A Guide to What Locals Actually Eat in Saigon

A Guide to What Locals Actually Eat in Saigon

Vietnamese food is not just Pho. On your next trip, get to know Saigon through its locally-loved delicacies. Pho real.

You certainly tried Pho, and you might have heard about Banh Xeo, the famous Vietnamese pancake. But Saigonese people, including myself, eat Hue Beef Noodle almost twice often as we do our world-famous dishes. Unfortunately, unlike the Taiwanese who did a great job bringing their humble yet delicious offerings to attention, we Saigonese barely talk about our many homely dishes.

Let me take you through the true delicacies of Saigon – the go-to foods that I think deserve extra attention. 

Banh Trang Tron (Mixed Rice Paper)

what to eat in saigon

Image credit: Saigon Plus

If you backpacked around Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City), chances are you have seen locals eating Banh Trang Tron from plastic carriers using chopsticks. In this dish, dry rice paper (the wrap for spring rolls) is sliced into thin shreds, then seasoned with chilli, beef jerky, sour mangoes, shrimps and herbs. Some top it with boiled quail eggs and butter, while others add extra beef jerky. For me, I like mine with extra shrimps for the appealing colour and sweet taste. Either way, you can treat yourself to what could easily be the queen of Vietnamese street food.

From humble yokes to branded food stalls, the dish has been continuously upscaled and upgraded to cater to increasing demands despite the rise of rivalling street foods and high-end eateries. It has changed in form, too; besides the traditional version served as a mix, you can try the rolls if you prefer more fillings (which are the toppings in the mixed version).

You can find it everywhere (really, everywhere!), but why not start with the most popular one?

Bánh Tráng Trộn Chú Viên: 48 Nguyễn Thượng Hiền, Ward 5, District 10, HCMC

Bun Bo Hue (Hue Beef Noodle)

Image credit: Alpha

Having its origins in Hue City, Central Vietnam, the noodle rivals Pho in taste and popularity throughout the country. While Pho soup is sweet and mild, Hue soup is infused with flavours of herbs (such as lemongrass), chillies and especially the Vietnamese signature shrimp paste. The soup is served with special thick, round rice vermicelli noodle and different cuts of beef, to cater to a wide array of eaters who prefer different textures. You will also be provided with minced chilli, shrimp paste, lemon, fish sauce and herbs to taste.

I highly recommend Hue noodle for fans of spicy foods. It’s not only about the taste, but the experience; and I mean the sweating, the tears, burning throat and runny nose (so do prepare tissue and order a drink). Here’s an address I handpicked for you based on its popularity. 

Bún bò gánh Lý Chính Thắng: 110 Ly Chinh Thang Street, Ward 8, District 3, HCMC

Com Tam (Broken rice with BBQ)

Image credit: Angelina Earley

It looks like what you think it looks like. Com Tam is cooked rice topped with succulent BBQ pork ribs and cutlets. What sounds like a simple combination is only the start. Locals also order signature side dishes like steam eggs, seasoned pigskin and they drizzle the hot grills with sweet and sour fish sauce. Now that sounds like something worthwhile, right?

Com Tam is an affordable and accessible delicacy for most of us, since we do not have to visit fancy BBQ restaurants for juicy ribs. Saigonese people eat Com Tam at all times of the day, but mostly for breakfast and supper. If you want to give it a try, be sure to wake up early to secure the best selections of grills and side dishes, which might sell out as early as 10am in the morning.

This is my favourite eatery for Com Tam, but you can certainly do more research to find other options.

Cơm Tấm Bà Hạt: 280 Ba Hat, District 10, HCMC

Che Mam (Sweet soup “buffet”)

Image credit: Foody

Can’t decide which sweet soup to try? Why not order a bit of everything? At some eateries in Saigon, diners are served small portions of all varieties of sweet soup on the menu on a tray (“Mam” in Vietnamese), capped at 15 options. This way, you can curate a perfect selection of sweet dessert – from mung bean and coconut milk soup to rice balls soup and more. This is a dessert that’s perfect for a group of three or four people to share, so everyone can sample a little of everything!

Another of my personal favourite places:

Quán Chè Khánh Vy: 242B Sư Vạn Hạnh Street, District 10, HCMC

Snails and Crabs

what to eat in saigon

Image credit: Dia Diem An Uong

Where do you go out for a drink? Here in Saigon, we find a good seat in the most popular snails and crabs stalls, order up to five different dishes from a selection of nearly a hundred offerings, and drink until midnight. Snails and crabs stalls that serve drinks and dishes made from snails are commonplace in Saigon. The sea snails are supplied from the neighbouring provinces. The menus vary from place to place, but the most common recipes include sea snails tossed in tamarind, garlic butter or onion sauce, grilled snails, and boiled snails, among others.

A personal favorite (again):

Ốc Đào: 212B Nguyễn Trãi, District 1, HCMC

About Author

Amy Nguyen
Amy Nguyen

When she comes to a new place, Amy loves to do what locals do. From experiencing ordinary foodstuffs to roaming crowded wet markets, Amy explores and immerses with the local mundane daily life. Looking for an escape from touristy sites? You're coming to the right place. When not travelling, Amy watches and reviews movies as a hobby.


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