The Best Traditional Vietnamese Food (To Eat During The Holidays)

Traditional Vietnamese Food // Our Favourite Dishes

Cuisine is passed down from generation to generation and defines a country’s culture, with its history, values, and beliefs. Traditional Vietnamese food is no different, with each also revealing a delightful cultural story behind them.  

Food is a common thread that connects us, no matter what culture we come from

A quote from Poh Ling Yeow

In this blog, we will not only discuss traditional Vietnamese food, but look through the lens of the Vietnamese holidays in which foods strongly represent Vietnamese cultural significance. 

We break the year down into 3 of Vietnam’s biggest holidays and introduce you to the best Vietnamese food we eat during these times.

I hope you aren’t hungry…!

Lunar New Year // Tết Nguyên Đán

Traditional Vietnamese Food #1 | Bánh Chưng & Bánh Tét

Traditional Vietnamese Food #2 | Nem Rán, Chả Ram & Chả Giò

Traditional Vietnamese Food #3 | Dưa Hành & Củ Kiệu

Traditional Vietnamese Food #4 | Thịt Kho Hột Vịt & Thịt đông

Traditional Vietnamese Food #5 | Canh Khổ Qua

Hung Kings’ Commemoration Day // Giỗ tổ Hùng Vương

Traditional Vietnamese Food #1 | Bánh Chưng & Bánh Dày

Traditional Vietnamese Food #2 | Xôi Gấc

Traditional Vietnamese Food #3 | Gà Luộc

Traditional Vietnamese Food #4 | Cơm Tẻ Hạt Sen

Mid-Year Festival // Tết đoan Ngọ

Traditional Vietnamese Food #1 | Rượu Nếp Cẩm

Traditional Vietnamese Food #2 | Bánh ú Lá Tro

Traditional Vietnamese Food #3 | Thịt Vịt

Traditional Vietnamese Food | FAQs

What about great coffee? Check out Rushi and Max’s hunt for the best in Saigon

Before we get started with the best traditional Vietnamese food we also wrote an article about the top Vietnamese street foods we think you’ll also love as well…

You don’t want to miss these.

6 Must-Try Vietnamese Street Food & Snacks // North vs South Thumbnail

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.

Lunar New Year // Tết Nguyên Đán

Tết is celebrated in many Asian countries.

Vietnamese New Year is all about change, progress, a better upcoming year, and experiencing the joy of family reunion.

It is also a holiday for people to rest after a year of hard-work.

Traditional Vietnamese cuisine during Tết can vary between regions, however, there are some common things also.

It’s those we take a look at now!

Traditional Vietnamese Holiday

Traditional Vietnamese Food #1 | Bánh Chưng & Bánh Tét

We can’t have a blog about traditional Vietnamese food and not mention bánh chưng and bánh tét also known as a sticky rice cake. 

Bánh chưng is commonly served in the North, while bánh tét is a traditional recipe in the Central and Southern regions.

Bánh chưng is a square rice cake made with sticky rice with green beans and pork covered with premium leaves.

The Bánh chưng legend is well-known for the story behind it.

  • Bánh chưng symbolizes the ground or land expressing gratitude towards the earth.
  • It emphasizes the importance of rice and nature in Vietnamese agriculture. 
Traditional Vietnamese Food

Meanwhile, bánh tét is an amazing sweet or savoury treat for Tết.

  • It includes ripened sticky rice, bananas, and black beans wrapped in banana leaves
  • Mung bean and pork is also a popular recipe
Vietnamese Food for New Year

For your reference here are the main ingredients to these two excellent Vietnamese treats with English translation so you can learn them too.

Savoury bánh tét Sweet bánh tét
Gạo nếp = sticky riceGạo nếp = sticky rice
Đậu xanh = mung beanĐậu đen = black bean
Thịt heo = porkChuối chín = ripe bananas
Lá dong = phrynium leavesLá chuối = banana leaves

Traditional Vietnamese Food #2 | Nem Rán, Chả Ram & Chả Giò

In English, the word Spring rolls does not fully justify the different features between nem rán, chả giò and chả ram (Vietnam’s variants of this wonderful treat).

