The Foods of Vietnam – North, Central and South

Learn more about our Vietnam Culinary Tour and explore Vietnamese culture through its cuisine.

Culinary tours of Vietnam are a rich sensory experience, affecting not just your taste buds, but also your sense of smell, touch and sight. A rainbow of fresh ingredients express the culinary history and agricultural persuasions of three distinct regions in this colorful country. Vietnam’s culinary signature can be viewed through cooking styles that reflect the North, Central and Southern areas of Vietnam.

While united in common ingredients and cultural traditions, there is a vast differentiation in taste, which is worth exploring before you embark on your own culinary tour of this beautiful country. Here we have broken down the inspired cuisines of each area, including the elegant north’s plated presentations, hot and spicy central highlands and coast, and the fresh and vibrant southern take on Vietnamese food.

A culinary tour of Vietnam is then not complete without a comparison of each of its distinct regions of cuisine.

Northern Vietnam

Though Vietnamese food may have a reputation for harnessing spice and exotic flavors, northern Vietnamese cuisines are generally much tamer than their southern cousins. Black pepper creates the bulk of the “heat” in northern Vietnam, rather than chili peppers, with subtle spices being preferred overall. In Hanoi, favorites include cha cha long, a grilled fish with garlic and turmeric, and the northern version of banh cuon, which features paper thin rice noodles topped with fish sauce and fried shallots (in the central region this dish features hot peppers and shrimp).

Central Vietnam

In the central region, the food experience gets hot. Peppers reign here and infuse popular dishes with a kick you won’t soon forget. Hue and Hoi An are two culinary stops worth your attention. Hue’s culinary heritage is inextricably tied to its imperial history, as the city is renowned for its elaborate cuisine created for the royal court. Food is notably a visual experience in Hue, where presentation and spices command your attention. Bun bo hue is a rich rice vermicelli and beef soup from this region with an eclectic balance of sour, spicy, sweet and salty tastes.

Southern Vietnam

The south is probably most known for Saigon’s vibrant street food scene. Here, there are fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and seafood abound in this region’s warm weather and fertile soils, and are showcased on Saigon’s busy streets. Perhaps because of the abundance of available fruit, there is a decided sweetness in Southern Vietnam’s cuisines and coconut milk is widely featured as well.

The iconic Vietnamese fresh spring roll is a staple throughout the country and much of Indochine. In southern Vietnam, goi cuon, which can literally be translated to “salad roll,” features fresh herbs, vegetables, shrimp, pork and dipping sauces and is a favorite for visitors and locals alike.

Fun Fact: So significant is the fresh spring roll it even made CNN’s Top 50 foods of the world.

Whatever your reasons for visiting Vietnam this year, make sure to turn your senses towards the culinary traditions of each region.  They help tell the story of Vietnam’s past, and present, and are a tangible connection to real Vietnamese culture.

Visit Access Culinary Trips for more information on booking your own culinary tour of Vietnam’s three regions.