If you’re a foodie and you want to visit Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) is definitely the place to go. Savory, sweet or vegan, Ho Chi Minh cuisine really has it all for you!
Vietnamese Cuisine and Where to Find Them
Food is, in fact, a pretty well-covered topic in our blogs so far; we’ve talked about Vietnam’s signature dishes like banh xeo and banh mi, to bizarre dishes of insects in the city of Ho Chi Minh, as well as recommended good restaurants and food streets around the city. Today, we would like to present an extensive list of must-try Vietnamese foods this diverse city always has available for its residents and visitors. Let’s dive into it!
|Rice, Sticky rice, and “Bánh”|
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Signature Dishes of Vietnamese Cuisine
Banh mi and pho are by no doubt two of Vietnam’s best culinary creations, and Ho Chi Minh City is really the best place to eat them. Why? In Ho Chi Minh City, banh mi and pho are so diverse, so available, so appetizing and so affordable! These are like the staples for the locals, perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or just simply for a tasteful quick bite.
Now, let’s be a bit clearer about the ‘diverse’ part we advertised. The basic version of banh mi is thin slices of pork sausage and some other kinds of cold cuts, plus paté, pork floss, pickles, cilantro, and cucumber, stuffed in small-sized baguettes. But in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), countless other kinds of banh mi are on the counter: banh mi cha ca (fried fish patties), banh mi op la (sunny-side-up), banh mi xiu mai (meatballs and tomato sauce), banh mi ca moi (canned sardines), banh mi heo quay (roasted pork with crispy skin), and so on. Another thing that sets banh mi in Vietnam apart from banh mi made elsewhere is the special sauce made by family recipes of the owners.
Vietnamese signature Banh Mi
Similarly with pho, besides the basic version of noodles and rare beef in sophisticatedly made broth, the varieties of pho you can have in Saigon are surplus: various beef cuts – flank, crunchy flank, fatty brisket, tendon, and tripe, then intricate pho cuon (noodle rolls) or intriguing pho kho (pho without broth or with broth in a separate bowl).
Prices for all these tasty feats start from only US$ 1 for banh mi and US$ 2 for pho.
Enjoying beef noodle soup in Ho Chi Minh City
Lesser-known Vietnamese Treats
First of all, besides the famous pho, Vietnamese foods offer other styles of delectable noodle soup, all of which can be easily found in Ho Chi Minh, although their place of origin varies:
– Hu tieu: the real specialty of Saigon. Thin, clear noodles in aromatic pork broth, with surplus toppings including pork slices, shrimps, squid, and even pork liver (it’s default unless you ask not to have it in your bowl), then some fresh herbs and bean sprouts. Hu tieu vendors in Saigon, along with hu tieu parlors, are open for business almost 24/7 because it is simply a never-dying demand to have a bowl of hu tieu.
A bowl of hu tieu with surplus toppings
– Bun bo Hue (Hue beef noodle soup): This dish is a creation of Hue people (hence the name), who live in central Vietnam and are well-known across the country for their culinary expertise. The noodles in bun bo Hue is different from the noodles in pho: they are rounder in shape and fuller in texture (pho noodles are thin). The broth is spicy and has an orange color, unlike the clear broth of pho. And beef in bun bo Hue is a well-done flank, along with Hue aromatic pork cold cuts. A feast of flavors in just one bowl definitely a must-try.
Bun Bo Hue
– Bun cha ca Nha Trang (noodles/rice vermicelli with fried fish patty slices): Nha Trang is one of the best beach cities in Vietnam and is also home to the tasty dish of bun cha ca. The broth is clear and tastes a bit lighter than pho broth (since the bone used to cook broth is fishbone, as opposed to the beef bone of pho broth); fried fish patty (cha ca) is just a rough translation of an exclusive specialty of Vietnam’s coastal cities – you’ve got to taste it to know it!
– Bun ca Mien Tay (fish noodle soup of the Southwest): Freshwater fish is made full use by the Mekong Delta people (in the southwest of Vietnam) in their own version of noodle soup – bun ca. Unlike Nha Trang, Southwest people love their fish simple – boiled. But they add little details like more fresh herbs and fried onions to enhance the rich flavor of their noodle soup. And perhaps the water of their region makes their broth very outstanding.
Second, the one dish that so many Vietnamese (especially students) hold dear is xoi (sticky rice). Sticky rice in different colors (the regular white, to eye-catching purple, orange, green – from the natural color of the key ingredient, not some toxic coloring of course) served with pork floss, thin slices of pork cold cuts and fried shallot, plus a tasty savory sauce is perfect for your energy boost.
Vietnamese violet sticky rice – Xoi la cam
Third of all, another noodle dish but this time with no broth at all: Bun thit nuong – a bowl of flavors from rice vermicelli, grilled marinated pork slices, fried spring rolls, crushed peanuts, fresh herbs, cucumber, and the star is definitely sweet-and-sour fish sauce with carrot pickles in it! A no-brainer for breakfast among the locals!
