What does a traditional Vietnamese dinner look like?


OTHER STORIES | Before we go on with traditional Vietnamese recipes, I would like to give a short introduction on Vietnamese dining customs, which are very different from Western ones. Here, after ordering our food at the restaurant, we are usually served one plate per person. If the atmosphere is very familiar, with friends or family members, for example, you may possibly taste your neighbour’s food. In Vietnam, it doesn’t go that way. Dining is a social activity whereby everyone gathers around a table to share a meal and eat from the same dishes. Those are served in the middle of the table, and everyone may take from any dish with chopsticks. A bowl of rice accompanies the meal. So if I post, let’s say, a sautéed vegetables recipe, it would be part of a larger meal with one, two or three other dishes. See it a little bit like tapas or mezze. And, if one day you have the chance to be invited to a Vietnamese banquet (which I really wish for you !), don’t rush on the first plates that will be served. You never know what may come next, and it usually feels like it never stops coming !

To illustrate all that, I went through my photography archives from my trips to Vietnam in 2005 and 2008. There weren’t many food photos but I could still find a few not-too-bad ones. A traditional Vietnamese dinner could look like this :


Overall, there will always be:

  • rice : everyone has a bowl and may help himself anytime
  • one or several “protein” dishes : meat, fish, or tofu (can you see the whole fish on the photo ? we do help ourselves in it with chopsticks, and at the end of the meal, only the bones remain !)
  • one or several vegetable dishes, boiled or sautéed, with or without meat
  • a “canh” soup dish: meat or fish broth with vegetables
  • dipping sauces for dipping meat, fish or vegetables : soy sauce, nước mắm pha (diluted Vietnamese fish sauce), mắm tôm, etc.
  • possibly some raw vegetables : lettuce, cucumber, soy sprouts, aromatic herbs
  • possibly pickled vegetables
  • possibly some appetizers (tapas-like)

Some dishes are a complete meal, like the phở bò I published earlier, or any other noodle broth soup :

Bun riêu

Bánh cuốn, bánh xèo, etc. are also served as snacks or complete meals :

Eating banh cuôn

Every time I’ll post a recipe, I’ll of course explain how we usually eat it !


One thought on “What does a traditional Vietnamese dinner look like?

  1. Pingback: Le repas vietnamien traditionnel | d'anis et d'étoiles

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