Vietnam: Saigon

Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, is a food HAVEN. It’s located in southern Vietnam and is also the country’s crowded business center. You may have to dodge people riding their scooters on the sidewalks, because the streets are so packed, but it’s worth venturing out for the city’s incredible, and cheap, cuisine.

Bun Mam Phan Boi Chau

This was my first meal in Vietnam (pictured above), and wow, what an introduction. Pull up a chair at the kid’s table (because all tables in Vietnam feel like you’ve been banished to the kid’s table at Thanksgiving) and order a local lager and a hefty bowl of bún mam. Bún mam is a fermented fish and shrimp soup popular in southern Vietnam. Although it may smell a bit pungent at first, thanks to the fermented fish, the taste is incredible and something truly unique. As a plus, this spot is right across the street from Ben Thanh Market, where you can stock up on all of your fake North Face gear.

Nhu Lan Bakery

Breakfast? Bánh mì at Nhu Lan Bakery next to Bitexco Financial Tower, one of the tallest buildings in Vietnam. Walk up alongside a crowd of locals and order a bánh mì, or just try to point. Hopefully you’ll get one stuffed with pork and crackling, which added a great crunch to the sandwich. And for cà phê sua dá, there’s a Highland’s Coffee across the street.


Bánh Xèo 46A

One of my favorite meals, hands down. Bánh xèo is a crispy rice pancake or crêpe popular in south and central Vietnam. You take a piece of the crêpe, stuffed with bean sprouts and shrimp, wrap it in lettuce and dip it into the sauce. The pancake is delicately thin and light, and, wrapped in lettuce, it almost feels healthy. Bánh Xeo 46A was even featured in Anthony Bourdain’s Vietnam episode for No Reservations.


Quán Beefsteak Nam Son

Beefsteak Nam Son, near the War Remnants Museum in district 3, serves bò né, Vietnamese steak and eggs with a side of French bread and paté. How can you not love this dish when it’s served in a sizzling cow plate? If desired, you can also pile on pork meatballs and a chunk of paté, but I went for the classic version. As you can try for yourself in Houston, bò né is fabulous, and for a Texan used to steak and eggs, a very comforting meal.


Lunch Lady (and Pho Phuong 25)

Ok, ‘travel fail’ story coming up. The ‘Lunch Lady’ was made famous after Anthony Bourdain highlighted her stall in his episode on Vietnam. She is known for serving a different dish for each day of the week (menu below). But, not having good access to reliable information on her stall’s operating hours, we unfortunately arrived 15 minutes after ‘the Lunch Lady’ finished serving for the day. However, she fixed us up a batch of goi cuôn (spring/summer rolls), with some Tiger beers, and gave us a signed copy of her book, which has recipes for her dishes in both English and Vietnamese.

With our stomachs unfulfilled, we ended up going to the pho place next door, Pho Phuong 25, for what ended up being a fantastic bowl of pho and the best trà dá (i.e. iced tea) (look at the chunk of peach in there!).


What to do when you aren’t eating:

  • Reunification Palace
  • War Remnants Museum
    • Formerly called the American Atrocities Museum
  • AO Show or Teh Dar @ Saigon Opera House
  • Send postcards from the Central Post Office
  • Lemon black tea @ Phuc Long
  • Coffee @ Trung Nguyen and @ Highlands Coffee
    • Both are popular chains for Vietnamese coffee, with Highlands Coffee being more prolific and cheaper. I prefer Trung Nguyen, though, for their quality and variety. It is sooo smooth.
  • If you have an extra day, spend it on a tour of the Mekong Delta
    • Don’t miss the rice wine soaked in snake skin.
  • Many people take a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels to experience a bit more of the war, but I did not make it there.
    • There’s something about war sites becoming tourist attractions and photo spots that still feels a bit weird to me.

Streets of Saigon

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