How to Read a Vietnamese Menu // Your Complete Guide (By Native Speakers)
How to Read Vietnamese Menus // Become An Instant Expert
Today we are going to teach you an essential skill when learning any language – how to read a Vietnamese menu!
Food is the bedrock of culture and the same is true in Vietnam, with a world famous cuisine to get stuck into.
Being able to order food from a Vietnamese menu is a surefire way to show your Vietnamese language skills.
Reading a Vietnamese menu is quite challenging even the ones with English translations can actually be a little confusing!
Let’s take a look at a quick example below to give you an idea.
In Vietnam, we have a popular street food which is a grilled pork roll (nem lụi). See on the menu below this is translated as nem is gone.
Lụi means to pass away
Therefore, they translated Nem lụi as Nem is gone, or Nem is dead!A curious translation, but this can commonly happen not just across Vietnamese local eateries but throughout Asia.
In fact you’ll find some of the most hilarious and funny Chinglish examples in Chinese menus as well!
Anyway, before teaching you how to read a Vietnamese menu, we love introducing our readers to amazing parts of Vietnamese cuisine, and here are just 3 examples of that.
- Discover the Best Traditional Vietnamese Food
- See how Vietnamese Street Food varies from the north and south
- Learn about the best Vietnamese Noodles EXCEPT Pho
The following content acts as a starting point that helps broaden your understanding of the Vietnamese menu and will hopefully allow you to order food by yourself.
How To Read a Vietnamese Menu | Sections & Vocab in a Vietnamese Menu
How To Read a Vietnamese Menu | Take Advantage of the Pictures
How To Read a Vietnamese Menu | Ask for Recommendations
How To Read a Vietnamese Menu | Food Restriction or Allergies
How To Read a Vietnamese Menu | Keywords on a Vietnamese Menu
BONUS | The Cheat Sheet
How To Read a Vietnamese Menu | FAQ’s
Sections & Vocab in a Vietnamese Menu
One interesting anecdote to start…
Things can look a little different on a Vietnamese menu sometimes. Cakes are categorised as savoury and Soups as sweets!
These are just loose terms so don’t worry too much about receiving a soup with a sweet flavour!
Dishes at a Vietnamese restaurant (or deli, bakery etc) are typically categorised like this:
- Appetizers – Khai vị
- Entree / Main Dish – Món chính
- Side Dish – Món phụ/món ăn kèm
- Desserts – Tráng miệng
Then we have the types of food on a Vietnamese Menu:
- Savoury Cakes, Crepe, Dumpling, Roll – Bánh
- Soup – Canh, Súp, Cháo
- Salad – Gỏi/ sa-lát
- Dessert Soup – Chè
- Beverages – Nước uống
- Sweet Desserts – Tráng Miệng
- Hot Pot – Lẩu
Some main ingredients used in Vietnamese Cuisine are:
- Chinese Style Egg Noodles – Mì
- Vermicelli (or Rice Noodles) – Bún
- Meat – Thịt
- Shrimps – Tôm
- Fish – Cá
- Rice, Rice Plates – Cơm
- Vegetables and Herbs – Rau
And finally the method of cooking:
- Grilled dishes – Món nướng
- Boiled dishes – Món luộc
- Steamed dishes – Món hấp
- Stirred dishes – Món xào
- Stewed dishes – Món hầm
- Fried dishes – Món chiên
That’s a perfect starting point for our look at how to read a Vietnamese Menu!
Just remember, if you love shrimp, you can order food from the shrimp category – tôm as the dominant ingredient of the category is of course shrimp!
Of course the more restaurants you visit, and the more your practice, the easier it becomes.
6 Must-Try Vietnamese Street Food & Snacks // North vs South
Vietnamese Street Food has a lot of surprises we think you’ve never seen before! Today we introduce you 3 from the north and 3 from the south of Vietnam.
Use The Pictures
A Vietnamese menu with several dishes may make you feel a tad overwhelmed, but no fear, we are here!
Finding a menu with images is a great way to alleviate those said fears!
Of course, not every restaurant includes these, but you can also exploit food delivery apps in this instance.
Most of the restaurants in big cities now sell their food from apps in which you can find them by typing the restaurant name. Then, you can quickly see the menu with the pictures on the apps.Nick hack right!?
In Vietnam some of the most popular food delivery apps include:
SEE BELOW | If you type and look up a Pho restaurant, you can quickly find the images and descriptions of the dishes.
