Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a place that ignites the senses, step onto its streets and you’re assailed with the roar of traffic, a city awash with colour and the intoxicating smells of street food. This city will fulfil your every food fantasy offering up hundreds of street vendors and generations old family shops where you’ll find familiar traditional dishes like phở and bánh xèo (Vietnamese pancake) or be tempted by lesser-known local favourites. Here are a few of our favourite spots to get you started…
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1. Bánh Mì at Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa
It’s one of the world’s most famous sandwiches and no trip to HCMC would be complete without a couple (or ten) of bánh mì. Invented in 1954 as an on-the-go meal bánh mì merged the French tradition of bread and cold cuts with local ingredients to create one of the most satisfying foods you can eat in Vietnam. On the ground, bánh mì are a street food staple eaten for breakfast right through to supper, with a bánh mì seller on every corner.
The best we ate was at Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa – they bake their own bread onsite- a baguette that showers crumbs as you bite into it to reveal its chewy soft interior. Order the classic bánh mì thit- a crispy baguette slathered in sweet mayonnaise and chunky pate stuffed with cold cuts, pork floss, coriander, chilli, a baton of cucumber and pickled julienned daikon and carrot. You’ll demolish it so quickly that you’ll be contemplating ordering a second within minutes.
Eat at: Bánh Mì at Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa, 62 Nguyễn Văn Tráng, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam. Open daily 5:30am to 9:30pm.
2. Papaya salad at the street stall in District 1
If you’re after a unique street food experience, make your way to the city’s most popular papaya salad stall which sets up on a main street in District 1 outside an office block. Plates of shredded green papaya are tossed with beef liver jerky, peanuts, fragrant Thai basil and prawn crackers before being stacked on a tray and hoisted onto shoulders.
The ladies who run the stall ferry the plates to the park across the road, dodging traffic to deliver them to the other half of their staff who add a liberal squirt of sweet and spicy chilli sauce over each salad before handing them over to waiting diners. Crunchy, chewy, fresh and aromatic, this is one plate of food you don’t want to miss in HCMC. Add to that the spectacle of watching the orders being shouted across the road and the ladies swerving traffic as they shuttle the food back and forth- this is quintessential HCMC eating.
Eat at: Papaya salad stall, 259A Hai Bà Trưng, Phường 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam. Open daily from around 3:00pm.
3. Bún thịt nướng at street stall in District 8
Phở is the dish that most travellers want to tick off their ‘to eat’ list upon arriving in Vietnam but one taste of bún thịt nướng and we swear phở will become a distant memory. Room temperature rice vermicelli is tossed with crushed peanuts, pieces of crunchy spring roll, pork mince, smoky pork patties grilled over charcoal, handfuls of fresh herbs, beansprouts and drizzled with nước chấm- the ubiquitous and delicious Vietnamese dressing of fish sauce, rice vinegar and sugar. Bún thịt nướng personifies Vietnamese cuisine in a mouthful- fresh, sweet, fragrant and savoury.
The best bún thịt nướng we ate was from a lady who sets up her small grill roadside. Nab a stool in front of her stand and prepare for one of the best bowls of noodles you’ll eat in HCMC. The smell of pork cooking over charcoal, the relentless drone of scooters tearing past, her smile as she watches you tuck into her food- this is HCMC street food at its finest.
Eat at: Street stall located at PMW5+8Q Phường 12, District 8, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Open 9:00am to 5:00pm.
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