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November 19, 2020By Jodi Ettenberg133 CommentsCity Guides, Food, Gluten Free Eating, Gluten Free Guides, Vietnam
After two winters of stuffing my face around this city I love, I decided to put together a guide to Saigon street food, gathering some of the places I keep coming back to in one place. These are not the absolute best of everything, but rather a cross-section of delicious, cheap and authentic foods that are also conveniently located. I tended to head to outer districts more often, on the hunt for that bun mam a friend told me about, or what was billed as “the best Peking duck in town” by my enthused landlady.
Đang xem: The best bò né in hcmc, ho chi minh city
While fun side trips to outer districts are great, I wanted to put together a post that would be more helpful for short-term trips. The restaurants and street stalls below are fairly central to where most travellers stay, meaning people can frequent them even if in town only briefly.
The Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon Street Food Guide: Self-Guided Street Food Tour
Last Updated: JULY 2020
One specific soup, a sweet-and-sour canh chua (photo in the “street food” section below), was what initially led me to the city. I was lured in by the complicated tastes and unfamiliar sting of the rice paddy herb on my tongue. It might have been one soup that brought me to Saigon, but it was the rest of the food that kept me there, and keeps me coming back. It is not just taste of food that makes Saigon so enthralling, but the act of eating as well, and all of the craziness that eating comprises. The swirling noise, the families all sitting and enjoying a meal on the street, smiling at you fumbling with your condiments. The beauty of food being not just a necessity but also a sight in and of itself: a window into culture, and a source of endless wonder.
Countless moments of me smiling as an old lady came over shaking her head at my terrible rice paper folding skills, correcting my technique as we sat at the edge of traffic. Or the bo la lot vendor who discovered my love of starfruit and made sure to have extra on hand when I returned. The beloved grandpa at the pho ga restaurant below, who ran over to my bowl repeatedly to ensure I added pickled garlic, lest I forget. The landladies that adopted me into their homes, feeding me, giving me hugs, teaching me how to cook.
There are hundreds of moments like these baked into the aggregate of my memories in Vietnam. Most of them derive from food. As Luke Nguyen says in The Songs of Sapa: Stories & Recipes from Vietnam,
For Vietnamese people, food is our life; we are forever eating, cooking and talking about food. Food is communication – food is culture.
Cha gio, fried spring rolls. They’re made with rice paper and are gluten-free. And ridiculously good.
Ah, bun thit nuong, how I love thee. Abbreviated as BTN by friends, this dish is found throughout the city and combines all of the satisfying textures you might want for lunch in one heaping bowl of food. Rice vermicelli noodles, grilled boneless pork, a crispy pork spring roll (often with taro), which is the cha gio part of the name, and fresh lettuce and herbs. You top it with spoonfuls of sweet fish sauce and chilli, letting the sweet and pungent liquid seep into every bit of your food. There are a myriad of BTN places that I frequent and enjoy, but the one below is my favourite because the spring rolls remain the most satisfying. Instead of rolling them in cloudy rice paper, this vendor uses a big banh trang rice paper that has been softened, much like we use for the fresh goi cuon (summer rolls) when making them in Canada. The result is a thin and crispy outside layer and extraordinary spring roll. I’ve ordered extra every time I frequent Chi Thong.
Where: Chi Thong195 Co Giang, District 1
As I’ve mentioned when I came to Vietnam in 2012 for the first time, and in my recent posts, canh chua was the reason I first visited. This sweet and sour soup with rice paddy herb and pineapple, fish and tomatoes, can be found along the street in the Mekong, but rarely as street food in District 1. This restaurant, which also serves some good chicken dishes and fried fish, provides a heaping bowl — photo is above. Order with a side of white rice to make it into a full meal.
Canh Kho Qua
Not everyone enjoys bitter tastes, but for those who do: bitter melon is for you. For this dish, canh kho qua nhoi thit, the bitter melon is boiled long enough so the bitterness curls just at the end of your tongue, after the other flavours sink in. A light but comforting meal, it is served in soup form, with the melon stuffed with ground pork, wood ear mushrooms and occasionally glass noodles. It is then tied together and cooked in a clear broth, topped with cilantro for serving. If you can’t get to Saigon but this sounds like it is up your alley, a recipe here. For those heading to the restaurant below, you can order with some pork chops for the table, or with just a side of rice.
