The best Ho Chi Minh food are well regarded as nutritious, savoury, and hearty delights that can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Some of the defining traits in Vietnamese cuisine include rice, noodles, seafood, pork and beef, as well as various fresh herbs and spices, all of which result in robust flavours and unique interpretations.
Although the city is evolving into a cosmopolitan landscape with sprawling shopping malls, fine-dining restaurants and luxury hotels, you can still find plenty of roadside eateries, vibrant street market, and street food carts to satisfy your appetite for authentic Vietnamese delicacies.
Dining in Ho Chi Minh is not just limited to Vietnamese pho and coffee, as you can also enjoy fresh seafood, noodles, rice, spring rolls, and meats prepared with an array of cooking methods. 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.
Also great for travellers on a tight budget, some of these top Ho Chi Minh food that is not only hearty and filling, but also cost less than 40,000 VND per dish. This is what to eat in Ho Chi Minh for a real taste of the city and Vietnam.
Cơm tấm, 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.
Com tam usually served with broken rice and a variety of meats such as “sườn nướng” (barbecued pork chop), “bì” (shredded pork skin), and “chả trứng” (steamed pork and egg patty) on a plate and accompanied by fish sauce dressing, cucumber pickles, green onion oil, and chilies to garnish.
Starting from the most basic version of com tam suon nuong, you can then upgrade with all sorts of marvelous extra things like a fried egg, Vietnamese meatloaf, pig skin, extra pork, more sausage… the list goes on.
Com tam can be enjoyed any time of the day as it is relatively inexpensive, with street markets and roadside food stalls selling for about 20,000 – 30,000 VND per dish.
Pho, or usually called “fur” by foreigners is the combination of soft rice noodles in a soup broth, normally prepared with either bò (beef) or gà (chicken) – both of which can be extremely delicious. Pho is rice noodle that’s served in a flavourful soup with beef, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and greens such as basil, mint, cilantro, and onions with a side of chilli sauce for added spice.
Although there are 2 types of Pho, the beef one is more preferred by both locals and foreigners. 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, where the soup originated.
No matter if you’ve been to Vietnam before or not, you’ve likely heard of pho, if not already eaten it many times before. The noodle soup didn’t become so famous for nothing – it really is one of the most common dishes in throughout the country, and it makes the Vietnamese food menu at nearly every sit-down restaurant too.
A basic bowl contains tái (beef slices), bò viên (beef meatballs) or nạm (beef flank), but diners can also opt for more exotic ingredients such as gân (beef tendon), sách (thinly-sliced pig stomach), and vè dòn (flank with cartilage). The noodles are flash boiled until soft, topped with your choice of meat, and often finished with a sprinkle of chopped green onions and sometimes sweet onions as well.
When eating Pho, make sure to try sawtooth herb, mint, and Vietnamese coriander, along with house-made chili sauce, that’s on your table for self-service when you eat it. These will make your bowl of Pho taste better without a doubt. This popular breakfast option is priced between VND 30,000 and VND 50,000 at any local restaurant or street market in Ho Chi Minh City.
If you’re even the slightest bit into Vietnamese food, you’ve probably eaten numerous banh mi sandwiches. Available almost everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City, banh mi is a quintessential Vietnamese dish that you should never miss out on. Walking around Saigon you’ll see dozens of carts with signs selling banh mi – it’s actually hard to go more than a block without seeing one – so it’s never hard to find.
Along with pho, easily the most exported Vietnamese speciality is banh mi. Although banh mi can mean a variety of different things, and in Vietnamese it actually just means bread, sometimes the term can be used to refer to any type of the beautiful Vietnamese personal baguette sandwich.
There are many different varieties of banh mi, and here’s a good resource for seeing the different types, but the basic sandwich starts with a crusty baguette that’s sliced in half (sometimes using a scissors) and stuffed with layers of pork, luncheon meats, shredded cured pork skin, pâté, mayonnaise, Vietnamese radish and carrot pickles, a handful of sliced cucumbers, pickled vegetables, sprigs of coriander (cilantro), butter, soy sauce and last but not least, an optional, yet in my opinion necessary, scoop of fresh pounded chilies.
Moreover, you can also choose from a variety of meat fillings for your banh mi, including heo quay (roasted pork belly), chả cá (fried fish with turmeric and dill), chả lụa (boiled sausages), xíu mại (meatballs), thịt gà (boiled chicken), trứng ốp la (fried egg), thịt nướng (grilled pork loin), and xá xíu (Chinese barbecued pork).
This baguette sandwich is usually priced between 10,000 VND and 20,000 VND.
