Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is a place to come for any foodies. Vietnamese food is so diversified that you will probably get lost while planning for your food adventure. Read our local guide to know what to expect on your Saigon food tours – Vietnamese food overview, food safety tips, the name of the dishes, and places to try these recipes in Saigon.
In the north, people prefer light and simple flavor which is why they tend to use more MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) in their cooking, while foods in the central of Vietnam are saltier and sometimes spicier.
The southern-style cooking is a mixed combination of many ingredients and seasoning, and thus the taste is more complicated. Food is saltier and a little bit sweeter; sometimes the sour flavor is added to create a balancing taste. To add salty flavors, people usually use fish sauce or soy sauce instead of salt. Some typical foods in the south that reflect this cooking are canh chua (sour soup), com tam (broken rice), and bun mam (Vietnamese gumbo).
People in the South also really love herbs and wraps; they use rice papers or vegetables like lettuce to wrap herbs, thin rice noodles, and meat or any kind of foods then dip the roll in with the fish sauce.
An upset stomach can indeed be different for all people. When eating or drinking contaminated food and drink, you might get an upset stomach, a slight case of travelers’ diarrhea, a severe case of diarrhea, or even food poisoning. Not only food stalls on the streets - where foods are more exposed to air and dust and thus more natural to get spoiled and contaminated, but even in restaurants, the way your foods are cooked, the ingredients they choose could also result in an upset stomach.
So it will come in handy to know some food safety tips that allow you to have a safe street food experience but won’t ruin your Vietnam food tour.
· Read the unbiased reviews of restaurants before you go. You can use Tripadvisor or Google to look for the places and read the comments section.
· Have a local professional guide; he/she will know where you can enjoy street foods without risking an upset stomach. And as a bonus, going with the local guide from a reliable tour agency is always better because you won’t be overcharged for your meals and they can take you to places that may be difficult to find with Google Map or places that are only famous to locals. Therefore, it is important to go with a professional travel agency where they will take more responsibility for your health and safety and get you high-quality Vietnamese food.
· Put the fresh herbs in the hot soup as soon as the soup is brought to your table to cook it, or skip it if you are not confident in the food quality. Even though the adventurousness would be less since fresh herbs are important ingredients in Vietnam and Southern cooking, it is safer that you be careful with uncooked greens.
· Avoid using ice (maybe except for high-class restaurants)
· Use refrigerated drinks. Besides keeping you safe, you will also be able to enjoy the authentic taste this way.
· Check everything with your eyes, the place, the way they handle your food and the dish/bowl/glass that they serve your food in, and the utensils you will use to eat.
· Take the necessary medicines with you in case you get an upset stomach.
· Go to the hospital for a check-up if you have travelers’ diarrhea.
Learn more about the travel tips on Food and Water Safety in Vietnam.
What to Eat in Saigon
Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City – is a culture hotpot with people from different walks of lives and regions living in the city, so you can find food in other regions in Saigon in its authentic style or its Saigon version too. And the best thing is, there are many foods that you can eat at breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner.
There are hundreds of dishes in Vietnam and Saigon, so don’t stuff your stomach too much, and pace yourself. Do not drink too much during meals and give yourself time to digest between meals. Walking between places (when the locations are near) could be a good idea to help with digestion and see the variety of Vietnamese street foods.
A Saigon food tour is usually about three-or-four-hour long, which includes the time you eat and travel between places. You can choose to have the food tour in the morning, afternoon or early evening and night because most foods can be eaten at any meals of the day, but some street foods may only be available in the early evening. Generally, a food tour will include main dishes, street foods, desserts, and drinks (alcoholics and non-alcoholics); if you want to try challenging food, you can request this to be added to your main dishes or street foods item too.
Check out our private Saigon food tours for example.
