The Legal Nomads Self-Guided Tour to Saigon Street Food

After two winters of stuffing my face around this city I love, I decided to put together a guide to Saigon street food, gathering some of the places I keep coming back to in one place. These are not the absolute best of everything, but rather a cross-section of delicious, cheap and authentic foods that are also conveniently located. I tended to head to outer districts more often, on the hunt for that bun mam a friend told me about, or what was billed as “the best Peking duck in town” by my enthused landlady.

While fun side trips to outer districts are great, I wanted to put together a post that would be more helpful for short-term trips. The restaurants and street stalls below are fairly central to where most travellers stay, meaning people can frequent them even if in town only briefly.

The Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon Street Food Guide: Self-Guided Street Food Tour

Last Updated: May 2, 2021

One specific soup, a sweet-and-sour canh chua (photo in the “street food” section below), was what initially led me to the city. I was lured in by the complicated tastes and unfamiliar sting of the rice paddy herb on my tongue. It might have been one soup that brought me to Saigon, but it was the rest of the food that kept me there, and keeps me coming back. It is not just taste of food that makes Saigon so enthralling, but the act of eating as well, and all of the craziness that eating comprises. The swirling noise, the families all sitting and enjoying a meal on the street, smiling at you fumbling with your condiments. The beauty of food being not just a necessity but also a sight in and of itself: a window into culture, and a source of endless wonder.

Countless moments of me smiling as an old lady came over shaking her head at my terrible rice paper folding skills, correcting my technique as we sat at the edge of traffic. Or the bo la lot vendor who discovered my love of starfruit and made sure to have extra on hand when I returned. The beloved grandpa at the pho ga restaurant below, who ran over to my bowl repeatedly to ensure I added pickled garlic, lest I forget. The landladies that adopted me into their homes, feeding me, giving me hugs, teaching me how to cook.

There are hundreds of moments like these baked into the aggregate of my memories in Vietnam. Most of them derive from food. As Luke Nguyen says in The Songs of Sapa: Stories & Recipes from Vietnam,

For Vietnamese people, food is our life; we are forever eating, cooking and talking about food. Food is communication – food is culture.

Street food saigon taken literally: streetside eating
Streetside eating.

This is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it provides a good start. For those of you who loved your time in Vietnam and want to commemorate it at home with something a bit more tangible, please see my hand-drawn, one-of-a-kind Vietnamese maps of food. They’re available in t-shirt and poster form.

hand drawn typographic maps of food

Note: I also realize some of you would have preferred diacritical marks in lieu of plain Roman letters, but when typing into Google Maps to find these places, most travellers have indicated they prefer the non-Tieng Viet script. I’m happy to update the post if this is no longer the case.

Also, if you’re worried about street food: here’s how to eat it without getting sick.

And finally: for celiacs like me, see my Celiac’s Guide to Vietnam.

Browse the Saigon Street Food Guide By Section:

Saigon is most definitely a magical place for your tastebuds. The balancing act between warming and cooling ingredients, between heavier meats and lighter rice-based carbs, fresh herbs to round out the taste, never get old. I’m no culinary anthropologist, but in learning through eating, and being corrected by others also passionate about food, I’ve hopefully created a crash course here that will help travellers discover more about the city.

As I am no longer living in Saigon and offering Jodi Eats Food Walks for readers, I wanted to give everyone a self-guided street food tour that they could enjoy without me. It includes my favourite places to grab soups, snacks, and more. And I’ve also included sections for restaurants, drinks, and getting around town.

Enjoy!
-Jodi

Street Food and Local Stalls
A Slightly Fancier Meal
Non-Vietnamese and International Food
Drinks and Smoothies
Gluten-Free Tips
Map of Great Food in Saigon
Basic Information for Navigating Saigon
Information about COVID-19 in Vietnam
Books and Blogs About Vietnam and its Food

Street Food and Local Stalls in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

I’ve tried to include as many photos of these foods as possible, since my descriptions might not do the trick but a photo usually does. These are all my pictures, except for the bun moc (thanks Tom!).

Banh Beo

banh beo saigon
Banh beo from Nam Giao in Saigon

Part of the cuisine from central Vietnam, banh beo (literally “water fern cake”) are small round discs of rice flour, formed to look like lily flower pads found in the estates surrounding the old imperial city of Hue. Topped with crunchy pork rinds and toasted shrimp powder and served with fish sauce, they are a very rewarding dish to share as they usually come in multiples of 8 or 10.

Where: Nam Giao
136 Le Thanh Ton Street, in an alleyway behind Ben Thanh market. District 1
+84 (8) 3825 0261

Banh Da Xuc Hen 

banh da xuc hen
Banh Da Xuc Hen in all its delicious glory.

I have a list of foods that sound like other foods in the local language. For example, the word for water in Bahasa Indonesia or Bahasa Malaysia is “air” — and obviously air in English is not food. In Vietnamese, the word for baby clams is “hen” — quite confusing at first, since I ordered it expecting a rice and chicken bowl, not even thinking that obviously hen would not be an actual hen. My brain did not compute.

Banh da xuc hen is a lovely and satisfying snack. A large rice paper crisp with hints of sesame and coconut arrives on a plate. It looks bare, but then you lift up the rice cracker and peek underneath, finding a pile of teeny tiny clams fried in lemongrass, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), chilli, onion and garlic. It is a simple dish in terms of ingredients but the taste is profoundly different than anything else I have tried. If you want a heavier version of this plate, opt for the com hen, rice topped with the same type of clams and served with a small bowl of clam broth on the side.

Where: Hong Hanh
17A Nguyen Thi Minh Khao Street, District 1
+84 (8) 3827 4252

Banh Canh Cua

crabs vietnam
Crabtastic.

Banh canh noodles are Vietnam’s version of udon, a thicker noodle that can be made with either tapioca flour, rice flour, or a combination of the two. The cua in this soup is crab, and the result is a viscous crab soup with thick noodles — not for those who shrink from goopy foods. Thickened with tapioca flour (and thus gluten free) it’s a satisfying meal for those who like their food consistencies to be adventurous, and with chillies, green onions, and fresh lime on top, a very tasty bowl.

Where: Kim Long
80/68 Tran Quang Dieu Street, District 3
+84 (8) 3843 6498

Banh Cuon

Banh cuon on the streets of Saigon
Banh cuon on the streets of Saigon
Fried mung bean cakes.
Fried mung bean cakes, available at Banh Cuon Tay Ho

Steamed rice crepes filled with wood ear mushrooms and ground pork often seasoned with white pepper, banh cuon are a wonderful breakfast meal that covers all bases. I’d take this for breakfast over eggs and bacon any day, to the consternation of Western friends. But why not? You’ve got your carbs, your meat, your vegetables, and it comes topped with lightly steamed bean sprouts, chopped basil, and fried curls of shallots. It’s filling but not heavy, peppery but not too spicy. The dish literally translates to “rolled cake”, and originated up North, but is prevalent throughout Saigon. Each bite can be dipped into a sweet fish sauce with as much chilli as you’d like to add. When heading to the restaurant below, also try the fried bean cakes (photo below). Bonus points for the cutest chilli holder in all of Saigon.

Saigon street food
Cutest chilli bottle in all of Saigon

 

Where: Banh Cuon Tay Ho 1
127 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, District 1

Banh Khot & Banh Xeo

banh khot in ho chi minh
Banh khot, without the herbs you wrap these mini pancakes in, then shove in your drooling mouth.
Banh xeo in Saigon
Banh xeo, crispy and delicious.

I wrote about banh khot (mini knots of fried rice cakes) with a recipe here, but am grouping them with banh xeo (larger sizzling rice crepes) since the restaurant serves both. There are many recommendations in town for banh xeo, most famously Banh Xeo 46A, which is on the ‘Bourdain trail’ (he visited the place during his Saigon episode). I personally like them both, especially when wrapped in a blanket of mustard leaves and herbs.

Given that it’s a personal preference, I am sending you to a restaurant that does both well. The banh xeo is not oily, the banh khot come with a variety of toppings on offer, and it’s got a filtered water system for the fresh herbs and vegetables so those with extremely delicate stomachs need not fear.

Where: Banh Khot Co Ba Vung Tau
102 Cao Thang, District 3

2016 update: This location is closed but their other location, at 40B Trần Cao Vân near the Turtle Pond, is still open.

Banh Tam Bi

banh tam bi in saigon
Banh tam bi in its goopy glory.

