What to do when your sweet tooth is begging to be satisfied? Don’t just ignore your dessert cravings! Hang on tight ‘cause we’re about to go on the most exciting culinary adventure in Saigon where you can indulge your inner child with the tastiest of all of Vietnamese desserts. In actuality, Vietnamese desserts vary extensively in flavors and origins but they all taste divine. They are mainly made from rice, sugar cane and fruits, especially coconuts.
There are so many dishes we could speak about, but here are the five most tempting desserts you shouldn’t miss when visiting Vietnam.
CHUOI CHIEN (FRIED BANANA)
Fried banana is a street snack that is hard to forget. One taste instantly sends you back to those good old days of childhood when things were simple and just a few fried bananas on a rainy day could put a big smile on your face. Crunchy on the outside but warm and soft on the inside – every element complements each other perfectly. Chuoi chien is often made from a special variety of small, stubby bananas called chuoi su or chuoi xiem in Vietnam, which are much more fragrant and sweet than regular bananas. The secret to getting the most heavenly crunchy outer crust is to double deep-fry. When the banana fritter begins to brown, take it out and quickly dip it back in the batter, and then refry it. Serve the dish when it is still hot to maintain the crispness.
Where to find the best chuoi chien in Saigon
- Chuoi Chien – De Tham, 40 De Tham, Cau Ong Lanh Ward, District 1
- Banh Cay Chuoi Chien, 81 Tran Quoc Thao, District 3
- Chuoi Chien Gion, 100/27 Tran Hung Dao, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1
CHE (VIETNAMESE SWEET SOUP)
If you ask, probably every kid that you meet in Vietnam will know about che, a Vietnamese sweet soup or pudding which is super refreshing – a perfect way to stave off the tropical heat. There are probably a hundred or so types of che. Hot, cold, in a little bowl or a tall glass over ice – you can try them all!
The recipe calls for a wide range of beans, jellies, fruit, seeds, vegetables, glutinous rice and tapioca. You can run into a che street vendor or a shop almost anywhere in the city – along the street, at an outdoor market, down some alleyway– it is sold everywhere. Vietnamese people often have che not only for dessert but also for special occasions such as a child’s First Birthday, Lunar New Year, a death anniversary or a family gathering. Che definitely plays an important role in the culinary foodways of Vietnamese folk.
Due to its colorful elements, che is the most eye-catching and appetizing of all Vietnamese desserts. Without fail, a glass of che makes every kid jump up in excitement. Adults are even fans of this syrupy beverage.
It would be impossible to list out all types of che, even for a local. However, there are some most popular ones that are worth a try when you’re visiting Saigon:
- Che Ba Mau – three-color dessert
- Che Bap – Vietnamese sweet corn pudding
- Che Chuoi – banana with sago pearls and coconut milk sweet soup
- Che Troi Nuoc – sweet glutinous rice dumplings
- Che Buoi – Vietnamese pomelo sweet soup dessert
- Che Dau Den – black bean sweet soup with coconut syrup
Where to find the best che in Saigon
- Khanh Vy Che tray shop (the Su Van Hanh street corner) Nguyen Chi Thanh Street, District 5
- Xoi che Bui Thi Xuan, 111 Bui Thi Xuan, District 1
- Che Ky Dong, 153/7 Ky Dong Street, Ward 9, District 3
- Hot Che shop, 50 Ly Chinh Thang, Ward 7, District 3 (open from 8 PM – 11 PM)
- You can find a unique variation of che from Cambodia, che campuchia, in Ho Thi Ky Flower Market. For more information, click here.
BANH BO (“COW” CAKES OR STEAMED RICE CAKES)
This is one of my favorite Vietnamese desserts. In Vietnam, there is a popular treat named after cows but isn’t made of beef or anything cow-related. Banh Bo literally means cow cake (“banh” means cake and “bo” means cow). Some say that it got the name from its inner texture, which resembles that of beef liver. Others say it’s because the cake looks like a cow’s udder implying that the name was shortened from bánh vú bò (cow udder cake). While the true origin of banh bo’s name is still shrouded in mystery, its tastiness is utterly undeniable. Soft, sweet and moist, banh bo is definitely the best dish to satisfy your sweet tooth. Cutting a piece of banh bo in half exposes an interesting spongy and fluffy interior.