Spring Rolls are of course universally popular though and that gives you an idea of what this delicacy is all about!

Vietnamese and foreign people are crazy about this kind of cuisine. You can easily find it at any Vietnamese restaurant around the world.

Spring rolls are named differently depending on the region of Vietnam.

You would hear nem rán based in Northern Vietnam, chả ram in the Middle, and chả giò in the South.

You can try to make spring roll following recipe below.

Once again, here are the ingredients of this traditional Vietnamese food. You can see how they differ between regions:

Nem rán (Northern)Chả ram (Mid Vietnam)Chả giò (Southern)
Bánh đa nem = rice paper wrapperBánh tráng rế = net spring roll wrapperBánh tráng đậu xanh = spring roll wrapper from mung bean
Thịt xay = grounded porkThịt xay = grounded porkThịt xay = grounded pork
Củ hành = onionsCủ hành = onionsCủ hành = onions
Miến = glass noodlesTrứng gà = eggsMiến = glass noodles
Su hào = kohlrabiTôm tươi = fresh shrimpsMộc nhĩ/nấm mèo = Cat ear mushroom
Cà rốt = carrotTrứng gà = eggs
Mộc nhĩ/nấm mèo = Cat ear mushroomCà rốt = carrot
Nấm hương = Shiitake mushroomsTôm tươi = fresh shrimps
Trứng gà = eggsKhoai môn = Indian taro

More importantly, Vietnamese fried spring rolls generally share a common cooking method and carry the meaning of the unity, love, and reunion of family members.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls | Nem Rán, Chả Ram & Chả Giò

Traditional Vietnamese Food #3 | Dưa Hành & Củ Kiệu

Vietnamese Food during the Holidays

To gain the balance in taste between dishes, Vietnamese people always serve pickles in Tết meals.

They are a low-calorie side dish that allows the stomach to ease and help provide a better appetite during the holiday.

In the North, dưa hành or pickled onion is a popular side dish for celebrating Lunar New Year that is fermented.

Traditional Vietnamese Food

In the Mid and Southern regions of Vietnam, the main ingredient will be củ kiệu muối which means pickled Scallion head.

Củ kiệu (scallion) is a relative of the onion but it has a milder taste.

Unlike dưa hành, củ kiệu can be prepared with various cooking methods as you can see in this video.

Here are some useful translations:

  • Dưa hành = pickled onion
  • Củ kiệu muối = pickled Scallion head
  • Dưa món/Dưa chua = pickles in general 

Traditional Vietnamese Food #4 | Thịt Kho Hột Vịt & Thịt đông

A traditional stewed dish that has existed in Vietnam during Tet for thousands of years is thịt kho hột vịt (in the South) or thịt đông (in the North).

The dish is braised pork in coconut juice with eggs.

Traditional Vietnamese Food

This traditional stewed meat in the North, however, is totally different from one in the South.

Thịt đông (the northern variant) contains many ingredients such as:

  • Mushrooms
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Carrot
  • Onion

Here is the breakdown of the two variations in northern and southern Vietnam.

Thịt kho hột vịt (Southern Vietnam)Thịt đông (Northern Vietnam)
Thịt ba chỉ = pork belly meatThịt lợn/heo = pork
Nước dừa = coconut juiceTai heo = pig’s ear
Trứng vịt = duck eggsCủ hành = onions
Tỏi = garlicCà rốt = carrot
Ớt = chiliesMộc nhĩ/nấm mèo = Cat ear mushroom
Củ hành = onionsNấm hương = Shiitake mushrooms

Take a deeper look at the northern variant of this traditional Vietnamese food in this video below.

