Central Vietnam food guide

What to Eat in Central Vietnam – A Central Vietnam Food Guide

In Food Guides, Vietnam by Daryl & Mindi Hirsch26 Comments

Central Vietnam is an area rich with both history and food. Check out our Central Vietnam food guide to learn about the foods not to miss in this exciting food region.

Central Vietnam Food Guide Pin

Central Vietnam is an area rich with both history and food. Check out our Central Vietnam food guide to learn about the foods not to miss in this exciting food region.

Coffee. Water. Broken Camera. Food.

These are the four themes that defined our twenty days of living and eating in Central Vietnam, a part of the world burnt into our minds from the iconic photos taken during its mid-20th century struggles. Our three week odyssey started in imperial, war scared Hue, continued in rustic, preserved Hoi An and ended in sun kissed, beachy Danang.

Three weeks in Central Vietnam allowed us to sample a wide variety of foods and return to our favorites again (and again). It also afforded us the opportunity to connect with locals and tour the historic DMZ.

First Stop, Hue

historic hue central vietnam food guide

Historic Hue

We stayed at an Airbnb rental right on the Perfume River’s edge during our time in rainy Hue. How much did it rain during our stay? it rained a lot – so much during a typhoon that it even rained inside the house. Despite the over abundance of water, we still loved Hue for its understated elegance dating back to French colonialism, its lively public market and its imperial style of food.

Second Stop, Hoi An

Charming Hoi An central vietnam food guide

Charming Hoi An

We loved well known tourist mecca Hoi An for its Chinese lantern decor and easy lifestyle. This city has an excellent food scene that includes a number of fun coffee shops serving both both Western and Vietnamese joe. Plus, Hoi An has what very well may be the best banh mi shop in all of Vietnam. Considering that our camera died in Hoi An, it says a lot that the city still managed to charm us during our week long visit.

We stayed at a great hotel in Hoi An. Click here to check out hotel rates in Hoi An.

Finally, Danang

Beachy Danang Central Vietnam Food Guide

Beachy Danang

And then there’s Danang. We almost skipped Danang but spent three days there because of a lower airplane fare to Saigon on a Wednesday versus a Sunday. Did we like this laid back beach city with endless seafood and a vibrant expat community? Let’s just say that we could see ourselves living in Vietnam’s third largest city at some point in our future.

Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

We climbed this hill during our private DMZ tour. Like much of Central Vietnam, the climb combined with natural beauty with relics from the violent war. Central Vietnam Food Guide

We climbed this hill during our private DMZ tour. Like much of Central Vietnam, the climb combined natural beauty with relics from the violent war.

For many of our generation, the American War with Vietnam conjures images of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), jungles and rice paddies. Vietnam is not a tiny country and it’s a long way (we traveled by jet from Danang to Saigon by jet) from South to Central. What many don’t realize is that a large portion of the war occurred in the fields and forests around Hue and its surroundings. Central Vietnam is the home of the DMZ or ‘demilitarized zone’ – the thin band that previously separated North Vietnam from the South. We climbed up hills to see large pillbox installations that overlook the perfume river while avoiding live mines that still dot areas of the countryside. The United States had a large air base in Danang, and we saw remnants of the old barracks there. Americans watched the Vietnam conflict on a TV, but travelers to Central Vietnam can observe relics like the bullet riddled Long Hung Church and the Highway 9 cemetery memorial. Though much of the war history is murky and many of the sites like the Vinh Moc Tunnels have been recreated over the years, visiting these central areas stills allows people to experience a valuable piece of world history.

To market, to market, jiggity jig... Central Vietnam Food Guide

To market, to market, jiggity jig…

Like much of Vietnam, coffee is readily available in Central Vietnam, which makes sense since Vietnam is the world’s second largest producing coffee country just after Brazil. Like the locals, we drank cà phê sữa đá (also known as iced coffee with milk) morning, noon and night. In Central Vietnam, coffee tends to be strong, iced and sweet.

This guy clearly missed the memo about the availability of strong coffee in Central Vietnam. Central Vietnam Food Guide

This guy clearly missed the memo about the availability of strong coffee in Central Vietnam.

Did we mention that our camera died right in the middle of our time in Central Vietnam? This shocking development threw us for a loop, taught us some valuable lessons about back-up equipment and the importance of authorized dealers while also slowing down our burgeoning video schedule. Instead of crying, we ate ice cream.

This mini ice cream cone was quite refreshing after a walk in Hoi An's heat. Alas, this was one of the last photos we took before our camera unexpectedly died. Central Vietnam Food Guide

This mini ice cream cone was quite refreshing after a walk in Hoi An’s heat. Alas, this was one of the last photos we took before our camera unexpectedly died.

