For a relatively small country, Vietnam is packed with great food. Vietnamese food is absolutely one of our favorite cuisines in the World. It’s bursting with fresh herbs and spices, delicious noodle soups, and of course, grilled meats. In this Saigon Food Guide, we look at some of our favorite Vietnamese dishes to eat in Ho Chi Minh City.
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
The Best Food To Eat In Saigon
Over the past decade, Amber and I have made over a dozen trips to Vietnam, our first being in 2009. We’ve been from Hanoi in the north, down to Saigon in the South. We’ve been to Vietnam as tourists and we’ve been as volunteers teaching English. There’s something that keeps calling us back; the food.
While other Asian countries like Thailand, Singapore, and Taiwan are thought of as foodie destinations, Vietnam should also be given this distinction. Known today as Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon is a food-lovers paradise. Eating in Ho Chi Ming city will undoubtedly change your perception of Vietnamese food. The sights and smells found across the city are impossible to miss.
Saigon cuisine and South Vietnamese cooking differ from what you’ll find in cooking in Hanoi as well as in Central Vietnam. As a traveler from the United States, many Saigon dishes might seem a bit familiar. This is because many of the Vietnamese who fled to the US after the Vietnam War are from the South. When we lived outside of Washington, D.C. we were spoiled by having Vietnamese restaurants that specialized in both South and North Vietnamese dishes.
It’s safe to say that eating in Saigon will change your life for the better. It did for us. Often Amber and I are asked, “where’s our favorite country for food?” And while it’s a very difficult to pinpoint one cuisine, Vietnamese food is always in the running. Throughout this Saigon food blog, we are going to clue you in on everything from street food in Vietnam and where to eat in Saigon to take advantage of the local culture.
Eating in Ho Chi Minh City
There’s something special about dining outside. Whether it’s on a beautiful beach in Thailand, a cafe in Paris, or a terrace with a view, food just tastes better outdoors. Thankfully, eating outdoors in Ho Chi Minh City is the rule rather than the exception.
During our first trip to Vietnam in 2009, Amber and I were blown away by all the outdoor seating in both Ho Chi Minh City and in Hanoi. Small brightly colored plastic tables and chairs lined the busy city street. While traveling through Vietnam, I could count on one hand the number of times we actually ate indoors. While the Vietnamese don’t have a monopoly on outdoor dining, they do take it to a whole new level.
Pro Tip: If you are a bigger person like myself, I’m 6’4″ 230 lbs, you’re going to want to double up on the tiny plastic stools. Not only will this save you the embarrassment of breaking and falling off the tiny stool, but it will also save the restaurant owner from having to replace them.
Best Saigon Food To Eat
After over a dozen trips to Vietnam, we’ve learned a thing or two about what to eat in Saigon. Here’s a look at twelve of our favorite things to eat in Ho Chi Minh City.
The first time we ate pho in Vietnam, Amber and I were in food heaven. After all, pho is the undisputed king of all Vietnamese dishes. It’s also the national dish of Vietnam. More than this, pho is a religion in Vietnam. Everyone has their own way of eating this irresistible noodle soup. If you are traveling to Vietnam, don’t be surprised if somebody gives you unsolicited advice on how to eat pho.
So what is Phở? Pho is a noodle soup available primarily with beef or chicken broth. Fresh, soft rice noodles are added to the rich broth. Depending on the version, a selection of meat and fresh vegetables are added. Now the best part. You add as much or as little fresh herbs, such as scallions, cilantro, and mint. Squeeze some lime juice, a dab of chili sauce, maybe a little soy sauce, and you have pho.
Amber and I can’t get enough sandwiches in general. And when we are in Vietnam, “banh mi time” is all the time. The same can be said for op la.
Bánh mì ốp la is just one of the many versions of Vietnam’s most famous sandwich. What makes ốp la different is the addition of eggs. Like a banh mi, an op la has meat slices, pickled vegetables, and is served on a warm baguette. Sounds simple enough. But this is much more than just a sandwich. The flavors and the fresh baguette make this an incredible experience. Op la is perfect for breakfast in Vietnam, or frankly, any time of the day.
My world stops when I smell the grilled pork for bun cha begin cooked. For me, bun cha is THE BEST Vietnamese dish to eat. Amber says I have issues with how much I love bun cha, but I can tell she loves it just as much.
Bún chả loosely translates to white rice noodle (bún) and grilled fatty pork (chả). Originally from Hanoi, it’s easy to find bun cha in Ho Chi Minh City. Just follow the amazing smell. Bún chả is a combination of freshly made white rice noodles and grilled pork. The pork comes as minced pork patties and strips of fatty pork. Both are cooked over charcoal, giving that irresistible grilled flavor. The pork is served in a bowl of smokey broth, along with thinly sliced vegetables.
So how do you eat bun cha? The process is to dunk the noodles into the broth along with fresh herbs such as basil and mint. They grab some of the delicious pork and repeat. Eating bun cha streetside is easily my favorite thing to do in Vietnam.
Bún Bò Huế
If you ask anyone who’s clued up on Vietnamese food for advice on what to eat in Saigon, then bun bo hue is likely to be one of the first things they say. As the name gives away, Bún bò Huế isn’t actually from Saigon, but rather the Central Vietnam city of Huế. That said, you can get your hands on it if you ask around. Bun bo Hue s a beef (bò) dish made with bone broth, lemongrass, and vermicelli noodles. This makes it an exquisite taste sensation of rich beef and citrus. The soup is often topped with fresh greens such as onions and herbs.
You might think you’ve already heard enough about noodles, but don’t be fooled. No two styles of Vietnamese soup are the same. Each has its stand-out method or ingredient that makes it unique, and the same goes for Bún riêu. Unlike other Vietnamese soups that use beef or chicken broth, bun rieu is made using crab stock and tomatoes. This combination gives the soup a sweet and acidic flavor.