Where: Com Tam Tu QuyCho Tan Dinh (Tan Din Market), near the corner of Hai Ba Trung street and Nguyen Huu Cau street, District 3Yellow sign of the same name, plus waiters all wearing yellow shirts5pm until late
Che chuoi is a sweet banana and tapioca dessert, floating in a sea of coconut cream and topped with sesame and crushed peanuts. It is one che dessert in a long line of che options; see the Wikipedia page for a start on the others. I’ve found many friends didn’t enjoy the mung bean or black bean che treats, but all went for che chuoi like it was going out of style. The stall below is actually run by one gentleman — sometimes aided by his son — and his bowls of desserts, so you can pick and choose different options, including taro with coconut milk (che khoi mon).
Where: 241 Vo Van Tan Street, District 3Located right on the street, directly in front of Thien Ban Pagoda
A very popular Saigon lunch or dinner (sometimes breakfast too), this rice and grilled pork chop meal will fill you up quickly and cheaply. You will also get a spoonful of green onions fried in pork fat atop the chop itself, as well as some crispy pieces of pork rind. Served with a tiny pile of pickled vegetables, and usually a small bowl of light broth on the side. For those even hungrier, try com suon op la (grilled pork chop over rice with a fried egg). You’ll be full well into dinner time.
Where: The com suon joint directly across the street from the entrance to the water puppets show on Nguyen Thi Minh Khi, not far from the park’s entrance. Essentially: between Truong Dinh and Huyen Trang Cong Chua.It’s on the opposite side of the road as the park, and you will find it based on your nose, and the grill of pork at the side of the road.So good.
Com tam, literally “broken rice”, started out as a dish served with lowered prices, since the rice did not meet standards for export and was thus available at a reduced price. It is a street food staple in Saigon, found on almost every corner in one form or another. The broken rice is kept to the side, with a glass shelf holding the stars of the lunch show: a panoply of incredible cooked dishes, some braised, some boiled, some stewed, that are meant to be eaten with the rice. Some of the restaurants also give you a banana as dessert.
A favourite with com tam is ca kho to, photo above, a rich braised catfish dish. For those who don’t like fish, fried chicken, pork belly with braised eggs, and fish cooked in pineapple and vegetables are usually on offer too. The best advice I can give is go in a group and order to share.
The restaurant below is owned by Hai of Eating Saigon (blog below), and provides a field trip out of District 1 and some terrific food. For those wanting to stay closer to ‘home’ you can head to the corner of Mac Dinh Chi and Nguyen Thi Minh Khai for a com tam place (just past the KFC) that opens from 10am-2pm.
Where: Dong Hoa Xuan49 No Trang Long, Binh Thanh District+84 (8) 3510 1771
These are a simple but surprisingly fulfilling treats consisting of mustard leaves that are rolled around vermicelli noodles and chopped up mushrooms and tofu. Served with a sweet peanut sauce, they satisfy both the crunchy and the healthy wants at once. I would often head to Tib Chay for a fix.
Hu tieu soups are a complicated beast. I’ll kick this off with a paragraph from the Loving Pho blog, who wrote about the soup:
The three most recognized types are Hu Tieu Nam Vang (hu tieu Phnom Penh style,) Hu Tieu My Tho (after the capital city of Tiền Giang Province, located in the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam,) and Hu Tieu Chinese style. The Chinese had a lot to do with hu tieu being in Vietnam in the first place. <…> Chinese-Cambodian brought the dish from Cambodia (hence the Phnom Penh style,) and Vietnamese borrowed it and made their own Viet versions.
The complicatedness doesn’t stop there, however, because hu tieu also means just the noodle and not necessarily in soup form. I know. Let’s turn to Andrea Nguyen’s great recipe for hu tieu Nam Vang for more.
The noodles in a bowl of hu tieu can be chewy clear tapioca noodles, opaque white rice noodles like you’d use for pho noodle soup, or thin Chinese egg noodles (mi). The toppings cover a wide territory, and may include boneless pork, pork ribs, pork offal, shrimp, squid, wonton dumplings, fried garlic, fried shallot, and/or scallion. As usual, you pick and choose whatever you want. Hu tieu is the extreme have-it-your-way Vietnamese food experience. I’ve seen a ‘dry’ version too but have never tried it.
Basically what I’m saying is, on your wanderings around town if you see a form of hu tieu you should just try it because it’s rarely the same twice. Though Andrea’s recipe is the ‘wet’ version of broth in the soup, I prefer it kho or dry, where the noodles are separate as in the photo above. This is because I like to add just a few spoonfuls of the broth, so the noodles remain springy. Plus, the post-meal dessert? More broth. The restaurant below is central, but this category of soup is also all over the streets, with the Chinese-style soup found more often than not in beautifully ornate wooden carts with Chinese lettering.