I only discovered banh tam bi recently, toward the end of my latest visit to the city. On my way to the Co-op supermarket for some groceries, I passed a lovely new-looking restaurant with wood tables and chairs and a fun logo. Looking at the menu I saw the familiar hu tieu (see below), but did not know what banh tam bi was. So of course I delayed my grocery trip for a meal, a bit concerned because banh tam translated to “silkworm noodles” and I wondered what I would get for lunch. It turns out that they are tapioca noodles that merely look like silkworms, and are coated with a thick coconut sauce, pickled vegetables, a pork meatball, some pork sausage, and more.

I proceeded to text a bunch of food-inclined friends “I FOUND A NEW FOOD COME MEET ME NOW IT’S DELICIOUS”. Unsurprisingly, I returned quite a few times before I left town. I’ve found few places in Saigon that serve this Mekong dish from Bac Lieu, but Quan Sadec remains the best I’ve tried in town. Those who take issue with goopy foods might want to skip it; it’s gelatinous and fabulous, but not for those who are sensitive to consistencies in food.

Where: Quan Sadec
154 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, District 1

Bot Chien

A greasy fave, bot chien involves rice flour cakes that are chopped into chunky squares and then fried in a large flat pan with whipped eggs and green onions. For those familiar with Singapore food, it’s reminiscent of chai tow kueh, but with rice instead of radish. It’s served when crispy, with a sweet rice vinegar and soy sauce concoction, and some shredded pickled young papaya to cool down the dish. While available throughout Saigon, usually on the street, the restaurant below has indoor long table seating and waitresses in quintessentially bright Vietnamese daytime pyjamas. No one spoke English on my visits, but pointing at the bot chien ought to do you fine.

Where: Bot Chien Dat Thanh
277 Vo Van Tan Street, District 3 

Bun Bo Hue

bun bo hue street food saigon
Bun bo hue, spicy and citrusy.
Bun bu Hue broth
Bun bu Hue broth

I wish this wonderful soup from central Vietnam’s city of Hue was as popular as pho outside the country. The two are very different soups. Bun bo Hue is made with lemongrass and chilli, its broth both citrusy and strong, laden with thick cuts of meat. Paprika or anatto oil render the broth its fiery orange colour, and fermented shrimp paste lends a complicated layer of taste, one my Western palate was not acquainted with before trying the soup. These ingredients have been in other dishes I’ve tasted, but for some reason, this soup from the former imperial capital of Vietnam manages to bring them together in magical ways.

For a recipe, Wandering Chopsticks goes into the soup in more detail.

Where: Bun Bo Hue Dong Ba
110A Nguyen Du, District 1
+84 (8) 3912 5742

Bun Cha Ha Noi

Finding Bun cha Ha Noi in Saigon
Bun cha Ha Noi, as seen through someone’s phone.

 

As with many of the meals in Hanoi that were taken to Saigon, what is normally a breakfast or early lunch food up north is an all-day treat in Saigon. While some bun cha joints are open early only, most will be full around lunch and dinnertime as well, hungry diners piling bowls with fresh herbs and smoky pork. This dish, a fave among my friends, comprises seasoned pork patties and thin slices of pork belly, both grilled until crispy and served in a bowl with sweet fish sauce, slices of young papaya and carrot, and garlic. On the side, a bowl of plain rice noodles (the “bun” part of the name) and a big basket of fresh herbs like perilla, mint, and stinky fish herb. To eat, a bit of everything goes into your serving bowl: a handful of noodles, some pieces of pork, spoonfuls of the sweet fish sauce and herbs. If you like perilla as much as I do, you’ll need to ask for seconds. I’ve tried quite a few places around town but this one on Mac Dinh Chi remains my fave. It’s busiest at lunch time, and closes at 8pm.

Where: Quan Anh Hong
34A Mac Dinh Chi, District 1

Bun Mam

bun mam in Saigon
Bun mam, fermented fish soup in a sweet sour broth.

When I describe bun mam to friends — a noodle soup with a fermented fish broth and seafood and pork belly and so much more — I watch their faces fall. For many the words “fermented fish broth” isn’t what they want to hear. But the soup is actually skews sweet thanks, and with thick rice noodles and chunks of delicious fish and meat, it’s not to be missed.

This bun mam stand is also close to Ben Thanh market, but it is often full of locals. Tourists walk by with a concerned and curious look on their face, but rarely stop in. I usually bring people here if it is their first visit to Saigon, convincing them that the words “fermented” and “fish” don’t need to be a bad thing when grouped together. The owner, a gruff but loveably guy, finally stopped a reporter who was interviewing me to ask what I did for a living, baffled at how I kept rocking up with new people. When told I was a “food journalist” he beamed, and started having me flag tourists down to convince them to eat there when I was in the area. I brought him the full piece, which included a big photo outside his stall and the title “Girl Eats World” before I left town. It’s more expensive than the usual street meal – 65,000 dong – but locals pay the same price. The portions are generous and the ingredients very good quality, so I have no problem paying a bit more.

Where: Bun Mam Dac San
22 Phan Boi Chau, District 1

Bun Moc

bun moc in saigon
Bun moc, photo courtesy of Vietnam Coracle

Bun moc has been my go-to soup when I had no idea what else to eat, when my tastebuds were overwhelmed with the variety of other meals throughout the day and just wanted a simple bowl, with savoury pork and mushroom broth. Broth aside, the soup’s fun lies in its accoutrements — slices of cha lua (a pork meatloaf coated in a cinnamon outer layer), slices of thin pork meat, and meatballs made of pork. Despite being a pork festival, it’s actually quite light, and the thin rice noodles compliment the meat well. The soup is topped with fried shallots and fresh cilantro. Most tourists haven’t heard of bun moc, but it’s a nice counterpoint to the strong flavours of the pork and rice dishes below. The few kids I’ve brought seem to love it too, so it might be a good starter dish if you are travelling with a family.

Where: Bun Moc Than Mai
14 Truong Dinh, District 1

Bun Rieu Cua

best bun rieu ho chi minh district 1
Bowl of bun rieu on the street.
Bun rieu cua on the streets of Saigon
Bun rieu cua on the streets of Saigon

I wrote at length about bun rieu, including some history, in a post about how I had to fight for a bowl in the Mekong. Suffice it to say that this pungent crab and tomato soup is incredible, and the version in the photos above (address below) is not as strongly fishy as some of the others in town. If you want to dip your foot into bun rieu start with the lovely lady above, and then try it about town. She usually avoids giving foreigners the blood cube prevalent in bun rieu, so if offal is your thing, insist on yours. She’ll provide extra with a beaming smile.

Where: Corner of Pasteur Street & Ly Tu Trong street, District 1. If she’s not there, please try the corner of Nguyen Du & Pasteur street as she tends to be at one of those two spots.
The lady above is the person you’re looking for :-)
Only open between 10am – 3pm

 

Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio

Bun thit nuong cha gio saigon street food
Bun thit nuong cha gio, a bowl of win.
thit nuong ho chi minh
Grilling the thit nuong, marinated pork.
cha gio gluten free vietnam
Cha gio, fried spring rolls. They’re made with rice paper and are gluten-free. And ridiculously good.

Ah, bun thit nuong, how I love thee. Abbreviated as BTN by friends, this dish is found throughout the city and combines all of the satisfying textures you might want for lunch in one heaping bowl of food. Rice vermicelli noodles, grilled boneless pork, a crispy pork spring roll (often with taro), which is the cha gio part of the name, and fresh lettuce and herbs. You top it with spoonfuls of sweet fish sauce and chilli, letting the sweet and pungent liquid seep into every bit of your food. There are a myriad of BTN places that I frequent and enjoy, but the one below is my favourite because the spring rolls remain the most satisfying. Instead of rolling them in cloudy rice paper, this vendor uses a big banh trang rice paper that has been softened, much like we use for the fresh goi cuon (summer rolls) when making them in Canada. The result is a thin and crispy outside layer and extraordinary spring roll. I’ve ordered extra every time I frequent Chi Thong.

Where: Chi Thong
195 Co Giang, District 1

Canh Chua

As I’ve mentioned when I came to Vietnam in 2012 for the first time, and in my recent posts, canh chua was the reason I first visited. This sweet and sour soup with rice paddy herb and pineapple, fish and tomatoes, can be found along the street in the Mekong, but rarely as street food in District 1. This restaurant, which also serves some good chicken dishes and fried fish, provides a heaping bowl — photo is above. Order with a side of white rice to make it into a full meal.

Where: Quan Com So 7
3 Nguyen Van Trang, District 1,
+84 8 3835 8175

Canh Kho Qua

canh kho qua market
Pork stuffed inside bitter melon (served in soup)
com tam tu quy ho chi minh city
Com Tam joint serving the great bitter melon soup.

