with options like pork liver pâté and crunchy ham made from pig's ear.

3. Cao Lầu

Found only in the ancient port city of Hoi An, cao lau consists of chewy rice noodles, thin slices of pork simmered in soy sauce, various herbs and crouton-like squares made from deep-fried dough. To keep it from being too dry, a small amount of meat broth layers the bottom of the bowl, waiting to be mixed in with the rest of the ingredients and finished with a squeeze of lime.

4. Vietnamese Spring Rolls

I don't know what makes Vietnam's spring rolls so much better than any others I've ever tasted, but DAMN! they are good. From North to South, fresh or fried, the spring rolls we had were always amazing. We even learned to roll them ourselves using thin rice papers and a finely chopped mixture of ground pork, mushrooms, carrots and cabbage. Best when served with a side of fish sauce.

5. Pho

No list about Vietnamese food would be complete without pho. This popular noodle soup dish is a staple across Vietnam and abroad, though it differs from region to region. The broth gets a bit sweeter as you head South, while the noodles tend to be wider in the North. Wherever you go, it's sure to be served with a mound of fresh herbs, your preference of meat and a variety of garnishes and sauces to tailor the flavor to your liking. Oh, and hopefully a cold local brew.