When one thinks of Vietnamese cuisine, the first dish that comes to mind may be phở, spring rolls, or bánh mì. However, very few people know about Vietnamese desserts and their uniqueness and complexity. For that reason, I am going to take you on a journey through five delectably different dishes that are representative of Vietnamese desserts as a whole.

Desserts across Southeast Asian cuisine feature recurring ingredients of coconut, banana, pandan (an aromatic Southeast Asian plant typically used to flavor or color food), and rice flour. These ingredients reflect traditions of people making food with the resources that are readily available to them—hence why desserts across these countries are similar. The desserts below are a manifestation of this way of life, and the culture and history of Vietnamese people are seen within the various flavor profiles and textures. So, if you ever encounter or make one of these dishes, make sure to savor and appreciate them for this fact.

Chè (Vietnamese Dessert Drink)

This is probably Vietnam’s most popular and well-known dessert. Served either hot or cold, chè comes in a variety of forms, including beverages, dessert soups, or puddings. The dessert usually consists of coconut cream or milk, with a variety of toppings—from fruits and jellies to beans and sticky rice, among others. Chè can be easily made at home or found at any Vietnamese grocery store or restaurant (if you see a cup with colorful looking layers, that’s probably it). ​​Because its ingredients are really versatile, you can make one that suits your own tastes and preferences, and the preparation time can take as little or as long as you want!

To get you started, here are some of my personal favorite chè recipes that you can make at home: Chè Ba Màu (the classic "Three Color Drink" that requires minimal ingredients) and Chè Thái (a fruit cocktail that’s thirst-quenching and extremely easy to make).

Rau Câu (Vietnamese Agar Jelly)

Rau câu may not seem as interesting or unique as the other desserts on this list, but this is a childhood favorite of many Vietnamese kids, myself included. This particular type of jelly is usually layered, with each layer comprised of a different flavor. The agar adds a nice, firm bite to the jelly. This delicacy takes very little time and ingredients to make and is considered to be more of a casual dessert. I have fond memories of eating refreshingly cold rau câu that my grandmother had made for me as a child on hot, humid days. If you’re interested in a new summer dessert, here’s a coffee and coconut rau câu recipe that's easy to follow along.

#SpoonTip: The best rau câu are the three-layered ones, with coffee, coconut and pandan-flavored layers—in that order (this flavor combination is a classic). See if you can either make it or find one in stores!

Bánh Bò Nướng (Honeycomb Cake)

Bánh bò nướng is another classic and popular Vietnamese dish. This subtly sweet, pandan-flavored dessert is delightfully chewy and gelatinous, yet also light and spongy, making it a favorite at get-togethers. The honeycomb texture (the origin of the dish name) comes from the tapioca starch in the batter. Other ingredients include coconut cream, pandan extract, sugar, eggs, and rice flour. Bánh bò nướng is notoriously hard to make. Check out this article if you want to learn more on how to prepare this addicting treat.

#SpoonTip: If you're making this dish, make sure the eggs are at room temperature and avoid over-whipping them.

Bánh Chuối Nướng (Banana Bread Pudding)

I have the least experience with this dessert, but its unique flavor is so distinct that it has left a lasting impression on me. The many chunks of banana the dish calls for impart a strong, fresh banana flavor and is what contributes to the dish's sweetness, rather than the condensed milk or sugar. Different from American banana bread, this banana bread pudding gets its cheesecake-like consistency from the eggs used in the recipe. Bánh chuối nướng can be either steamed or baked, but I personally prefer the baked variation. Once you try it, your perspective of banana bread will never be the same!

Bánh Da Lợn (Steamed Tapioca Layer Cake)

Similar to rau câu, this dessert is also known for its colorful layers. However, bánh da lợn's texture contrasts from rau câu as the dessert is chewy and mochi-esque, which allows for the different flavors to stand out. To make the layered pattern, steam one layer first, and then another on top— use the back of a spoon to check if each layer has solidified yet. Usually, the layers switch between mungbean and pandan (two layers each), but you can substitute them with or add durian, taro, or even coffee. They can also be made into a variety of shapes, sizes, and patterns, so feel free to get creative! This dessert is commonly found in Vietnamese grocery stores, as it’s relatively easy to make.

#SpoonTip: Pandan extract can be made at home using pandan leaves.

Of course, this list of Vietnamese desserts is not exhaustive—these five are only a small portion of all the desserts that Vietnam has to offer. I hope you have learned a few things about Vietnamese cuisine, and that you can continue to explore other dishes, varieties, and recipes from the ones above.