Not everyone enjoys bitter tastes, but for those who do: bitter melon is for you. For this dish, canh kho qua nhoi thit, the bitter melon is boiled long enough so the bitterness curls just at the end of your tongue, after the other flavours sink in. A light but comforting meal, it is served in soup form, with the melon stuffed with ground pork, wood ear mushrooms and occasionally glass noodles. It is then tied together and cooked in a clear broth, topped with cilantro for serving. If you can’t get to Saigon but this sounds like it is up your alley, a recipe here. For those heading to the restaurant below, you can order with some pork chops for the table, or with just a side of rice.

Where: Com Tam Tu Quy
Cho Tan Dinh (Tan Din Market), near the corner of Hai Ba Trung street and Nguyen Huu Cau street, District 3
Yellow sign of the same name, plus waiters all wearing yellow shirts
5pm until late

Che Chuoi

best desserts ho chi minh
Che chuoi in Saigon

Che chuoi is a sweet banana and tapioca dessert, floating in a sea of coconut cream and topped with sesame and crushed peanuts. It is one che dessert in a long line of che options; see the Wikipedia page for a start on the others. I’ve found many friends didn’t enjoy the mung bean or black bean che treats, but all went for che chuoi like it was going out of style. The stall below is actually run by one gentleman — sometimes aided by his son — and his bowls of desserts, so you can pick and choose different options, including taro with coconut milk (che khoi mon). 

Where: 241 Vo Van Tan Street, District 3
Located right on the street, directly in front of Thien Ban Pagoda

Com Suon

com suon vietnam street food
Streetside com suon grilling.

A very popular Saigon lunch or dinner (sometimes breakfast too), this rice and grilled pork chop meal will fill you up quickly and cheaply. You will also get a spoonful of green onions fried in pork fat atop the chop itself, as well as some crispy pieces of pork rind. Served with a tiny pile of pickled vegetables, and usually a small bowl of light broth on the side. For those even hungrier, try com suon op la (grilled pork chop over rice with a fried egg). You’ll be full well into dinner time.

Where: The com suon joint directly across the street from the entrance to the water puppets show on Nguyen Thi Minh Khi, not far from the park’s entrance. Essentially: between Truong Dinh and Huyen Trang Cong Chua.
It’s on the opposite side of the road as the park, and you will find it based on your nose, and the grill of pork at the side of the road.
So good.

Com Tam

Saigon Vietnamese Ca kho to, braised claypot catfish
Ca kho to, braised claypot catfish, from the best com tam joint in town.

Com tam, literally “broken rice”, started out as a dish served with lowered prices, since the rice did not meet standards for export and was thus available at a reduced price. It is a street food staple in Saigon, found on almost every corner in one form or another. The broken rice is kept to the side, with a glass shelf holding the stars of the lunch show: a panoply of incredible cooked dishes, some braised, some boiled, some stewed, that are meant to be eaten with the rice. Some of the restaurants also give you a banana as dessert.

A favourite with com tam is ca kho to, photo above, a rich braised catfish dish. For those who don’t like fish, fried chicken, pork belly with braised eggs, and fish cooked in pineapple and vegetables are usually on offer too. The best advice I can give is go in a group and order to share.

The restaurant below is owned by Hai of Eating Saigon (blog below), and provides a field trip out of District 1 and some terrific food. For those wanting to stay closer to ‘home’ you can head to the corner of Mac Dinh Chi and Nguyen Thi Minh Khai for a com tam place (just past the KFC) that opens from 10am-2pm.

Where: Dong Hoa Xuan
49 No Trang Long, Binh Thanh District
+84 (8) 3510 1771

Cuon Diep

Vegetarian food ho chi minh city saigon
Cuon diep at Tib Express, District 3

These are a simple but surprisingly fulfilling treats consisting of mustard leaves that are rolled around vermicelli noodles and chopped up mushrooms and tofu. Served with a sweet peanut sauce, they satisfy both the crunchy and the healthy wants at once. I would often head to Tib Chay for a fix.

Where: Tib Chay
11 Tran Nhat Duat, District 1
+84 8 3843 6460

Hu Tieu

hu tieu soup ho chi minh district 1
Hu tieu nam vang, kho. Dry version of Hu tieu from Phnom Penh.

Hu tieu soups are a complicated beast. I’ll kick this off with a paragraph from the Loving Pho blog, who wrote about the soup:

The three most recognized types are Hu Tieu Nam Vang (hu tieu Phnom Penh style,) Hu Tieu My Tho (after the capital city of Tiền Giang Province, located in the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam,) and Hu Tieu Chinese style. The Chinese had a lot to do with hu tieu being in Vietnam in the first place. […] Chinese-Cambodian brought the dish from Cambodia (hence the Phnom Penh style,) and Vietnamese borrowed it and made their own Viet versions.

The complicatedness doesn’t stop there, however, because hu tieu also means just the noodle and not necessarily in soup form. I know. Let’s turn to Andrea Nguyen’s great recipe for hu tieu Nam Vang for more.

The noodles in a bowl of hu tieu can be chewy clear tapioca noodles, opaque white rice noodles like you’d use for pho noodle soup, or thin Chinese egg noodles (mi). The toppings cover a wide territory, and may include boneless pork, pork ribs, pork offal, shrimp, squid, wonton dumplings, fried garlic, fried shallot, and/or scallion. As usual, you pick and choose whatever you want. Hu tieu is the extreme have-it-your-way Vietnamese food experience. I’ve seen a ‘dry’ version too but have never tried it.

Basically what I’m saying is, on your wanderings around town if you see a form of hu tieu you should just try it because it’s rarely the same twice. Though Andrea’s recipe is the ‘wet’ version of broth in the soup, I prefer it kho or dry, where the noodles are separate as in the photo above. This is because I like to add just a few spoonfuls of the broth, so the noodles remain springy. Plus, the post-meal dessert? More broth. The restaurant below is central, but this category of soup is also all over the streets, with the Chinese-style soup found more often than not in beautifully ornate wooden carts with Chinese lettering.

It’s important to note that some forms of hu tieu soups don’t actually use hu tieu noodles – mi (egg noodles, which are wheat-based) are unsafe for celiacs.

I’ve got a hu tieu lady in every District. You should too.

Where: Quan Mi Cat
62 Truong Dinh District 1

Pho Bo

PHO! I couldn’t leave this dish out of the list, though as I quickly found when I visited for the first time, there is so much more to food in Vietnam than this popular soup. It merits repeating that there two primary types of beef phos you can get in Saigon, the Southern-style (sweeter, less spices in the broth, sometimes cuttlefish added to the broth as well), or Hanoi-style. Hanoi was where the soup originated and while I love Saigon dishes, I do prefer the northern broth. It is more savoury, with a heady aftertaste of cinnamon, star anise, and roasted ginger. It tastes denser to me, thicker with the spices, and regardless of whether I eat it with raw or cooked beef, it is a satisfying meal. I think my preference also stems from novelty; many of the soups I’ve tried in Montreal or New York were from Southern Vietnamese who fled during the diaspora, and thus brought with them a more Southern recipe. I was surprised to find the Northern-style soups far less sweet than I remembered from Montreal.

When I first spent the winter in Vietnam, I dedicated specific days of the week to a particular dish. Wednesdays were banh xeo days, Tuesdays were all about oc, snails, and Thursdays were earmarked for pho. So, I have eaten many-a-pho around town but three different options stand out. The first was recommended by Tom of Vietnam Coracle (his blog is in the blog section below), and remains my favourite, as close as I’ve found to the great phos I tried in Hanoi. The second is owned by Prison Granny from my Why I Love Saigon piece, and is part of why I decided to take an apartment nearby; it was just that good. The third is a Chinese-style pho, a bit sweeter, but for meat-lovers it is a solid option. The nearby area — especially the side alleys off of Vo Van Tan street — is fun to explore.

Where: Pho Phuong (photo below)
25 Hoang Sa Street, District 1, right on the canal’s edge
+84 (8) 3910 2422

street food pho ho chi minh
The best pho bo in Saigon

Where: Pho Thanh Binh (photo below)
18bis Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, District 1

where to eat pho ho chi minh
Prison pho, aka Pho Thanh Binh

Where: Pho Le (no photo)
303-305 Vo Van Tan Street
+84 (8) 3834 4486

Pho Ga

best Pho ga ho chi minh
Staging station for my favourite pho ga in town.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick, all I want is chicken noodle soup. Sadly this option is often off the table (literally) in North America; as a celiac, I can’t eat the noodles. But Vietnam is a perfect place for sick celiacs, because their chicken soup is made with thick rice noodles. This pho ga (ga is chicken) place also serves pho bo (bo meaning beef), but I wouldn’t go there for the beef soup. Instead opt for their flavourful, rich chicken broth and thinly sliced chicken breast. For those wanting a different fix, opt for mien ga (mien are mung bean noodles), both of which come with their signature spicy sauce, pickled garlic, and basket ‘o herbs. Note that this is a place taxi drivers frequent at all hours of the night — it’s open 24 hours a day. It was a frequent visit during bouts of the flu, or even when full but walking by; one sniff of their chicken broth and you do an about turn and sit down for a bowl.