But what about the food beyond ice cream? After eating our way through Hanoi the three prior weeks, we wondered how the Central Vietnamese food would compare. Long story short, the food compared well. Very well indeed. So well that we missed it as soon as we headed south to Saigon.

Foods to Eat in Central Vietnam

Banh Beo

Banh Beo

Our first bite in Hue was Banh Beo, so maybe that’s why this local specialty holds a special place in our hearts. Or maybe because it’s because Banh Beo combines the best flavors of imperial Hue with the dim sum concept that we adore. Instead of one big plate of food, an order of Banh Beo involves a dozen tiny plates, each with its own rice pancake topped with chopped and crispy shrimp, plus bowls of flavorful dipping sauce. Warning: A dozen dishes may sound like a lot of food, but it’s really not once you start slurping down the tasty treats.

Hang Me Me is located at 412-16 Võ Thị Sáu, Huế, Tỉnh Thừa Thiên-Huế, Vietnam.

Banh Mi

Best Banh Mi in Vietnam

Banh Mi

We often like to find hidden culinary treasures when we travel and share them here with our readers. Banh Mi Phuong is not one of these finds. Already made famous by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and recommended to us by our new Halong Bay friends John and Charmaine, this popular deli serves what are arguably the best banh mi sandwiches in Central Vietnam if not the entire country.

Banh Mi Phuong is located at 2B Phan Châu Trinh, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam.

Watch our video to see why there’s always a line at Banh Mi Phuong.

Banh Xeo


Banh Xeo

We kind of love these ‘sizzling cakes’ that we first ate at the Hoi An Central Market. Crispy, flavorful and stuffed with shrimp and other savories, these pancakes don’t carry much resemblance to the western breakfast favorite with the same name. Shhh – don’t tell anybody, but we like these pancakes better.

Hoi An Central Market is located at Trần Quý Cáp, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam.

Bun Bo Hue

Bun Bo Hue - Spicy Noodle Soup in Vietnam

Bun Bo Hue

Although Bun Bo Hue is popular throughout Central Vietnam, the namesake city is the best place to eat this savory soup. Spicier than pho, a good bowl of Bun Bo Hue has vermicelli rice noodles, braised beef, herbs and green vegetable. A great bowl will have extras like offal and gelatinous pig blood, though these special additions are optional for more timid eaters.

Bun Bo Hue Quan Cam is located at 38 Trần Cao Vân, Phú Hội, tp. Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam.

Watch our video to learn more about the soupy goodness known as Bun Bo Hue.

Cao Lau


Cao Lau

Cao Lau is not only specific to Central Vietnam, but this dish is hyper specific to Hoi An. Legend has it that Cao Lao can only be made with water from a specific Cham well just outside the city, so if you eat Cao Lau outside of Hoi An, then you’re not eating true Cao Lau. Readily available throughout Hoi An, Cao Lau typically includes roast pork, rice noodles, crispy bits and lots of fresh greens. Though many local restaurants add their own twists to this classic, we most enjoyed the traditional versions served at the Hoi An Central Market and at Thanh Cao Lau.

Hoi An Central Market is located at Trần Quý Cáp, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam.

Thanh Cao Lau is located at Minh An tp. Hội An, 6 Thái Phiên, Minh An, Hội An, Quang Nam, Vietnam.

Com Hen


Com Hen

After eating an excellent version of Com Hen in Houston earlier this year, we were curious to try this dish in the city of its roots. We picked a shack near our rental where we enjoyed bowls loaded with rice, herbs, freshwater clams and pork rinds. It’s debatable if the quality was any better, but the experience of sitting in tiny plastic chairs and drinking local beer was certainly more authentic.

Com Hen Ti Hon is located at 17 Ð Han Mac Tu, Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam.

Com Ga


Com Ga

We eat a good bit of chicken and rice in the USA, usually of the Cantonese variety. The Vietnamese version known as Com Ga  is similar but different. Each restaurant seems to make the simple dish with its own style and flavor. We shared the excellent version pictured here at the Dong Ba Market in Hue.

Dong Ba Market is located at Trần Hưng Đạo, Phú Hòa, tp. Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam.

Fresh Seafood


Fresh Seafood

Seafood in Danang is fresh and plentiful which is no surprise based on the bustling city’s location on the shore of the Eastern Sea. A walk by the beach yields a field day of people watching opportunities as well as a plethora of dining options from casual eateries with a just a few tanks and a grill to restaurants with fuller selections and bars.

Thanh Hien is located atVo Nguyen Giap street, Truong Sa, Phước Mỹ, Đà Nẵng, Vietnam.

