21. Cá kho tộ (ca kho to)
Available at both Vietnamese sit down restaurants and com binh dan street food buffets (featured above), ca kho to is a Vietnamese food of catfish braised in a sweet caramel sauce, traditionally served in a clay-pot.
Ca kho to is extremely common, often prepared at home, and served at motherly style restaurants throughout Saigon.
The dish goes extremely well with a plate of hot rice, and I’m quite sure many Vietnamese would consider it a comfort food (at least I sure did when I took my first bite) – offering the flavors of home in each bite.
The catfish is cut into steak sliced pieces, then braised in a thick and rich gravy made from soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, shallots, and garlic, among a few other light spices and seasonings. Here’s a recipe I want to try when I have a chance.
Because ca kho to is braised, the aroma of the dish often fills the area around where it’s being made, so you might smell it before you see it!
22. Cháo (chao)
Nearly every Asian country has their own version of rice congee – a soothing rice porridge, often supplemented with some meat for flavor, and typically consumed for breakfast, but really at any time.
Cháo is the name for Vietnamese rice congee, and though there are many different types, with pork and pig organs (cháo lòng) being extremely popular, there’s another version I really loved called cháo vịt, congee made with duck.
Cháo Vịt Thanh Đa (Gốc Nhà Lá)
Along with Kyle, this time we headed to one of Saigon’s most well known chao vit restaurants, known as Cháo Vịt Thanh Đa, located a little outside of the center of town, but well worth the drive.
Seeing an entire brace of ducks, already braised and hanging, ready to be ordered, I suddenly became intensely hungry.
We ordered quite an impressive spread of food, including the rice congee, which came in a large communal bowl, along with a plate of sliced up duck and duck organs.
Something I really loved is that the congee and duck were served with a plate of Vietnamese salad, a mixture of finely sliced herbs and vegetables, dressed in a light sweet and sour dressing. The vegetables went extremely well with the salty rice porridge and the succulent duck.
This was not only one of the best rice congee meals I had in Vietnam, but among the best congee I’ve ever had anywhere – purely excellent food.
Address: 118 Bình Quới, P. 27, Ho Chi Minh City – it’s located north of Saigon, on the small horseshoe shaped island
Open hours: 7 am – 11 pm daily
Price: We paid a total of 283,000 VND (about $13) for three of us, but rather than a light breakfast, we had an entire family sized meal, which probably should have fed more than three of us (but I wasn’t complaining, that’s for sure). So I thought for the value of the food we got, it was a great deal.
Alternatively, when you travel to Vietnam, just walk around the streets and you’ll spot dozens of both restaurants and roaming street food stalls that sell chao, especially the pork organ version.
It’s especially common in the morning for breakfast.
Ốc – Eating Vietnamese snails
23. Ốc (oc)
Even though I was excited to eat everything else you’ve seen on this food guide so far, perhaps one of meals I was most excited to eat was a feast of Vietnamese seawater snails and shells.
Ốc (oc), as they are known in Vietnamese, can basically refer to any type of snails, usually saltwater, and they are so popular, they could be considered a major part of the Vietnamese culture of Saigon.
When you go to a quan oc, or a snail restaurant, there are typically dozens of different snails to choose from, as well as other shells like blood cockles, clams, and often shrimp and crab as well.
The seafood selection of the day is normally proudly displayed at the front of the food stall or restaurant, and you proceed to choose whatever looks good to you.
After you choose the type of raw snails you’d like to eat, then choose a method for it to be cooked – like grilled, sautéed, coated in salt and chili, steamed, curried, and so on – I think there are often about 5 – 6 different cooking methods.
Ordering can get a little confusing, but just keep in mind that even though you might not have a clue what you’re about to get on your dinner table, that’s part of the fun.
Shells are usually prepared on small plates, a bunch of different types of snail are all ordered, each cooked in a different method. Eating oc with family, friends, or co-workers, and enjoying a couple beers, is a favorite Saigon way to socialize.
Be sure to check out this excellent Vietnamese shell eating guide by Vietnamese Coracle.
If you love food (which I’m quite certain you do), and the culture that goes along with eating in Vietnam, a night of relaxing on small little chairs or stools, sipping beer, and slurping down snails and shells that you have no clue what they might be, is one of the finest ways to enjoy Saigon.
24. Bò kho (bo kho)
From Africa to North America, I’ve always been a lover of stew – it’s such a comforting and wholesome flavoring method of cooking. Vietnam also has a version of stew, bo kho, which means beef stew.
Bo kho in Vietnam is usually a stew that’s tomato based, filled with nuggets of deliciously tender beef, carrots, shallots, and other small vegetables, and slow simmered to pool all the flavors together.
Just like Vietnamese noodles, or nearly everything you’re served in Vietnam, bo kho is typically accompanied with a basket of fresh herbs and vegetables to garnish.
I like to load up my beef stew with cilantro and sawtooth herb, and add in a bunch of chilies for extra flavor.
Although I grew up normally eating beef stew with rice, in Saigon it’s common to eat bo kho with either bread or a type of noodles.
Bò Kho Út Nhung
Bò kho (bo kho) – beef stew served with egg noodles and baguettes