Where: Pho So 1 Ha Noi
25 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, District 1
Open 24 hours. 

Banh Mi

I can’t eat it, since it’s wheat, so I apologize for not being able to opine about the best one. However! Voracious friends recommend the two following places:

Where:

Banh Mi Huynh Hoa 
26 Lê Thị Riêng, Bến Thành, District 1

and

Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai (aka Bánh Mì Thịt Nướng, Hẻm 39)

Also see this lovely 2020 piece from Austin Bush, about baking banh mi in Saigon.

A Slightly Fancier Meal

Bloom Saigon (formerly May Restaurant) is tucked at the end of a tiny alleyway near the canal’s edge, not far from my recommended Pho place on Hoang Sa. It’s set in a lovely old colonial-style house, and run efficiently with delicious food. Would recommend trying the beef wrapped in mustard leaves, the tofu with lemongrass, and the sour soup, among other dishes. It’s a nice change from the more chaotic restaurants near the heart of District 1, and a lovely choice place for a date or anniversary.

Where: Bloom Saigon
3/5 Hoang Sa Street, District 1
+84 8 3910 1277
www.bloom-saigon.com

For vegetarians wanting a bit of a nicer restaurant, try Hum Restaurant, located near the War Remnants Museum in District 3.

For more vegetarian eats, see Travel Lush’s Ho Chi Minh City guide (from 2018), this Foursquare list (from 2014), this Culture Trip 10 Best Vegetarian List (from 2018), and this great cookbook from Cameron Stauch, Vegetarian Viet Nam.

Are you looking for vegan food in Saigon? Happy Cow has you covered, as does Messy Veggies.

Where: Hum Vegetarian
32 Vo Van Tan Street, District 3
+84 (8) 3930 3819
Hum

Non-Vietnamese and International Food in Saigon

BBQ Ribs and Smoked Pork: My friend Mark opened his new restaurant ,Quan Ut Ut, with no advertising and only word-of-mouth referrals. It’s packed almost every night and with good reason: the food is exceptional, you get tremendous value for money and it’s built around the American BBQ concept but made with local ingredients. Whether you order family style or get your own, you must be sure to try the smoked ribs or pork shoulder, the grilled okra, and if you’re not celiac like me, the bacon bacon burger, which a friend described as “a burger literally made out of bacon”. Ut is actually the onomatopoeia for the sound a pig makes, the Vietnamese for “oink”.

Where: Quan Ut Ut
3 different locations via their Facebook page – District 1, District 2, and District 7.

Pizza: I can’t attest to its deliciousness as they don’t make a gluten-free version but friends rave about a Japanese pizza place called 4 Ps, and a New York Times feature has made them even more popular. For those missing this food group, highly recommended by Vietnamese and expats alike. The owner picked the name — short for Platform of Personal Pizza for Peace — to reflect what he calls “delivering wow and happiness”. Love it. Wish I could eat it.

Where: Pizza 4Ps
8/15 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1
+84 120 789 4444 (Wise to call first — they’re quite busy!)

Gluten-free Pasta: If you are celiac like me, there is a gluten-free option for pasta, provided you’ve tired of rice noodles. I can’t speak to their food generally but they use corn pasta for their dishes, and half portions were available. It was filling and I ended up with a slow cooked meat sauce, which was delicious.

Where: Ciao Bella
11 Dong Du, District 1
+84 (8) 3822 3329

Sushi: 

$$ – My friends John and Brooke first discovered this tiny restaurant, set slightly away from the road, sliding doors covered in a light curtain from the inside. Walking inside, you can choose to sit at the sushi bar (recommended, of course) or in the bigger dining room. While more expensive than other options like Sushi Bar, the quality of the fish reflects the price point, and the meals are meticulously prepared.

Since I can’t eat Japanese soy sauce as it contains wheat, I took to ordering their salmon donburi bowl, fresh raw salmon fanned over sushi rice and topped with a shiso leaf filled with salmon roe. The roe gave me the salt that was missing from the soy sauce, and made for an expensive (by street food prices, that is — approx $17) but delicious meal. I’d rather have sushi less frequently but enjoy quality fish, so I recommend this versus some other joints in town. Their lunch set includes a dessert and small side dishes.

Where: La Phong Sushi House
Lunch 11:30am-2pm
Dinner: 5:30pm-10:30pm
9 Tran Cao Van Street, District 1
+84 (8)48 3824 7882

$$- Another favourite spot is Hanayuki, who source their salmon from Norway. It’s always been fresh, delicious, and a cozy casual spot for lunch – when they have their best value meals.

Where: Hanayuki
21C Ton Duc Thang Street
Ben Nghe, Ho Chi Minh City 70000
+84 28 3824 2754

$$$$ – Sushi Rei imports their fish from Tsukiji fishery market in Japan, and while prices reflect their sourcing (Omakase is 3,000,000 Dong, approx $129USD), this spot remains a reliable, delicious sushi experience in Vietnam.

Where: Sushi Rei
10E1 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street,
Da Kao, District 1, HCMC

Indian: Fun fact: antibiotics make me crave Indian food. I have no idea why this is, but when I was sick near the end of my Saigon stay, all I wanted to eat was paneer and dosa and thick creamy mutton korma. There are many delicious options for Indian in town, but two central ones are Ganesh and BaBa’s Kitchen. Ganesh is set near the Opera House, away from the backpacker area, whereas BaBa’s is smack in the middle of backpacker central. So, if you want to avoid the “khao san road of Saigon”, opt for Ganesh. However, both are great and have lovely owners and helpful waiters and waitresses. I prefer Ganesh’s palak paneer to that of BaBas, but BaBa’s dopiaza and vindaloo dishes were superior. Solution: try them both. And report back please!

Where: 

BaBa’s Kitchen
164 Bui Vien Street, District 1
+84 (8) 3838 6661
www.babaskitchen.in

Ganesh
38 Hai Ba Trung Street, District 1
+84 974 453 087
Ganesh

Salad: Au Parc, specifically the Nicoise salad made with smoked fish and quail eggs. For those with kids, also a great option for weekend brunch as they have a free child care area plus nanny on their upper floor.

Where: Au Parc Cafe
23 Han Thuyen Street, District 1
+84 (8) 3829 2772
www.auparcsaigon.com

French Fries: L’Usine’s two location make these fries, but I was able to eat them at the Dong Khoi location only as the chef was kind enough to fry them in new oil so as not to have them contaminated with the breaded products they also fry.

Where: L’Usine Dong Khoi
151 Dong Khoi Street, District 1

(upstairs after going into an art gallery-lined alleyway)
www.lusinespace.com

Drinks and Smoothies in Saigon

Selection of places for beverages of different kinds, fancy and casual.

Smoothies: Many a smoothie fan in Saigon, and they are available just about everywhere. But for a wonderful place to watch the world go by, owned by a lovely lady with a great smile, head to Juicy.

Juicy Smoothies Saigon Hem 18a
The owner of Juicy Smoothies
best smoothie saigon
A Juicy mango smoothie with no sugar and added whipped cream.

Where: Juicy Smoothie Bar
Next to alley 18A Nguyen Thi Minh Khai (Between Mac Dinh Chi and Dinh Tien Hoang)

Quiet Coffee: L’Usine has some delicious coffee as well, but I headed to Morning News when I wanted to read or write quietly. (Their business cards say “writers hideout, book lovers corner” after all!) Set in a teeny alley off the busier main street, you walk up several floors and then into a wood and art-filled room. More on the cafe from Nomadic Notes in his cafes of HCMC roundup here. My fave, the basic ca phe

Where: The Morning Cafe
2nd Floor, 36 Le Loi Street, District 1
+84 93 838 33 30

Vietnamese Coffee: There are no shortage of Vietnamese cafes dotting the streets in Saigon; walk around for more than 5 minutes and you are sure to find one, filled with (mostly) men drinking coffee at the side of the road, smoking and gazing out at the street. These are also quite fun to frequent, but for somewhere more relaxing to try Vietnamese coffee, opt for a cup at Cuc Gach cafe. (Note: this is a different location from their main restaurant).

