Ho Chi Minh, aka Saigon, Vietnam, is an urban jungle, a true paradise with beautiful weather and smiling people. For the inexperienced, it might seem rather chaotic, but no other city in the world offers such exotic customs and exciting sights as Saigon does.
Travelers come to Ho Chi Minh for many reasons, but they return for the food. Today we will talk about a few iconic dishes in town, where to find them, and why you must try them.
Let’s start with the classics. A Banh Mi is an uncomplicated sandwich, ubiquitous and equally delicious. A grab-and-go meal that will keep you fueled while you explore the city. Banh Mi roughly translates to bread. Specifically, to the baguette -the one remnant of French occupation in the old days.
This popular breakfast is a thin-crusted crunchy loaf of bread filled with meats and local vegetables; pork sausage and paté are common. Cucumbers, coriander leaves, and pickled carrots freshen the sandwich. It’s hard to find a lousy Banh Mi, most are simply extraordinary!
You won’t need to walk far to find a Banh Mi street stand in Saigon; even the best ones are close by. If you’re in the city center, in District One, head to Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa. It’s a working-class favorite. You’ll thank me later.
Another classic and must try is a genuine Pho, utterly addictive, flavorful beef or chicken broth with rice noodles and greens. A nice traditional bowl of pho, made to the local taste and not catered for the tourist palate, is just unbeatable. You must find your way to the Phu Nhuan District. Pho Quyen is a local’s darling, it is not fancy, but it has been around for decades.
Now that we’ve covered the two most widely recognized Vietnamese food, we can have some fun. Vietnamese cuisine offers dozens of different dishes. For me, bun bo hue is the OTHER Vietnamese noodle soup to know and love. The spicy beef broth is thick and intense. Hints of citrus and enticing freshness from the add-on veggies keep it lively. Served with tender, slow-cooked meat, the dish is a whole meal. Fishing the rice noodles in the orange-hued broth is my new favorite hobby.
Look for Bun Bo Hue Dong Ba in District one. The family that owns this neighborhood restaurant actually comes from Hue, the birthplace of this meaty soup. More local than touristy, this place is a great try for your first bowl of bun bo hue.
Finally, I want to tell you about goi cuon. The Vietnamese version of a fresh spring roll is just too delicious not to mention. These are the non-fried spring rolls, filled with pork, shrimp, noodles and aromatic greens. The fried version, called differently is just as good. You won’t struggle to find good goi cuon, but come and find that out for yourself.
For the best experience, find a local guide. Ho Chi Minh is full of hidden gems to eat, drink or have a coffee. It would take a lifetime to get to know it all, so make sure to get an insider help to make the most of your days in Saigon. Welcome to the jungle!