The flavorsome seafood broth is served with noodles and protein such as blood sausage, pork, meatballs, tofu, and crab paste. It is usually garnished with chili paste, shredded vegetables, and fresh herbs. This soup is hearty, filling, and full of nutrients, and it makes for the perfect dinner in Saigon.
The first time Amber and I saw and tasted bánh xèo we knew just how special Vietnamese food was. Banh Xeo is a crepe-like dish that is very similar to the oyster omelet commonly found in Taiwan, Thailand, and other Asian countries.
The banh xeo is made using three simple ingredients, rice flour, water, and turmeric. The turmeric gives bánh xèo its distinctive bright yellow color. Bánh xèo is filled with shrimp, pork, and vegetables and garnished with fresh herbs. Eating bánh xèo is a bite of a challenge, believe me. They aren’t small so it’s best to break them into triangles, or that’s at least how Amber and I do it. Add fresh herbs like mint and basil and enjoy. o load them up with your chosen garnish and then roll them up like an egg roll.
You can often find this dish being served at most Saigon street food markets. And although it’s technically a Vietnamese dish, it’s actually inspired by the French, much like the beloved banh mi.
There’s nothing better on a hot and humid day in Saigon than Gỏi Cuốn. Light, refreshing, and packed with fresh ingredients, Goi Cuon is a popular street food in Vietnam. Goi Cuon is often referred to as a spring roll. While partly accurate, most spring rolls are fried in oil. Gỏi Cuốn is not. Instead, Gỏi Cuốn is packed with fresh herbs, vegetables, and a combination of cooked prawns and sliced pork. These ingredients are then wrapped in light, sticky rice paper. Gỏi Cuốn is served with a peanut dipping sauce.
Pro Tip: If you enjoy things with a little kick, add some chili sauce to the peanut dipping sauce. Amber and I do this whenever we are eating goi cuon.
Could chả giò be the ultimate Vietnamese beer snack? It’s warm. It’s crunchy and it’s salty. After eating countless plates of chả giò, I absolutely think it could be the best beer snack in Vietnam. Many people think that cha gio is similar to goi cuon. However, they’re entirely different from one another. Cha Gio is a deep-fried egg roll containing sprouting mung beans, ground pork, and a blend of spices.
They are wrapped in rice paper and deep-fried. Despite the deep frying, chả giò comes out light, crunchy, and melts in your mouth. They are served with a spicy and sweet dipping sauce and pair perfectly with a Vietnamese beer. More often than not, you’ll find chả giò being served at most places serving street food in Vietnam.
Cơm tấm Sườn
Cơm tấm Sườn is a rice-based dish that is a Saigon food found all over the city. Throughout Saigon and the rest of Vietnam, cơm tấm sườn is very popular with the locals, especially for lunch. After all, it contains everything you need including pork chops, pickled vegetables, and rice. We first ate cơm tấm sườn in the coastal city of Danang. From the first bite, Amber and I were hooked. The grilled pork chop is unlike any we’ve ever eaten. Combined with the pickled vegetables, there’s a wonderful balance of flavors.
Pro Tip: Ask to have a fried egg cooked and put on top of your cơm tấm sườn. All I’ll say is OMG!!!
Cháo – Rice Congee
While traveling around Saigon and Vietnam, you will likely come across many variations of Cháo. What is Cháo? Well, cháo is the Vietnamese version of rice congee. What is rice congee you ask? Rice congee is an Asian version of porridge. Where instead of oats, rice is the basis. It’s a very popular breakfast dish throughout Asia.
Whether it’s called cháo or congee, it’s one of my favorite things to eat in Vietnam and in Asia. Cháo is usually cooked with minced pork. Now comes the fun part. You get to add a wide variety of condiments to the cháo. The condiments range from soy and fish sauce to fried garlic and shallots. As well as fresh ginger, and red pepper flakes, the combinations are endless.
Ốc – Snails
Looking for a unique snack in Vietnam? How about some snails? Ốc, which can mean pretty much any snail, is a massive part of Saigon cuisine. You will usually be offered a great selection to choose from, especially if you’re visiting a specialty restaurant or stall, where the snails and other seafood will be displayed for you to take your pick. Having eaten a lot of snails in both Spain and Ireland, Amber and I love Ốc.
The options are endless when it comes to enjoying snails. You can have them in a curry or fried in some chili oil, grilled with butter, or salted and sauteed. My advice, pair them with a Vietnamese lager, and you’ll get the perfect, authentic Saigon experience.
Bò Nướng Lá Lốt
Bò nướng lá lốt is small ground beef rolls, which are lightly seasoned, and slightly spiced. The meat is tightly wrapped in betel leaves before being cooked over an intensely heated charcoal grill to give them a unique smoked, charred flavor. Typically, they are served with a side of rice paper, fresh herbs, chilis, and a salty dip.
FAQs- Saigon Food Guide – What To Eat In Saigon
There can and is only one answer to this question; pho. Pho is a noodle soup usually eaten for breakfast. It is the national dish of Vietnam and a must-eat. Pho is most often based on a beef broth, but you’ll also find a chicken version.
Formerly called Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam. It’s the economic heart of Vietnam but also its culinary home. While you can find these dishes in other parts of Vietnam, banh mi, com tam, and hu tieu are very popular in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Vietnamese diet is one of the healthiest diets in the world. Dishes in Vietnam center around rice, vegetables, and fresh herbs. Noodle soups such as pho, are light yet feeling. Thanks to its long coastline, fresh seafood is a major part of Vietnamese cooking.