Com Tam (broken rice) is rice with BBQ pork ribs, egg-meatloaf, seasoned shredded pork skin, fish sauce, and green onion with oil. You can eat this at any meal in the day, but typically at breakfast and lunch. Read more
Bun Thit Nuong (vermicelli with grilled pork) - Instead of rice, you can have BBQ pork with thin rice noodles topped with peanuts and fresh herbs, like chopped up cucumber, perilla, lettuce, and bean sprouts. The soft noodles and flavor of the herbs will balance the fat and taste of the BBQ. Read more
Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette) - The standard banh mi is assorted meat, herbs, pate, mayonnaise, pickled radish, soy sauce, pepper, and chilies. With this basic recipe, you can add any ingredients you like and create a new version of banh mi, like canned sardines or fried eggs. In different places, they will try to make their special mix of ingredients. You can tell the seller to leave out herbs or anything you don't want in your banh mi, but be quick to speak out than their hand speed, or else you will end up picking it out yourself. And you will be able to find Banh mi at any time of day, but mostly in the morning for breakfast. Read more
Com Chien Ca Man (fried rice with salted fish) - The salted fish season this fried rice. The rice is fried to crunchiness to add in more addictiveness. You would most likely to find this dish at night, at beer drinking places.
If you find the above dishes a little “dry,” there are so many noodles and soup dishes in Vietnamese foods with a rich and flavorful broth. They are usually for breakfast, but some stores sell them throughout the day as well.
Pho vs. Bun Bo - They are both famous Vietnamese noodle soups with rice noodles and beef, onion and scallions, yet they are so different. First is the rice noodle itself; Pho is flat and soft, while rice noodle used in Bun Bo is in a cylinder shape, bigger, and chewier than Pho. Annatto oil is usually put in Bun Bo to create the red color.
Canh Bun vs. Bun Rieu - The two dishes are cooked similarly: thin rice noodles with crab meat-crab roe-egg-pork mixture, fried tofu, blood pudding, tomato, and annatto oil. The only difference is that there is water spinach and sometimes snails in canh bun.
Bun Mam (Vietnamese gumbo) - The dish has thin rice noodles, eggplant, fermented fish or shrimp “mam” broth, squid, shrimp, slices of pork meat, and fish fillet. The pungent smell is toned down by ginger, lemongrass, and a touch of fresh lemon juice before eating. It goes great with a lot of herbs and veggies.
Banh Canh Cua (crab tapioca noodles soup) - The dish includes noodles with crab meat, sometimes pork and shrimp. Its soup is usually thicker than other noodle soup. The noodle used could be the same as in bun bo, or another chewier and more jelly-like tapioca starch noodle.
Mien Mang Ga/Vit (chicken/duck and bamboo shoots cellophane noodle) - The chewy noodle called mien – usually made from mung bean starch, goes well with dried bamboo shoots cooked till soft and tender.
Pha Lau (offal stew) - The rich and chewy offal (usually pork’s) is stewed to tender in a thick, flavorful sauce made from coconut juice, soy sauce, and other spices. The crispy outside of the Banh mi baguette, with no fill inside, dipped in the hot rich sauce is definitely worth an experience. This is an adventurous Vietnamese food to try.
And you cannot forget about the rice flour cakes, which can be eaten at any meal.
Banh Uot vs. Banh Cuon (Steamed rice rolls) – Banh cuon, or simply the wrapping of the rolls and meat, while banh uot is usually served with pork sausage, fried shallot, and fish sauce.
Banh Beo - The southern version of steamed rice cake has a lot of ingredients like shrimp paste, green onion and oil, fried shallot, mung bean paste, and fish sauce.
Banh Xeo vs. Banh Khot - Vietnamese pancake batter has a flat-shaped while Banh khot has a half-sphere shape, like a takoyaki cut in half, filling with shrimp instead of squid. They both have a crispy outer layer and a bit soft on the inside. Both are served with fresh herbs and dipped in fish sauce. Read more on Banh xeo and Banh khot.
Vietnamese fruits - Vietnam is your tropical fruit paradise with all kinds of fruits from the pretty ones like dragon fruit and lychee to not-so-pretty ones like the durian. But they are all delicious with natural sweetness. So why not try these Vietnamese fruits in their best season in your Saigon food tour.
There is also a lot of confectionery in Vietnam that are made from actual fruits and beans like banana candy, sesame brittle, and peanut brittle with rice paper.
Che - Che is a general name for sweet soup desserts in Vietnam. The typical ingredients to made Che include coconut milk, syrup or sugar water, fruits or vegetables (banana, corn, sweet potato, cassava), beans (mung bean, red bean, white bean), and some types of cooked rice flour. It is a perfect dish for anyone with a sweet tooth. Here is to name a few: che troi nuoc – mung bean stuffed in rice flour, “floating” on syrup/sugar water with slices of ginger and sesame seeds; tau hu – tofu pudding with syrup/sugar water, slices of ginger; suong sa hot luu – kind of similar to jelly – suong sa and boba – hot luu in thin coconut milk, mixed with mung bean paste.