Where: Cuc Gach Cafe
79 Phan Ke Binh Street, District 1
+84 (8) 3911 0120

Egg Coffee: I wrote a whole post about egg coffee (Ca phe trung), including how it originated in Hanoi and a recipe to try it at home. Given the explosion of its popularity with tourists, enterprising cafes in Ho Chi Minh City have started to sell egg coffee as well. While this isn’t a normal drink at home in Vietnam, it’s basically dessert in a cup, and decadently delicious.

vietnamese egg coffee ho chi minh city
Cafe Giang’s egg coffee, from Hanoi

Where: Nấp Sài Gòn
3/5 Nguyen Van Thu, District 1 (spacious location, extensive menu, including egg coffee).

Chrysanthemum tea: My Vietnamese friends believe that chrysanthemum tea is a coolant on hot days, and has medicinal properties as well. So it’s no surprise that this tiny tea joint at the intersection of two main arteries is always hopping. Motorbikes stop by to grab a glass before handing it back and driving off; others pick up litres of the sweet (seriously: SWEET) tea for their families at home. The taste might not be for everyone but it is worth a try at least once. It’s an easy walk from the Banh Cuon Tay Ho restaurant above — think of it as your dessert.

Chrysanthemum tea ho chi minh
Chrysanthemum tea.
tea ho chi minh city
Drinking chrysanthemum tea on the side of the road on the commute home.

Where: Nuoc Sam Co Ba
Dien Bien Phu, near the corner of Dinh Tien Hoang Street

Strangest drink location: I didn’t believe it at first, but the address for Animus is actually the address for the South African consulate, and they are attached to each other. The “Cigar Lounge” door in the back? It’s actually a door to the consulate. Unsurprisingly they serve South African wine (try the pinotage) and have had a two-for-one happy hour from 6pm-8pm for the last few months. Opulent decor, comfortable leather seats or wooden bar tables and chairs, and a very nice manager and staff.

[Reader Paul confirms that Animus is now closed.]

Where: Animus Bar and Lounge
 19 Phung Khac Khoan Street, District 1

+84 (8) 730 50066
www.animus.com.vn

Fancier rooftop: Recommended in many a guidebook, Shri isn’t at all off-the-path, but it remains my preferred rooftop bar for a sunset drink. I’ll usually grab some street soup nearby and then take the elevator to the top floor of the building, with choice of indoor and outdoor seating. Good wine selection and great views, but pricey. Other options include the Chill Sky Bar (much more dressy — no running shoes or flip flops), or the Cobalt Bar atop the newer Pullman Hotel.

Where: Shri Bar
27 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, District , Top Floor
+84 (8) 3827 9631

Street bars: Per Saigoneer, COVID-19 has wrought an explosion of street-side cocktail bars, what they call “an inspiring breeding ground for the city’s cocktail entrepreneurs.” They’ve set up on sideways and in alleyways, but aren’t serving questionable mixes – they’ve put together mixology-focused cocktails that appeal to locals and expats alike. See Saigoneer’s piece on street cocktail bars for a few suggestions.

Jazz: Weekly jazz sessions at Le Fenetre Soleil, and while drinks are pricier than neighbouring bars, you don’t usually pay cover for the venue or music. Lovely setup with back terrace and funky decor. Definitely skews toward expats, not locals.

Where: Le Fenetre Soleil
44 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1
+84 (8) 3824 5994

Less fancy rooftop: With a view of Notre-Dame Cathedral, a narrow and unlit alley entrance, a bathroom with a profoundly permanent smell of mothballs and a rickety staircase to the roof, Casbah isn’t for those seeking an opulent rooftop experience. But it is usually full of locals, the wine is reasonably priced, and the location is central. Definitely do not sit in the smokey indoor section, but rather motion to the staff to keep walking upstairs, past the bar and to the roof, where you can choose between cubbyholes with cushions surrounding a table and sit cross-legged, a long bar, or couches and chairs on the other side of the rooftop.

Where: Casbah Shisha Bar
59 Nguyen Du Street, District 1
(Entrance to the alley between the small convenience store. If you are walking from Dong Khoi and hit the place selling grilled chicken feet, you’ve gone too far.)

Relaxed Alternative: Live music, art, outdoor seating, casual food, usually on the grill, and skateboarding options, Saigon Outcast became a favourite Sunday afternoon activity for many of my friends. It’s not conveniently located as it’s out in District 2, but if you’re looking for a chill way to spend a Sunday and have some beer at the same time, it’s a good bet.

Where: Saigon Outcast
188/1 Nguyen Van Huong Street, Thao Dien, District 2
+84 12 2428 3198
www.saigonoutcast.com

Gluten-Free Vietnamese Food

With the exception of banh mi sandwiches, most of this list of food is gluten free and I ate it all.

There is a risk in using a translation card that stalls or restaurants will simply say “no we cannot serve you here” in lieu of risking what to feed you and getting you sick. I have found that researching what is safe and not safe helps the most in being able to make that decision for yourself. Head on over to the Essential Gluten Free Guide to Vietnam, because there I list the safe foods, the unsafe foods (and their Vietnamese names) and more guidance.

Then come back here and use the map to stuff your face with street food in Saigon.

Map of Great Food and Drinks in Ho Chi Minh City

 Basic Information for Navigating Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon

A good overview post from Roads and Kingdoms: 22 things to know before you go to HCMC

Visas

Several options for visas exist. Most popular is the Visa on Arrival (VOA) scheme, whereby you pay for a letter that invites you to the country from an online agency, and then you receive your visa upon arrival in Saigon or Hanoi. This is not available for land entries. Note that if you do this, you will need to bring a passport sized photo of you as well as your stamping fee for your visa, which differs depending on how many entries you have / how long you are staying.

  • E-visa agencies will offer online application of VOA, then email it to you as a PDF and you can print and bring with you for airline officials and to use for your actual visa on arrival in Saigon. Sometimes it took some serious explaining to the airlines that yes, it was a visa invitation and no it wouldn’t result in my being rejected. Airlines will customarily look for the actual visa in your passport instead. I’ve been using Evisa, but as they are not an official agency I would do some internet research to see what is best for your nationality.

Taxis

Taxis get a bad rep in town but in my two winters of time living in Saigon, I’ve had only one negative experience. And it barely was negative — just a cab driver who insisted on extra charges because we were four people in the cab. In contrast, sometimes we piled in a clown car of 7 people into a van cab, with no extra charges levied by any of the drivers. This was clearly just a bad apple, not indicative of taxi drivers overall. Yes, I’ve occasionally had a driver say he knows the way and get lost, or my pronunciation of the street name sent another in the wrong direction before I realized where I was headed. But generally if you stick to the tips below, you should be fine.

  • Use VinaSun cabs if you can. White cab with green lettering. Of all the experiences, VinaSun proved time and time again to be the best. The other company I would recommend is Mai Linh, all green taxis, but my rides with VinaSun were always better.
  • When you leave the airport, you can actually choose whatever company you want. It seems crazy but it’s true. After you exit the international terminal and turn left to the taxi stand, there are a bunch of dispatchers across the same street, just facing the taxi stand. While there will likely be grey taxis waiting (of a different company), you can merely walk across the street or wave the dispatcher over, and request a VinaSun cab from the VinaSun dispatcher. They will call one for you and you can just wait a few minutes until it arrives.
  • Unlike in Bangkok, where you usually have to ask if they will take you to where you want to go (and they often say no), I’ve never been refused a ride. I’ve also never had to tell a cab driver to turn on his or her meter — it’s automatic.
  • I do round up fares usually, but only by 5,000 – 8,000 Dong or so. No 20% tip or anything like that, but rounding up is appreciated (albeit not required). I do tip right before or right after Tet (the lunar new year) however, since it’s an expensive time of year for most Vietnamese people as they are paying off debts and buying things for the house, etc.
  • When you’re waiting for a cab that someone is getting out of, don’t be irate that the prior passenger closes the door despite you waiting in front of them. The VinaSun cabs have to have the door closed from a prior fare to “reset” their fare recording and system, so it’s not that the driver is about to run off without you, or that the prior passenger is trying to deny you entry.
  • Cab drivers are usually unwilling and sometimes unable to make change for a bigger (500,000 Dong) bill. I’ve seen more than one driver fish out a second pile of bills in his pockets when pressed to make change, but another run off to a store to obtain change as he honestly did not have any. I tried to just bring smaller bills with me (50,000s or 20,000s) when taking a cab.
  • Asking for intersections of two streets was the easiest way to get to where I needed to go, or picking bigger landmarks like churches or hotels or famous skyscrapers (e.g Bitxeco tower) that are nearby.