The noodles, bún, are the thin soft rice vermicelli noodles, which are so easy to eat and go down so easily as well. The broth in bun moc is normally pork based, a simple and soothing soup, that’s not spicy at all, but just comforting. Broth aside, the soup’s fun lies in its accoutrements — slices of chả lụa (a pork meatloaf coated in a cinnamon outer layer), slices of thin pork meat, and meatballs made of pork.
It’s the type of noodle soup you might want to eat relaxing rainy day, maybe even a bone, meatballs, and Vietnamese sausage.
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.
Although bun moc is said to have originated in the north of Vietnam, it’s extremely popular throughout Saigon as well. A bowl of bun moc usually cost 30,000 VND.
Bún thịt nướng
Bun thit nuong is a dish you should for sure not miss when you’re eating in Saigon. A hearty dish in Ho Chi Minh City, bun thit nuong features rice vermicelli noodles with freshly chopped lettuce, sliced cucumber, bean sprouts, pickled daikon and carrot, basil, chopped peanuts, and mint, topped with few skewers of grilled boneless pork and a chả gió (crispy pork spring roll).
The noodles are soft and silky, the pork is tender, salty, and sweet, and the crispy pork spring roll add a beautiful crunch to everything. As with most Vietnamese dishes, you also get a side of nước chấm sauce to mix into the bun thit nuong for a flavourful ensemble.
It is rarer to find a bun thit nuong food stall than a com tam or a Pho one but it’s worth you try. A bun thit nuong costs 20,000 VND
The broth is made from a crab base stock, and another key ingredient are tomatoes, which create a broth that’s slightly seafood tasting, yet has a beautiful natural sweet and tartness from the tomatoes. There’s also often some rice vinegar included in the recipe to give it a lovely sour and well-rounded flavor.
Along with the wonderfully flavorful broth in a bowl of bun rieu, the noodles are often similar in shape and size to spaghetti noodles, except soft rice noodles. Topping the noodles are pieces of golden fried tofu, sometimes meatballs, hearty chunks of pork, squares of congealed pig’s blood, and finally a slab of rich crab paste.
To eat bun rieu, you normally garnish it with shrimp paste or crab paste, then load it up with chili sauce, a squeeze (or I like multiple squeezes) of lime juice, and then devour it with a small mountain of herbs and shredded vegetables.
A bowl of bun rieu is usually priced at 20,000 VND at street stalls and 30,000 VND if you’re dining at more established restaurants.
Bun mam is specifically a southern Vietnamese dish, and just like most other noodle soups, you’ll find it at both sit down restaurants and portable street food stalls around town – though it’s not nearly as common to spot as some other noodle dishes on this blog.
The base of any bowl of bun mam is a dark colored broth prepared with fermented fish sauce (which is similar to Thai pla ra). Bun mam is the best evidence that the words “fermented” and “fish” don’t need to be a bad thing when grouped together. fermented fish broth is actually skews sweet thanks, and with thick rice noodles and chunks of delicious fish and meat, it’s not to be missed. In addition to the glorious fish flavor, the broth of a bowl of bun mam is usually sweetened with tamarind juice and sugar.
The fermented fish sauce gives the soup broth a well rounded, balanced flavor, and it’s honestly not nearly as fishy as it might sound or smell. Along with the broth, bun, or rice vermicelli noodles, are loaded into the bottom of the bowl, before the entire assortment of meats like squid, prawns, and pork are all scattered on top of the noodles. Finally, a slice or two of eggplant, which soaks up all the broth, is another essential component of a bowl of southern Vietnamese bun mam.
Bun mam usually found and served in markets at about 20,000 VND.
In Vietnam, hu tieu means just the noodle and Hu tieu itself is a subtler version of pho noodles. 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, etc. As usual, you pick and choose whatever you want. Hu tieu is the extreme have-it-your-way Vietnamese food experience. There is also a dry version of hu tieu with soy sauce and it taste really good too.
The three most recognized types are hu tieu Nam Vang (hu tieu Phnom Penh style,) hu tieu Mỹ Tho (after the capital city of Tiền Giang Province, located in the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam,) and hu tieu Chinese style.
A bowl of hu tieu is usually priced at 15,000 – 20,000 VND at street stalls and 30,000 VND onwards if you’re dining at more established restaurants.
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. This is simply because adding just a few spoonfuls of the broth will make the noodles taste change.
Bánh canh cua
Banh canh, according to Wikipedia, actually means soup cake in Vietnamese, that’s the literal translation. It is Vietnam’s version of udon, a thicker noodle that can be made with either tapioca flour, rice flour, or a combination of the two. Banh canh noodles are a little chewier than udon to be honest.
If you’re a crab lover, this is a Vietnamese dish for you. 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.
Instead of being a typical noodle soup with a thin stock, banh canh cua is more like a hearty stew, the broth is thickened like gravy, almost like Thai cuisine style radna.
