GUEST POST: Alex is an editor at Inspitrip, a platform connecting travellers to locals in South East Asia. You’ll be hearing more about Alex and Inspitrip soon when he guides us on a street food tour of Ho Chi Minh City.
Having been born in Saigon, Vietnam, I definitely have a love affair for food – especially Vietnamese street food. Although many fast food chains have started settling in to Vietnam’s larger cities, the best place to eat local dishes are still at the small stalls which line the streets. Many of these are not only cheap but also have existed there for half a century. Here is a list of my favourite local food shops in Saigon!
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1. Cơm tấm (Broken Rice) – Tran Quy Cap
I truly believe Cơm tấm is the most underrated meal among Vietnamese dishes. If you have not heard of it, the dish is a traditional one from the South of Vietnam. It is a rice dish served with grilled pork, pork meatloaf and shredded pork skin. The rice that is used get its name as ‘broken’ because of the refinery process it goes through.
For me, traditional stalls are the best way to enjoy authentic local foods and Com Tam Tran Quy Cap is just that. The shop has been here for nearly 60 years! It was my father’s favorite place to eat and now it is mine as well. The shop is in the middle of busy food streets, it’s very small and will be easily missed if you are not deliberately looking for it. The shop interior and structure have not changed much during the years.
Although there are a few options that you can try, the stall is famous for its juicy pork chop. Renowned for its pork steak which is served grilled and tender, it’s a favorite among the locals. Along with the pork steak locals also love the dish with shredded pork skin and pork meatloaf. Don’t forget to try the shop’s famous bitter melon soup (minced beef stuffed inside bitter melon). A normal pork chop combination dish such as these will be around $3 USD.
Address: 260 Vo Van Tan, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
2. Quan Xuan
People from all over Vietnam have come to live and work in Saigon bringing with them local specialties from their hometowns. This blend of regions makes it the best place to experience food from all the different places in Vietnam. Quan Xuan is one of the best places to do just that! The shop specializes in central Vietnamese foods and the owner is originally from Hue (the ancient royal capital located in the center of Vietnam) and moved to Saigon during the 70’s. The shop was founded in 1976 starting with a small stall on the street with a few chairs, and now it has been upgraded into a proper small but cozy shop.
The shop’s speciality is Bun Bo Hue (beef noodle soup from Hue). The broth is rich in flavour, made from the broth beef bones which have been simmered for hours along with lemongrass and seasoned with fermented shrimp sauce. It is this combination that creates the distinct taste of the dish. Another mouthwatering dish here is Banh Beo (small steamed rice cake). It is soft and usually features a dimple in the center, which is filled with savoury toppings, including chopped dried or fresh shrimp. These dishes are very hard to find, people from all over flock here for these rice cakes and special dipping sauce. The price here is also very reasonable, $2 USD per dish.
Address: 22 Nguyen Huu Cau, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
3. Pho Hoa on Pasteur Street
This is one of the oldest Pho restaurants in Saigon and my personal favourite. The shop hasn’t moved locations in 50 years and the current owner is a 3rd generation family member! Pho here is well known for it’s big portions, tender meat and heaps of vegetables.
Unlike many other shops in the city that tend to use a lot of MSG, Pho Hoa Pasteur use beef bones to get the sweetness in the broth. You have a few Pho options here: medium rare beef, beef brisket, well-done meat, meat ball, and chicken. The local favourite is medium rare beef mixed with brisket. The price is about $3 USD per bowl. INSIDER SECRET: Order a fresh coconut and a bowl of medium rare beef Pho – It’s delicious!
Address: 260 Pasteur Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
4. Sushi Ko
When it comes to sushi, it’s common to immediately think of upscale restaurants with fancy decorations. However, Sushi Ko is a bit different, in fact it’s totally opposite. Sushi Ko brings sushi to working class Vietnamese people as a street food. This no frills eatery is nestled right in the middle of a regular road in District 4, surrounded by all the traditional shops that sell snails.
There are no fancy tables, just a bunch of tiny and low chairs in a cramped area. However, don’t be fooled, the sushi here is delicious and just as high quality as other upscale restaurants but at a fraction of the cost. In fact, eight pieces of sushi with salmon costs only about $1.50 USD! With this mix of quality and affordability it’s easy to understand why the shop is always crowded, even during weekdays. Truly a unique find, Sushi Ko is one of a kind – street food sushi.
Address: 122 Vinh Khanh, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City
For travel tips to Ho Chi Minh City, check out our First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
Alex is an editor at Inspitrip. During his expedition to Fansipan Mountain, Alex realised his local guide who came from a poor minority tribe in Sapa only earned 10% of what he paid to the agency. Since then, Alex has quit his corporate job and devoted his time to Inspitrip, a platform connecting travellers to locals in South East Asia. Prior to Inspitrip, Alex was an investment banker and a finance manager. You can follow Alex and Inspitrip via Facebook and Twitter.