Buses

Futa Buslines’ bright orange Phuong Trang buses (link to Vietnamese-only site) is reliable and leaves from the central De Tham area in District 1. Tickets can be booked at the office on De Tham near Pham Ngu Lao (272 De Tham; link is to Google map. Phone is +84 838 309 309), and small timetable cards available to keep on you for each destination, also from their offices.

See my guide to Mui Ne for a great destination to visit from Saigon!

Hospitals

Having been to a few of them, I recommend the Family Medical Practice in the Diamond Plaza if you are staying in District 1. It’s expensive – $60 for a consultation – but test turnaround is quick and their equipment is modern. If you need a specialist, you can make an appointment for here as well, such as a tropical diseases doctor or for those with kids, a pediatrician. Their receptionist is extremely helpful, so you can always just stop in to ask questions in lieu of calling if you are in the area. As I’ve said in my “Why I Love Saigon” post, the American Chiropractor Clinic is a very good value for people needing to see a specialist for back, neck or other joint pain.

SIM cards

I’ve found the best pay-as-you-go SIM for unlocked photos in need of a data plan to be the Mobifone SIM. You can go to any corner store and ask for a SIM, or to many of the iPhone/Android/Everything Stores that have popped up around town.

When you get the SIM card, also buy 100,000 Dong of credit. To activate the plan (this worked up until June 2014, but of course might change): Text the words DK MIU to the number 999. When a text comes back to you, reply with just the letter Y.

PRESTO. You are now signed up for the DK MIU data plan, which offers unlimited use of data (quicker speeds up to 5GB, then you get put into the slow plan) for the month.

If you ensure you keep at least 70,000 Dong (the cost of the plan as of June 2014) on your phone, you will be able to auto-renew once the month is up. Note that you’ll also get a few 50% sale messages, since Mobifone has days where credit is half off, meaning you receive double what you pay for in phone credit. These will be stored as ‘bonus’ credits in your phone, under the KM2 and KM3 headings when you check your credit. So I would just buy the data plan and then on a 50% day, I’d add another 100,000, which would keep my plan in action for the next few months. Texting not included on the plan, but quite cheap.

Currency

The Dong. Currently at a rate of 22, 306 Dong to 1 USD as of July 2016.

Added bonus: crass jokes. No matter how long I stayed in the country, the jokes (“fistful of Dong” or “show me your Dong” or any use of “YEAH YOU DID” after a Dong statement) did not get old. I even made my landlady a Dong flower with my rent money, but she was extremely unimpressed with my Dong Decorating Skillz.

Best to keep change / smaller denominations when you can, as many smaller stores or street stalls will be reticent to break a 500,000 note — and of course the banks give 500,000 notes for the most part.

Foot Massage

I consider this a “basics” because to me living in Asia includes availing myself of the reasonably priced and relaxing foot massages around the region. I try to go once a week or once every few weeks, especially since I enjoy long walks around Saigon.

This place is on a busy street behind the big Citibank building and is often full of Japanese business men on a lunch break. Chairs are laid out side by side on three different floors, and the 70 minute treatment (220,000 Dong at time of writing) includes the foot massage (45 minutes) plus a 25 minute head-shoulder-back combo. Of course, it is finished off by yogaesque stretching and cracking. Usually extremely busy during lunch hours for reasons above, so best to head there in the later afternoon.

Professional Foot Massage
44 Ton That Thiep Street, District 1

A Note about COVID-19 and Vietnam

pandemic covid-19 in vietnam
COVID-19 and Vietnam

Tom from Vietnam Coracle has a thorough, three-part series about being in Vietnam during COVID-19, how the country has handled the pandemic, and his personal thoughts. The parts are divided into pre-COVID, lockdown, and post-COVID.

I trust Tom’s accounts of food and travel, but I also value his perspective during this surreal time. Vietnam was able to contain and eradicate COVID-19 as of summer 2020, and Tom’s first person view is a rare perspective for those of us no longer in Vietnam.

To read his work on the topic, start here. In Tom’s words:

In Vietnam, the period of time we’re currently living through, during which the world struggles to contain Covid-19, is known as mùa dịch: ‘pandemic season’. Like most people, my life, work, family and friends have been affected by mùa dịch. And, like most people, the ‘pandemic season’ has caused me to reflect on many different things. This page is an attempt to organize my thoughts, experiences, and emotions during mùa dịch into a personal narrative covering much of the last six months. For me, ‘pandemic season’ in Vietnam can be divided into three phases: ‘Pre-Covid’, ‘Lock-Down’, and ‘Post-Virus’. I’ve chosen to write about this now because, in Vietnam, it feels like we’re already well into the ‘Post-Virus’ phase. Almost everything is back to ‘Pre-Covid’ ways: the only exceptions being international flights and tourism. A country of nearly 100 million people which shares a border with China (where the outbreak first occurred), Vietnam is currently a world leader in containing the virus and caring for those who’ve been infected. At the time of writing (July 9, 2020), there were just 369 reported cases, 347 of which had recovered, zero deaths, and no community transmissions for nearly three months. In late January, when the virus broke in Vietnam, few observers would have predicted a record like this. Needless to say, I feel very fortunate to have spent ‘pandemic season’ here.

The Best Books and Blogs About Vietnam and its Food

Books

Blogs about Saigon and Food in Vietnam

  • Historic Vietnam – from friend Tim Doling, one of the most knowlegeable people about Saigon, Vietnam and their architectural history. His blog is a wonderful exploration of old buildings and their background, as well as interesting people from Vietnam’s history.
  • Vietnam Coracle – Tom has been living in Saigon for many years and speaks great Vietnamese. He believes in sharing longform, useful content without making people pay for it, and he’s a really fun writer. His site has alley wanders, posts about food, and details about motorcycle trips away from the city, along with many other updates from his time in the country. See his great post about the best street food streets in Saigon here.
  • A Global Kitchen – my friend Cam is one of the more curious people I’ve ever met, always diving deep into the culture of food and sharing it with others. His blog houses some of the stories from his travels, as well as a great page on cooking classes around Southeast Asia.
  • From Swerve of Shore – photography from Vietnam with side trips elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
  • Eating Saigon – Joe and Hai explore and review street food around town.
  • Viet World Kitchen – Andrea Nguyen’s books are listed above, but her blog is also a source of recipes, information about ingredients and herbs, and commentary about Vietnamese food and traditions.
  • The Ravenous Couple – This lovely couple is not based in Vietnam at the moment but they have plenty of recipes for many of the dishes I’ve posted here, alongside stories of how those dishes figured prominently in their respective families.
  • Eating Asia’s Saigon posts – food and photography from around town, over a few years of visits and from former residents Dave & Robyn.
  • Sticky Rice – when people say they are going to Hanoi, I send them to Mark’s blog. He runs food tours with his partner Tu and the blog’s contents make that evident — it’s chock full of foods to try around town.
  • Hanoi Cooking Centre – another resource for Saigon. Tracey’s new book “Real Vietnamese Cooking” is coming out in September in North America, but you can still take cooking lessons at her cooking centre today.
  • Saigoneer – News, photos and events around town. Very useful for those visiting. See their Events Calendar for a great starting point!
  • Oi Vietnam – Oi also covers events around town, restaurant reviews, and has features from international locations as well.
  • Travelfish Vietnam Blog – updated frequently, an arm of the general Travelfish site, my go-to for news and updates for travel in Southeast Asia. They’ve also just posted a LONG food guide to the city here.
  • Rusty Compass Saigon guide – Mark’s page about the city, updated often, with mini reviews of restaurants and sights around town.
  • And for those looking for a food guide for Hanoi, Will Fly For Food has you covered here.

Happy eating!

-Jodi

The Legal Nomads Guide to Saigon Street Food

134 thoughts on “The Legal Nomads Self-Guided Tour to Saigon Street Food”

  1. Oh my gosh. Why am I killing myself reading this article? I’m disgustingly salivating at all the pictures and I’m almost to the point of taking a bite out of my monitor. I definitely need to plan a trip to Vietnam this is amazing!

  2. Oh my goodness! I am a travel blogger who just returned (on Tuesday) from 10 days in Vietnam. I so wish I had discovered your site before I left. Our time in Saigon was very short, but we will be returning. This is a great resource – thanks!

  3. Thank you for the great post Jodi! Once question….you said that all the dishes you listed above are gluten free. I heard that they use gluten to make sausages, and isn’t the “cha” they serve with Banh Cuon and in Bun Bo Hue pork sausage? Are the Vietnamese sausages gluten free?

    1. Hi Tung, thank you for the comment. I have asked around about this before eating cha lua and other sausages, and have been told that they do not use gluten for thickening / consistency in sausages here. Instead, if they do use a thickener it is tapioca flour or rice flour. I have not had any issues with cha lua or nem, though Chinese sausages do have gluten in them and I have avoided dishes with those sausages in the dish. If you look at recipes for cha lua online, it also confirms tapioca flour – https://web.archive.org/web/20181020033927/http://eatnowcrylater.com:80/vietnamese-hamcha-lua (and many others).

