Vietnamese cuisine offers delicious street food, but for people visiting for the first time, some dishes may seem like too much of a challenge for their palate. 

It is likely that some traditional Vietnamese dishes will excite the most adventurous: for example, dishes including blood or organ soup, or the famous fertilized duck egg are all  common in Vietnamese eating habits and regularly found on street food markets.

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Here are some of the more uncommon foods you will see served in Vietnam.

Trung vit lon
(Fertilized duck egg)

A Vietnamese food vendor  on a street side in Hoi An. ©mayura benjarattanapakee/Shutterstock

One of the easier entries to 'strange' food in Vietnam. Fertilized duck eggs are eggs in which the bird embryo is already partly formed, although it is not always visible as an actual bird (depending on the stage of development). It is appreciated as a rich source of protein and Vietnamese children are served them for breakfast. They can be enjoyed with basil leaves and salted lime chili sauces. 

If you’re too intimidated by the big duck egg, another variant is Trung Cut Lon: fertilized quail eggs, these are smaller, so easier to eat. A very popular way to serve is warmed up in tamarind and lemongrass sauce (Trung Cut Lon Xao Me) – a dish commonly served in the afternoon.

Ga Tan Den 
(Black chicken in herbal soup)

ga tan den.JPG
Ga Tan Den, a dish of black chicken in herbal soup © Fabienne Fong Yan

This soup is very common in Vietnamese diets and highly appreciated for its medicinal properties. The broth is made from Chinese medicinal herbs and dried fruit (including mugwort, dried date and goji berries) and a very bitter rhizome rootstalk that is not supposed to be eaten, but adds aste to the soup. The soup can be prepared with ordinary light-flesh chicken but the black chicken, from a special Vietnamese breed, is the most unique version of this healthy soup. It is highly recommended for women in particular.

Chan Ga 
(Chicken feet)

Chicken feet in a dish of lemongrass with a bowl of chilli sauce next to it
Chan Ga (chicken feet) with lemongrass and chilli © Fabienne Fong Yan

Chicken feet are very common in Vietnam and can be found literally everywhere. Although not expensive, they can still be considered a delicacy. Chicken feet can be fried with chili and honey sauce, or boiled and served with ginger and lemongrass in a traditional seasoning. It’s a dish usually ordered on the side, with a hot-pot. Because of that, chicken with huge feet are a special breed in some Vietnamese villages.  

Tiet Canh
(Blood soup and animal organ soup)

Blood soup (tiet canh) is a dish that is not recommended so much anymore as it is a seasoned mixture of fresh blood from different animals and can easily carry infections. I’ve never had the chance to see it in real life, let alone try it. 

Brains and organs are among the dishes laid out on a soup street food stall
Pork brains and duck organs are among the soup ingredients on a street food stall © Fabienne Fong Yan

A more common sight on markets is animal organ soup. They can be from pigs, beef , duck or chicken. On night street food stalls, it is not unusual to see a display of all possible organs, so you can choose which you want in your broth. Options can include duck liver, pig brain, beef intestines or stomach, or more ordinary pig knuckles and feet. The recipes for organ soups or soups using uncommon parts of the animals are diverse and they show the resourcefulness and no-waste policy of the Vietnamese when it comes to food.

(Sea snails dishes)

When you hear about snails in Vietnam, it is likely that people are referring to sea snails. Especially in the north, in the area of Ha Long, snails are very popular. They come in all forms and all kinds of recipes. “Bun oc”, snail soup, is a classic, but you can also enjoy various snail dishes in specialized street food restaurants. 

A plate of black sea snails
Sea snails are very popular, particularly in north Vietnam © Fabienne Fong Yan

Snails are available mainly in the evening (Vietnamese dishes are served following a schedule throughout the day and dishes served at night can only be found then) and there is a clear protocol as to how you order them: first choose the type of snails you want, then the way you want them cooked and finally, your sauce or seasoning. Popular ingredients include lemongrass and ginger, tamarind sauce, and green onions.

Raw octopus with 'mam tom'

This is a dish you might not see everywhere: raw octopus can be found with mobile vendors who ramble the streets of Hanoi in the morning. Although not so tasty, the Vietnamese eat it for its texture, and all its taste comes from the aromatic herbs (mint and perilla) and most of all, the fermented shrimp sauce. The latter, called 'mam tom', is a surprising food in itself: it is so strong, salty and pungent that the Vietnamese say if you can eat it, it makes you Vietnamese.

red octopus dish.jpg
Mam tom © Fabienne Fong Yan

Silkworms, river worms and other worm dishes

 The daily market in Phu Quoc, Vietnam. ©MielnickiStudio/Shutterstock

Grilled silkworms nymphs (con nhong) are a very common street food find. They are valued for their protein and mineral qualities. In the north in particular, silkworms are bred on mulberry leaves in villages. When prepared for food, they are dried and mixed with salt in order to be fried with fish sauce. You can find them easily as a staple dish served in 'com binh dan', rice buffet places, so it’s not difficult to find if you want to try it.

We should also talk about the beetle larva – or coconut worm, consumed especially in the area of the Mekong Delta, in southern Vietnam. Contrary to the silkworm, this worm is eaten live, dipped in fish sauce. It is eaten by biting the head off it first.

Another type of worm used in typical dishes is the river worm. It is prepared in a fried omelette, mixed with pork meat. This dish is called 'cha ruoi'. Why eat the river worm? It is said to be very nutritious and good for arthritis or physical aches. The worms are rather easy to find in markets, in the fresh fish and seafood section.

As we say, “one man’s food is another man’s poison”. Don’t judge local food habits when traveling: you might end up liking some of those dishes and if not, there are plenty of other food options in Vietnamese street food stalls, markets and restaurants.

This article was originally published in 2020 and updated June 2021.

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This article was first published December 2020 and updated June 2021

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