Ever walk in a Vietnamese restaurant and order a bunch of food only to get a massive boiled chicken cut in a way that was impossible to eat? Bones and Cartilage in every bland bite for a good 300k? Well That happened to us when we came here 3 whole times. I wish I had a list of how to order back then but over the years i’ve leveled up my ordering ability and made this cheat sheet.
This guide is a good guide when your at Bia Hois, traditional vietnamese restaurants, and hotels that seem to have nothing but Fried Rice, and Fried noodles for foreign guests. Really ordering these things from them usually brings a big smile to their face. Keet it simple, and be understanding and remember to say.
“Không Sao” – Don’t worry
This post is organized like this
For the past 6 years I have poorly learned how to eat and order Vietnamese cuisine. However I have managed to get by and here is my guide to eating out in Vietnam.
1st off Eating out in Vietnam is usually a group thing. When you order dishes they are going to come out huge and be for 2-4 people. Split evenly each meal should be about 100k per person to 200k per person depending on how lavish your eating and drinking habits are. Between my wife, son and I we usually hit around 180k to 220k, beer included.
Its actually pretty easy to order in most places once you realize all the dishes are Food+how its cooked+seasoned
Bo Xao Ot
Beef fried Chili
Suon Nuong Moi
Ribs Grilled Salt
When I arrive at a Vietnamese Eatery I order the spread. Meat, Vegetable, Tofu and Carb. Each time I see a new thing on the menu I try to understand it and order it.
How its prepared. Should be the second expression, but I write it first as it works with everything and I use the terms while talking about each of these.
Xao – Stir Fried
Luoc – Boiled
Chien – Deep Fried
Rang- Batter Fried common with Pork and Chicken
hap – Steamed
Tai Chanh – A rarer one but it means soaked with lime.
Nuong / Quay – Grilled up. Always a treat when they’ve got the barbecue going. Quay is on a spit.
Xe – Pulled. Amazing with beef.
Kho – Dried
Vegetables vary alot. A popular one fried “Morning glory” Also known as River Spinach is
Rua Muong Xao Toi (Or any Veggie Xao Toi.) However anything not poisonous that grows from the ground tends to be fair game for the kitchen and menu. So the way I usually order veggies is simple “Veggie” plus Xao Toi. If I want to change the flavor I get a Chanh Moi Ot, or some Soy Sauce.
I pronounce Rau like Wow but with a Z, Zow.
For Vegetarian meals look for signs that say “Chay”.
Rau Muong – Morning Glory or River Spinach or Swamp Cabbage.
Rua Mung – Maribor Spinach.
muop dang – Bitter melon.
bap cai – cabbage
Dua Chuot – Cucumber
Mang – Bamboo
lá bí – Pumpkin Leaf
đậu xanh – Green Beans
But simple saying “Rua Xao Toi” usually leaves the veggie up to the chef and its the easiest understood across Vietnam. Its a basic meal and even when theres nothing like it on the meal they always seem to have some on hand.
Ways to spice Veggies
bánh đa – With Peanuts
Meat is back on the Menu! So is the bones and cartilage too adding flavor and texture to every bite, if you know how to eat it. If not, then a mouthful of little bone bits and chewy cartilage will ruin your meal. Here is a rough guide on what to expect when its on the menu but I also encourage people to try the cartilage cut though from time to time, because once you master it, it becomes amazing. The other option is to say “Rút xương” after the meat, which means boneless but not everyplace is able to accommodate this.
Thit lon – Pork – Sometimes pork belly
Suon – Ribs
Bo – Beef – Simple and easy
Trâu – Buffalo usually cut with fat and a chewy bit.
De (pronounced Zay) – Goat. Sometimes Skin, fat and meat cut.
Ca – Fish – Will usually have bones
Ngao – Clam
Ga – Chicken, Usually cartilage Cut, but sometimes when its Chien it’ll be wings
Canh Ga – Chicken Wings
Muc – Squid – Unless its in a noodle dish its usually baby squid.
Vit – Duck – Usually Cartilage Cut
Ngan – Musk Duck sometimes confused with Goose. Also Cartilage cut unless in Soup (Mien Ngan).
Thit Cho – Dogmeat
Ech – Frog
Muối và hạt tiêu – Salt and Pepper (Common with Pork)
Ớt thái nhỏ – With Chili Slices. I see it usually as just Ot.
Ớt chuông – Fried with bell peppers.
Xa – With Lime Leaves. (Usually for Chicken or Fish)
So here the easiest one is always Com or rice, Com Xao for fried rice. But as we’ve got a Major Danger we tend to order Khao Tay Chien or french fries. Sometimes they’ll have Khoai Lang Chien which is something like sweet potato fingers.
Khoai Tay – Literally means west potato for potato. Khao Tay Chien is french fries.
Khoai Lang – Sweet potato
Dao Phu – Tofu. Best ast Dao Phu Sot Ca Chua(With tomato), or Da Phu
Com – Rice. get a com Xao ga(chicken), or com xao bo(beef), or com xao rua(veggies)
My – Instant Noodles. Same variation as above.
Pho – Flat Noodles. You get the soup if you just say Pho, but if you add Pho Chien it turns into a nice puffy fried noodle.
Bun – Round Noodles.
Mien – Clear thin Noodles
These revolutionize eating for me and spiciness. Very few dishes in Vietnam are inherently spicy, but next to them are dips that let you change the flavor of each bite. Made from fresh ingredients that you mix yourself.
Chanh Muoi Ot – Lime, Salt, and Chili. I get this almost every time.
Mam Tom – Fermented Shrimp Past usually with Chili and and a dash of oil. Pungent with a smell and taste of vomit. I’ve learned to like it in that “stinky tofu” sort of way.
Nuoc Mam Cham/Ot – Fish sauce with Chili. Also amazing though the smell can be off putting. Its incredibly salty but carries the tastes better than soy sauce.
xì dầu – Soy Sauce
sốt chua ngọt – Sweat and Sour Sauce. A tangy sauce usually used with fried spring rolls.
Next if you’re looking for some fried chicken with cartilage don’t be afraid to order Ga Xao Xa, but if you want to have wings Canh Ga Chien. Or keep it simple and get a Bo Xe, or Bo Xao Ot, for fried beef and chili.
So this is a basic guide just for Vietnamese restaurants to give others a chance to explore this amazing cuisine without ordering things they can’t stand. I’m missing out on quite a few things such as the variety of salads(Salat Nga or Russian salad gives your diced veggies and ham covered in Mayo) you can order. A large variety of Nems, spring rolls, Banh’s and regional dishes.
Its also a rough draft and guide, if anyone has any suggestions and or corrections let me know.