The gravy normally has quite a mellow crab flavor, but what’s really impressive are the nuggets of crab meat that come in a bowl, and the toppings, including chilies and limes.
This meal is properly the most fluctuated price. A bowl of banh canh cua priced can varied from 20,000 VND to 300,000 VND due to the amount of crab in it.
Banh cuon, which directly translates to rolled cake, originated up North, but is prevalent throughout Saigon, are sort of like noodle wrapped, non-deep fried spring rolls, packed full of savory ingredients. Loosely wrapped in a steamed fermented rice sheet, banh cuon contains a mix of ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, onions, Vietnamese ham (cha lua), steamed bean sprouts, and cucumbers.
To prepare the recipe for banh cuon, a thin layer of rice and tapioca flour batter is steamed into a noodle like crepe. It’s then filled, often with a combination of lightly seasoned minced pork, small dried shrimp, and wood-ear mushrooms, and served with finely shaved lettuce and blanched bean sprouts on the side.
Finally, you can’t eat banh cuon without dipping it into sweet fish sauce, known as nuoc cham, the stuff many people say is the lifestream of Vietnamese cuisine, and I personally can’t live without chilies.
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. It provides mostly every nutritions you need: carbs, meat, 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.
You can easily spot vendors selling banh cuon in prominent marketplaces such as Cholon and Ben Thanh Market as well as local restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. This traditional Vietnamese dish is sometimes topped with shrimp floss, coriander, and herbs, with a sweet-sour dipping sauce made with fish extract, lime, and chilli. Banh cuon is usually very cheap, only 10,000 – 20,000 VND.
In Singapore and Malaysia it’s known as a carrot cake, in Thailand it’s kkanom pak gat, and in Vietnam it’s known as bot chien. But all versions have Chinese Teochew chai tao kway to thank.
Bot chien is basically fried rice cakes. The rice cakes are made from rice flour and tapioca starch, and although Chinese and some other southeast Asian versions include daikon radish in the cakes, they are normally just rice in Vietnam.
The cakes are sliced into bite sized pieces, then fried, normally on a hot skillet in lots of lard, along with some light seasonings, until crispy and golden brown on the edges. Once cooked, the rice cakes are topped with an egg and a handful of green onions before being served.
The result of bot chien are little bite sized nuggets of crispy sticky rice flour, enriched with egg, and with a nice smoky flavor. It’s not the healthiest Vietnamese delicacy, that’s for sure, but it sure is tasty once in a while, price at about 20,000 per dish.
Goi cuon or Vietnamese spring rolls comprise vermicelli noodles, pork slices, shrimp, basil, and lettuce tightly wrapped in translucent rice papers, known as banh trang. While pho might be the first dish that many people think of when they think about Vietnamese cuisine, goi cuon is the fresh, non-deep-fried summer rolls that are ubiquitous is Vietnam.
Due to its very subtle flavour, you can dip it in a mix of freshly ground chilli and hoisin-based dipping sauce topped with crushed peanuts. This traditional appetiser is a healthier alternative to cha gio, which is a deep-fried egg roll made with a combination of mung bean noodles, minced pork, and various spices.
From street food stalls to fancy restaurants, you’ll never be far from goi cuon. It’s usually priced at 10,000 VND for 3 rolls.
Ốc (oc), as they are known in Vietnamese, can basically refer to any type of snails, usually saltwater, and they are so popular, they could be considered a major part of the Vietnamese culture of Saigon. When you go to a quan oc, or a snail restaurant, there are typically dozens of different snails to choose from, as well as other shells like blood cockles, clams, and often shrimp and crab as well.
If you love food and the culture that goes along with eating in Vietnam, a night of relaxing on small little chairs or stools, sipping beer, and slurping down snails and shells that you have no clue what they might be, is one of the finest ways to enjoy Saigon. Best enjoyed with cold beers, oc refers to platters of Vietnamese shellfish that are prepared in varying methods. Due to its popularity, there are plenty of roadside stalls and inexpensive restaurants with raw snails displayed out front.
After selecting those that strike your fancy, you can enjoy them grilled, sautéed, curried, or steamed at about 5 more minutes. Priced at about 20,000 VND onwards, it is highly recommend grilled mussels with scallion oil and peanuts (chem chép nướng), blood cockles sautéed in tamarind sauce (sò huyét rang me), and clams steamed with lemongrass.
Ordering can get a little confusing, but just keep in mind that even though you might not have a clue what you’re about to get on your dinner table, that’s part of the fun. Shells are usually prepared on small plates, a bunch of different types of snail are all ordered, each cooked in a different method. Eating oc with family, friends, or co-workers, and enjoying a couple beers, is a favorite Saigon way to socialize.