It’s important to note that some forms of hu tieu soups don’t actually use hu tieu noodles – mi (egg noodles, which are wheat-based) are unsafe for celiacs.
I’ve got a hu tieu lady in every District. You should too.
Where: Quan Mi Cat62 Truong Dinh District 1
PHO! I couldn’t leave this dish out of the list, though as I quickly found when I visited for the first time, there is so much more to food in Vietnam than this popular soup. It merits repeating that there two primary types of beef phos you can get in Saigon, the Southern-style (sweeter, less spices in the broth, sometimes cuttlefish added to the broth as well), or Hanoi-style. Hanoi was where the soup originated and while I love Saigon dishes, I do prefer the northern broth. It is more savoury, with a heady aftertaste of cinnamon, star anise, and roasted ginger. It tastes denser to me, thicker with the spices, and regardless of whether I eat it with raw or cooked beef, it is a satisfying meal. I think my preference also stems from novelty; many of the soups I’ve tried in Montreal or New York were from Southern Vietnamese who fled during the diaspora, and thus brought with them a more Southern recipe. I was surprised to find the Northern-style soups far less sweet than I remembered from Montreal.
When I first spent the winter in Vietnam, I dedicated specific days of the week to a particular dish. Wednesdays were banh xeo days, Tuesdays were all about oc, snails, and Thursdays were earmarked for pho. So, I have eaten many-a-pho around town but three different options stand out. The first was recommended by Tom of Vietnam Coracle (his blog is in the blog section below), and remains my favourite, as close as I’ve found to the great phos I tried in Hanoi. The second is owned by Prison Granny from my Why I Love Saigon piece, and is part of why I decided to take an apartment nearby; it was just that good. The third is a Chinese-style pho, a bit sweeter, but for meat-lovers it is a solid option. The nearby area — especially the side alleys off of Vo Van Tan street — is fun to explore.
Where: Pho Phuong (photo below)25 Hoang Sa Street, District 1, right on the canal’s edge+84 (8) 3910 2422
I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick, all I want is chicken noodle soup. Sadly this option is often off the table (literally) in North America; as a celiac, I can’t eat the noodles. But Vietnam is a perfect place for sick celiacs, because their chicken soup is made with thick rice noodles. This pho ga (ga is chicken) place also serves pho bo (bo meaning beef), but I wouldn’t go there for the beef soup. Instead opt for their flavourful, rich chicken broth and thinly sliced chicken breast. For those wanting a different fix, opt for mien ga (mien are mung bean noodles), both of which come with their signature spicy sauce, pickled garlic, and basket ‘o herbs. Note that this is a place taxi drivers frequent at all hours of the night — it’s open 24 hours a day. It was a frequent visit during bouts of the flu, or even when full but walking by; one sniff of their chicken broth and you do an about turn and sit down for a bowl.
Where: Pho So 1 Ha Noi25 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, District 1Open 24 hours.
I can’t eat it, since it’s wheat, so I apologize for not being able to opine about the best one. However! Voracious friends recommend the two following places:
Banh Mi Huynh Hoa 26 Lê Thị Riêng, Bến Thành, District 1
Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai (aka Bánh Mì Thịt Nướng, Hẻm 39)
Also see this lovely 2020 piece from Austin Bush, about baking banh mi in Saigon.
A Slightly Fancier Meal
Bloom Saigon (formerly May Restaurant) is tucked at the end of a tiny alleyway near the canal’s edge, not far from my recommended Pho place on Hoang Sa. It’s set in a lovely old colonial-style house, and run efficiently with delicious food. Would recommend trying the beef wrapped in mustard leaves, the tofu with lemongrass, and the sour soup, among other dishes. It’s a nice change from the more chaotic restaurants near the heart of District 1, and a lovely choice place for a date or anniversary.
For vegetarians wanting a bit of a nicer restaurant, try Hum Restaurant, located near the War Remnants Museum in District 3.
For more vegetarian eats, see Travel Lush’s Ho Chi Minh City guide (from 2018), this Foursquare list (from 2014), this Culture Trip 10 Best Vegetarian List (from 2018), and this great cookbook from Cameron Stauch, Vegetarian Viet Nam.
Are you looking for vegan food in Saigon? Happy Cow has you covered, as does Messy Veggies.
