Regarding Vietnamese cuisine, foreign travelers quickly think of Pho, beef noodle soup, Vietnamese pancakes, spring rolls, etc. However, upon first hearing their names, there is a variety of strange dishes that are a real challenge to dare to taste. These exotic Vietnamese foods are delicious with unique characteristics and will come as a surprise to non-locals. Look at our 10 unusual Vietnamese foods to try in Ho Chi Minh, and you will better understand this country’s traditions and cuisines.
1. Balut (Hot Vit Lon)
The balut is a fertilized duck egg with a gestation period of 18 – 21 days in age, with nearly formed features of an embryo. This weird and unusual Vietnamese food is a nutritious and favorite street food. The image of trying to eat an egg with a fully grown fetus, possibly with bones and feathers, could be horrifying to some people.
The egg is boiled for about 5 minutes and served with Vietnamese herbs like Vietnamese coriander and salt mixed with black pepper in lime juice. Sip on the juice, then enjoy the taste of the egg with the sprinkled seasoning; you will never forget this unusual food experience combining delicious flavors. Apart from the traditional method of boiling the eggs, people cook balut by frying and mixing it with tamarind sauce and topping it with mints and peanuts. You can easily find a balut in any street food area while walking or riding around exploring Ho Chi Minh City.
Because of the eggs contain high nutrients, there are some notes you should keep in mind:
- Balut is best to eat in the morning and eat with herbs to balance digestion.
- 2 eggs/week is the recommended amount for a healthy adult.
- Children under 5 years old should not eat balut
- People with health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, gout, heart disease should not consume balut
Where to eat balut in Ho Chi Minh:
Address: 104 Xuan Thuy Street, District 2
Price: VND 9,000 per egg
Address: 43 Cong Quynh Street, District 1
Price: VND 7,000 per egg
2. Offal Stew (Pha Lau)
The main ingredient creating this unusual Vietnamese food is the internal organs of the intestines, heart, stomach, kidney, and lungs of cows or pigs. All parts are cleaned with salt and hot water, then boiled and seasoned with five-spice powder, soy sauce, sugar, and black pepper.
What makes this unusual Vietnamese food so fantastic at first taste is the sweet coconut syrup, which is well cooked and marinated offal. Usually eaten with Vietnamese baguette or shrimp paste and tamarind fish sauce aside, a hot bowl of thick soup, delicious meat, some chili, and mints on top could satisfy your appetite. Wandering on the back streets, you can find some Pha Lau food stalls crowded with locals, but food hygiene should be of concern.
Places to try Pha Lau in Ho Chi Minh:
Pha Lau Co Thao
Address: 243/29G Ton Dan Street, District 4
Price: From VND 20,000 to VND 25,000 per person
Pha Lau Li
Address: 1A Suong Nguyet Anh Street, District 1
Price: From VND 26,000 to VND 36,000 per person
The tender meat is always seasoned deliciously with lemongrass, chili, and ginger after carefully cleaned and gutted. There are diverse ways to cook frogs, such as frying or steaming with different ingredients, but grilling is most commonly served at street stalls. Slowly biting into the meat, it tastes like a combination of chicken and fish with firm and soft textures, beautifully flavored with lemongrass and spices. Besides, frogs are a surprisingly nutritious Vietnamese food that helps to enhance your health. Regardless of the frightening image to many first-timers, the frog is one of the unusual Vietnamese foods you should not miss the chance to try!
Where to eat frogs in Ho Chi Minh City:
Ech Xanh Restaurant
Address: 371D Nguyen Canh Chan Street, District 1
Price: VND 80,000 – VND 300,000, depending on the type of dish
4. Fermented Shrimp Paste Noodle (Bun Dau Mam Tom)
The original version of this unusual Vietnamese food consists of fried tofu, rice vermicelli, and shrimp paste. The ingredients’ simplicity and the paste make the dish one of the most famous Vietnamese dishes. Until now, some locals still find the fermented shrimp paste’s smell unpleasant, while others quickly get addicted to the intense flavors, pairing the tofu with the cut noodles. A food lover would add some drops of kumquat, chili, and sugar and mix them all together in the past to a desired taste. The shrimp paste is salty, a little sweet and sour, and a bit spicy; all flavors in a small bowl of sauce!
The noodles can be served in many restaurants and stalls with steamed pork belly, rice pork nuggets or grilled fish. Don’t forget to pair Bun Dau Mam Tom with some Vietnamese herbs, such as mint leaves, perilla, sawtooth herb, and cucumber to enjoy this delicious and unique Vietnamese food.
