Street food in Saigon
Ho Chi Minh City’s street food is part of the larger tapestry of cuisine in Vietnam. Food in Ho Chi Minh City can be found along the streets in pushcarts, kiosks or small cafes, on street corners, in mid-range restaurants and fine dining establishments. A typical local in Ho Chi Minh City may often consume all their meals from street vendors, rarely dining in a restaurant, though increasing wealth means more people are able to dine in small cafes.
Bordered by Thailand, Vietnamese cuisine is, unsurprisingly, very similar in profile to Thai cuisine, with an emphasis on dishes that have a combination of the 5 tastes; spicy, salty, bitter, sour and sweet. Ho Chi Minh City cuisine has also been largely influenced by China, France, and Cambodia. Noodles are commonly eaten during meals, as are various types of rolls. A typical meal would usually include 2 or 3 main meat or seafood dishes, along with vegetables or a salad, rice or noodles, 1 soup, 2 or 3 dipping sauces, and fruit or dessert. Because meals tend to be quite large, snacking isn’t very common in Ho Chi Minh City.
Common ingredients used in many Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam dishes include fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, rice, lemongrass, ginger, mint, chilli, lime, basil, duck, chicken, pork, beef, prawn, squid, crab, egg, bean sprout, cucumber, carrot, lettuce, banana, tapioca, coconut, onions, tomatoes, mung bean, mushroom and more.
Furthermore, chefs in Vietnam try to have 5 different colours represented in each dish; white, green, yellow, red and black. Dishes in Ho Chi Minh City also tend to be slightly sweeter than dishes from the north of Vietnam. Because Ho Chi Minh City is also more affluent, dishes tend to be bigger portioned, and slightly more expensive.
A look at Ho Chi Minh City’s street food
Inspired by the French, the Banh Mi Sandwich is a meat-filled sandwich, using baguette as the bread. Typical fillings used for a Banh Mi Sandwich in Ho Chi Minh City include Vietnam sausage, grilled pork, grilled beef, grilled chicken, pork belly, pork meatballs, eggs or tofu. Vegetables included within a Banh Mi Sandwich usually are cucumbers, tomatoes, cilantro, carrots, daikon or chili.
Vietnam Beer is usually a pale golden colour, with low alcohol content, and a light taste. Examples of local Beer commonly served in Ho Chi Minh City include 333 Export and Saigon Export.
Bo Luc Lac / Beef Luc Lac With Onions And Capsicum, literally translated to mean Shaking Beef, is a wok stir-fried dish of beef cubes, fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, onions, capsicum/bell peppers, garlic, tomato, pepper and peanut oil. The name ‘Shaking Beef’ stems from the chef having to shake the wok for 1 – 2 minutes while cooking.
Bong Thien Ly Xao Toi / Stir Fried Thien Ly Flower is a simple stir fry using a local Vietnam vegetable, the thien ly flower. This is simply tossed with garlic, salt and pepper in a wok, then served hot. Bong Thien Ly Xao Toi / Stir Fried Thien Ly Flower is still a rather uncommon dish in Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s more common in the countryside of Vietnam.
Vietnamese love noodles, and a popular midday meal such as Bun Bi Cha Gio / Pork And Egg Roll Rice Noodle can be found sold along almost any street corner and small cafe. Consisting of rice vermicelli noodles, pork loin, bean sprouts, lettuce, and pork-stuffed fried egg rolls, Bun Bi Cha Gio / Pork And Egg Roll Rice Noodle is usually served dry. A sweet and sour chilli sauce is served separately, you then have to pour it over the dish, and mix well before eating it.
Bun Bo Hue / Beef Hue Style Noodle consists of rice vermicelli noodles, sliced marinated beef shank, onions, cabbage, mint, basil, coriander, bean sprouts, lime juice, cilantro, lemongrass, fish sauce, shrimp paste, chilli, sugar, and banana blossom. Bun Bo Hue / Beef Hue Style Noodle is associated with the former royal court of Vietnam, but today is commonly served throughout Ho Chi Minh City. It is greatly admired for its balance of spicy, sour, salty, bitter and sweet flavors.
A popular cold Vietnamese noodle dish, Bun Thit Nuong / Grilled Pork Rice Noodle consists of rice vermicelli noodles, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, soy sauce, cucumber, bean sprouts, chilli, carrots, grilled pork shoulder and roasted peanuts. The sauce for Bun Thit Nuong / Grilled Pork Rice Noodle is served separately, and then poured over the dish. This is a common street food eaten at any meal of the day.
Considered a royal Vietnamese dish, Ca Loc Hap Bau / Fish Loc Steamed With Pork Stuffed Cucumber consists of loc fish, steamed with onions, capsicum/bell peppers, carrot and tomatoes, over a sliced cucumber stuffed with minced pork. The resulting dish is both delicate yet flavourful, with a fragrant aroma.
Part of the fun of eating Vietnamese food is being able to make them yourself, such as with this Chao Tom Cuon Banh Trang / Grilled Shrimp Paste Rice Paper Roll. The shrimp paste is rolled around a stick of sugar cane and lemongrass, which gives it a flavourful profile when grilled.
