In Vietnam, breakfast is the meal that people eat most commonly outside of the house. In response, a wondrous ecosystem of pop-up restaurants & side-hustlers spring to life every morning on the stoops of banks, offices, factories, stores, etc., all through the cities and towns, serving a predictable suite of savory breakfast items between 6-9 am.
In this post, we discuss some of the most common and delicious breakfast meals in Vietnam, with meals common to the North, Centre and Southern parts of the country, gleamed from our personal experience hunting for early-morning street food.
1) Xôi – The Perfect Vietnamese Breakfast (Despite Sounding Awful)
Xôi sounds terrible, but don’t let the descriptions deceive you — it is like the “bacon n’ eggs” of Vietnam: a hearty, filling meal that will keep you going all morning. It is also our personal favourite breakfest in Vietnam.
What is xôi? Northern xôi is essentially a bowl of sticky-rice served with a strangely synergistic combination of savory ingredients including:
- poached egg
- mung-bean pate
- deep-fried onion
- pickled radish
- fresh cucumber
- spicy sauce
Each item adds to the deliciousness in an unexpected way. Before I tried it, there was no way anyone could have convinced me that this bizarre mixture of ingredients could constitute a proper breakfast. Now, I crave the spicy-sweet carbo-protein-rich meal. It somehow just tastes and feels good.
The south of Vietnam has a different version of xôi that is sweeter, but no less hearty. Their xôi includes sugar, eggs, coconut flates, corn, and all kind of beans (which, in Asia, is associated with sweet things)
2) Phở – The Iconic Vietnamese Breakfast
If you live in a sizable American/Canadian/Australian city, chances are you’ve seen your fair share of “pho” restaurants. Phở (pronounced like the french feu or fuh). is actually a breakfast dish in Vietnam, although it is served all day long. In fact, any soupy Vietnamese noodle is generally considered a breakfast in Vietnam
The best phở is to come from North Vietnam, especially in Hanoi, but can be found everywhere in Vietnam.
What is phở? Essentially, it is the distinctive phở noodles, served with beef or chicken and vegies, and a closely-guarded slow-cooked secret broth.
3) Mì – the Vietnamese “Instant Noodle” is a Popular Breakfast
The Vietnamese love mì, especially men and teenagers. It is like instant noodles (aka Ramen), but isn’t necessarily associated with the poor-health and poverty like Westerner’s “Cup of Noodles”.
First, there isn’t a cup — the product comes as dried, flavoured noodles. Secondly, the Vietnamese enhance the instant-noodles with a variety of healthy, quick-to-cook ingredients, such as:
- bok choy
- morning glory
These tasty, fast noodles are the stable of many hard working-man. Best of all, it is something you, a tourist in Vietnam, can easily make without a full kitchen.
4) Bánh Hỏi – Best Breakfast in All of Vietnam
This breakfast street-food is one of our all-time favourite dishes from Vietnam. Unfortunately, it is rare outside Central Vietnam, such as Quy Nhơn.
Bánh hỏi are little deep-fried savory cups of goodness. The innards consist of onion, eggs, chives, and for non-vegetarians, pork innards like liver and intestine. The best part of banh hoi is the sweet and sour pineapple sauce that comes with them.
If you are travelling in Central Vietnam, don’t miss out on this amazing breakfast. You can easily find it in “street food” streets in Quy Nhơn
5) Miến – Glass Noodles for Breakfast in Vietnam
Miến is a common northern Vietnamese breakfast that is usually eaten out of the house, rather than prepared domestically, because of its more sophisticated preparation and meat-cuts.
It is a soupy noodle dish with onion, bamboo shoots, cilantro and other fresh herbs. For meat, it is usually served with water-fowl (duck, goose), eel, or chicken. The noodle (aka cellophane noodles or glass noodles) is a transparent noodle made from sweet potato starch and water.
The name comes from the Chinese word 麵.
6) Mì Quảng – Central Vietnam’s Morning Staple
Mì quảng is the noodle dish of Central Vietnam, such as Da Nang and Hoi An. The noodles are a distinctive shape and colour: tumeric rice noodles that are flat and very satisfying on their own.
The dish is usually served with pork or shrimp, spicy fresh herbs, peanuts, and some awesome sesame crackers — the combination is perfect. The vegetarian version is also splendid.
7) Cháo – Vietnamese Breakfast Congee in Vietnam
Cháo is like the Vietnamese version of congee — a salty, inoffensive wet rice with little bits of fresh herbs, sometimes mushrooms, and meat (pork, beef, chicken, any really). The best part of cháo is the quẩy: deep fried fluffy rice-crackers (see photo above) that are basically the Vietnamese version of soda-crackers in America, except they are handmade and tastier.
Cháo is more popular in North Vietnam, likely due to its origin in China. You can find good cháo restaurants in most towns, big and small.
Cháo is also a good comfort food when you are ill, like an Asian chicken-noodle soup. It is nutritious and inoffensive and easy to digest. Therefore, when you pass by a cháo restaurant, you should make a mental note for later, if/when you get sick.
8) Cơm Tấm – Rice for Breakfast in South Vietnam
When I first arrived in Vietnam, I would start each morning by walking out of my hotel, strolling a few steps down a small alley-way to a lil’ old street-food vendor serving plates of declicious rice:
- rice and eggs with fresh cucumber and tasty sauce
- rice and barbeque pork
- rice and barbeque chicken
It really kick-started my day — what I would normally consider a full-course meal in the morning, for less than a dollar, was a delicious, filling, not-unhealthy breakfast. Amazing!
Rice is more of a South Vietnamese breakfast. In the North, people prefer noodles to rice, especially for breakfast. There is a slight elitist air to the North’s disdain for rice in the morning (“perhaps a hungry farmer would eat rice for breakfast, but not normal people!”). Personally, I love rice in the morning, afternoon, or the evening.
Look for signs “cơm tấm” to tried delicious South Vietnamese rice.
9) Big Glass of Milk for Breakfast — Soya Milk
Called “sữa đậu nành” in Vietnamese. Soya milk has a bad reputation in the West: it is rediculed by manly Chads on the Right and distrusted by almond-milk-drinking snobs on the Left.
But, in Vietnam, a warm glass of sweetened soya-milk is a common, traditional breakfast drink. Be sure to give it a try.
10) Bánh Mì – Legendary Vietnamese Breakfast Goes Global
Tourists in Vietnam love bánh mì and can be seen eating it all the time: for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, among Vietnamese, it is considered more of a breakfast or lunch meal, rather than a main meal.
The spicy Vietnamese sandwich needs little introduction: a French baguette, fresh herbs, secret sauces (sweet-n-sour mixed with mayonnaise perhaps?), and an endless variety of toppings, from North to South and everywhere in between — and increasingly taking over the cosmopolitan cities of the West. However, the Western banh mi’s pale in comparison to the real thing.