When it comes to Saigon, people often think of iconic places like Ben Thanh Market, Independence Palace, or the Opera House. But there’s more to Saigon than famous landmarks. On any street you’ll find countless food vendors selling delicious treats. Typical fare like boiled snails, rice paper rolls, broken rice, salad rolls, and grilled crepes are hard to forget.
If you want to enjoy Saigon when the air is fresh and the city is at its most peaceful you should rise by 6 a.m. At that time, the streets are still free of dense traffic. Strolling along Saigon’s avenues you will find a wealth of street foods. Saigon’s vendors are known for being friendly and easy-going. There’s no better way to start a new day than by eating great food served with a smile.
Saigonese like sweet flavors, adding sugar to everything from soups and salads to stir fries and, especially, to rice cakes, compotes, and even sticky rice. They are also fond of fresh coconut juice and coconut extract to enhance the sweet and buttery flavors of their dishes.
After breakfast, go to a sidewalk cafe and order a cup of iced black coffee (cà phê đá) or iced milk coffee (cà phê sữa đá). It is lovely to savor your coffee while watching streams of passerby bustle back and forth.
At noon, visitors can head to any street eatery and order a bowl of sour soup with snakehead fish (canh chua cá lóc) served with steamed rice. The soup is garnished with mildly sour tamarinds, star fruit and giang leaves. It also contains a mix of herbs and sliced vegetables, including green bananas, bean sprouts, nhút vegetables, okra, pineapple, and tomatoes. Broken steamed rice (cơm tấm) is another great lunch option. This simple dish consists of steamed rice served with grilled pork ribs and a dash of sweet and sour fish sauce. Saigonese people eat broken rice at any time of day.
When the city’s lights come on, try a hotpot of grouper fish (lẩu cá kèo). This dish contains sour and mild giang leaves and is served with many herbs and vegetables, including water spinach, nhút vegetables and common knotgrass, responsible for its signature taste. The grouper fish is kept alive until it is cooked. Diners add vegetables to the bubbling hotpot and enjoy. After a hard day’s work, locals love to meet with family and friends, sip some liquor, share a hotpot, and watch Saigon’s busy life pass by.
If time allows, head to Phu Nhuan District to sample duck noodles steamed with herbs (mỳ vịt tiềm), sold since the 1940s. To give this dish its special aroma, duck thigh and cheek meat is marinated with homegrown spices and steamed in a herbal broth. Once served, the meat is soft, but the duck skin is crispy and fragrant, making every bite delicious. Egg noodles are typically served with herb-steamed duck.
There are many other interesting dishes in this vibrant city. Visit Saigon and enjoy the quintessential flavors of the South to understand more about Saigon’s genuine and hospitable people.