What to Eat in Saigon

It’s a mixture of the location and history of Saigon that gives it its fantastic food culture. What to Eat in Saigon is a question with more than 100 answers, but there are few places more equipped to answer it than Vietnam’s second city.

The big city has historically been a draw for the Vietnamese living in its outlying provinces, who came to Saigon in droves after the war in search of employment. Along with their families, they brought their individual attitudes to food; some from the seafood, rice, and fruit-rich Mekong Delta, some from pancake-heavy Vung Tau, and even a few from as far away as the mecca for Vietnamese food, Hue.

Food in Saigon is under constant evolution as the city quickly expands upwards and outwards into the shape of an international megacity. Right now, Saigon’s food has a humble but internationally renowned culture, ripe for exploration by even the fussiest of foreigners. Here’s our guide on what to eat in Saigon.

What to eat in Saigon?

1. Ph (“fer”)

We have to start with the obvious here. At this point, Pho doesn’t need an introduction, its amalgamation into popular culture has seen its fame spread to every corner of the globe. It’s the number one answer to what to eat in Saigon, as well as throughout Vietnam food in general for the tourists fresh off the plane, eager to try a local bowl for about a tenth of the price that they could get it for back home.

Flat pho noodles sit in a long-broiled broth along with scallions, onions, and either beef or chicken. Differences between north and south pho are manifold; the one in Saigon is usually sweeter and uses bean sprouts, herbs, and a wider variety of meat in its construction.

Where to get pho in Saigon?

Pho Tau Bay (433-435 Ly Thai To Street) is one of the oldest pho restaurants still surviving today. It was originally named after the owner, Mr. Nhan, but patrons changed it by popular demand to Tau Bay, meaning aeroplane after Mr. Nhan inexplicably started wearing a pilot’s hat to work every day.

Pho - A must-try dish when visiting Vietnam

2. Bột Chiên (“bot chee-en”)

The literal translation of ‘fried flour’ doesn’t do much to get the appetite whirring, but one look at this impressive dish proves that there’s a lot more to it than merely suggested by the name. Served with fried egg, carrots, shredded papaya, and scallions, and fried into one single omelet of intense color and flavor, Bot Chien is one of the best pre-dinner snacks to eat in Saigon. Its appearance is not unlike the popular pre-dinner tapas dish from Spain, patatas bravas, but the tangy flavor of Bot Chien, following the accompanying dipping sauce, is what sets it apart.

Where to find Bot Chien in Saigon?

Bot Chien is a proud, and relatively simple to make, Saigonese staple food, so you can find it being served from many of the carts lining the streets around the city. One popular local restaurant that sells a plate for about 26,000 VND ($1.10) is Bot Chien Dat Thanh (277 Vo Van Tan), where fans carry the gorgeous smell of the dish along the street, attracting people in their droves.

Bot Chien

3. Cơm Tm (“cerm- tuhm”)

Along with Com Binh Dan in the north of Vietnam, Com Tam is known as the workers’ meal and famous food in Saigon. Its simplicity means that costs are usually low, but it contains the nutrients that hard-working Vietnamese have been fuelling themselves for generations. Unlike Com Binh Dan, com tam uses non-sticky rice (literally ‘broken rice’ by translation) and it’s not uncommon to see foreigners try to scoop up individual grains with chopsticks, while the locals opt for a much more effective spoon.

Its ordering is as simple as its make-up; simply walk into a shop, point to the food that you would like to have with your rice, and sit down with the heaped plate. The option of accompanying food is very extensive, but popular choices include pork, sausage, fried egg, peanut salt, and a staggering choice of vegetables. You must try this dish as one of the signature things to eat in Vietnam.

Com Tam Suon Bi Cha

Where to find com tam in Saigon?

As fuel for the workers, this is usually the answer to their question of what to eat in Saigon. Thus, it can be found in many places, usually in roadside stalls with all extra options sitting behind a glass cabinet, and next to the steaming vat of rice. Com Ta Ba Ghien (84 Dang Van Ngu) is open from 6 am to 10 pm, which is one of the reasons, along with its fantastic taste, that locals and tourists keep coming back for more.

4. Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang (“hoo tee-oo nam vang”)

If you wonder "What to Eat in Ho Chi Minh City?", Hu Tieu is a must. This beautifully organized dish might be the most attractive thing to eat in Saigon, but its roots are far-reaching and its ingredients are highly variable. The dish is unashamedly ‘borrowed’ from Cambodia, so much so that they even put it in the name (Nam Vang is the Vietnamese name for Phnom Penh), stemming from the thousands of ethnic Khmer people who live in the south of Vietnam. Hu Tieu comes in many different varieties around Vietnam, but the classic nam vang dish contains lots of pork, shrimp, quail eggs, and crab sticks atop a bed of Hu Tieu, which are thick tapioca noodles.

Where to find Hu Tieu Nam Vang in Saigon?

It’s hard to refute the popularity of Quan Hu Tieu Nam Vang Nhan Quan (27Q Au Co Street), which offers many different variations on the classic, all immaculately presented.

Hu Tieu

5. Canh Chua Cá (“cayn choo-uh cah”)

Saigon finds itself in a very advantageous position next to the Mekong Delta, a provider of huge amounts of seafood and home to the biggest rice and fruit-producing regions in the country. Seafood often comes in the form of Canh Chua Ca, another Instagram-favourite food with colors spilling out of the bowl. There are bright red tomatoes, green okra, yellow pineapples, and white beansprouts sitting in a yellow-brown broth, topped by a large fillet of some kind of fish, usually snakehead or catfish.

Canh Chua Ca

Where to find Canh Chua Ca in Saigon?

Canh Chua Ca is the perfect food for hot weather, which is perfect for Saigon as there is never anything but scorching heat. On the hottest of these days, you can find locals sharing tables at Nam Son (135 Nguyen Thien Thuat Street), and enjoying the cooling broth with delicious snakehead fish.

6. Ốc (“oh-k”)

Continuing Saigon’s strong seafood tradition is one of the most sociable foods to eat in Saigon, snails. Once you do away with the notion that snails are generally slimy and unappealing, a world of flavor will open up to you, and there’s no better place to do that than in Saigon. Chefs here have been experimenting with snails for decades and have developed an extensive list that it would be impossible to name in full.

Snails with lemongrass, ginger, garlic, coconut, and chili are some of the more popular foods to enjoy in Saigon on a weekend when you will see vast swathes of people crowding plastic tables, swigging beer and joking merrily over piled-up plates of snails.

Oc Xao

Where to find Oc in Saigon?

Saigon is awash with snail eateries, but for the most convivial atmosphere, head straight to ‘snail street’ – Vinh Khanh in District 4. You will be spoiled for choice here and will quickly get swept up in the amazing atmosphere that is to be found in abundance.

7. Bánh Tét Chuối (“ban tet choo-ee”)

This rolled banana, black bean, and sticky rice dessert has a similar appearance to sushi, but the taste of the two foods couldn’t be further apart. Just three ingredients and some banana leaves are needed to create Banh Tet Chuoi, making it a favorite of food tours in Saigon; essentially, it is a banana wrapped in rice and black beans, which is in turn wrapped in a banana leaf. These sweet, glutinous treats are a staple food of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, where many families in the south of Vietnam share them after a filling meal.

Banh Tet Chuoi

Where to find Banh Tet Chuoi in Saigon?

Because Banh Tet Chuoi is so easy to make, most people just buy the ingredients and make them themselves. You will find some in some shops, as Saigon is a big city, but information about them is lacking online. Get yourself invited to a local Tet celebration and you’ll be swimming in Banh Tet Chuoi!

Saigon's rich food culture is a delightful mix of its historical influences and diverse regional contributions. Contact Incredible Asia Journeys now to hop on a Ho Chi Minh City food tour!

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