Weâ€™re heading into the peak travel season to Vietnam â€“ the winter time when the heat subsides a little in the south, it gets cold in the north, and dreary damp in the central region. This may seem weird but for those of us not used to extreme humidity or heat, winter is the best time to go to Vietnam. Many people are gearing up for their trips abroad and I have recently been receiving more inquiries about where to go and what to eat in Vietnam â€“ one of the major travel destinations these days. I donâ€™t know why Iâ€™ve not done this before but Iâ€™m going to run a short series of postings based around the major tourist and travel hubs: Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City), Hue, and Hanoi.
Things change rapidly in Vietnam â€“ itâ€™s like a wild frontier land â€“ so feel free to add your tips and insights below. Itâ€™s hard to keep up with the latest and greatest, but we can together build a nice repository of information to share with one another.
Where and What to Eat in Saigon
You can eat through all of Vietnam in Saigon, but be sure to sample southern Vietnamese specialties.
To get started, sample regional foods without hassling baby plastic chairs on sidewalks here:
Quan An Ngon
138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 1. A great place to sample or get a primer on Vietnamese street food. Prices are fair, dishes are prepared well, and there is table service. Cooks line the perimeter of the restaurant so checkout the offerings before loading up on some of Viet favorites such as banh hoi chao tom (grilled shrimp on sugar cane with fine rice noodles), goi du du bo kho (green papaya and beef jerky salad), and oc nhoi (steamed stuffed snails with lemongrass). Beer on ice, fresh papaya juice, and cool soursop smoothies are among the choices for quenching thirst in the stifling heat. Right across from the Reunification Palace. Go in early or mid-afternoon to avoid waiting. After trying out the food here, you’re ready to eat on the street.
Go to a quan banh dan (a regular person’s joint), where customers compose reasonably-priced meals from a daily array of dishes thatâ€™s presented cafeteria style. Iâ€™ve eaten as such spots in wet markets and actual restaurants. Just step inside and see whatâ€™s being offered.
100 Ton That Tung Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1
When I went for dinner, it was rowdy with Vietnam’s youth culture (more than half of the country’s population was born after 1975). The boisterous customers and uniformed waiters, mostly under 30, enlivened their stark surroundings defined by the usual tile, florescent lighting, folding metal tables, and plastic stools. Like everyone else, we perched upon our stools, quaffed cold beers and dug into sour fish soup, spicy pickled green papaya, fish simmered in caramel sauce, and rice. Look at the food then tell the waiter what you want. There are two locations.
Eat Saigon specialties, such as banh xeo (literally sizzling crepes)a wondrous crisp chewy crepe filled with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts. Break off a piece, wrap it in lettuce with herbs and dunk in the nuoc cham dipping sauce.
103, district 5. Banh Xeo 46A uses large skillets to make their crepes but at Ngoc Son, the young women out front fry the crepes in woks. The result is not as chewy crisp but amazing tasting, nevertheless. The outdoor garden eating area is fun in the evening.
Have pho not just for breakfast, but lunch and dinner too! Itâ€™s all around you and hereâ€™s an oldie but a goody:
260C Pasteur, District 3. Established in the 1950s, this is one of the oldest pho shops in Saigon and continues to serve terrific beef noodle soup. The very large bowls come with puff pastry rounds and banana leaf items. Eat one and theyâ€™ll charge you extra. It is not related to the international chain of Pho Hoa restaurants.
Eat tropical fruit till you drop. Buy durian 24/7 on Nguyá»…n Tri PhÆ°Æ¡ng street where multiple vendors set up shop on the sidewalk. Ask the taxi to take you. You can sell the durian as you approach. If youâ€™re not into creamy but stinky durian, stick with the creamy mangos, custard apple, and bananas from the wet markets.
Phu Xuan Restaurant
128 Dinh Tien Hoang St., Da Kao Ward, D.1. Excellent Hue food in exceptionally tiny restaurant. They obtain ingredients from small producers and farms. Antiques, polite service, high-quality food.
Get takeaway from a bakery/deli like this one:
64-68 Ham Nghi St., District 1. A huge deli/bakery/prepared-foods business located on a busy corner. You can get banh mi, Chinese roasted meats, steamed cassava and bao, rice plates, all kinds of Viet takeaway. Their baguette facilities are on site. There are many Nhu Lan bakeries abroad and their model is this one.