Traditional Vietnamese Food #5 | Canh Khổ Qua

During the Tết holiday, Vietnamese people will all try canh khổ qua once.

This is a traditional soup made from bitter melon covered in ground pork and cat ear mushrooms.

“Khổ qua” is a Sino-Vietnamese word describing bitter melon, but it is also a homophone indicating the disappearance of struggles, unfortunate events in life. 

  • Khổ = bad luck, difficulties
  • Qua = disappear, vanish

Hung Kings’ Commemoration Day // Giỗ tổ Hùng Vương

Hung Kings’ Commemoration Day occurs on the tenth day of March in the lunar calendar and is one of the most important traditional holidays in Vietnam.

Hung Kings’ Commemoration Day

Vietnamese hold the festival to show their respect and gratitude towards the Hung line of kings who ruled Vietnam.

People are particularly thankful for the contribution and protection of Vietnam from invaders of the nation’s ancient founders. 

Let’s have a look at four of the must-have dishes served during the festival.

Vietnamese Public Holidays // A Complete Guide Thumbnail

Vietnamese Public Holidays // A Complete Guide

Besides the Vietnamese Lunar New Year (or Tet Holiday), there are several Vietnamese Public Holidays to celebrate and enjoy throughout the year.

Traditional Vietnamese Food #1 | Bánh Chưng & Bánh Dày

Bánh chưng and bánh dày was the creation of the seventh Hung King-Lang Lieu. 

They are both made from sticky rice and are covered with banana leaves or geranium, which implies the protection and love of parents to their children.

  • Bánh chưng are filled with pork and mung beans
  • Bánh dày has no filling and is made completely from sticky rice

A square shaped bánh chưng symbolises the ground, while the dome-shaped bánh dày represents the sky.

Traditional Vietnamese Food | Bánh Chưng & Bánh Dày

Don’t be surprised if many dishes in Vietnam are made from sticky rice. Sticky rice is an umbrella term that encompasses all Vietnamese dishes with glutinous rice as the base.

Traditional Vietnamese Food #2 | Xôi Gấc

Xôi gấc is…

Traditional Vietnamese Food | Xôi Gấc
  • Quả gấc = Sweet gourd
  • Xôi = Steamed glutinous rice

The colour of Gấc makes the dish a beautiful red. 

Its red colour is believed to bring good things and luck to Vietnamese people.

Vietnamese normally eat xôi gấc before carrying out important events in their life.

For example, students usually have xôi gấc before important exams such as the university entrance exam, the final exam, etc.

Traditional Vietnamese Food #3 | Gà Luộc

Next up we go from sweet to meat…

This traditional Vietnamese food appears not only during the Hung Kings’ Commemoration Day but is also popular for special Vietnamese meals: gà luộc.

Gà luộc is simply a whole boiled chicken.

Traditional Vietnamese Food #4 | Cơm Tẻ Hạt Sen

As rice holds a crucial role in Vietnamese culture and life, there must to be two types of rice to gain the balance of yin and yang.

Steamed lotus seed rice – cơm tẻ hạt sen contains two key ingredients…

  • Lotus seed
  • Rice

The ingredients are mixed, then steamed with a lotus leaf. 

Cơm tẻ hạt sen was a luxurious cuisine served only to royal family members. It is a symbol of prosperity and wealth. 

So how does this traditional Vietnamese treat look?

Traditional Vietnamese Food | Cơm Tẻ Hạt Sen
Steamed lotus rice often comes in the shape of lotus

Mid-Year Festival // Tết đoan Ngọ

On the 5th day of May in the lunar calendar, the Mid-Year Festival or Tết Đoan Ngọ is celebrated in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

However, the origin and meaning of this special event in Vietnam is different in other countries.

In fact, the Vietnamese Mid-Year Festival has another name oddly called the Worm-Killing Festival or Tết Diệt Sâu Bọ.