Ask for Recommendations
Asking for recommendations can be the most effective way to understand the menu and to order food in Vietnam!
Typically, local Vietnamese people often do this funnily enough!
Waiters and waitresses are always willing to recommend something to us, especially the restaurant’s signature dishes
A restaurants signature dish is known as món đặc sản
Asking the waiter or waitress to pick something out for you, instead of trying to scan the menu yourself is cheating when it comes to learning Vietnamese, but it’s a surefire way to get the best belly full of food – so we certainly won’t judge!
Here are a couple of phrases you need to know.
- Chị có thể gợi ý một vài món ăn cho em không? – Can you recommend some dishes for me?
- Ở đây có món gì ngon? – Which dishes are the most delicious?
Food Restrictions or Allergies on the Vietnamese Menu
If you have an allergy to some ingredients, you should read the following.
Asking for waiters recommendations can be particularly helpful if you have an allergy of sorts. You can directly tell the waiters what you are allergic to.
These are the structures you’ll need to remember:
- Tôi bị dị ứng với + allergens
- Tôi bị dị ứng nặng với + allergens
- Dị ứng = being allergic
- Tôi bị dị ứng với đậu phộng – I am allergic to peanuts
- Tôi bị dị ứng nặng với hải sản – I am severely allergic to seafood
Similarly, you can apply the formula by adding the specific allergy, such as:
- Hải sản = seafoods
- Cá = fish
- Sữa/sản phẩm từ sữa = dairy
- Lạc/đậu phộng = peanuts
- Hạt vừng/hạt mè = sesame
- Đậu nành = soybeans
- Hạt = nuts (cashews, almonds, macadamia, walnuts)
TOP TIP – If you are allergic to fish, be careful and notify the waiters. Most dishes in Vietnam are cooked with fish sauce.
For Veggies or Vegans
Tell the staff members when you enter you are vegetarian or vegan. In Vietnam right now, it’s not hugely common to list veggie or vegan options clearly on the menu.
If the menu is overwhelming and you want to know if the restaurant serves anything vegetarian, no problem…
You can use the following phrases.
- Ở đây có đồ ăn chay không? – is there any vegetarian food?
- Em ăn chay – I eat vegetarian
TOP TIP | The keyword for you is ‘ăn chay’ or ‘đồ ăn chay’
Be sure to save these flashcards on your phone and try looking for them on a Vietnamese menu also. You’re welcome!
Keywords on a Vietnamese Menu
To order food in Vietnam you just need to recognise some basic characters and words without understanding every single ingredient of the dish.
For example, if you like noodles, you need to be looking for bún, phở, mì.
If you dislike fish, avoid anything with cá and so on
This can be a big help in narrowing the options down.
#1 Rau / Vegetables
Rau will probably be used in the name of the dish to mean vegetable, for example:
- Rau muống luộc = Boiled water spinach
- Rau xào = Stir-fried vegetables
#2 Thịt / Meat
Similarly to vegetables, the single character thịt is placed at the beginning of the dish’s name to show that the dish includes meat.
The formula for meat dish can be known as:
Thịt + type of meat + cooking method
- For example:
- Thịt gà luộc = Boiled chicken
- Thịt bò xào = Stir-fried beef
Cá + type of fish + cooking method
- Cá chép chiên = Fried carp
- Cá chim sốt cà chua = Fried butterfish with tomato sauce
#3 Bún, phở, mì / Vermicelli noodles, Flat noodles, Egg noodles
Noodles and rice are such popular dishes that you can find them in most Vietnamese restaurants.
If you want to order a bowl of noodles, you can follow this formula as the noodle names in the menu:
Noodles + (cooking method) + protein
- Phở bò
- Bún bò
- Bún cá
- Mì xào bò
- Hủ tiếu xào hải sản
#4 Cơm / Rice
As with noodles, you’ll probably find the single character cơm (rice) at the beginning of the dish’s name to show that the dish is served with rice.
- Cơm đùi gà = Rice with chicken drumsticks
- Cơm xào bò = Stir-fried rice with beef
#5 Đồ uống / drink
The types of drinks may vary between restaurants as they create and serve their own signature drinks.
However, there are some common types of drink that can be found easily at any restaurant:
- Nước suối = water
- Trà đá = Iced tea
- Trà chanh, trà tắc = Lemon tea, kumquat iced tea
- Nước ngọt (coca, pepsi etc) = Soft drinks (such as Coke, Pepsi etc)
- Bia = Beer
- Nước ép = Juice
- Sữa đậu nành/nước đậu = Soybean milk
The Cheat Sheet
OK time to put all of that useful information into one area for you.
