Desserts in Vietnam come in a variety of flavours, shapes, and ingredients. Many travellers rave about the Vietnamese’s savoury yet healthy meals, but their dessert offerings are also must-tries when visiting the country. You can find many of these sweets in fresh markets, street stalls and restaurants throughout Vietnam, but some of them are regional specialities which aren’t available everywhere.
Due to its tumultuous history, some of these sweet treats were introduced by French colonists and neighbouring countries such as China and Thailand, but have become staples during family celebrations and religious festivities in Vietnam. From crispy bananas topped with ice-cream to candy bars made from peanuts, satisfy your sweet tooth with our guide of Vietnam’s most popular desserts.
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Chè is Vietnamese for dessert soup or pudding, which comes in a variety of flavours and ingredients. While this unique dessert is now available at just about any local restaurant in Vietnam, it’s traditionally served during special occasions such as birthdays, Tet Festival, and family gatherings. The base of chè is usually coconut milk, while toppings include sago pearls, mung beans, kidney beans, tapioca, sweet potatoes and glutinous rice, as well as fresh fruits such as bananas, jackfruit, durian and mangos.
Chuối chiên is basically whole bananas that are dipped in batter and fried until crispy. Sold by numerous roadside vendors in Vietnam, especially Hoi An, these piping hot snacks are great for rainy days as they’re crunchy on the outside but warm, sweet and caramelised on the inside. If you’re ordering chuối chiên at a restaurant, chances are that it’s served with a scoop of coconut ice-cream.
Bánh flan (or bánh caramel in northern Vietnam) comprises custard pudding with a layer of soft caramel on top. Introduced by the French, this sinfully sweet dessert is made by combining eggs, sugar and milk or coconut milk. Bánh flan is served chilled with a side of fresh fruit, but some places add a shot of espresso on top of the caramel layer – a must-try if you’re looking for a jolt of caffeine.
Bánh da lợn may be translated as ‘pig skin cake’ in Vietnamese, but it’s actually a steamed layer cake with a gelatinous texture that’s akin to pig skin (hence the rather unappetizing name). Made from tapioca starch, rice flour, mashed mung beans, taro, coconut milk, and sugar, each layer comes in contrasting colours, commonly in green and yellow, for an eye-catching ensemble. It’s also a filling snack to help tide you over until lunch or dinner, thanks to the rich combination of coconut milk, taro and beans.
Bánh bo, named after its spongy yet fluffy interior, has been said to resemble a honeycomb or a cow’s liver (depending on eyes of the beholder). Soft, sweet and moist, it’s a simple cake made with sugar, glutinous rice flour, coconut and yeast while food colouring is used to produce a more aesthetically pleasing dessert. Banh bo can be bland when eaten on its own, so it’s often topped with sesame seeds on top and coconut cream to help enhance its taste.
Bánh tam looks like colourful silkworm from afar, but it’s actually made with cassava, coconut milk, food colouring, and tapioca starch. Popular as both dessert and convenient snack in southern Vietnam, this chewy treat is also coated with ingredients such as coconut syrup, desiccated coconut, and roasted sesame seeds before served in skewers.
Bánh khoai mì nướng’s main ingredients are cassava, coconut milk and sugar, but you can also find variations which include desiccated coconut, eggs, condensed milk, and pureed yellow mung beans. Texture-wise, it’s very dense and sticky thanks to tapioca starch and while most cakes are baked, this Vietnamese cake is steamed as most locals didn’t have access to ovens back in the day.
Light, refreshing with just the right amount of sweetness, you can find numerous dessert cafes in Da Nang selling rau cau trai dua (coconut jelly) especially along Bach Dang Street, facing the Han River. It’s served in a coconut shell (with its flesh still intact); its top layer is custard-like coconut cream while the bottom consists of jelly that’s made with coconut water. Rau cau trai dua is also a good dessert option for travelling vegans as the jelly is made from seaweed called agar-agar.
Banh pia, similar to the Chinese traditional mooncake, consists of a dense filling of durian, green bean and salted egg yolk with a flaky pastry crust. The pungent scent of durian can be off-putting to some travellers, but this pastry is a must-try if you love the fruit. Often consumed with bitter tea, banh pia originates from Vietnam’s Soc Trang Province, which is home to the Kinh, Hoa and Khmer ethnic population. Other filling variations include taro, coconut, shredded pork, salted egg yolk, and mung bean paste.
Banh cam, also known as banh ran, is a deep-fried dessert that’s sold at just about every local market, restaurant, and roadside stalls in Vietnam. Wrapped in glutinous rice floor, these ping-pong ball sized treat is filled with sweet mung bean paste with shredded coconuts. It’s then covered with sesame seeds and deep-fried until golden in colour.
Xoi dua is one of the many Vietnamese dishes that’s made with sticky glutinous rice. Although sticky rice is usually served with savoury ingredients, many restaurants serve it as a dessert by adding fresh fruit, coconut, and sesame seeds. A popular variation of xoi dua is xoi la dua, which consists of sticky rice made with pandan leaves, sugar, coconut milk, and topped with sesame seeds.
Kẹo Lạc is a speciality of Duong Lam, a traditional village about 55 kilometres west of Hanoi. Locals believe the recipe was handed down from the concubine of Lord Trịnh Tráng, who had helped rebuild Mia Pagoda and taught the villagers how to make sweets using sugar cane. Today, this candy bar-like treat is made by combining roasted peanuts, sugar and malt, using traditional methods that have existed since the 17th century.