Xoi (Sticky rice) - There are sweet and savory versions of Xoi. The savory one usually has some kind of protein in it, while sweet usually has beans, sesame seeds, and covered with coconut milk or shredded coconut meat. The popular one you could easily find is Xoi gac – cochinchin gourd flavored sticky rice cake; Xoi vo – mung bean sticky rice.
Ice cream - You cannot complete a dessert menu without ice cream. Vietnamese ice cream mostly has a tropical twist, such as having banana, coconut, or avocado as the main ingredient.
Check out more Vietnam desserts you must try.
There are a lot of drinks to wipe down the sweat and heat from eating delicious foods, such as Hot e – basil seed and malva nut, corn milk, coconut juice with kumquat, coffee – black, black with sugar, milk, egg, sugar cane juice, and pennywort smoothies (the last two are fresh juice so you may want to consider carefully if you have sensitive stomach). And of course, a glass of refreshing Vietnamese beer is not a bad choice either.
Street food in Saigon is quite simple, yet delectably addictive, like Banh trang nuong (Vietnamese pizza), Banh trung nuong (grilled egg with sausage and shrimp flakes), cassava cake, grilled banana, roasted corn, and stir-fried corn. If you want to take a challenge on your Vietnam food tour, you can also try fertilized duck/quail embryo, frog meat, shells/snails, and pig feet noodle soup.
Vegan Food in Saigon
In Vietnamese food, herbs and carbs are used more often to enhance the flavor of the dishes rather than the meat, so almost all of the savory dishes have their vegetarian version. If you are vegetarian, you are still sure to get a satisfactory food tour in Vietnam. The products made from flour/starch, tofu, beans, and mushroom are used to substitute for the meat and egg. Coconut milk or other nut/grain milk to replace dairy products; vegetable oil is used.
Some of the vegetarian versions of famous dishes you can try are Pho, spring roll, banh xeo, and fried rice.
There are foods at every corner; step out on the street, walk around the neighborhood and you can have your own little Saigon food tour. You can sit at the tables placed on the street to watch people or have a takeaway and continue with your Vietnam trip. There are middle-class restaurants as well; tables are set inside, but the price is not that high, and they are mostly family restaurants. And even high-class restaurants serving traditional Vietnamese food as well, combining traditional food with world-class techniques to create new dishes.
The prices at these places are usually under VND 50,000/dish.
Some suggested food streets are Nguyen Van Chiem Street (District 1), Backpackers’ streets: Bui Vien, Do Quang Dau, Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham (District 1), Ton That Thuyet Street, Alley 284 on Le Van Sy Street (District 3), Phan Van Tri Street (Go Vap District), and markets such as Binh Tay Market and Xom Chieu Market.
Restaurants in Saigon
Address: 89 Ton That Dam, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 5 PM – 12 AM
Price: VND 50,000 – VND 250,000
Address: 158 Bis/40-41 Pasteur, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 8 AM - 10 PM
Price: VND 150,000 – VND 330,000
Ngu Binh Restaurant – Hue cuisine
Address: 82 Residential Nguyen Van Troi, Ward 17, Phu Nhuan District
Opening hours: 3 PM – 9 PM
Price: VND 20,000 – VND 55,000
Pho Restaurants in Saigon - check out the best places to eat an authentic pho in Ho Chi Minh City
Vegetarian Restaurants in Saigon
Address: 2 Thi Sach, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 10 AM – 10 PM
Price: VND 65,000 – VND 240,000
Address: 711 Le Hong Phong, Ward 12, District 10
Opening hours: 7 AM – 11 PM
Price: VND 25,000 – VND 150,000
Coming to Ho Chi Minh City and experiencing the variety of Vietnamese foods is one of the best options you can have for a grand food tour. There are many things and a lot of places to try out, but make sure to check all of the tips in your food safety list to avoid stomach ache or travelers’ diarrhea.
Looking for a high-quality food tour in Ho Chi Minh City? Check out our highly reviewed I love food tour and I really love food tour.
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