In Vietnam, Tết Đoan Ngọ can be known as a family reunion day when family members enjoy traditional foods together to eliminate “insects” in the body & ward off diseases and disabilities

As foods have defined the specialty of this festival, let’s explore some traditional Vietnamese food that you can find in any family for this special occasion. 

Traditional Vietnamese Food #1 | Rượu Nếp Cẩm

The first must-eat food during Tết Đoan Ngọ is rượu nếp/nếp cẩm or black fermented sticky rice.

It can be considered as a dessert.

Traditional Vietnamese Food

Rượu nếp cẩm is a black fermented sticky rice, the semi-product in the traditional Vietnamese rice wine-making process.

During the fermentation process, the bacteria soften the rice, making it half sugar, half alcohol in flavour!

Intrigued…? So are we! 

The sweet, acidic flavour of the dish is believed to eradicate or remove insects or bad bacteria and diseases in the human body.

  • Rượu = wine
  • Nếp Cẩm = violet glutinous rice

Traditional Vietnamese Food #2 | Bánh ú Lá Tro

If Northern people normally serve rượu nếp/nếp cẩm, southern people eat bánh ú lá tro.

It’s a treat made from (yep, you guessed it) glutinous rice flour, dipped in lye.

This is a Vietnamese sweet treat in the shape of a pyramid with a mung bean filling inside.

Bánh tro is usually served with sugar syrup or honey and has no filling.

Vietnamese Food in Vietnam | Bánh ú Lá Tro

Traditional Vietnamese Food #3 | Thịt Vịt

Thịt vịt or duck meat is an indispensable cuisine in Tết Đoan Ngọ which is most popular in the mid regions of Vietnam.

People use duck meat to cook several dishes in this special event such as vịt quay (roasted duck), vịt luộc (boiled duck) and cháo vịt (duck soup with rice).

Vịt quay in Vietnam

People believe that eating duck meat can help you beat the heat in the middle of summer when the temperature is very high.

Moreover, they recognise that in May of the lunar calendar, duck meat has the highest quality as it is more fatty.

  • Thịt vịt = duck meat
  • Vịt quay = roasted duck
  • Vịt luộc = boiled duck
  • Cháo vịt = duck soup with rice

In Vietnam everything relates to food.

If we are partaking in a festival, we eat specific foods, as you’ve seen. It’s a big deal for us!

How about your country, comment down below what with traditional food you have during holidays. We’d love to hear from you!

Traditional Vietnamese Food // FAQs

Are Spring Rolls popular in Vietnam?

Yes!

In English, the word Spring rolls can not fully depict the different features between nem rán, chả giò and chả ram (Vietnam’s variants of this wonderful treat).

Spring Rolls are of course universally popular though and that gives you an idea of this delicacy!

Vietnamese and foreign people are crazy about this kind of cuisine. You can easily find it at any Vietnamese restaurant around the world.

Do Vietnamese eat sticky rice?

Sticky rice is really popular in Vietnam, but can vary depending on what region you are in.

Bánh chưng is commonly served in the North, while bánh tét is a traditional recipe in the Central and Southern region.

Bánh chưng is a square rice cake made with sticky rice covering green beans, and pork covered with premium leaves.

Does food in Vietnam vary from north to south?

Yes, greatly.

Normally each major dish has a variant depending on the region.

What is a common food based New Year tradition in Vietnam?

During the Tết holiday (Vietnamese New Year), Vietnamese people will all try canh khổ qua once.

This is a traditional soup made from bitter melon covered in ground pork and cat ear mushroom.

“Khổ qua” is a Sino-Vietnamese word describing bitter melon, but it is also a homophone indicating the disappearance of struggles, unfortunate events in life. 

Khổ = bad luck, difficulties

Qua = disappear, vanish

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  1. Luciano
    Reply

    Nothing beats Vietnamese Banh Mi, literally nothing

    1. Max Hobbs

      Oooo you couldn't have said it much better