You’re not in Hanoi anymore, so put down the pho ladle and step away from the bun cha. Get ready to sample the sweet – and sour – delights of southern Vietnam. Here is our pick of the top five local street foods you must try next time you’re hungry in Ho Chi Minh City.
Any snack that incorporates a baguette is destined for greatness, and the mighty bahn mi is no exception. Beginning with a light and flaky Vietnamese bread roll – made with rice flour as opposed to wheat flour – the finished product may hold any – or all – of the following: roasted pork, a variety of pork deli-style meats, pork ‘floss’, mayonnaise, chili sauce, fish paste, cucumber, coriander, pickled carrots and daikon, sliced chillies, a runny fried egg and homemade pate. A full flavour and texture bomb, the humble bahn mi has long enjoyed international renown, with stalls and food trucks around the world devoted to perfecting it. So good, Anthony Bourdain once called it ‘a symphony in a sandwich’.
Bun Thit Nuong
This rice noodle dish is not short of flavor or texture, either. A tasty breakfast staple, the foundations of bun thit nuong is a bowl of vermicelli noodles, topped with sweet grilled pork, fresh sprigs of basil and mint, sprouts and various greens. On top of that, throw a chopped up fried spring roll, some crushed peanuts, spring onions, plus the standard pickled carrots and daikon for tang. Apply chilli to taste (LOTS) and dig in.
Signs for hu tieu can be found throughout the streets of Saigon, hanging over steaming vendor carts and hunched-over diners. The reason for this is plain: hu tien is basically pho’s Saigon cousin. Rice noodles form the basis of this dish, which you can order with broth or dry (which is just broth served on the side). Then there’s the protein: sliced pork, a little offal, a quail egg, a single shrimp and some fresh coriander leaves. Then it’s up to you to make this dish truly shine, using the condiments provided: spring onions, black pepper, lime and chilli sauce (naturally).
The noodle dish with a dark side, bun mam is not for everyone. It’s sometimes referred to as a gumbo, but that really doesn’t prepare you for its pungent aroma, derived from its defining ingredient: fermented fish. Not for the uninitiated, bun mam is one of those foods you either love or hate, and definitely one you don’t want to cook in an enclosed space. On the plus side, it has lots of healthy ingredients – eggplant, bean sprouts, garlic chives, water spinach, garlic, chilli etc. Restaurants in the West may tone down the fishiness, so for the full flavor punch you need to try this in Saigon.
Though the name refers to the ‘broken’ rice grains in this dish and sometimes it can look a bit messy, there’s nothing about it that needs fixing. A solid meat/rice/veg plate, all its different elements come together to make a perfect, scrumptious whole. On top of the little broken rice grains goes a smoky grilled pork chop, shredded pork, shredded pork skin, a sloppy fried egg, a wedge of cha trung (meatloaf, for want of a better word), tangy pickled veg, cucumber and your preferred amount of sweet fish sauce. Since no words can adequately describe such a thing, better get your insider’s tour of Saigon underway as soon as you can.