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The expat's guide to eating out in Vietnam

Updated 8 May 2018

Vietnamese food is known worldwide for its exciting flavours and aromas, and expats are sure to enjoy sampling the local fare. Throughout the country, there is a diverse array of options, ranging from food stalls on the street to luxurious dining destinations catering to all taste buds. With so many choices, though, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are a few tips to help new arrivals navigate the various options, as well as some advice on Vietnamese dining etiquette.

Local cuisine in Vietnam

The majority of restaurants in the country serve Vietnamese cuisine, which consists of a dizzying array of dishes that will satisfy anyone. Options range from fresh seafood and many types of meat to vegetarian-friendly dishes, and anything in between. Vietnam is a major producer of rice, so that is a key ingredient in many meals, but noodles also play a very prominent role.

A few of the most popular dishes include:

  • Pho  a noodle soup usually served with beef

  • Bun Thit Nuong – grilled pork served over dry noodles with vegetables

  • Banh Xeo – a rice crêpe stuffed with vegetables and a choice of meat

  • Banh Mi – a baguette packed with pate, meat and diced carrots

  • Com Tam – This is a very popular working-class lunch option which is sold by carts on nearly every street. Diners are given a plate of rice and then simply choose what they want on top of it. Common items include grilled pork, chicken legs, fish, tofu and fried eggs.

Any of the dishes mentioned above can be found at full-service, sit-down restaurants as well as stalls on the street, but often the latter are the best for an authentic experience. Any market will also be home to an area full of food stalls offering all the usual favourites.

International cuisine in Ho Chi Minh City

Thanks to its sizeable expat population and the growing influence of Western countries, numerous other types of cuisine can also be found in Vietnam, especially destinations popular with foreigners, such as Ho Chi Minh City.

In large cities, expat are sure to find a number of excellent French restaurants – no surprise given Vietnam’s colonial past – and other popular cuisines such as include Italian, Indian, Japanese and Korean. It is also easy to find Mexican and Mediterranean fare as well as American favourites like hamburgers and sandwiches.

Dining etiquette in Ho Chi Minh City

When it comes to dining etiquette, eating in Vietnam is quite informal. Many Vietnamese restaurants offer minimal, efficient service and tables are first come, first served.

Chopsticks are used for most Vietnamese dishes, though foreigners are often given a spoon and fork as well. Knives are rare.

Many of the very local restaurants look dirty compared to restaurants in the West, but that doesn’t mean the food is as well. Most simple Vietnamese restaurants feature simple décor like stainless steel tables and plastic chairs. 

At the more expensive international restaurants, service and etiquette are largely similar to what one would expect anywhere else in the world. However, even at these types of restaurants, tipping is generally not expected. Diners can leave a tip if the service is exceptional or if they are part of a large group, but most of the more costly restaurants charge a 10 percent tax, so a tip isn’t necessary. Tipping at Vietnamese restaurants is almost unheard of.

When it comes to the cost of eating out, Vietnam is hard to beat. Meals from street carts are ridiculously cheap, and even the high-end international restaurants are a bargain compared to their counterparts in more developed countries.

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