A GUIDE TO EATING IN SAIGON
"Finding comfort in a swarming bee's nest."
Ho Chi Minh can sometimes feel like being dropped into a pit of rattlesnakes. Scooters hissing with venomous manoeuvers, cars weaving in and out of the inch left between the curb and another car, pedestrians walking slowly into oncoming traffic trusting that the scooters and cars will move around them (they generally do), and the look of a petrified tourist walking 3 inches then running back causing the whole gliding serpent to buckle and correct.
Amongst the complete insanity of the city, lies a food-lovers paradise. Hidden in different enclaves along the river are numerous Pho joints, Banh Mi Stalls, Isaan Thai restaurants, Syrian meze, Japanese fast food places, Ramen stalls and even pizza that will truly take your breath away. Below is a comprehensive list of places I have been to various times over the past years. If you are only interested in the perfect bowl of Pho, I found that too.
(Click on the photos for a map link)
Places to eat
Phô Phu Vuong ($)
If you're travelling to Saigon for the first time, one of your first stops should be a bowl of Pho! Pho Phu Vuong is the flag atop broth mountain! This is seriously stunning Pho.
Remember to add the fresh yellow/orange-ish chilli sauce in the small plastic jug, its amazing!
Banh Mi 37
Open after 4.30pm every day, this tiny stall is located just off Nguyen Trai street, down the alley called Hem 39. From the get-go, this pork-patty draws a long line of waiting punters. Hot, perfectly seasoned patties are coal-grilled and packed into crispy bread, topped with cucumber, coriander, sauce and chillis. All this delicious goodness for the price of 25k (1 US Dollar). Plan on making it around opening time because this wildly popular place sells out every day.
THE LUNCH LADY
Yes, Anthony Bourdain ate here... but you gotta come here regardless. It's an institution, and well worth it for the overall experience.
Bep Me In ($$)
If you just got off a plane and are a little concerned about tackling the world of street food on your first night out, you could go far worse than head here. Located down a small alleyway near Ben Thanh, half the fun is sitting on the outside tables and watching the tourists walk down and try figure out where it is. Schadenfreude aside, Bep Me In serves up delicious Vietnamese "countryside" cuisine from all corners of the land.
Pho Quynh ($)
The tourists sit downstairs, the locals upstairs, but pedantics aside this place serves up one of the best bowls of Pho you will ever taste in your life. My recommendation is to go for the brisket one!
Den Long ($$)
Highly recommended are the Mango Salad with shrimp and mackrel, the Caramelized Pork with the house sauce and the Garlic Fried Rice. Everything else was top notch but those 3 were exceptional.
Oh, and a small tip: Ask for a tiny bowl of the spicy green dipping sauce to smother on everything!
4P's Pizza ($$)
4P's is run by a Japanese immigrant who has a fascination with making authentic Neopolitan style pizza's. His restaurants have grown over the years and now there are various branches all over the country. I have tried the one's in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh and can guarantee they deliver an awesome distraction from the countless Banh Mi's or bowls of Phô you have undoubtably been gorging on.
Torisoba Mutahiro ($$)
Phenomenal Shoyu Ramen in the little rabbit warren of Japan-Town.
When you need a burger, this is where you go in Saigon.
Al Sham ($$)
Authentic, delicious, healthy and left me grinning from ear to ear. This isn't the cheapest place in town, but i'm sure it isn't super easy to source the ingredients and I read he grows a lot of them himself, so kudos for that!
Baba's Kitchen ($$)
From Syrian food, due east as the crow flies to Mother India. Baba's kitchen, a small hub of ex-pat pleasure is nestled towards the far end of Bui Vien street, away from the blasting-horn bars and tosser-centralé. Solid Indian food, decent prices and exemplary service all go hand in hand to make this a worthy fuel stop on your Vietnamese nosh highway.
Ramen Danbo ($$)
And here we were, back in another taxi heading to the enclave for another bowl of ramen to see if it could match up to Mutahiro. Hopes were low, but the fire burned within. The bowl arrived steaming hot. Everything was perfect. It tasted identical to the one in Japan. This time I was with friends, but the enjoyment was still true. The noodles were firm, the broth deep, unctuous and rich, the pork thin and succulent, the egg cooked to perfection.
This list will grow and grow the more times I visit HCMC so check back every once in a while.....
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively
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"Tastes are subjective, so take everything with a pinch of salty tears"
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