Breakfast food - Cultural uniqueness of Hanoians

Breakfast is the most important meal because it provides energy for a whole working day. Each country or region is featured by its own way of having breakfast. If coffee and croissant define French breakfast, "boulghor" (a kind of congee from barley) cannot be missed in the morning of some Middle East countries. In Vietnam, “ra ngoai an sang” is a common catchphrase, which literally means going out for breakfast. While people in different countries in the world cook their own breakfast meals with ideally omelet and baked bread as a daily routine, breakfast dishes sold by street vendors are so popular and abundant that Vietnamese people tend to go out more for a ready-made and hot meal in early morning.

An sang or breakfast in Vietnam has become a culture with a variety of dishes in an amazingly excited atmosphere of early risers. It's not difficult to find an open doorway full of steam and a cluster of people on ankle-high stools. These may be signs of a good place for the world’s greatest noodle soup – pho. However, it turned out pretty clear that there was a lot more going on with the local cuisine than pho, that most people associate with the country. There are also the world best Banh mi, the cake family, sticky rice, congee with fried breadstick, ect. for you to explore and enjoy one by one with guaranteed never-ending excitement.


Pho has been listed in Oxford dictionary as an internationally renowned noodle soup just like a symbol of Vietnamese gastronomy, traditionally made with beef or chicken broth that is flavored with various spices and topped with various herbs. Some believe pho originated on the streets of Hanoi, while others argue it was actually about 90 kilometers to the northwest in the Nam Dinh province. Pho was originally sold by street vendors who would carry bowls of broths on shoulder poles, but now, pho has been so popular that it is so easy to find open-air storefronts selling this noodle soup with for the best favorite light breakfast.

The most original shoulder pole of pho on street side
Pho is the perfect comfort food - warm, hearty and deliciously refreshing. Its sophistication  lies in the rich and intense essence of beef in the broth that can only be achieved by simmering marrow-rich beef bones on low heat for hours. Complex layers of flavor created by the herbs and spices, many textures created by the chewy rice noodles, the tender beef slices and the crunchy bean sprouts also add to its delicacy that cannot be found in any other noodle soup.

In this day and age, Vietnamese women are busier with their social roles and cannot cook breakfast so frequently, it often takes hours to prepare the ingredients, the broth and other stuffs for pho as breakfast for the whole family. So, going out for a warm, well-tasted pho is more appropriate to choose. In this morning country, pho is loved not only because of its perfect flavor but also it is very convenient to have. But for you, as the foreigner, be careful or you will get addicted to this dish. Pho is everywhere, one of my Korean friend ate only Pho for one month when he first came to Vietnam.
Ingredients for Pho broth
Phở Thìn, Phở Lý Quốc Sư, Phở Bát Đàn, Phở 24 are now among the most well-known brands with hundreds of eaters a day not only in the morning but also the evening.

Banh mi

Banh Mi has its origin from France during the colonial period in Vietnam in the late 1800’s. Gradually, butter was replaced with a king of chili sauce, mayonaise while pickled vegetables were added to enhance the flavor. Thinly cut pork, shredded chicken, beef and omelet are among major fillings that define each kind of banh mi baguette. From a French products under its rule, banh mi has been creatively developed to include our own ingredients, condiments and garnishment. Vietnamese people are so proud of the world best banh mi and the next internationally renowned dish that strikingly impresses any difficult taster. 

Inside a banh mi
Banh cuon

Banh cuon Thanh Tri, banh cuon Phu Ly, banh cuon Hai Duong are among the most famous banh cuon brands in Vietnam that define certain style of a paper-thin steamed rice flour pancake, much like delicate sheets of fresh rice noodles. Banh cuon was dated back in Ly, Tran dynasty as a traditional gift for exchange in Cold Food festival (Tet Han Thuc) long before eating habit of floating cake today. 

Bánh cuốn is made from a thin, wide sheet of steamed fermented rice batter filled with a mixture of cooked seasoned ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, and minced shallots. The rice sheet in bánh cuốn is extremely thin and delicate. It is made by steaming a slightly fermented rice batter on a cloth that is stretched over a pot of boiling water. It is a light dish, and is generally eaten for breakfast everywhere in Vietnam.

Banh cuon is served in plate topped with fried shallots and indispensable dipping sauce (nuoc cham) soaking chả quế (Vietnamese cinnamon pork pate), sliced carrot and herbs (Vietnamese Balm). Sometimes, a drop of cà cuống, which is the essence of a giant water bug, Lethocerus indicus, is added to the nước chấm for extra flavor, although this ingredient is scarce and quite expensive.