Where: Hum Vegetarian32 Vo Van Tan Street, District 3+84 (8) 3930 3819Hum
Non-Vietnamese and International Food in Saigon
BBQ Ribs and Smoked Pork: My friend Mark opened his new restaurant ,Quan Ut Ut, with no advertising and only word-of-mouth referrals. It’s packed almost every night and with good reason: the food is exceptional, you get tremendous value for money and it’s built around the American BBQ concept but made with local ingredients. Whether you order family style or get your own, you must be sure to try the smoked ribs or pork shoulder, the grilled okra, and if you’re not celiac like me, the bacon bacon burger, which a friend described as “a burger literally made out of bacon”. Ut is actually the onomatopoeia for the sound a pig makes, the Vietnamese for “oink”.
Where: Quan Ut Ut3 different locations via their Facebook page – District 1, District 2, and District 7.
Pizza: I can’t attest to its deliciousness as they don’t make a gluten-free version but friends rave about a Japanese pizza place called 4 Ps, and a New York Times feature has made them even more popular. For those missing this food group, highly recommended by Vietnamese and expats alike. The owner picked the name — short for Platform of Personal Pizza for Peace — to reflect what he calls “delivering wow and happiness”. Love it. Wish I could eat it.
Gluten-free Pasta: If you are celiac like me, there is a gluten-free option for pasta, provided you’ve tired of rice noodles. I can’t speak to their food generally but they use corn pasta for their dishes, and half portions were available. It was filling and I ended up with a slow cooked meat sauce, which was delicious.
Where: Ciao Bella11 Dong Du, District 1+84 (8) 3822 3329
$$ – My friends John and Brooke first discovered this tiny restaurant, set slightly away from the road, sliding doors covered in a light curtain from the inside. Walking inside, you can choose to sit at the sushi bar (recommended, of course) or in the bigger dining room. While more expensive than other options like Sushi Bar, the quality of the fish reflects the price point, and the meals are meticulously prepared.
Since I can’t eat Japanese soy sauce as it contains wheat, I took to ordering their salmon donburi bowl, fresh raw salmon fanned over sushi rice and topped with a shiso leaf filled with salmon roe. The roe gave me the salt that was missing from the soy sauce, and made for an expensive (by street food prices, that is — approx $17) but delicious meal. I’d rather have sushi less frequently but enjoy quality fish, so I recommend this versus some other joints in town. Their lunch set includes a dessert and small side dishes.
Where: La Phong Sushi HouseLunch 11:30am-2pm Dinner: 5:30pm-10:30pm 9 Tran Cao Van Street, District 1 +84 (8)48 3824 7882
$$- Another favourite spot is Hanayuki, who source their salmon from Norway. It’s always been fresh, delicious, and a cozy casual spot for lunch – when they have their best value meals.
$$$$ – Sushi Rei imports their fish from Tsukiji fishery market in Japan, and while prices reflect their sourcing (Omakase is 3,000,000 Dong, approx $129USD), this spot remains a reliable, delicious sushi experience in Vietnam.
Where: Sushi Rei10E1 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street,Da Kao, District 1, HCMC
Indian: Fun fact: antibiotics make me crave Indian food. I have no idea why this is, but when I was sick near the end of my Saigon stay, all I wanted to eat was paneer and dosa and thick creamy mutton korma. There are many delicious options for Indian in town, but two central ones are Ganesh and BaBa’s Kitchen. Ganesh is set near the Opera House, away from the backpacker area, whereas BaBa’s is smack in the middle of backpacker central. So, if you want to avoid the “khao san road of Saigon”, opt for Ganesh. However, both are great and have lovely owners and helpful waiters and waitresses. I prefer Ganesh’s palak paneer to that of BaBas, but BaBa’s dopiaza and vindaloo dishes were superior. Solution: try them both. And report back please!
BaBa’s Kitchen164 Bui Vien Street, District 1+84 (8) 3838 6661www.babaskitchen.in
Salad: Au Parc, specifically the Nicoise salad made with smoked fish and quail eggs. For those with kids, also a great option for weekend brunch as they have a free child care area plus nanny on their upper floor.
Where: Au Parc Cafe23 Han Thuyen Street, District 1+84 (8) 3829 2772www.auparcsaigon.com
French Fries: L’Usine’s two location make these fries, but I was able to eat them at the Dong Khoi location only as the chef was kind enough to fry them in new oil so as not to have them contaminated with the breaded products they also fry.
Where: L’Usine Dong Khoi151 Dong Khoi Street, District 1(upstairs after going into an art gallery-lined alleyway)www.lusinespace.com
Drinks and Smoothies in Saigon
Selection of places for beverages of different kinds, fancy and casual.
Smoothies: Many a smoothie fan in Saigon, and they are available just about everywhere. But for a wonderful place to watch the world go by, owned by a lovely lady with a great smile, head to Juicy.
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