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Dining in Ho Chi Minh is not just limited to Vietnamese pho and coffee, as you can also enjoy fresh seafood, noodles, rice, spring rolls, and meats prepared with an array of cooking methods. Also great for travellers joining Vietnam travel packages on a tight budget, some of these top must-try foods in Ho Chi Minh City are not only hearty and filling, but also cost less than VND 40,000 per dish. This is what to eat in Ho Chi Minh for a real taste of the city and Vietnam.

1. Banh Mi

banh mi

These sandwiches are perfect for fast paced Saigon life

Take a walk anywhere in Saigon and you will eventually run into someone selling banh mi. Tasty, filling and most importantly quick to prepare, these sandwiches are perfect for fast paced Saigon life. This baguette sandwich is priced between VND 10,000 and VND 15,000, with pickled vegetables, pate, butter, soy sauce, cilantro, chilies, and hot peppers. Quick and tasty, you can also choose from a variety of meat fillings for your banh mi, including heo quay (roasted pork belly), cha ca (fried fish with turmeric and dill), cha lua (boiled sausages), xiu mai (meatballs), thit ga (boiled chicken), trung op la (fried egg), thit nuong (grilled pork loin), and xa xiu (Chinese barbecued pork).

2.  Pho Noodles

Pho

A basic bowl contains tai (beef slices), bo vien (beef meatballs) or nam (beef flank

Pho is rice noodle that’s served in a flavourful soup with beef, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and greens such as basil, mint, cilantro, and onions with a side of chilli sauce for added spice. A basic bowl contains tai (beef slices), bo vien (beef meatballs) or nam (beef flank), but diners can also opt for more exotic ingredients such as gan (beef tendon), sach (thinly-sliced pig stomach), and ve don (flank with cartilage). This popular breakfast option is priced between VND 20,000 and VND 30,000 at any local restaurant or street market in Ho Chi Minh City.

3.  Oc (Vietnamese Shellfish)

Oc

Oc refers to platters of Vietnamese shellfish that are prepared in varying methods

Best enjoyed with cold beers, oc refers to platters of Vietnamese shellfish that are prepared in varying methods. Due to its popularity, there are plenty of roadside stalls and inexpensive restaurants with raw snails, blood cockles, clams, shrimps, and crabs displayed out front. After selecting those that strike your fancy, you can enjoy them grilled, sautéed, curried, or steamed. Priced at VND 20,000 onwards, we highly recommend grilled mussels with scallion oil and peanuts (chem chep nuong), blood cockles sautéed in tamarind sauce (so huyet ran me), and clams steamed with lemongrass.

4. Com Tam (Broken Rice)

This hearty dish is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This dish started with humble beginnings with Vietnamese farmers serving this rice at home as the “broken” leftovers were not suitable to sell in the market. Nowadays, it is served in Saigon and isn’t just for farmers anymore. 

Com Tam

Com tam is usually served with fried egg, diced green onions, and a variety of meats

Com tam is actually ‘broken rice’ in Vietnam, usually served with fried egg, diced green onions, and a variety of meats such as suon nuong (barbecued pork chop), bi (shredded pork skin), and cha trung (steamed pork and egg patty). Diners can also enjoy this dish with a side of pickled vegetables, cucumber slices, and nuoc cham Vietnamese dipping sauce. Com tam can be enjoyed any time of the day as it is relatively inexpensive, with street markets and roadside food stalls selling for about VND 20,000 per bowl.

5. Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Spring Rolls)

Goi cuon

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Goi cuon or Vietnamese spring rolls comprise vermicelli noodles, pork slices, shrimp, basil, and lettuce tightly wrapped in translucent banh trang (rice papers). Due to its very subtle flavour, you can dip it in a mix of freshly ground chilli and hoisin-based dipping sauce topped with crushed peanuts. This traditional appetiser is a healthier alternative to cha gio, which is a deep-fried egg roll made with a combination of mung bean noodles, minced pork, and various spices.

6. Banh Xeo (Crispy Pancake)

Crispy Pancake

Crispy Pancake

Banh xeo is a savoury pancake that’s made of rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric, stuffed with ingredients such as pork slices, shrimps, sliced onions, bean sprouts, and button mushrooms. Unlike the ones you find in Nha Trang and Hanoi, ban xeo in Ho Chi Minh City is much smaller in portion as it is usually eaten as a snack or appetiser. The best way to enjoy ban xeo is by wrapping it in mustard leaf, lettuce leaves or rice wrappers, together with mint leaves, basil, herbs, and sweet fermented peanut butter sauce. Lastly, dip it in a sweet and sour fish sauce.

7. Hu Tieu (Rice Noodles)

Hu Tieu

Hu tieu is a soup that shouldn’t be overlooked

Though pho is the starlet of Vietnamese cuisine, its humble Saigonese cousin hu tieu is a soup that shouldn’t be overlooked. Named after a noodle made from tapioca, there are countless variations served in restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. One unifying ingredient is the broth. Lighter in flavour and a touch sweet, the broth is made from pork instead of beef. Though the definitive hu tieu is called hu tieu xuong that consists of pork ribs as the main meat ingredient, each restaurant or stall features their own specialties. Toppings can consist of sliced pork shoulder, a whole pork chop, wonton dumplings, meatballs, shrimp, squid, and/or fish. You can even mix up the hu tieu noodles with some pho or mi (chinese egg noodles) noodles for a bit of textural contrast.

8. Ca Kho To (Caramelised Fish in Clay Pot)

Caramelised Fish in Clay Pot

Caramelised Fish in Clay Pot

 Served in numerous Vietnamese restaurants within Ho Chi Minh City, ca kho to refers to catfish braised in a clay pot. This dish is prepared by cutting a whole catfish into fillets before it’s braised in a thick gravy made with a combination of soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, shallots, garlic, and various spices and seasonings. Due to its intense sweet-salty flavour, ca kho to is always served with a plate of white rice.

9. Banh Cuon (Rolled Cake)

Banh Cuon

Banh Cuon

Loosely wrapped in a steamed fermented rice sheet, banh cuon contains a mix of ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, onions, Vietnamese ham (cha lua), steamed beansprouts, and cucumbers. You can easily spot vendors selling banh cuon in prominent marketplaces such as Cholon and Ben Thanh Market as well as local restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. This traditional Vietnamese dish is sometimes topped with shrimp floss, coriander, and herbs, with a sweet-sour dipping sauce made with fish extract, lime, and chilli.

10. Bun Thit Nuong (Vermicelli Noodles with Grilled Pork)

Bun Thit Nuong

Bun thit nuong cha gio

Brightly coloured and fresh in flavour, this noodle dish is a great alternative to the heavier pho or com dishes served in Saigon. Unlike most Vietnamese dishes, bun thit nuong is served in one bowl and doesn’t come with additional garnishes. The Saigon version highlights the wealth of fresh vegetables produced in the neighboring Mekong Delta and  Da Lat regions. Fresh chopped leaf lettuce, sliced cucumber, bean sprouts, pickled daikon and carrot, basil, chopped peanuts, and mint are served with vermicelli rice noodle and topped with grilled pork shoulder. Diners can also opt for bun thit nuong cha gio, which comes with crunchy slices of cha gio (deep-fried eggrolls). As with most Vietnamese dishes, you also get a side of nuoc cham sauce to mix into the bun thit nuong for a flavourful ensemble.

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