Where to try Bun Dau Mam Tom in Ho Chi Minh:
Bun Dau Homemade
Address: 1 Nguyen Van Trang, District 1
Price: VND 68,000 per set
Bun Dau A Vung
Address: 53 Luong Huu Khanh, District 1
Price: From VND 30,000 to VND 60,000 per set
5. Fermented Bean Curd (Chao)
Fermented bean curd is famous in Vietnamese and Chinese cooking, and it is often used as an alternative to a type of sauce and to season various dishes to enhance the taste. Firm dried tofu is selected, then fermented with salt, chili, rice wine, and stored in clay pots for up to a year. As one of the strange foods in Vietnam, this creamy fermented tofu is like soft bleu cheese with intense flavors. Chao is best served as a dipping sauce for boiled vegetables such as morning glory.
For local vegetarians in Ho Chi Minh City, a preferred food is enjoying fermented bean curd with hot rice. For tourists, it’s challenging to find fermented bean curds as it mainly appears in homemade Vietnamese meals. You can eat another version of this bean curd served as a dipping sauce at authentic restaurants paired with other Vietnamese foods.
Where to try Chao in Ho Chi Minh City:
Hum Vegetarian – Lounge and Restaurant
Address: 2 Thi Sach Street, District 1
6. Coconut Worm
For the Southern folks from the Mekong Delta, coconut worms are the gift of nature; they are mainly in Ben Tre province, home to vast forests of coconut trees. The larvae harm coconut trees by drilling holes in their trunks, leaving them to wither and die gradually. The farmers cut down the coconut trees to collect worms when fully grown and fat. Despite the damage these worms can cause and a ban in raising coconut worms, they are still sold and consumed openly by traders and curious foodies.
This unusual Vietnamese food may raise hairs on your arms just from seeing people eat it. The larvae can be made into butter or flour-fried dishes or, infamously, eaten alive after being dipped in chili fish sauce.
Where to try coconut worms in Ho Chi Minh City:
De Sua REC REC
Address: 47, Duong so 7 (Street no. 7), Binh An, District 2
Price: VND 20,000 – 30,000/worm
Click on the link to see more insects and worms restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City.
7. Kopi Luwak (Ca Phe Chon)
Kopi luwak is also known as civet coffee or weasel coffee. The farmers feed the civets with the original coffee cherries, and after the civets poop them out, the farmers come along to harvest, clean, and roast the “processed” beans. This is considered some of the most expensive coffees in the world.
Where to buy this:
Trung Nguyen Coffee Chains
Address: 219 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1
Price: varies depending on the types of beans
See here for other places to buy and drink weasel coffee in Ho Chi Minh City
8. Mouse Meat
Mice are usually trapped and caught by the farmers after they eat the rice from the paddies. In the countryside, the meat is not only fried but can also be marinated and barbecued. This meat is another strange food in Vietnam to many travelers, but it is one of the favorite dishes to pair with strong liquors or beers.
9. Coconut Coffee
Besides good quality coffee, uniqueness is a top priority factor. Young locals warmly receive this trendy new drink mixed with coconut and black coffee. Making coconut coffee is straightforward. Add condensed milk, coconut milk, and ice cubes to the blender and grind the mixture. Then put the prepared beans into the jar and shake to make the coffee bubbly. Shake until the cafe has a thick and smooth foam. Put the shaken coffee in the glass. Finally, slowly pour the top coconut mixture into the coffee glass. The bitter coffee mixed with coconut juice milk will amaze you. And it is best to try it hot.
Where to try coconut coffee in Ho Chi Minh City
Address: 26 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1
Price: VND 65,000
10. Blood Soup (Tiet Canh)
Blood soup is a traditional dish of Northern locals. The most popular soup is duck blood, made from a bowl of fresh blood with peanuts and herbs added. Sometimes pig’s blood is used. This one is considered one of the most unusual Vietnamese foods. When it is served, it feels just like jello but with stuffing. The blood makes it taste sweet, and you should swallow it instead of chewing it.
Summary of the Unusual Vietnamese Foods in Ho Chi Minh
These exotic Vietnamese foods we listed here are just a small part of the diverse cuisines. Have you ever tasted one? If yes, let us know your review in the comments.
If you prefer to discover traditional Vietnamese foods instead when you are in Ho Chi Minh City, check out our fun Ho Chi Minh Food Tour.