Always wanted to learn how to read a Vietnamese menu? Everything you need is in the table below!
|Món phụ / Side dishes||Thịt / Meat||Hải Sản / Seafood|
|Rau muối chua = Pickle vegetable||Thịt ba chỉ = Pork belly||Cua = Crab|
|Dưa leo/dưa chuột = Fresh cucumber||Thịt heo = Pork||Tôm = Shrimp|
|Tàu hủ chiên = Fried tofu||Bò = Beef||Tôm hùm = Lobster|
|Trứng chiên= Fried eggs||Gà = Chicken||Ốc = Snail|
|Đậu phộng = Peanut||Dê = Goat||Cá = Fish|
|Mực = Squid|
|Bạch tuộc = Octopus|
|Tinh bột / Starch||Rau / Vegetables||Chè / Dessert Soup|
|Bún / Mì/ Phở / Hủ tiếu = Noodles||Bắp cải = Cabbage||Chè chuối = Banana dessert soup|
|Cơm = Rice||Rau muống = Water spinach||Chè hạt sen = Lotus seed dessert soup|
|Bông cải xanh = Broccoli||Chè thái = Thai-style dessert soup|
|Cách chế biến / Cooking methods||Đồ uống / Drinks||Món cuốn / Wraps & Rolls|
|Hấp = Steam||Nước suối = Water||Chả giò = Fried spring rolls|
|Nướng = Grill||Trà = Tea||Gỏi cuốn = Fresh spring rolls|
|Chiên / Rán = Deep fry||Nước ngọt = Soft drinks||Bánh xèo = Vietnamese pancake|
|Xào = Stir||Bia = Beer|
|Luộc = Boil||Nước ép trái cây = Fruit juice|
|Canh = Soup||Sữa đậu nành / Nước đậu = Soybean milk|
|Trộn = Mix|
TOP TIP | There are strong variations with food and language in the north and south of Vietnam so do bear this in mind.
Here are three examples
- Dưa leo – in the South / Dưa chuột – in the North
- Trứng chiên – in the South/ Trứng rán – in the North
- Thịt heo – in the South / Thịt lợn – in the North
Vietnamese Dialects // North or South?
North vs South? Vietnamese dialects can vary quite significantly. This is one of the very early questions a Vietnamese learner asks themselves.
So these are the key tips for reading a Vietnamese menu when you’re a beginner. Did you find it helpful?
Drop us a comment below with your feedback and thoughts!
There’s also one final website we’d like to leave you with.
If you are thinking of travelling to Vietnam anytime soon, then Urban Sesame is a must bookmark website.
Their blog is extensive and their content is strong. Here’s how they describe themselves.
“We’re Urban Sesame – a group of independent writers that are trying to create an authentic guide for Vietnam and other parts of Asia. We eat, live, work, and play in these locations that we’re writing about, and we strive to provide original content that’s relevant to you.”
Check them out, you won’t be disappointed.
How to Read a Vietnamese Menu // FAQ’s
What are some useful words to know to understand how to read a Vietnamese menu?
Chinese Style Egg Noodles – Mì
Vermicelli (or Rice Noodles) – Bún
Meat – Thịt
Shrimps – Tôm
Fish – Cá
Rice, Rice Plates – Cơm
Vegetables and Herbs – Rau
What is meat in Vietnamese?
Meat in Vietnamese is thịt.
The formula for meat dish is – thịt + type of meat + cooking method
Thịt gà luộc = Boiled chicken
Thịt bò xào = Stir-fried beef
What is fish in Vietnamese?
Fish in Vietnamese is Cá.
Fish based dishes in Vietnamese generally follow this formula so you can find them easily:
Cá + type of fish + cooking method
Cá chép chiên = Fried carp
Cá chim sốt cà chua = Fried butterfish with tomato sauce
What is vegetables in Vietnamese?
Vegetables in Vietnamese is Rau.
Rau will probably be used in the name of many Vietnamese dishes to mean vegetable, for example:
Rau muống luộc = Boiled water spinach
Rau xào = Stir-fried vegetables
How do you say “Can you recommend me some of the best dishes” in Vietnamese?
This phrase is a really useful one and can be said with the following:
“Chị có thể gợi ý một vài món ăn cho em không?“
What are some popular food delivery apps in Vietnam?
There are plenty to choose from actually. These five, however, stand out the most.
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