THE SAVEUR FIELD GUIDE TO VIETNAMESE FRUITS
Fruit is as much a part of Vietnamese street food culture as noodle soup and banh mi. Hawkers can be found manning stalls and pushing wooden carts on nearly every street, selling fresh fruit for a few bucks apiece. And fruits pop up in so many different forms in Vietnamese cuisine: smoothies, fresh-pressed juices, ingredients for salad, and in traditional desserts. They’re so significant to everyday Vietnamese life that many of our folk tales and origin stories revolve around a fruit. There’s even an annual Fruit Festival in Saigon, at the famed Suoi Tien Park, to celebrate them.
With the myriad of colors, smells, and shapes, shopping for fruit in Vietnam can be a little overwhelming. To help you get started, here’s the ultimate SAVEUR guide to 18 delicious fruits you’ll find in Vietnam.
No, there’s nothing particularly wild about the avocados in Vietnam. But the most popular way of serving them here is a little different. On a hot day, order a sinh tố bơ—or avocado smoothie—for a delicious fresh drink blended with ice, milk, and condensed milk.
Banana makes it onto the list just for the sheer number of Vietnamese dishes that use it, from meats and rice cooked in banana leaves (bánh chưng) to deep-fried banana street snacks (bánh chuối chiên), and coconut-cream cakes with banana (bánh chuối hấp).
Buddha’s Hand (Phật Thủ)
No, this isn’t just a deformed lemon. A naturally-occurring variation of citron, the Buddha’s hand is named for its protruding “fingers;” the surface area of these fingers makes the fruit predominantly rind. That rind isn’t sour or bitter; it’s faintly sweet, but it’s still best to use this fruit as a garnish for salads or even to make an oleo saccharum-like syrup, as there isn’t much flesh to chew on. The Buddha’s hand symbolizes good luck, and is often given on Lunar New Year.
As in most tropical countries, Vietnamese food widely employs coconuts in snacks, drinks, and other foods like curry. Coconuts are sold on the street, hacked open and served with a straw. Coconut cream is also used in chè, a popular icy dessert made with red bean, grass jelly, and sweet mung bean.
Dragonfruit (Thanh Long)
Popular for distinctive, bright pink skin with green “scales,” this magical-looking fruit is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine. Its fleshy white meat with tiny black seeds offers a subtly sweet taste and a nice, juicy bite. Simply cut it open and scoop out the white part with a spoon for an instantly refreshing cool-down.
Durian (Sầu Riêng)
“Hell on the outside, heaven on the inside” is a popular description for durian, which is said to smell like something between turpentine and sweet onions. Not pretty, even with the husk on. It’s completely banned on public transportation in Singapore. If you can make it past the smell, you’ll find that the interior is sweet, savory, and creamy all at once. Eating the football-sized fruit, which doesn’t stay fresh for long, is an experience pretty unique to Southeast Asia—there are even food festivals dedicated to the fruit, with pricey varieties costing over $50.
Fresh and green but not all too sweet or juicy, the guava could be described as a firmer, grainier pear or melon. In Vietnam, barely ripe or raw guava is often used in savory dishes to provide crunch and freshness. It’s also dipped in a classic Vietnamese combination of salt, pepper, and chile for contrast. Strangely, the meat inside can be either a rosy pink or pale white.
Another tastes-better-than-it-smells fruit, the jackfruit is found all over Vietnam. A relatively large fruit, it looks like a durian, with distinctive spikes. Cut inside and you’ll find chunks of yellow flesh with pulled pork texture and a sweet, mildly-savory taste. It’s often eaten in Vietnam as bagged, dry-roasted snack, and here in the States, vegan chefs love experimenting with it to simulate a bite of meat.
A cousin to the lychee, below, the longan yields a similarly white fruit inside, but with a bit less sweetness and aromatic quality. It’s still a great refresher and can be purchased quite inexpensively in Vietnam.
Lychee (Vải Thiều)
Ever heard of a lychee-tini? The tiny tropical fruit is one of Southeast Asia’s most beloved, offering a a balance of sweet, tart, floral, and refreshing that makes it an essential for summer. Resembling a large berry, lychee are said to taste like something between rose water, citrus, and pear with the texture of grape.
In Vietnam, find ripe mango in smoothies, desserts, and served with coconut rice. Eating young green mango is also very popular. We typically dip this crunchier, less sweet fruit in a mix of sugar and fish sauce. Don't knock it till you try it.
Mangosteen (Măng Cụt)
The super-juicy pulp of the mangosteen is a delightful treat that’s both refreshing and sweet—it’s considered one of the tastiest fruits in the world, and it's also a superfruit loaded with antioxidants. Found mainly in southern Vietnam, it’s best eaten in the summer, between June and August. The smaller ones tend to be sweeter. After washing the fruit, simply break it with your nails and make sure to eat only the pieces of white interior, as the dark purple skin is bitter. The fruit is separated into different pre-made “slices,” which can easily be plucked out. The larger ones do contain seeds.
Passionfruit (Chanh Leo)
In the States, we have a lot of passionfruit-flavored drinks and sweets, but not a lot of actual passionfruit. The stuff grows naturally in Vietnam, and you’ll find this goopy citrus-y fruit in markets and at restaurants, particularly mixed in drinks like lemonade.
Pomelo is a popular treat in Vietnam. Remarkable for its size—it is the largest member of the citrus fruit family—the pomelo resembles a grapefruit, but has a milder, less acidic taste that makes it easy to scarf down.
Rambutan (Chôm Chôm)
Resembling a hairy lychee, the rambutan’s Vietnamese name, chôm chôm, means “messy hair.” Peel off its soft red and green shell and find a super-sweet juicy pulp with a texture similar to that of lychee. Rambutan is primarily grown in the southern part of Vietnam, and bundles are typically sold (and enjoyed) in a plastic grocery bag.
Sapodilla (Hồng Xiêm)
Originally from Central America, sapodilla is now grown in Vietnam. It has become popular for its juicy, sugary pulp that tastes like a combination of apple, pear, and banana. Find it year-round, mostly in northern Vietnam.
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Star Apple (Vú Sữa)
Popular between October and December, the star apple’s Vietnamese name means “milk of the breast” due to the milky, sweet pulp that you can readily scoop out of the shell with a spoon. It’s famed in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho.
Named, of course, for the shape produced when sliced horizontally, the starfruit tastes as great as it looks. Faintly apple-like, ripe starfruits are tart and sweet, with a firm texture.