With vendors selling specialty dishes daily on every street corner, you don’t stay hungry for long in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City.
Street food is well and truly at the heart of this bustling city, but with so much on offer it’s difficult to know what to choose. So here are 10 HCMC street food gems you have to try on your next trip.
Banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich)
A hark back to the years of French Indonesia when Vietnam was under colonial rule, this French-Asian fusion sandwich is one of the nation’s favourite snacks – think Subway taken to a totally different level.
A Viet-style French baguette – made with a mixture of wheat and rice flour so it’s light and crispy in texture – is packed with cuts of roast pork, rich pate, pickles, fresh chilli and aromatic coriander. It is then finished with a splash of soy.
Try: Banh Mi Hong Hoa – 62 Nguyen Van Trang, Ben Thanh, District 1
Bun mam (fermented fish soup)
At first hearing, bun mam – a fermented fish soup sometimes called Vietnamese gumbo – doesn’t sound like the tastiest food in the world, but this is by far one of Vietnam’s superior noodle dishes.
Several chunks of crispy pork belly, slices of squid, a juicy prawn, raw vegetables, thick noodles and herbs are covered in a light fermented fish broth. This is not only a healthy meal, but it is one that will leave you feeling stuffed.
Try: Bun Mam Mien Tay – 131, Xo Viet Nghe Tinh, Binh Thạnh District
Banh xeo (savoury crepe)
Banh xeo literally translates as “sizzling cake” and is Vietnam’s answer to a savoury crepe.
More often than not these will be cooked in front of you. Typically, it starts with frying off a piece of pork fat in a hot skillet before pouring in a batter made of rice flour, water and turmeric. Soon after, a prawn is added to the mix with a handful of bean sprouts. When ready, it’s folded in half and served with lettuce leaves and a sweet chilli fish sauce.
Try: Banh Xeo 46A Dinh Cong Trang Street, District 3
Goi cuon (fresh spring rolls)
Goi cuon or fresh spring rolls are Vietnamese simplicity at its finest.
A soft rice paper is stuffed with slices of pork, prawns, noodles and lettuce, which is then rolled up into a fat cigar-like shape and served with a warm peanut sauce.
Try: Amble down Tran Khac Chan Street, Phu Nhaun District
Cang cua and oc (crab claws and snails)
Due to its proximity to the Mekong Delta, shellfish is plentiful in Ho Chi Minh City. Two of the most popular evening snacks served up in the backstreets are fresh crab claws, cang cua, and snails, oc.
One of the best ways to eat them is grilled over a BBQ and served with a little coarse sea salt and sprinkling of lime and chilli flakes. A common alternative is a sweet and sticky coating of garlic, sugar and chilli, which has been caramelised in pork fat.
Try: Pick a place on Vinh Khan Street, which comes to life at night, District 4
Banh trang nuong (Vietnamese pizza)
This crispy snack is similar in appearance to a pizza and is particularly popular in Ho Chi Minh City. To make them, a dry rice paper gets a topping of either minced pork, prawn or egg and is then cooked quickly on a BBQ or grill, before being topped with herbs and spring onion.
Try: Saturday street food market on Phạm Ngu Lao Street, District 1
Com tam (rice with meat or fish)
Often eaten late in the morning, this is one of the more filling street food dishes out there. Com tam sellers dish out a big pile of rice with a choice of ready-cooked meat, fish or veg. The most common combo is known as com suon – rice served with a sweet and sticky pork chop, a fried egg, fresh cucumber, spring onions and a few thinly sliced pickles.
Try: Com tam Phung on the corner of Duonh Cong Troung Street, Binh Thanh District
Bo la lot (minced beef wrapped in wild betel leaf)
This dish is made by wrapping minced beef, bo, in a betel leaf, la lot, which has a lovely peppery taste. It can be eaten in a number of ways: Rolled in rice paper; wrapped in a lettuce leaf with cold vermicelli noodles; or simply on its own. However, it will almost inevitably be accompanied by nuoc cham – a sweet chilli fish sauce.
Try: Co Giang Street close to the backpacker area has a number of sellers serving up this popular dish, District 1
Pho (beef noodle soup)
This is without a shadow of a doubt Vietnam’s most famous dish. Traditionally served with a mixture of raw beef and brisket, this is a noodle soup bursting with flavour and texture. It is served with a generous heap of raw or blanched vegetables, which add a lovely crunch. Fresh chilli, lime and fish sauce can be added for extra zing and saltiness.
Try: Pho Le 2 303-305 Vo Van Tan, District 3
Banh tet (banana and sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf)
The sweet version of this savoury street food is more popular in the south, where sugar and desserts are much more commonly enjoyed. To make it, banana and sweet red beans are placed in the middle of some flattened sticky rice, which is then wrapped up in a banana leaf and grilled on a BBQ. Once golden, the sticky rice-covered banana is taken off the heat, cut up into chunks and served with a custard-like sauce made from coconut milk. It is then topped with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
Try: Saturday street food market on Phạm Ngu Lao street, District 1
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