Bun thit nuong
Street Foods That Make Ho Chi Minh People Proud
It would not be complete talking about Vietnamese foods without talking about street foods! Ho Chi Minh City is packed with street food vendors serving palatable quick bites for everyone. Below are a few outstanding names.
– Goi cuon (summer rolls): energy-filled rolls of rice vermicelli, boiled pork slices, shrimps, lettuce and other fresh herbs to be dipped in special sauce (rich and thick) topped with pickles and crushed peanuts. US$1 for 2 to 3 filling rolls that can keep you going…for the next street eat!
Goi cuon (summer rolls)
– Banh trang tron (mixed rice paper): Rice paper (banh trang) is a super common product of Vietnam, used very often in every house kitchen; it is used to roll the famous spring rolls (cha gio) and summer rolls (goi cuon), but has also become the soul of a much-loved street eat – banh trang tron. In this dish, rice paper is thin small pieces mixed with different types of flavorful sauce, topped with quail eggs and shredded mango (unripe). A very light snack and interesting taste.
– Banh trang nuong (Vietnamese pizza – not the pizza you think): Rice paper again plays a key role, although the type used for banh trang nuong is much thicker. For this dish, a round piece of thick rice paper is grilled with surplus toppings – quail eggs, minced pork (already cooked), dried shrimps (small shrimps), and when the eggs are cooked, mayonnaise, chili sauce, and ketchup are added on top. Try this fascinating concoction once if you come to Ho Chi Minh.
Banh trang nuong
– Vietnamese shellfish/sea snails (oc): Blessed with a rich system of channels and rivers, the southern land of Vietnam enjoys a wide variety of snails and shellfish. These natural ingredients are converted into amazing dishes by the ultimate creativity of Vietnam’s southern cooks. Seasoning is the key to shellfish and sea snails dishes in Ho Chi Minh City; cooks use tamarind sauce, butter, cheese, onion, and sautée or grill the shellfish to make a special dish.
Check out more Vietnamese street foods.
Vietnamese shellfish dishes – colorful and tasty
Irresistible Sweets and Desserts
– Che is no doubt the first lister when it comes to Vietnamese sweets and desserts. Different kinds of bean and topping create different kinds of che, but most commonly, we have che from mung beans (green beans), black beans, or red beans, and toppings are typically made from tapioca starch. Beans are cooked in water until soft, but before that, they are soaked in water for hours to yield the best softness when cooked. The water after being boiled with beans has a pleasant taste and aroma but bland, so sugar is added to complete a beautiful dessert. You can call this Vietnamese bean soup or sweet soup, which is not a heavy dish at all.
– Vietnamese ice cream: We have quite unique flavors of ice cream: durian ice cream, banana ice cream, longan ice cream, and coconut ice cream – all very tropical fruits. While you can easily find durian and coconut ice cream by some local brands in Ho Chi Minh’s supermarkets and convenience stores, it may be a bit more difficult to find a Vietnamese ice cream shop. Su Van Hanh Street in District 10 can be a good start if you fancy sampling Vietnamese ice cream.
Sam bo luong (energy cocktail) and Che
– Sam bo luong (energy cocktail): a lot of toppings in this concoction: Chinese dried apples, lotus seeds, ginkgo nuts, dried logans, and dried seaweeds. This dish is of Chinese origin; all of its components are healthy and easy to eat, so sam bo luong is a dessert that can be enjoyed by both the young and old.
– Rau cau dua (coconut jelly): Coconut jelly has two layers: the clear bottom layer from coconut juice and the white top layer from coconut milk. A very Vietnamese jelly, lovely to taste!
Che is a signature dessert of Vietnam
Incredibly Varied Vegan Menus
We don’t know about other countries, but we think vegan dishes in Vietnam and in Ho Chi Minh City are incredibly diverse and delectable. Making full use of all the Vietnamese vegetables and handling them with skillful techniques, Ho Chi Minh vegan cooks can create a vegan copy of any favorite dish of the meat-eaters: from noodle soups like pho, bun bo Hue, bun rieu, to all the regular main courses starring pork and beef, to spring rolls and summer rolls. Vegetables used to ‘cosplay’ meat include mushrooms, seitan (wheat gluten), tempeh (soy product, similar to tofu), daikon, star anise, cardamom, among others; and the typical seasoning is soy sauce (since the fish sauce is not vegetarian, obviously).
Vegan restaurants are often situated near Buddhist monasteries and pagodas. Check out this list of vegetarian restaurants in Ho Chi Minh for more details!
The variety of Ho Chi Minh City’s vegan dishes
Summary of What to eat in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
These mouthwatering Vietnamese foods we mentioned (from banh mi and pho to central delicacies and southern desserts) are super available and affordable in Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon, as locals call them). If you plan to visit this beautiful Southeast Asian country, definitely check out Ho Chi Minh City for all the pleasing to the eyes and the taste buds!
Related article: Foods and drinks in Ho Chi Minh City
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