Ideal for eating your way around Saigon.
If you’re wondering where to eat the must try dishes of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s biggest, most exciting metropolis, then you’ve come to the right place. Well, actually, the right place would be Ho Chi Minh City, but in the virtual world, you’ve come to the right place, IDEAL magazine, for the top tips on the best street food in Saigon. We’ve all got a bit confused here, haven’t we?
Let’s start again, and stick to what we know; insider tips, street food recommendations, and the very best versions of the very best Vietnamese dishes. Here are 7 must try dishes in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and where to eat them.
BUN BO NAM BO
Southern style salad of wok fried beef, fermented rice noodles, pickles and herbs
Bun bo Nam bo is a light, fragrant stir fry/salad mash-up which is strangely more popular in Hanoi, in the country’s north, than in the region of its origin. Regardless, it’s a hugely refreshing lunchtime bowl, and one you should seek out in the city.
Particularly good in the hottest months when soup is just too warming, cold noodles, lightly wok fried beef and the ubiquitous coriander and mint are the key components. That’s not all though; there’s a light, peanut based dressing lurking at the bottom of the bowl which you have to dig deep to access – mix everything together and you’re good to go.
Inexplicably, it’s customary to enjoy this dish alongside a sweet, doughy bun. But when dipped in chilli sauce, it totally works. While you’re here, you might as well order a stick or two of nem chua (fermented pork sausage wrapped in banana leaf) to truly top things off.
Eat at: ‘Bun Bo Nam Bo Ba Ba’
BUN THIT NUONG
Grilled pork belly, fermented rice noodle and fresh herb salad
Let’s hit the streets and do what the Viets do best; perch on plastic stools and eat some of the freshest, lightest grub in the world. Bun thit nuong is one of the South’s finest dishes; a barbecued pork salad over lightly fermented ‘bun’ noodles, crisp lettuce and loads of herbs. This is topped with roasted peanuts, crispy shallots on occasion, pickled carrots and daikon, and a dipping sauce which defines southern Viet food; fish sauce, a little lime, sugar and chilli.
There are proud purveyors all over town slinging this classic to hungry punters, but Chi Tuyen’s version, on Co Giang street (a great strip for all manner of Vietnamese street food) is perhaps our favourite. Make sure you include cha gio in your order; a crispy spring roll filled with glass noodles, wood ear mushrooms and usually, a little minced pork and prawn or crab.
Eat at: ‘Bun Thit Nuong Chi Tuyen’
Address: 175C Cô Giang, Phường Cô Giang, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam.
Vietnamese style baguette, with meat and pickles
Needing little in the way of introduction, the world conquering Vietnamese sandwich appears in myriad forms across Ho Chi Minh City. And since this was the city which (probably) spawned the first banh mi, there really is no better place in the world to eat the crispy baguette filled with grilled and cured meat, pickles, herbs, hot sauce and more than in Saigon.
Though we’d rather not put our neck on the line and suggest just one place to enjoy ‘the best’ banh mi in Ho Chi Minh City (hell, we’ve barely tried 1% of them…there are just so many), the popular consensus is that Banh Mi Huynh Hoa does a damn fine, definitive version. But honestly, if you simply step out of your hotel and look for a queue forming, you’ll likely stumble across your favourite version in the world. And that’s what it’s all about, right?
Eat at: ‘Banh Mi Huynh Hoa’
Address: 26 Lê Thị Riêng, P.BT, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam
BO LA LOT
Grilled beef wrapped in piper leaf
Co Giang street is home to a string of bo la lot restaurants, and this is one dish you want to try before leaving town. Minced beef – a little spicy, a little peppery – is wrapped in piper leaf (‘betel’ leaf to many), grilled until smoky and served with a huge plate of herbs and lettuce, which you use to make your own wraps. So good, so moreish, and so cheap, too.
At Hoang Yen’s you’ll see the addition of a sweet, sour mayonnaise on the beef wraps. If that’s not your thing (weirdly, it works), then let them know; a simple ‘khong’ (meaning ‘no’) + ‘may/yon/naise’ (just split those syllables out) should do the trick. The do-it-yourself assembly job routine makes for a more languid approach to dinner than some other street food joints where you may feel a little rushed. Great for an evening with friends and beer, then.
Eat at: ‘Bo la lot Hoang Yen’
Address: 121 Cô Giang, Phường Cô Giang, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
HU TIEU NAM VANG
Noodle soup of shrimp, pig heart, quail’s egg and more
We’re going to resist pho recommendations here, as in our humble opinion, Hanoi’s northern version of the famous noodle soup, stripped back and nuanced, is where it’s at. That’s not to say there aren’t some great bowls of pho in Ho Chi Minh City (Pho 2000, Pho Thin Ha Noi – in HCMC – and Pho Hoa Pasteur, to name but a few), but if it’s noodle soup we’re after in the south, it has to be hu tieu. Though it comes in many forms, our favourite version is Hu Tieu Nam Vang, a glorious meeting of Chinese and Cambodian influences and just a fantastic, uniquely flavoured bowl of goodies.
The hu tieu noodles are defined by a proper rice-y flavour and decent bite, and the pork bone based broth is clear and light. Expect plenty of sliced pork offal and mince floating in the soup, as well as a couple of large shrimp as standard. The rest is up to both the server and your own whim.
Eat at: ‘Hu Tieu Nam Vang Nhan Quan’
Address: 488 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Phường 2, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam
Hu Tieu Nam Vang | © Ron Dollete/ Flickr
COM TAM SUON NUONG
Broken rice and grilled pork chop
Only fools commit their fractured rice grains to the bin. The ever industrious Vietnamese have created a whole dish celebrating their imperfection; com tam (‘broken rice’) is found all over Ho Chi Minh City, served with an array of customisable sides and toppings. And regardless of just how many of those toppings you plonk on your plate, and despite the fact that you’ll feel as though you could always add one more, this dish is proudly all about the rice.
That said, the city’s most popular accoutrement is a thin, grilled pork chop, glazed until sweet and burnished. But no local would stop there, and neither should you. A cripsy, runny egg, a mound of pork floss, fresh cucumber, pickled carrot…these are just some of the many delicious extras you should be adding. Don’t hold back, and you’ll be richly rewarded with a nourishing plateful. And full is the operative word here.
Eat at: ‘Com Tam Ba Ghien’
Address: 84 Đặng Văn Ngữ, Phường 10, Phú Nhuận, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
A savoury, crispy crepe filled with shrimp, pork mince and bean sprouts
We’ll end with a dish from Central Vietnam which is hugely popular on the streets of this Southern juggernaut; banh xeo. Rice flour, turmeric flour and water is fried until crispy, forming a taco-like shell which is filled with shrimp, minced pork, bean sprouts and the ubiquitous, ever welcome mountain of fresh herbs. Traditionally this pancake is then wrapped in rice paper and more lettuce and eaten accompanied with a sharp, salty dipping sauce of fish sauce, vinegar and chilli.
At Banh Xeo 46A, made even more popular by the patronage of Anthony Bourdain, you’ll find pancake slinging of the highest order, and baskets of fresh herbs stacked even higher. An Ngon Nhe!
Eat at: ‘Banh Xeo 46A’
Address: 46A Đinh Công Tráng, Tân Định, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Bánh xèo. | © LWYang / Flickr
Bánh xèo | © Frances Ellen/ Flickr