      Appreciate your note and asking after this issue! Thanks for reading.

  4. Congratulations on a fantastic blog. My family are heading to Vietnam soon and my husband is celiac. The information you have provided will ensure our trip is a success! Thanks again.

    1. Glad to hear it Cathy! I’m happy it was helpful. I’m also planning to translate a Gluten-Free card like I did for my Greece post with the names of the local Vietnamese foods. At present, those available online are more generic but I think using the actual names for the flours in the foods we celiacs can eat would be a great thing. :)

  5. Great post. Thanks for being so thorough. We’re heading in January and this has made me all the more excited. Do you have any advice on accommodation? Is it better to book while in the country? Trivago etc looks a bit expensive compared to prices I’ve heard from friends.

    1. I usually use Agoda for lodging in Southeast Asia. For a hotel in the centre that is cute but off a main street and reasonable in price, I usually recommend Little Boutique Hotel Saigon (36 Bis/2 Le Loi Boulevard, District 1 – there’s another more expensive one with a similar name so be sure to use this address when searching). For cheap accommodation ($15 a night or so) the backpacker / Pham Ngu Lao area has a ton of options but honestly I don’t usually send readers there because it’s busy and people hassle you more. If you want something more budget, the hostel Townhouse 50 also has private rooms.

  6. This post is amazing – I feel like I need to print it out and study it before we visit Vietnam. :) A huge thank you for extra gluten free section. Just curious, have you noticed if MSG if used in most Vietnamese cooking? I usually have to go through the whole “gluten-free/dairy free” thing when I eat out, but I’m also sensitive to MSG. I’ve been lucky in Thailand and Cambodia so far and have been able to find out the local brand used…just curious if you’ve had any experience in Vietnam?

    1. Hi Jessica,

      Glad you liked the post. Yes, MSG is used in much of the cooking here. I have not had trouble with it except if used in excess. Some of the tourist restaurants will not cook with it, but much of the street food does have small amounts in it. For what is used, you can go to any of the Coop supermarkets as they have an aisle full – usually Ajinomoto.

  7. I am visiting Ho Chi Minh in 10 days and this website is god-sent! I loved Hanoi food and am now looking forward to chow down in HCM. Thank You!!

  8. Three of the four members of our family is Celiac. We’ll be in Vietnam (and possibliy) Cambodia in March and reading your blog makes me feel way less stressed eating while traveling…thank you!

  9. Thanks for the blog post! We’re only in Ho Chi Minh for a few days, and are working our way through some of your recommendations. Delicious so far.

    Unfortunately, when we went looking for the Banh Cuon shop you mentioned (since this was one of our favourites while living in Hanoi) it seemed to have closed. There was a blank sign above a dark doorway into an empty room. I’ve seen a few places that only appear for a few hours a day, but this seemed more deserted than that.

    I’ll just have to console myself with some Hanoi-style Bun Cha.

    1. Banh Cuon Tay Ho? That seems strange since I was just there and eating at the stall before I left town. They do have other locations — be sure to just look them up. And of course the city is full of banh cuon — just go to any morning market and some stall will be serving it. Tan Dinh has several banh cuon AM stalls.

  10. My husband and I will be heading to Saigon in a few weeks and your blog has made me all the more excited!!!! We will be there during Tet so I was wondering if you had any special tips or info about being in Saigon during this celebration. Thanks!

    1. Hi Megan, I don’t have specific tips, though there are two posts about Tet specifically if you look through the archives. It is not as completely shut as Hanoi, but for at least a few days you’ll find street food scarce, and for the rest of the time only a few vendors open compared to normally. However the Pham Ngu Lao area still had many places open to cater to the backpacker crowd. Do check out Le Van Tam park and its amazing flower market, and enjoy the relative calm of the streets during this time. Lots of kumquat trees being transported on motorbikes, lots of drinking at tiny tables at the side of the road, and much celebration.

  11. This is the holy grail for eating in HCMC! Took your recommendations for Bun Mam (2x), Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gao (3x), and Canh Chua – outstanding!

  12. Hi,

    I’m in Saigon now and stumbled across your food blog. So far the most enjoyable experience of my time here has been trying your food recommendations. Almost all of the food you listed was unknown to me just 2 days ago, except for Banh mi and Pho of course, and I have had pleasant surprises over and over again. I have already been to 5 of the locations you wrote about and look forward to visiting more before I leave in a few days. Thanks for making my time in Saigon extra pleasant!

  13. What a precious resource! Too bad saw this only now, but was just in Saigon for 3 days over 2 weeks ago. I do want to go back though. I thought I was just wanting to really going back for the coffee and the really nice coffee shops there – it is a coffee lover’s paradise! Now I am more looking forward to go back again, as from your post, there is SO MUCH more to try, see and do.

  14. Hi, Got sent your link by the ‘The Global Couple’. We are heading to Vietnam shortly and will be using some of your recommendations for street food in Saigon. Great post and thankyou for all the information, really looking forward the trip. Cheers

  15. Hi from Vietnam!
    Thank you for your enjoyment of Vietnamese food, especially street food. there is one more street food you should try – BANH CAN. It is nearly as same as BANH KHOT, but it is not fried. why is BANH CAN so different from BANH KHOT? the first point is the moulds. they are made from clay. the second is the flour. to make a perfect dish of BANH CAN, rice flour must be milled from an old and bad rice – bad quality and then be mixed with water. the mixture will be poured into clay moulds – with adding eggs, beef, squid…. this is an oil-free cake.
    the third points is the fish sauce. fish sauce must be cooked in the right way with tomatoes, pineapples, water and chillies. BANH CAN is served with fish sauce, fried small spring onions, grating mangos and small meat ball.
    :) too wordy but i really appreciated your collection and want to contribute.

    1. Thank you for contributing! I have enjoyed banh can but had to stop somewhere for this list ;) I will be making it into an ebook and will certainly include it. Thanks again!

  16. WOW Jodi, my friend pointed me to this site as soon to embark on a food trip around Vietnam and you have got what I was looking for down to a T… THANK YOU will be taking very detailed notes on your ‘essay’!

  17. Hey Jodi,

    Animus has been closed for a few months; the building has been gutted and I’m not sure if they plan to re-open it.

    Great list by the way – I’m eating my way through it!

    Paul

  18. Jodi,

    My girlfriend and I are planning a 10-day trip to Vietnam and will spend a two full days in Saigon, so I’m looking for the best food and drink tour. Any recommendations. Just got a copy of your handbook from iTunes and can’t wait to soak it all up. Thanks!

    Steven

  19. This is every foodie/food bloggers dream list. Oh, how I wish I lived in Saigon – you certainly seem spoilt for choice! Thanks for putting this very extensive list together – much appreciated! Cheers and happy travels.

  20. By far one of the best posts I’ve read on Vietnamese street food. So happy I wondered here. You can almost hear the traffic and see those little tables and rickety wooden benches next to the street drains. Gorgeous mouth-watering photography and informative descriptions. Thank you!

  21. Hi Jodi,

    I am a fellow Montrealer here in Saigon for the month. Just a heads up, I looked up Banh Khot Co Ba Vung Tau on Google Maps and it says it has permanently closed. Also their site is down. I should say that I have not actually gone to the restaurant so cannot confirm accuracy 100%, but thought I would let you know. This post is an excellent resource for street food and I’m planning my eating itinerary with it right now!

    1. Thank you Rachel! I’ve asked a friend in Saigon to verify the closing for me and see if something else has popped up. Appreciate the detailed comment and enjoy your time in Saigon!

  22. Thank you so much for this post! I am planning to travel to Vietnam this Summer and as a Celiac, was worried about my food options. This post made me SO EXCITED to get there and try some amazing food. One question I do have is about your ability to ask about ingredients. When you asked whether flour had wheat and rice, or when/if you confirmed whether rice flour was used, was there a significant language barrier, or did they understand what you were asking? Any tips for this? I want to make sure I am prepared with how to best make sure the food I’m eating is safe.

