A Colorful Scene that is Vietnamese Cuisine
- Norma Vergara
Mar 26, 2019
A few days in Ho Chi Minh City (Old name: Saigon) is enough to appreciate its wonderful cuisine, but never enough to not long for it after your trip is long gone. There is no moving on.
Vietnamese food is all about the fresh herbs, colorful condiments, deep broth, and milk coffee. In Ho Chi Minh, the best food is found not in 5-star hotels, but in the most unassuming of side streets. Here are a few of the iconic stars of the Vietnamese cuisine that you should not miss out on:
1. Pho (Phở)
The quintessential Vietnamese food. The broth is almost clear but has a deep beef flavor, meant to drown fresh herbs in. The highlight are fresh chunks of lean beef and innards. Pho is available in almost every street in Ho Chi Minh City and probably everywhere in Vietnam. They say that the Hanoi (northern) version is simpler, in that it doesn’t have (or need) as much of the herbs and condiments that accompany the Ho Chi Minh (southern) version. I probably had this 3 times in my 5-day stay in the city.
2. Bun Mam (Bún mắm)
Bun Mam is Pho’s less popular sister and has the more ‘local’ flavor. It has the more potent broth coming from the fermented fish that is its star ingredient. Accompanying the rice noodles are crispy pork belly, shrimps and eggplants and fresh herbs. Pure love!
This one is the famous Lunch Lady’s version of Bun Mam, with a side of Goi Cuon (shrimp and vegetable rolls), another Vietnamese staple. If you’re not familiar with the Lunch Lady, she’s the superwoman in charge of running this side street eatery, and whose food is Anthony Bourdain-approved and recommended.
3. Bo La Lot (Bò nướng lá lốt)
Bo La Lot grilled beef and pork wrapped in betel leaves, which you turn into a roll with a rice paper, rice noodles, greens and a citrus and fish-flavored sauce. I think I even tasted hints of pineapple in the sauce. It’s such a great meal to be had with great company.
It’s a wonder how they came up with this flavor combination- it’s unlike anything I have tried before. Just outstanding!
4. Banh Mi (Bánh mì)
The creation of Banh Mi as a Vietnamese staple is heavily influenced by the French colonization era as it basically a Vietnamese version of a French baguette sandwich. Inside the crusty bread is a variety of local meatloafs, vegetables, liver pate, chili and mayonnaise. What’s really good about it is that it’s very cheap, very filling and is readily available almost everywhere.
5. Banh Mi Op La (Bánh mì ốp la)
We'd call this a deconstructed Banh Mi, but so much better because it comes with sunny side up eggs and made fresh, meant to be enjoyed literally by the side of the streets. This is often only served during breakfast and is perfectly paired with Vietnamese milk coffee. Hands down, the best breakfast that I had in Ho Chi Minh!
6. Banh Cuon (Bánh cuốn)
Banh Cuon a steamed rice roll with minced pork and mushroom filling. Served with greens and crisp-fried garlic, it's perfect for any meal of the day. NEVER eat banh cuon without dipping (or soaking!) it in the sweet fish sauce. Honestly, I can down three servings of this in one go. Very light yet very satisfying.
7. Com Tam (Cơm tấm)
Ah, another classic Vietnamese breakfast. The base of the Com Tam is steamed broken rice, topped with grilled pork chop, Vietnamese meatloaf, deep-fried egg, fresh cucumbers, fermented vegetables, and of course, accompanied by sweet and spicy fish sauce. Quite an effort to make at home, so it's very common to get in in local eateries instead.
8. Banh Trang Nuong (Bánh tráng nướng)
Dubbed as the Vietnamese street food pizza, Banh Trang Nuong is commonly seen in the noisy city streets starting in the afternoon. The crust is a grilled, crispy rice paper and is topped with minced meats, bell peppers, spring onions, quail eggs and shrimp crisps. A true treat to watch how it is made. What novelty!
Obviously, these are just a fraction of the cornucopia of local eats that ho Chi Minh has to offer. The best way to discover them is to dive in yourself! If you don’t know where or how to start, we have fun street food tours that you can join :) Or, feel free to message us if you simply want advice- firstname.lastname@example.org.