Vietnamese cake family

There are so many breakfast cakes in Vietnam and each of them is so convenient and tasty for a light meal in the morning that we find it hard to live without them. Some of the most common cakes can be named as Bánh Chưng Rán, Bánh Giò, Bánh Khúc, Bánh Rán, Bánh Nếp, Bánh Tẻ, Bánh Đúc, Bánh Dày or Bánh Bao. These are often savoury and easy to pack and often stuffed with mung beans, pork or wood ear mushrom. You can find them easily in many street food stalls and from the ladies wandering the streets with a pile of Banh on their shoulder.


Xôi is another common on-the-go breakfast item, and a popular snack nationwide. Made from sticky rice, xoi has many variants with different colors and flavors. It will never be difficult to find a roadside vendor selling xoi in the morning. You will easily catch a sight of a scrum of people gathering at a corner, in the middle of which sits a woman with a bamboo basket fully packed with “xoi” (which is kept warm by a thin blanket) and some small bottles containing “ruoc”, “muoi vung”, deep fried fulfill all the demands of the customers. Most of the sellers will sit at the same place every day, normally in front of school or office gate, or in corner of the streets. Customers will come, calling down orders and they will be served within three minutes!

Xoi khuc - Jersey cudweed gluntinous rice balls
Little is known when xoi was first given birth, but xoi has been existed so long in Vietnamese people’s heart, from children to the elderly that xoi stalls where people gather around, waiting patiently to take turn can be seen in every corner or alley, and whenever the basket is half-opened, its sweet and appetizing aroma can make anybody mouth-watering.

Xoi xeo - Sticky rice with mung bean and fried shallots

Five colored sticky rice

Congee or rice porridge is one of the most common meals in Vietnam in not only breakfast but also lunch and dinner. Cháo is very easy to cook since almost every electronic rice-cooker has porridge cooking function. Although it is considered as the poor’s food, Cháo could be much fancier when cooked with a variety of meats. To illustrate, Chao Ga is chao boiled with a whole chicken with bones to get the tastiest broth. Other varieties of Cháo such as Cháo Vịt (porridge with duck); Cháo Lươn (porridge with eel) and Cháo Cá (porridge with fish), are cooked with the same method.

Bun rieu cua

Bun rieu (bún riêu) is a Vietnamese crab based soup noodle dish, which originated from the northern region but the south also has its own version to well match their taste.  

In the north recipe, bún riêu cua is served with charming tomato broth and topped with crab or shrimp paste. In this dish, freshwater paddy crabs are used, including the brown paddy crab found in rice paddies in Vietnam. The crabs are cleaned by being placed in clean water to remove dirt and sand. The crabs are pounded with the shell on into a fine paste. This paste is strained and the crab liquid is a base for the soup along with tomato. The crab residue is used as the basis for crab cakes. Other ingredients include fried tofu, mẻ or giấm bổng (kinds of rice vinegar), etc. In the south, tamarind paste and cashew is used instead to redden the broth. A bowl of bun rieu can not be eaten without fresh veggies and herbs, which comprise of split water spinach stems, shredded banana flower, Vietnamese balm, spearmint, perilla, bean sprouts. This dish is rich in nutrition: calcium from the ground crab shells, iron from the congealed pig's blood, and vitamins and fiber from the vegetables.

The soup calls for crab paste made from paddy crabs, which give the broth its main flavor, along with stewed tomatoes, that contribute a slightly tart and natural sweetness to the dish.

Indispensable banana veggies
“The complex mixture of ingredients and flavors in the broth, paired with rice vermicelli noodles, pieces of meat and crab paste, a beautiful selection of condiments like shrimp paste, chilies, and limes, and finally a pile of both blanched and raw vegetables, is what makes the dish so delicious.”

Trung vit lon ngai cuu

Simmered with herbal medicine and mugwort for tonic effect
Trứng Vịt Lộn is actually duck’s embryo still laying in its shell going through fertilization process and then boiled in steamy heat. Due to this characteristic and its appearance, this dish is listed among the most ..."err" food for Western visitors. However, if ones can manage your fear to taste it one time, you may find it thousand times more delicious than normal chicken egg as well as a huge amount of protein good for your heart. In Vietnam, this dish is favored by most people and appears in every breakfast stalls in its pure form or buried in mugwort soup. This kind of grass plant is an effective and cheap treatment for headache, promotes blood circulation, wound healing and many other good effects.

Vietnamese people also find it hard to get through their breakfast without a cup of tea or a glass of iced coffee to thoroughly wake up from drowsy feeling. The way of having breakfast then tea or coffee has become a cultural specificity that define Vietnamese people from region to region. 

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