Saigon Vietnam is a city teeming with motorbikes, coffee and soup. At least that’s what we found during our two-week exploration of the Saigon food scene. Read on if you’re wondering what to eat in Saigon.
With a population exceeding 8 million people, rapidly growing Saigon rumbles with activity on every corner like a machine with chainlike lines of never-ending scooters that streak through some of the busiest intersections in the world.
The Saigon food scene is for real. There’s literally great food on every block from Southern Vietnamese style Pho to what seems to be a million variations on bun or rice noodles.
Discover more of the world’s best noodle dishes.
Regardless of whether you choose to use Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll quickly notice that the city loves Banh Mi. You’ll find the Vietnamese submarine sandwiches everywhere – the Banh Mi was invented in Saigon after all. Northern specialties like Banh Cuon are also popular. You will never get bored eating Saigon food!
Saigon vs. Ho Chi Minh City
Though the city’s official name is now Ho Chi Minh City, many in the electric city calls it Saigon. That’s what we call it too.
If that’s not enough, you can always enjoy a seafood celebration in one of the many seafood halls that seem to be everywhere. We encountered one seafood joint with a ginormous king crab lurking in a tank for all to see.
If you’re still wondering where to eat in Saigon – the answer is everywhere.
Saigon Food Experiences Not to Miss
Saigon is a great city to sample a wide selection of the best food in Vietnam. The city serves up local specialties like Pho on practically every street, but it’s also easy to find a wide selection of traditional Vietnamese food from all over the country.
But where should a tourist start? We won’t pretend to be Saigon cuisine experts after two weeks of eating our way through the city; however, we happily share our favorite ways of eating (and drinking coffee) in this Vietnamese mega-city here.
1. Take a Saigon Food Tour
We have an ongoing love-hate relationship with food tours. We love the idea of taking food tours to learn about the culinary aspects of a city while bonding with local experts and like-minded travelers. At the same time, we hate dumbed-down tours that waste our time and bore our taste buds.
We gambled with Saigon Street Eats when we accepted their invitation for their Pho Trail morning food tour. Owned and managed by a food-loving Australian-Vietnamese couple, this tour company falls into the good category of food tours. Co-owner Vu guided us around a non-touristy Saigon neighborhood for pho, market food, sugar cane juice and a temple picnic.
During the tour, Vu shared food and food tips as we wandered with purpose, plus some valuable tips on how to cross the city’s busy streets. We won’t tell you exactly where we went as that would just ruin the fun when you take this Ho Chi Minh City food tour yourself.
Learn more about taking a Saigon street food tour with Saigon Street Eats.
2. Eat Saigon Street Food
Some cities like Paris and Tokyo demand an exploration of their fine dining scenes. Saigon is not one of them.
Sure, Saigon is a big city with its fair share fancy restaurants, but the best way to eat in Saigon is by taking it to the street. Each block in the city has multiple casual restaurants plus a myriad of vendors serving homespun food right on the sidewalk. Popular Vietnamese street food includes Banh Mi sandwiches and Bot Chien (pictured above).
There are tons of internet lists with recommended street food vendors, but we found our favorite Saigon street food vendors by following our eyes and noses.
Our preferred technique is to see where and what the local crowds are eating and then plop down on a little plastic chair to join them. The risk is low since prices are so reasonable, but the taste rewards are boundless.
3. Slurp Soup
In many ways, Saigon serves as a “best of” for Vietnamese cuisine. If you look hard enough and research a Ho Chi Minh food blog or two, you can find all of the country’s specialties done with a Saigon twist.
Soup is no exception to this rule. Hanoi may be the original home for Pho, but Saigon does its own sweeter version. How about Bun Bo Hue? Yep, you can easily find this Central Vietnam favorite in Saigon too.
As an extra bonus, most Saigon soup shops provide copious amounts of fresh herbs like Thai Basil, Mint, Culantro (a heartier stemmed relative to cilantro) and Rice Paddy Herb. In Saigon, you can also add pickled garlic and a slew of condiments to the big bowls of soup.
4. Graze through a Saigon Market
Vietnam is a country with more than its fair share of natural resources, and there’s no better place to check out the bounty of HCMC food options than at a local market. Ben Thanh Market is the city’s most famous market, but we found this huge central market to be touristic and expensive. Instead, we preferred the smaller neighborhood markets which can be found all over the city.
As fun as it is to shop at the city’s many markets, check out high-end Japanese department store Takashimaya. We shared a big platter of sushi and a tasty custard pastry in Takashimaya’s basement food court for very reasonable prices.
Ben Thanh Market is located at 32-30, 36-34-32-30 Bội Phan Châu, Bến Thành, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam.
Takashimaya is located at Saigon Centre, 65 Le Loi Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam.
5. Eat Breakfast
Breakfast is a big deal in Saigon.
Many people eat this meal at their favorite Saigon restaurant on their way to work, often eating a big bowl of Pho or a quick Banh Mi sandwich on the go. Though we mostly ate Pho and Banh Cuon (stuffed noodle rolls) for breakfast in Saigon, our favorite Saigon breakfast is Banh Mi Op La at Banh Mi Hoa Ma.
Sitting on tiny plastic chairs with a view of the city traffic and the constant construction noise is the perfect way to enjoy Banh Mi Op La. This restaurant’s sparse menu includes Banh Mi sandwiches and Banh Mi Op La Du Thu.
We prefer the latter – platters of fried eggs and assorted meats served with pickled vegetables, paté and crispy baguettes. With the addition of a little hot sauce and two cups of ice coffee, this meal was our favorite Saigon breakfast and maybe even our favorite Saigon meal.
Bánh Mì Hoà Mã is located at 53 Cao Thắng, phường 17, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam.
6. Drink Specialty Coffee
As the biggest city in the world’s second largest coffee bean producing country, Saigon has a lot of coffee shops. And by a lot, we mean thousands if not more.
Locals drink coffee at all times of the day, usually iced and with a lot of condensed milk. Some coffee shops, like Aha Cafe in the bottom of our apartment building, are simple spaces serving coffee and smoothies in a community setting. Liberally sprinkled throughout the city, small coffee shops like Aha fuel the city with endless cups of strong, sweet coffee.
Saigon’s growing coffee shop trend, however, is more upscale with coffee shops like L’Usine and The Workshop, fitting with the city’s growing artisan food movement. L’Usine’s space includes a design shop and restaurant, adding up to an elegant coffee experience. Located on the third floor of an old industrial building, The Workshop provides a more streamlined space with sophisticated coffee drinks.
When we closed our eyes at these two modern coffee shops, we could have been anywhere in the world. We opened them and were happy to be sipping coffee in a Saigon cafe.
Aha Cafe has multiple locations. We drank at the one located at 92 Phạm Ngọc Thach, Phượng 6, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam.
L’Usine is located at 70A-70B-68 Lê Lợi, Bến Thành, quân 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
The Workshop is located at 3 / F pq 1, 27 Ngô Đức kẻ, Bến Nghe, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Things To Do in Saigon
How much Pho can you can slurp in a day? Here are some ideas of what to do when you’re not eating in Saigon:
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
Original Publication Date: October 18, 2016