Watch our video to see the different types of seafood we ate in Danang during our private seafood fest.

Fried Wontons


Fried Wontons

After eying nachos on the street in Hanoi, we were immediately drawn to the fried wontons in Hoi An. We ate this local favorite at both the Central Market and at White Rose Restaurant. We were a bit put off by the topping’s cloyingly sweet pineapple flavor, though we dug the crispy texture and shrimp.

Hoi An Central Market is located at Trần Quý Cáp, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam.

White Rose Restaurant is located at  533 Hai Bà Trưng, Cẩm Châu, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam.

Fusion Food


Fusion Food

Thanks to an introduction by Susan Schwartz and a Philadelphia connection, we enjoyed our first Hoi An meal at Mango Mango, a local institution that serves sophisticated Vietnamese food fused with interesting western touches. This fusion is no surprise since Chef Tran Duc honed his cooking skills in the Americas where he spent many of his formative years. (Duc’s wife/business partner Ly Le lived in Philadelphia for several years, hence the Philadelphia connection.) We were so entranced by the elegant restaurant and its river view that we returned for happy hour a few days later.

Mango Mango is located at 45 Nguyễn Phúc Chu, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam.

Mi Quang


Mi Quang

Although Cao Lau may be Hoi An’s most famous signature dish, Mi Quang is the the Hoi An dish that stole our hearts with its thick rice noodles, protein (sometimes chicken, sometimes seafood), broth and greens. We found the perfect spot for Mi Quang – a little stall on Thai Phien right across from Thanh Cao Lau. We don’t have an address, but that just makes the discovery all the more fun.

Check out our video to see what it’s like to eat Mi Quang in Hoi An.

Ram It


Ram It

We just had to try Ram It after reading the following menu description: First part is around sticky bit that has a shrimp’s meat in it. Second, and at the same time, the top of cake: “Banh Ram-It” is one piece of from the pig’s skin that has a yellow colour and is completely crispy. Crisp like a broken bubble!!!

With their crispy rice bottoms and soft, shrimpy tops, these little cakes may be the perfect finger food. We enjoyed them as a counterbalance to the little plates of Banh Beo, continuing the dim sum theme of our meal at Hue’s Hang Me Me.

Hang Me Me is located at 412-16 Võ Thị Sáu, Huế, Tỉnh Thừa Thiên-Huế, Vietnam.

Salty Coffee


Salty Coffee

Who knows if we would have discovered Salty Coffee without Emily Luxton‘s introduction to Lien Nguyen, the entrepreneurial founder of I Love Hue Tour. Lien and her “lady biker” colleague picked us up at our Airbnb and took us on a whirlwind Hue street food tour that ended with salty coffee at Ca Phe Muoi. We loved the unique caffeinated beverage so much that we returned to the laid back cafe several times for more cups of the salty, sweet coffee. In some ways similar to the more famous egg coffee in Hanoi, salty coffee has just enough salt to cut the sweetness of its milk topping which makes it a more interesting beverage.

Ca Phe Muoi is located at 10 Nguyễn Lương Bằng, Phú Hội, tp. Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam.

Street Food


Street Food

We’ve always appreciated street food, but this appreciation has grown exponentially since we’ve been in Vietnam. Vietnamese street food is literally everywhere. Plus it’s generally cheap and most of it tastes really good. We like it all from meat on a stick to banh bao and everything in between. When we miss Central Vietnam, we will probably miss the street food most of all.

Street food is located on most streets in Central Vietnam.

Vietnamese Coffee


Vietnamese Coffee

Coffee is an integral part of daily life in Central Vietnam, which is perhaps why like this part of the country so much. The popular local style is strong, iced and sweet. Sometimes, though, coffee in Central Vietnam is too sweet. That’s why it’s important to find local coffee shops that make a good coffee with the right level of sweetness. Here are five that we liked for their good coffee and cool vibes.

Ca Phe Muoi is located at 10 Nguyễn Lương Bằng, Phú Hội, tp. Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam.

Gold Star Coffee is located at 14 Ngô Thì Sĩ, Mỹ An Ngũ Hành Sơn Đà Nẵng, Vietnam.

The Hill Station is located at 321 Nguyễn Duy Hiệu, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam.

Mia Coffee is located at 20 Phan Bội Châu, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam.

The One Coffee & Bakery is located at 3 Hùng Vương, Phú Nhuận, tp. Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam.