The ingredients to making banh bo are quite simple: water, sugar, glutinous rice flour and yeast. Servers often add some sort of dye to color the dessert, and this not only to stimulates one’s appetite but also makes the dessert more aesthetically pleasing. When serving banh bo, sellers often sprinkle some sesame seeds on top and pour coconut milk sauce all over the cakes. The richness and aroma of coconut milk enhance the flavor, leaving you wanting more.
Where to find the best banh bo in Saigon
- Banh Bo Dong Thap, 352 Nguyen Trai Street, District 5
- Banh Bo La Dua, 3 Pham Ngoc Thach, District 3
- 40 Hong Bang, Binh Thanh District
- 575 Cach Mang Thang Tam, District 10
BANH DA LON (PIGSKIN CAKE)
There are a few things in the culinary world that instantly scream “Vietnamese”, and I think banh da lon is one of those. This scrumptious dessert is a favorite among locals and found almost everywhere. Banh da lon sit patiently in the glass cases of street vendors, capturing the attention of passersby with their eye-catching colors.
Banh da lon is a steamed layer cake, which includes rice flour, tapioca starch, mashed mung beans, taro (or durian,) coconut milk and/or water and sugar. Its texture is soft, gelatinous and chewy, which explains why it is cheekily referred to “pig skin.” This dessert comes in all shapes and sizes with alternating layers of green and yellow tapioca flour.
Normally, one adds food or vegetable coloring to banh da lon for the sake of making it more eye-catching. The savory aroma of coconut, the richness of mashed mung beans and the softness of the cake all mingle together to create a pleasant taste that lingers on your taste buds long after your first bite. People eat Banh da lon no matter the occasion, as a dessert or a snack. Locals also use it as an offering to present one’s deceased loved ones on important days like a death anniversary.
Where to find the best Banh Da Lon in Saigon
- Banh Da Lon A Muoi, 270 Vo Van Tan, Ward 5, District 3
BANH PIA (PIA CAKE)
Banh pia is not as popular as the aforementioned dishes, primarily because the cake’s primary ingredient is durian– which certainly is not everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you are a fan of durians and have no issues with its ungodly odor, then the creamy banh pia is a must-try.
Banh pia is a puff pastry with a sweet filling made of durian, green bean and salted egg yolk. For many, the most special feature of banh pia lies in the flaky pastry crust; therefore, making the crust is the most sophisticated step in the process of baking banh pia. Locals traditionally serve this with hot ginger tea. One bite into a slice of banh pia while sipping on tea is a delightful experience. The sweetness of banh pia blends with the bitterness of tea creating a delicate aftertaste. A regional specialty of the South, specifically the Soc Trang province, every aspect of the baked good is a reflection of three ethnic groups: the Kinh, Hoa and Khmer.
If you are a fan of durians and have no issues with its ungodly odor, then the creamy banh pia is a must-try.
Where to find the best banh pia in Saigon
- Banh Pia Nhu Lan, 64 Ham Nghi, District 1
- Banh Pia Minh Dung, 169 Phan Dang Luu, Phu Nhuan District
- Banh Pia Soc Trang, R52 Nguyen Huu Hao, District 4
- Banh Pia Tan Hue Vien, 116C Nguyen Thi Nho, District 5
- Dac San Mien Tay, 123 Bach Dang, Binh Thanh District
Whilst not exactly a traditional Vietnamese desserts, Marou produce award-winning single origin and blend chocolates from cocoa sourced all over Vietnam. It’s absolutely delicious and something not to miss out on as you are traveling through Saigon. Marou Maison, the brand’s high-end cafe, and patisserie are undoubtedly one of the best desert hot spots in town. Here they served mouthwatering chocolates and pastries all produced with local Vietnamese cocoa. Everything is hand-crafted here in Saigon using purely local ingredients. The chocolate bars taste and look amazing (thanks to their award-winning print designs) making these the perfect gift if you’re looking to take something back from your travels. We couldn’t recommend these guys highly enough. They have only one address in town, right in the center of Saigon:
- Maison Marou, 167-169 Calmette, District 1
PS – Maison Marou is known to serve the best hot chocolate in town. Don’t miss out!
We hope that you are now craving every single one of the Vietnamese desserts mentioned on this list! Go try them and let us know what you think in the comments.
Enjoyed this article and want to learn about other Vietnamese food? How about some bun rieu, bo kho, or oc (sea snails)?
Check out the food section in Christina’s blog for more information about delicious Vietnamese dishes!