From an overwhelming array of seafood to a variety of noodle dishes each with their unique taste bud tantalizing flavours and everything in between, there is no denying that Vietnam has some of the best dishes in the world.
After spending six weeks in Hanoi and getting to enjoy some of the amazing food and coffee options, we headed off to Ho Chi Minh City for seven weeks and pretty much spent that time eating.
Ho Chi Minh City has an overwhelming amount of restaurants, and you will never be short of items to try. If you get tired of Vietnamese food, there is also an astounding range of non-Vietnamese restaurants that we did take advantage of.
There is so much delicious Vietnamese food in Ho Chi Minh City, here are some of our favourite dishes that we had over the weeks.
The Vietnamese dish that we had obviously heard the most about was Pho (broth with noodles, herbs and meat) and we were on a mission to find a good bowl of the stuff. We found an awesome hole-in-the-wall place in Hanoi in our last week and fell in love with their traditional Pho Bo (with slithers of beef). Collen still dreams about their powerful home-made chilli sauce that we, unfortunately, haven’t come across since.
Pronunciation of Pho: For such a short, seemingly easy word to pronounce we battled and everyone has a different way of saying it until you hear it from a pro. The best explanation I have come across is to think of the first syllable sound of the word “phenomenal”. “Phe” is how I got the pronunciation to stick in my mind.
We thought we had found the best Pho (and it still ranks up there) until we came across Pho Bo Kho at a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, and there was no going back. Bo Kho is a Vietnamese beef stew made with chunky pieces of beef, carrots and amazing flavours. Add to this some noodles and you have Pho Bo Kho, with the addition of some fresh basil and bean sprouts you have a bowl of one of our favourite dishes.
The place where we fell in love with Pho Bo Kho was close to the bus station, and the three floors of the restaurant were constantly busy with mainly Vietnamese (always a good sign), but also a scattering of Westerners.
We went here quite a few times during our stay. Portions are large and after each having a Pho Bo Kho, we started sharing one on our subsequent trips. A bowl of Pho Bo Kho is 65,000 VND ($2.92).
Bánh mì is Vietnamese for bread, and you will very rarely walk down a street and not spot some fresh baguettes being sold. Even though you can happily eat one of these Bánh mì plain with no extras, Vietnam is famously known for their Bánh mì sandwiches.
Some of the ingredients have a strong French influence with varieties of pates. Then there are the Vietnamese additions of various cold cuts, meatballs, grilled meat, cilantro, carrot and cucumber.
Close to our AirBnB in Ho Chi Minh City was a great Bánh mì place. The best thing was that they made all their own bread, and you could smell the delicious smell walking down the road. It was so good that they often sold out early.
Our Bánh mì of choice was a Bánh Mì Thit Nuong that came with the usual ingredients of pickles, carrot, cilantro, cucumber and chilli but includes delicious grilled pork. We were frequent visitors as they were really good and so cheap. For just 15,000 VND ($0.67) you got to enjoy a Bánh Mì Thit Nuong, throw in an extra fresh from the oven Bánh Mì for just 3,000 VND ($0.13). Absolute bargain!
Hu Tieu Nuoc
Another great noodle soup was Hu Tieu Nuoc that came with a variety of ingredients including the obvious noodles, shrimp, minced pork, grilled pork, quail eggs, spring onions and herbs. All of this comes in a clear broth. There is also Hu Tieu Kho on the menu, which is the same ingredients, but served dry rather than in the broth.
Our AirBnb host told us about this place, and it was definitely worth it. Incredibly popular place, with us being the only westerners. A large bowl of Hu Tieu Nuoc was 68,000 VND ($3.05).
Bún Bò Huế
Bún Bò is noodles with beef, and the dish hails from the central Vietnamese city of Huế. English was limited at the restaurant and once again we were the only westerners. Choosing which dish to go with was a bit of trial and error, but it worked out in the end.
Our Bún Bò Huế came with sliced beef, beef on the bone and a pork meatball. It didn’t look like the most appetizing dish but was really good in the end. Our Bún Bò Huế was 50,000 VND ($2.24).
Quán Ốc, or snail restaurant, are scattered all over Ho Chi Minh City. We went to one on our Vespa tour in District 4 but then went to one closer to home on two occasions. We wish we had gone there earlier in our stay as it is so delicious, we probably would have been back plenty of times.
This is another spot that was recommended by our AirBnB host, and we went with him and his Vietnamese girlfriend on both occasions. Luckily we were with them as everything is in Vietnamese and is predominantly frequented by Vietnamese. You could get along with no Vietnamese though as the menu does have photos of all the dishes.
The restaurant was crazy busy on both occasions, and this was on weekdays. There are hundreds of tables, and the whole restaurant stretches the length of a football field. We aren’t really sure how they actually keep track of everything. You order a whole bunch of dishes, some arrive, some don’t, but in the end they tally up the plates on the table and empty beer bottles, and that’s what you pay for.
The selection is amazing and not just limited to snails, but there is a wide variety of different snails to try. Our dishes included crab, squid, snails, scallops, fresh oysters, clams, water morning glory, noodles with beef and more.
What they also have here are fresh, hot Bánh mì, that get grabbed up quickly when people see they are available. Delicious, especially when dipped into the salt/lime/chilli concoction.
For the amount of food and the range of seafood we got, we felt the final bill incredibly reasonable. For four of us, plus a good few beers each the total was 800,000 VND ($35.90)
Being South African, when a friend living in Vietnam mentioned he knew a great BBQ restaurant that did ostrich and lamb (among others) we were sold. It had been 18 months since we had lamb and ostrich, and we were super excited. The restaurant is located right next to the War Remnants Museum (to the left of the entrance).
Lamb and ostrich from home still takes the cake, but it was definitely very good. The three of us shared two plates of ostrich, a plate of lamb, two plates of fresh fries and three beers each, bringing the total to 550,000 VND ($24.68).
Now for Dessert: Chuối Nếp Nướng
Chuối Nếp Nướng is banana wrapped in sticky rice, which they then serve with coconut custard. The banana is wrapped in sticky rice; then the whole thing is wrapped in a banana leaves and placed over some hot coals. The banana leaves are then removed so that the rice can get a BBQ tinge from the flames.
The dessert is delicious, but just a warning it is very heavy and not to be enjoyed after a big meal. Can’t remember the exact price, but they were super cheap.
Exchange rate used: $1 = 22,685 VND
What are your favourite dishes from Ho Chi Minh City? Share details in the comments below so that we can add them our list for our next trip.