6 Weird Foods You’ll Encounter in Vietnam That Actually Taste Good
A lot of food lists about eating in Vietnam start with the obvious: snake, rat and balut (duck foetus translated as hột vịt lộn into Vietnamese). But this list is going to be the unique foods in Vietnam that actually get your taste buds excited not just make you squeamish when the meal gets to the table. Leave the edible bugs and worms for another day of adventurous eating.
Keep in mind, no list about the taste of food will be objective. These are simply the flavors that expats and the younger locals seems to enjoy throughout Vietnam. Also, eating on your own in Vietnam can be a bit intimidating, you never know what to eat in a new country. Many of the best restaurants are insanely busy, crowded and quite dirty looking from the outside. A lot of people find it’s best to take a motorbike tour with an experienced company like Xo Tours in Ho Chi Minh or Hoi An to navigate the waters before heading out on their own.
List of Unique Vietnamese Delicacies
- Coconut Larvae (Đuông Dừa)
- Pork Floss (Chà bông)
- Cockles (Ốc)
- Meat Paste (Chả lụa)
- Goby Fish (Cá Kèo)
- Quail Eggs (Trứng Cút)
- Coconut worm, or coconut larvae (đuông dừa) can be eaten live or completely cooked. The texture is a lot like a large legume, such as a kidney bean or a pea. The appearance looks a bit like a tiny stuffed shell. Not really that creepy when eaten fried or sauteed on a bed of rice (com) it has the appearance of braised tofu. In Ho Chi Minh it’s easily found in lunch box restaurants (com binh dan) where workers eat on the cheap. However there are some Chinese influenced places where it sells for a premium. Taste varies by shop so check reviews before taking the plunge.
- Pork floss, or chà bông (“bông” means fluffy or cotton) is actually a topping or a really light snack. When you head to any famous Banh Mi seller on the side of the street, it will be one of the options to add to your sandwich. A lot of people liken the experience to eating cotton candy but with salt and meat flavor which sounds pretty gross. It is so light in flavor you hardly notice it but once you acquire the taste you’ll miss the topping once its not around anymore.
- Cockles, or more casually known as escargot or snails, (ốc in Vietnamese) are enormously popular in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi and probably one of the weirder things to eat here. The most common scene you’ll see on your tour of Vietnam is locals sitting on tiny plastic stools sipping on beer and picking at colored plates of something unique to eat you’ve probably not seen anywhere else(these are color coded based on menu and price). There are many varieties.
Popular Oc dishes found in Ho Chi Minh City and the rest of Vietnam.
From top left clockwise: 1.Oc len xao dua 2. Oc huong nuong 3.Oc xao bo 4.Ngheu hap sa ot 5.So huyet xao me
Some of the local snails worth trying include :nail snail (vietnamese: oc mam tay), blood cockles (sò huyết), common periwinkle in oil (ốc mỡ), mid creeper fried snail in coconut (ốc len xào dừa), scallops (sò điệp) and if you are feeling spendy: jumbo snails. The way they are seasoned varies from Quan Ốc to Quan Ốc (translated as: Snail restaurant). Some of the more tasty ways enjoyed by travelers include: fried in fat (mỡ) with chili salt and pepper(muối tiêu ớt), tamarind(me), garlic sauté(ốc tỏi) and lemongrass (xả). Check out this guide if you are unsure what the various cockles look like. Even with the correct translation, there is a wide degree of interpretation among the chefs so its best to be certain what you are ordering by pointing at dishes already being served.
- Vietnamese ham, or chả lụa, is the type of food in the Western countries we associate with austere living. Canned meat paste is more for survival than for enjoying one’s meals. But in Vietnam they have a rich ancient tradition which precedes canning and refrigeration. This tasty concoction is eaten as the main filling of a banh mi as the dumpling in soups like Bun Bo Hue or as a fixture in Bánh Cuốn (a popular breakfast or snack with rice paper and minced pork). chả lụa has a very firm texture and almost no hint of meat odor. There is a nice fragrance of cinnamon in the better versions. Nowadays many shops are advertising that they don’t use harmful preservatives like borax and you should probably find a shop that mentions this too.
- Goby fish or cá kèo in Vietnamese is a very tasty fish with a surprise filling inside: fish eggs! Keo with a different tone actually means candy in Vietnamese so it’s a bit of a playful dish(at least that’s how I remember it). Just like snail restaurants, goby fish restaurants are a very festive place where teenagers and office workers often congregate in very large groups to drink and laugh at very loud levels enjoying one of their favorite hotpot foods in Vietnam. The fish itself is either eaten grilled on a stick (ca keo nuong muoi ot) or in a sweet and sour hotpot (lẩu cá kèo). Ho Chi Minh has a huge amount of these establishments and there are loads of good ones so check the reviews.
- Quail eggs (trứng cút) are everywhere in Ho Chi Minh. As an expat of Vietnam who enjoys local cuisine, you’ll see them hard boiled as a side dish on almost every table. As a featured item, you will discover them in Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang soup kitchens (Cambodian rice noodle with pork and seafood)and the aforementioned and very popular snail restaurants. They are basically spotted eggs which have a very light taste, much lighter than chicken or duck eggs and are eaten as a quick shot of protein.
You’ll agree none of these sound so awful on the scale of strange food dishes. When you consider that snake wine (rượu rắn), blood pudding soup (tiết canh) and duck foetus (hột vịt lộn) are normal dishes that the Vietnamese eat on a regular basis, the foods mentioned above seem downright conservative.
About The Author: Marc Spindel has lived in Ho Chi Minh for 9 years. Along with his passion for Vietnamese cuisine he is an avid traveler in the region. Having spent more than 17 years in Asia, he admits Vietnam has become a place which is impossible to get out of your head once you understand all it has to offer.