    1. Hi Rachel! I had to use a translation card to do so, or have a Vietnamese friend translate. While basic English is often present in tourist areas learning the words for each flour you want to avoid is important. There are a few Vietnamese translation cards on the internet that can be used for free; I am also building one myself since they are (per my Vietnamese friends) not completely accurate. But they did work enough to avoid my getting sick. You can download one here: http://www.celiactravel.com/images/uploads/cards/vietnamese-card.gif

  23. Thank you so much for this incredible post! This has been our HCMC bible and we’ve been working our way through it over it over the last week or so. This really is a great way to discover the food and culture of HCMC.
    Bun Rieu Cua has been our favourite so far, but just FYI we found this lady in a slightly different spot to where you described – she’s now on the corner of Nyugen Du and Pasteur. It was lucky you posted a photo of her because we were able to recognise her from the picture (she was even wearing the same jacket!)
    Also google maps is saying that Quan Sadec is permanently closed, but we went there and can confirm it is definitely still open and serving delicious food! The Hu Tieu there was also excellent.

    1. Hi Ed! Appreciate your kind comment. I miss the bun rieu something fierce, so I’m glad that it brought your tastebuds joy. I have updated the post to reflect both corners. She did tend to use both prior but I always found her at the LTT corner so that’s what I added. Thanks for the info, and SUPER happy that Quan Sadec is open. I wonder if someone purposely reported it as closed to hurt their business? Google does allow you to report a wrong closing, so I just did that on Google Maps and if you have time you can do the same.

  24. Wow what a fantastic blog! Thank you.
    A few friends will be travelling there this year december and have decided we will be using your blog as our guide! :) Is it at all possible to add the rough prices of the food where you can? As I have read that in many places you have to hackle when it comes to the food or is this not the case? Many thanks

  25. Christina Ogas

    Thank you so much for this imformative article! I was listening to a podcast on Saigon and you were the guest do I looked you up . My husband and I travel quite often are are going to be in Saigon for NYE and a few days after. I will definitely read your other blogs as well. Thanks again for all of the useful resources!

  26. Hi, great post! I’ve always been so worried about travelling and eating I rarely get to eat local food so have been excited by this! I read your comments about the soy sauce etc, is the soy in most of these dishes or are some of them traditionally soy free? I normally travel with gf tamari sauce so can add a splash if needed but I really worry about cross contamination in pans and utensils if soy or oyster is used. What would you suggest? I’ve had cha gio in the uk where they’ve guaranteed that the oil hasn’t been used to fry other items that may have contained gluten, I would love to have some in Vietnam, do they tend to reuse lots of oil for different gluten items?
    Sorry for so many questions! I’m hungry just reading your piece! X

    1. Hi Jess! There isn’t much soy in southern Vietnamese food, and the notes here explain where it is used. It’s not wheat free, no, though some of the bottles I’ve checked area. As I said in the post street stalls are usually safer because you can see exactly what’s being used / fried. If it’s a one-stop shop, you know there’s nothing else. It’s just a matter of seeing what they have for sale and ascertaining whether there’s something else that could contaminate the oil.

  27. David Daumiller

    I ate half a dozen things from this list over the weekend, and I would not have found a single one of them without your help. (There was a lot of walking involved.) I am bloated with canh chua at the moment so it is hard to write eloquently, but know that I am very grateful to have encountered your list!

    1. Yay! Thanks for the comment David. Glad that the list is helpful. I’ll be returning to Saigon in 2017 and plan to do an update of face-stuffing so you’ll have to return also. Happy you ate well.

  28. Monica Rakovan

    Hello, what a wonderful blog and your photos are wonderful. Me and my family are spending a few days in Saigon, do you have any recommendations for a nice restaurant for NYE or NY day dinner near the Rex Hotel in District 1? We will also definitely follow your guide. Is English commonly spoken in Saigon? how about in the restaurants on this guide? thank you so much!!

  29. Thanks dude! As a Vietnamese grows up in Saigon, I can confirm that your list is awesome and very necessary to anyone from other countries who wanna explore Vietnamese cuisine.

  30. Thanks so much for this Jodi! As vegetarians, we sadly can’t sample most of the things on the list, but we did stop by the Che Chuoi place for dessert tonight and it was great. Of course, we had no idea what to order or how to order it, but we just got the same thing as the people before us ordered and it was very tasty.

    For vegetarians who want a great food experience in Saigon, we really liked Com Chay Mani (which is just 100m away from the Che Chuoi stall).

    Jane

  31. Thanks for writing this Jodi! We just missioned 20 minutes to Chi Thong and ate as you recommended. It was AMAZING!! We made a friend at our table from Malaysia which made the rxperience even more fun. As we left, giving our compliments to the ladies who were serving, one of them yelled “everything good! Number One!!” We agree lol

  32. Thanks Jodi, my boyfriend and I have been trying some of your suggestions. I think the best thing yet is the Pho Ga – there’s so much flavour!

  33. YES!! this is a great post. It has everything I ever wanted. I love trying new street food but sometimes just winging it and pointing at something in vietnamese and hoping for the best doesn’t end the way you want. I came to this site searching for the name of something i had just recently had (Bot Chien) and was more than happy to see you had information on it. When ordering it i thought it was potatoes but after watching them cut the rice flour cakes i was more than confused/interested. It is one of my new favorites and now I have so much more to try. thanks for the information, keep it up!!

  34. I randomly stumbled upon your blog and this post and am so thankful because I, too, am unable to eat gluten and it’s such a relief to know that I’ll be able to eat most dishes when I head to Vietnam at the end of the year. Thank you! Excellent post!

  35. All the flour mix to make banh xeo, banh khot has wheat flour in it. You are eating gluten. They don’t tell you this. Don’t be ridiculous. Your gluten thing is imaginary.

    1. Are you so kind to everyone you meet? ;) Banh xeo and banh khot mixes are not all made with wheat. The recipe is traditionally made from rice flour, corn starch, and tapioca starch. Yes, some of the prepared mixes contain wheat. Not all, same with many other products. And yes, you need to ask at restaurants when you eat. Yes, the ingredients are on the bags if you’re buying at home.

      Since being back in North America, I’ve tested the Banh Xeo mixes using a Nima Sensor, which tests ppm of gluten – no gluten for the mixes I tried that say no wheat on them. So I’m not sure what you’re going on about.

      My “gluten thing” is a disease that was diagnosed using a biopsy, so you’re also wrong there. Thanks for reading!

  36. I am looking out my window at the Saigon River, District 1 etc and now I feel we can salvage this experimental journey to HCMC with some tasty foods. My wife was upset to learn the beef in my bun thit had hoisin sauce (I am a celiac). I now feel like Cortes staring at the Pacific (Keats)!

  37. hi Jodi,
    I recently returned from a week in HCMC and absolutely enjoyed everything about it . I definitely wasn’t going, after reading mainly negative tourist reviews. Later I came across your website and there was a warmth that came through your writing about the people and city , so I went .
    for me ,it was all about the Vietnamese people and that is why I am going back soon.
    thankyou.

  38. Jodi,
    I know that you are in a much different state currently since when you wrote this post. I am cheering you on from afar and sending incredible amounts of hope and love your way. I can’t even imagine, so I won’t begin to try with my words. But what I will say is that this website is still helping so many, including myself. I am a celiac living in Korea and traveling to Vietnam in January. I am grateful for this incredibly helpful list here, along with so many other pieces of content on your site. Much, much love to you and wishing you a fast recovery from around the globe!

  39. Thanks you for your article.

    When I landed in Saigon, I had my notes compiled with info on what to eat and where, and I found your post :D

  40. Gavin Williams

    I love the site and the content. Well laid out, wonderful resources and pictures, and a beautiful sense of community. Thank you!

  41. Thanks for all the tips girl! I lived in Hanoi for 7 years and just moved to Saigon two months ago, been using this guide to help me discover southern cuisine. Thanks a bunch! If you’re ever back in town, please let’s meet up to go discover more dishes together!

    1. Hi Sierra, I’d love that! Unfortunately business is on hold indefinitely (as is travel) for medical reasons. Please see my latest blog posts for more, or legalnomads.com/csf-leak-update

  42. For the Bot Chien, what do you mean by saying ‘some shredded pickled young papaya to cool down the dish’, is it because it’s too hot??

    1. Hi Ivy, I’ll quote someone else – more of an expert than me. (From https://www.uyenluu.com/hot-cold-ying-yang/): The two main philosophy of Vietnamese food is the balance of flavour – between hot, sour, sweet, salty and umani and also the balance of hot and cold foods – not the temperature of food but of the hot and cold elements and energy of foods. The flavour and the hot & cold elements are both like the ying and the yang, there is a balance to everything, like both sides of a coin. What goes up must go down. The cook has to combine the right combination to make the perfect tasty dish for good spirits, good health and well-being.

  43. Awesome display of your love of Vietnamese food. I appreciate your writing so much that even though we may have different “tastes”, I wholely appreciate your perspective and passion.

  44. Great article! I will keep it bookmarked for when Saigon opens up again. Thanks so much, you’re making me HUNGRY!

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