My earliest memories of Vietnam are from the stories my grandpa used to tell me about the years he spent working alongside Hồ Chí Minh as a military intelligence adviser dispatched from China during the Vietnam War. I remember him saying that, despite Hồ Chí Minh’s small physical stature, he packed quite a feisty personality.
Today, the city in his namesake is the largest city in Vietnam, and a bustling emerging economy. In the city’s core, remains the wide elegant boulevards of its French colonial past while northwest of the city, in the Củ Chi district, underground guerilla tunnels give visitors a taste of what it was like as a Vietcong during one of the bloodiest battles in Indochina. Today’s Vietnam is a very different one from the country my grandpa first laid eyes on, and we enlisted the help of our local friend, Jeffrey Tchiu, to navigate through the myriad of local eateries that dot the bustling city. Come along as we weave through the chaotic crowds on motorbikes to discover the city’s best street foods.
Bánh Tráng Phoi Suong Hoàng Ty
To beat the summer heat, there are few things more refreshing than a rice paper roll. Meander through the crowded District 3 to this local favourite diner for some of the best pork belly rice paper rolls in town. This simple, very casual restaurant offers the DIY experience, so guests can pick and choose the exact combination of fillings for each of their rolls. Buttery slices of pork belly are laid out alongside various herbs and vegetables, as well as sauces, all for your choosing.
106 Cao Thắng Street in District 3
(08) 3833 2077
Bún riêu Cua
Photo courtesy of 2monngonmoingay
Locating this traditional “ganh” street vendor feels somewhat like a treasure hunt. Situated opposite the east side of Ben Thanh Market, this is the only vendor on the street that sells bun rieu cua, an iconic crab vermicelli soup originating from Northern Vietnam. The streetside tables open at 2pm, and the noodles are usually sold out by 5pm. Freshwater crab meat is strained through fine mesh cloth before tomatoes are pushed through to make an umami-rich broth. Fried tofu, congealed pig’s blood, and a crab paste topping are served alongside banana flowers, and water spinach in this humble noodle soup.
Middle of Phan Bội Châu Street in District 1
Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa
Photo courtesy of Mind on My Travel
Out of the hundreds of street corner banh mi vendors, Banh Mi Huynh Hoa has risen above the rest with a loyal following that faithfully declares it as the “best banh mi in Ho Chi Minh City”. The shop opens at 3:30pm, and you can smell the fresh toasted baguettes as you stand in line. A blend of French and Asian heritages, the Vietnamese “baguette” is made with wheat and rice flour to give it its unique airy yet chewy texture. The toasted bread is smothered in homemade mayo and pâté before stuffed with an assortment of cold cuts, pork floss and vegetables ranging from cucumbers, carrots, cilantro, onions and jalapenos. Bite down, and prepare to be dazzled!
26 Lê Thị Riêng street in District 1
Nhà Hàng A Bửu
Photo courtesy of haisansachphanthiet
This little restaurant offers live music and a vibrant ambiance at very affordable prices. It’s also open 24 hours a day, which makes it a great venue for after hours snacks, and for nursing that hangover. The authentic Vietnamese dishes here, though, are what keeps loyal patrons coming back. The quality is always consistent, and some specialities include the lemongrass steamed clams (ngheu hap sa), the tender beef carpaccio salad (bo tai chanh), and the frog congee (chao ech). If you’re looking to get your hands dirty, then there’s also the caramelised pork ribs (suon ram).
17 Bùi Thị Xuân in District 1
Bánh Cuôn Hải Nam
Photo courtesy of Ngoisao
This little hole-in-the-wall establishment is the reliable favourite for locals to get their bánh cuôn fix, as they’ve been doing this dish spectacularly well for over 30 years. Similar to a Chinese cheung fun, freshly steamed rice noodle sheets are rolled around minced pork, shrimp and wood ear mushroom, then drizzled with sweet and savoury pungent fish sauce, heaped with shredded lettuce and crunchy bean sprouts, and a healthy dose of fried shallots. Although a staple of Northern Vietnam, this comfort food can be found all over Ho Chi Minh city, although Bánh Cuôn Hải Nam is reputed to be the best.
11A Cao Thắng in District 3
The Crab Shack
As the name suggests, The Crab Shack specialises in one thing only - the soft-shell crab. Locally referred to as cua lot, the front of the restaurant is lined with display cases filled with these little critters. Speciality dishes include soft-shell crabs drizzled with sweet and sour tamarind sauce (cua lot xao me), as well as crispy, fried soft-shell crab accented with fish sauce, ginger and chillies (cuo lot chien bot). There’s also the gooey, comforting glass noodles sauteed with chunks of crab meat and roe in an aromatic black pepper sauce.
84 Dinh Tien Hoang in District 1
Cup of Joe - Vietnamese coffee is famous the world over for its intense aromas, so while in Ho Chi Minh city, grab a cup or two at the following atmospheric hotspots.
L’usine- a quirky littel cafe opened by Viet-Canadian sisters from Montreal.
Runam Bistro- a contemporary bistro that serves up casual meals alongside great coffee.
The Workshop- this is where the Vietnamese hipsters hang out, with is downtown LA loft vibe and great precision in coffee-making.
Biker Chicks: the best way to see the city (and beat the traffic) is on two wheels. Take a motorcycle tour around the city’s foodie hotspots to the tune of a personalised itinerary. The friendly, informative guides of XO Tours, Vietnam’s first all-female motorbike tour company, have been whisking visitors to delicious hidden eateries for years.