The Food Nomad must Takes on Ho Chi Minh city

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The vegetable filled banh mi at Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa
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1. Bánh mì (banh mi)

If you’re even the slightest bit into Vietnamese food, you’ve probably eaten numerous banh mi sandwiches.
Along with pho, easily the most exported Vietnamese speciality is banh mi. Although banh mi can mean a variety of different things, and in Vietnamese it actually just means bread, sometimes the term can be used to refer to any type of the beautiful Vietnamese personal baguette sandwich.
Walking around Saigon you’ll see dozens of carts with signs selling banh mi – it’s actually hard to go more than a block without seeing one – so it’s never hard to find.
There are many different varieties of banh mi, and here’s a good resource for seeing the different types, but the basic sandwich starts with a crusty baguette that’s sliced in half (sometimes using a scissors) and stuffed with layers of pork, luncheon meats, shredded cured pork skin, pâté, mayonnaise, Vietnamese radish and carrot pickles, a handful of sliced cucumbers, sprigs of coriander (cilantro), and last but not least, an optional, yet in my opinion necessary, scoop of fresh pounded chilies.
The sum of these ingredients together is what really makes banh mi such a glorious sandwich. Coming from Bangkok, where I can’t remember the last time I ate bread or a sandwich for that matter, I was pretty happy to devour as many banh mi as I could when I was in Vietnam.
Here are the three main restaurants I ate banh mi when I was in Saigon.
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The most sought after banh mi in Saigon at Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa
Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa (Banh Mi Huynh Hoa)
Mention banh mi in Saigon, and it won’t be long before someone brings up Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa (Banh Mi Huynh Hoa), what is easily the most famous place to eat banh mi pate in the city.
During just about all business hours, Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa (Banh Mi Huynh Hoa) remains busy and hectic, and if you go in the evening, you’ll actually need to be on the aggressive side to place your order and get your sandwich.
The banh mi was absolutely stuffed with multiple layers of different luncheon meats, pate, and mayonnaise, but there were less pickles, cucumber, and cilantro than on other versions I ate.  So this is really a meat lovers dream come true.
For myself, the sandwich at Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa (Banh Mi Huynh Hoa) was actually almost too heavy, and packed with too much fatty meat, but then again, I have to admit it was pretty tasty.
I can sure see why it’s so famous, and if you’re a banh mi lover, this is a place you don’t want to miss.
Address: 26 Lê Thị Riêng, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Open hours: About 3:30 pm – midnight daily
Price: 30,000 VND ($1.40), more expensive than others, but worth it for the amount of meat

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Cha gio – Vietnamese fried spring rolls
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Where to eat them
Literally, you’ll find both goi cuon and cha gio at all sorts of dining establishments, from street food stalls to fancy restaurants, they are served all over the place.
When I was food exploring in Saigon, my favorite place to eat goi cuon and cha gio was deep within local fresh markets, tucked into alleys, and all of a sudden I’d see a lady rolling up fresh summer rolls and I could hardly resist sitting down for a snack.

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Bánh tráng trộn at Turtle Lake in Saigon
18. Bánh tráng trộn (banh trang tron)
I received a number of recommendations to eat a Vietnamese snack called banh trang tron, which as you might remember from above, banh trang is the thin rice paper.
Banh trang tron is a relatively recent Vietnamese creation, a snack of shredded rice paper, seasoned with a chili sauce, and filled with herbs like Vietnamese coriander and basil and supplemented with pieces of squid, salty fish, and quail eggs. There are probably about ten more ingredients I’m forgetting to mention in the mix as well.

It’s basically a snack or junk food, and when I was in Saigon, I noticed that it’s especially popular with youth and the younger generation, and often available at parks and public places, and nearly always served in a plastic bag.
I’m not a huge snacker, I prefer to eat big meals and not indulge in little snacks, but when in Saigon, there’s no choice but to try banh trang tron – it seems the entire younger generation LOVES it.

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Cơm tấm sườn nướng – broken rice topped with a grilled pork chop
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19. Cơm tấm sườn nướng (com tam suon)
You’ve seen all the previous noodle dishes mentioned in this guide, but as much as I love noodles, I love rice more.
So let’s move onto a few of the famous and most beloved Vietnamese rice based dishes.
One of the most common meals I noticed throughout my stay in Saigon, especially known as a southern favorite, is the combination of rice (which is often broken rice, which are partially broken grains of rice that occur in the milling process), topped with a grilled pork chop.
The most basic version is known as cơm tấm sườn nướng, the broken rice and a thin grilled pork chop, served on a plate and accompanied by fish sauce dressing, cucumber pickles, green onion oil, and chilies to garnish.
Starting from the most basic version of com tam suon nuong, you can then upgrade with all sorts of marvelous extra things like a fried egg, Vietnamese meatloaf, pig skin, extra pork, more sausage… the list goes on.
Com tam suon nuong is available all over in Saigon, especially at small street food stalls and markets throughout the city.
I loved eating it for lunch and dinner, and a few times for breakfast as well.

Cơm Tấm Ba Ghiền
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The grand-slam at Cơm Tấm Ba Ghiền

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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.

Vietnamese snailsỐc – 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)

Bò kho (bo kho) – beef stew served with egg noodles and baguettes

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Thịt bò nướng lá lốt – One of my favorite things to eat in Vietnam
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25. Thịt bò nướng lá lốt (bo la lot)
Last but not least, I could not write a post about some of the best Vietnamese food without including bo nuong la lot, known also as just bo la lot… it’s one of my favorite foods in all of Vietnam, and if there’s one thing I could choose off this food list right now to eat, it would probably be this.
Bo la lot are little minced beef rolls, lightly spiced and seasoned, which are then filled into lá lốt, or wild betel leaves (called bai chaplu in Thai), and tightly wrapped into thin tubes.
They are then grilled over charcoal, typically with a pretty hot heat so they cook through the middle, but are slightly charred on the outside and have an undeniable smoky flavor.
A plate of bo la lot is then served with rice paper, a typical bounty of leaves and herbs, a dipping sauce which I think is often made with fermented fish sauce, and finally, chilies, which should never be forgotten.
Everything is assembled, loaded with green herbs and sauce, and each bite is pure joy. I love bo la lot so much, my mouth is watering as I write this.

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I’m a huge fan of bo la lot

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