White Rose Dumplings

White Rose Dumplings in Vietnam

White Rose Dumplings

We admitted our dumpling love last year, and this love has not waned while we’ve been busy traveling the world. So, it was a no-brainer for us to trek to the restaurant that creates white rose dumplings for the entire city of Hoi An. White rose dumplings are little rounds of rice dough stuffed with pork or shrimp and then shaped like flowers. The workers at White Rose Restaurant serve these dumpling gems with crispy shallots, savory shrimp broth and assorted condiments.

White Rose Restaurant is located at  533 Hai Bà Trưng, Cẩm Châu, tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam.

Watch our video to learn more about white rose dumplings.

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  1. Delicious guys! I had forgotten what the “Banh Xeo” was my favourite street eat I ate on our motor cycle trip through the Ho Chi Min Trail. Sorry to hear about you camera as well, hopefully you get it fixed soon!

    1. Author

      Thanks! We’re happy to report that the camera is as good as new.

  2. That looks so wonderful! I love pho and banh mi. And, of course their coffee. But best of all Vietnamese food is cheap! I’ve been thinking of visiting Viet Nam for a while now because some friends have told me how wonderful it is.
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    1. Author

      It’s true that you can eat very well in Vietnam for very little money, though some times it’s nice to splurge on a nice meal. That being said, even the splurge meals in Vietnam are relatively reasonable.

    1. Author

      You have to be in Vietnam to fully appreciate the density of the population and the regional food cultures. You’ll love Vietnam when you experience the country in person.

    1. Author

      It’s hard to imagine anybody not enjoying salty coffee!

  3. Wow this is a HUGE post! So sorry to hear your camera died while you were in Vietnam…too bad you couldn’t hook up a partnership deal with the camera repair company! Loving the videos as always, and the food porn shots can’t be beat. Can’t wait to hear more about this trip and Cambodia too!

  4. I had no idea that Vietnam produced so much coffee. Like most Americans, I’m a bit of a coffee addict, and I like my coffee really strong, so I’d get along well in central Vietnam. Your food photos are fabulous, and I hope you got your camera fixed/replaced.

    1. Author

      Oh yes, you would love the coffee scene in Vietnam. Thanks for the comment about the photos. We got the expensive fixed in Saigon, so we’re back in business. Whew!

  5. I’d love to visit Vietnam one day and learn more about its history. All of the food looks great too. I had no idea they were the second largest producer of coffee!

    1. Author

      It makes sense when you see the locals drinking coffee morning, noon and night. Luckily, we love good coffee so we fit right in with that.

  6. Also PS, salty coffee sounds kind of amazing! I’ve never thought of combining those 2 things before but I might have to give it a try!

    1. Author

      Salty coffee sounds odd but it’s actually quite tasty. Go light on the salt when you give it a try.

  7. Mindi…loved this….and am coming back for more. We are 11 days away from heading to Vietnam so this is such perfect timing. We fly into HCMC and will make our way north. Mekong Delta, Hoi An, Danang, Halong Bay, Hanoi and Mai Chau. Cannot wait !!! I am really looking forward to Hoi An, have heard so much about it and already have some great food tips. Shall be heading to all your connecting articles today to check them out and see what your tips are. It’s interesting what you have said about Da Nang. I wrote it off as being the place where we will fly to. Now we are actually staying here and I am so looking forward to that too. The war history fascinates us and it’s awesome that we are going to be around the 17th parallel and all of that DMZ history. I can’t beliene your camera died – worst nightmare isn’t it. I know we can survive but am also quite sure we can do without it. Cheers for this article. Looking forward to writing down all the notes for the food here.
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    1. Author

      You will have an amazing trip in Vietnam! Let us know if you have any specific questions – we may be able to help after spending two months in the country. And, yes, it was awful to be without our camera for two weeks. Although expensive, the authorized Canon dealer in Saigon did an excellent job with the repair.

  8. I’ve never heard of Cao Lau, but that makes sense if it can only be made with water from that one particular location. It seems to embody what I love about Vietnamese food – fresh and light flavours. Your photography is amazing!

  9. Freaking amazing post and picks. I could not even pick a favorite dish to try, there are too many. But curious about the Bun Bo Hue and the salty coffee. One would never guess your cameraless with all these pics.

    1. Author

      Oh, you will love the food in Central Vietnam! As for the camera, it died at the end of our time in Hoi An, but it was fine for most of the week in Hoi An as well as for the full week in Hue. It was dead in Danang and for our first 10 days in Saigon. We’re super happy to have it back and working now!

  10. Very comprehensive guide to travelling and eating in Vietnam, Vietnamese food is so much more diverse than pho and banh mi ! I had heard of their famous coffee but hadn’t heard of the salted coffee which sounds great because they usually use condensed milk in the coffee and it becomes too sweet! Lovely write up!

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