Fried Lotus Seeds are a traditional snack in Ho Chi Minh City, and also consumed by many people throughout Vietnam. It is a simple snack, made by deep-frying lotus seeds in peanut oil and then tossing with a bit of salt. Fried Lotus Seeds is said to have several health benefits including aiding digestion, preventing inflammation, and regulating blood pressure.
An iconic appetizer in Vietnam, Goi Cuon / Summer Salad Roll is found on many menus in Ho Chi Minh City. Goi Cuon / Summer Salad Roll consists of rice paper rolls stuffed with cabbage, carrots, onions, mint, pork loin, shrimp and cilantro.
Goi Cuon / Summer Salad Roll is usually served with a dipping sauce of chili, fish sauce, soy sauce and lime juice. Served at room temperature, Goi Cuon / Summer Salad Roll is considered one of the most delicious foods in the world.
A dish associated with Vietnamese royalty, the Hen Tron Xuc Banh Trang / Baby Clams Pancake consists of baby clams sauteed with garlic, ginger, cilantro, onions, lemongrass, salt, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, chili, roasted peanuts and roasted sesame seeds. It is usually served as part of a main meal, often with rice paper rolls, plain white rice, or stuffed into bread.
Muc Nupng Muoi Ot / Grilled Squid is a popular street seafood dish in Ho Chi Minh City. Muc Nupng Muoi Ot / Grilled Squid is made with fresh squid, marinated with salt, pepper, chili and sugar, then grilled. It is more commonly served in areas of Vietnam near rivers, lakes or the ocean.
Nem Ran / Fried Spring Roll is a Vietnamese dish that can refer to any number of deep fried stuffed spring rolls. The type of ingredients used in Nem Ran / Fried Spring Roll vary widely, but more common types include pork, daikon, carrot, shrimp, mushrooms, tofu, crab, chicken, bean sprout or jicama.
Ngheu Xao Voi Sot Kem Ot / Sauteed Chili Clams is a dish of fresh clams tossed in garlic, ginger, chilli, lemongrass, cilantro and lime juice.
Considered an iconic dish of Vietnam, Pho Bo / Beef Noodle is widely served around Ho Chi Minh City. Pho Bo / Beef Noodle consists of rice vermicelli noodles, thin slices of beef flank / beef brisket / beef rump, beef balls, mint, bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, lime juice, chili, fish sauce, onions, ginger, water, salt and sugar.
The broth for Pho Bo / Beef Noodle is rich and flavorful, usually a result of several spices including cinnamon, clove, star anise, cardamom, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, salt, ginger and beef bones. Pho Bo / Beef Noodle is served with dipping sauces including hoisin sauce and hot chili sauce.
A fusion dish, with Asian ingredients used to make a Western condiment. The Thom Nau Xa / Pineapple Lemongrass Compote is a mix of sugar, sliced pineapple, lemongrass juice and water.
Tien Vua / Chicken Salad is an uncommon dish in Vietnam, once relegated to the fringes of society, but now increasing in popularity in Ho Chi Minh City. Tien Vua / Chicken Salad is made with the vegetable rau tien vua, salt, sugar, carrots, vinegar, onions, garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, sliced chicken and roasted peanuts. Tien Vua / Chicken Salad can easily be pickled and stored for later use.
Inspired by Western cuisine, Vien Cha Ca Boc Trung Cut / Quail Egg Breaded With Fish Paste consists of a hard boiled quail egg wrapped in a breaded fish paste, then deep fried. Vien Cha Ca Boc Trung Cut / Quail Egg Breaded With Fish Paste is served as an appetizer.
Vietnam Coffee is rightly famed for its strong flavourful body and extremely fragrant aroma. Fresh milk is almost never used, instead, all Vietnam Coffee is drunk with condensed milk. The most successful coffee company in Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City is Trung Nguyen Coffee, with its line of G7 instant coffee and Weasel blend coffee.
Vietnam Fish Balls are made with fish paste, usually a local fish like snapper or pangasius catfish. Vietnam Fish Balls are typically small in size, and served as part of a main dish.
Grilled meats, such as Grilled Chicken or Grilled Pork, are common ways of serving meat in Vietnam. Grilled meats are usually served as part of a main meal in Ho Chi Minh City, and rarely served in skewered or snack form.
Vietnam Pumpkin Soup is served in a hollowed-out pumpkin. Vietnam Pumpkin Soup is made with pumpkin, pork loin, onions, salt, pepper, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, water, coriander and sweet potato.
White Rice is a common staple in every Vietnamese diet, and is usually served at every meal. White Rice is also the base for another Vietnamese staple, the rice vermicelli noodles.
Finally, Sticky Rice, or Glutinous Rice, is very popular in Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City It is served as part of Xoi Nuoc Dua Thit Ga / Chicken Coconut Sticky Rice, where the rice is infused with coconut milk, and served with chicken braised in soy sauce. For variety, many street vendors often serve coloured Sticky Rice / Glutinous Rice, in colours such as white, red, green, brown and yellow.