Vietnam’s street food scene is one of the most exciting in Asia. Their food is freshly sourced and has cross-culture inspirations. Chinese cooking and eating habits are embedded in their cuisine. And it’s probably the only Southeast Asian country that embodies a strong French culture.
In this piece, we will share the street food selection in one of Vietnam’s busiest cities, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), aka Saigon. Ho Chi Minh’s lively street culture features a tight intersection of the modern lifestyle in the city and the centuries-old tradition of the country. If you’re new to street fare, read over our street food guide, which covers safety, etiquette and other tips on how to find the best locations.
Get a taste of the exciting Vietnamese cuisine! Trying different local street foods is one of the top things to do in Saigon, so eat your fair share while exploring Vietnam’s largest city.
Here are among the best street foods in Saigon, in no particular order:
1. Banh Mi ( bánh mì)
Banh Mi served at a typical Streetfood Vendor in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker
Bánh Mì is probably the most recognizable street food in Ho Chi Minh. It’s also a highly recommended Vietnamese food for travelers.
Bánh Mì’s foundation is the bread. Inspired by the French, the sandwich looks like a baguette, but it’s not. It has the same crusty exterior, but the interior is softer and chewier. Bánh Mì’s bread is about a third of a normal baguette’s length, so it’s easier to hold if you’re eating on the go.
Aside from the Vietnamese iteration of baguette, what makes the Bánh Mì unique is the tropical concoction of fresh ingredients. Most shops sell the Bánh Mì with pork and pickled vegetables. Interestingly, unlike Western sandwiches, the Bánh Mì has more vegetables than meat. The meat just highlights the vegetable flavors, instead of the other way around. The pâté is spread over the sandwich before serving. The meat pâté is a protein-rich mixture of ground pork, veal, and chicken liver.
So, on your next stop in Ho Chi Minh, grab a slice or two. Check out different vendors, because they have their own heirloom recipes of the country’s beloved street food.
2. Snail street ( quán ốc đêm )
We know Saigon for its rich seafood street food. Here, they have a wondrous snail feast.
Snails are freshly gathered early in the morning and are served in the markets. Restaurants and street vendors who cook “Snail Street” or quán ốc đêm usually have at least a dozen snail selections displayed in the store.
Since there’s a wide variety of snails available, it could be challenging to know the names of each snail type when ordering. What you can do is to ask the chef or the owner on their bestsellers and try them out.
The snail feast can be cooked in about five different ways: fried, sautéed, steamed, grilled, or freshly served with salt and chili. Once served, the quán ốc đêm can be complemented by different toppings like crushed peanuts, chili sauce, or coconut milk.
Since it’s consumed more or less like BBQs, it’s the perfect companion for a cold beer. Snail feasts are a great way to connect to the locals, too!
3. Bo Bia Dessert ( bò bía)
If you’re looking for something light that you can consume for breakfast or lunch, try the Bò Bía, the scrumptious Vietnamese spring rolls. Just like any other street food on this list, the Bò Bía is an exciting way to explore Ho Chi Minh. Though it’s a staple in the street food scene, every vendor would have their own interpretation of the recipe.
Bò Bía’s spring rolls are beautifully wrapped in translucent rice paper. You can see most of the ingredients in every roll.
Though it looks simple, Bò Bía is one of the most tedious street foods to prepare. Every ingredient needs to be sliced as thinly as possible so it’s easy to wrap them in rice paper.
Depending on the vendor, Bò Bías would include different meat inside, but the more common one is the Chinese sausage. These are sautéed and wrapped together with dried shrimp, jicama, omelet slices, and thin vegetable slices. They serve Bò Bía with a soy dip.
4. Leg of chicken grill ( chân gà nướng)
Oh, what would Saigon’s street food be without its barbecue? If you’re looking for BBQs, check out the Chân Gà Nướng.
You don’t need to go that far to find a vendor for Chân Gà Nướng. It’s one of the most prominent street foods spread out in Saigon during late hours.
Vendors’ setup are pretty straightforward since they would only need a grill to cook the Chân Gà Nướng. The smoky smell also spreads on the street, so it’s easier for them to attract customers.
Chân Gà Nướng or the grilled chicken foot is marinated and brushed with barbecue sauce while grilling. Chân Gà Nướng’s so popular because of the chewy texture of this part of the foot. They’re usually served together with different dips and complimentary vegetables. For others, it’s lettuce. For some, it’s thin slices of pickled green mangoes.
5. The Lunch Lady ( bánh canh tôm)
When you’re in Saigon, you’d pass by its busy streets all the time. But there’s the one and only mother that everyone gives an ode to: the Lunch Lady of Saigon.
This is not a particular street food but a street food restaurant. The Lunch Lady has been visited by many great chefs all over the world, including Anthony Bourdain.
The Lunch Lady serves a different noodle dish every single day of the week, so you can come here every day without getting bored with the menu. The Monday dish is usually Bun Thai, a seafood noodle soup with Thai influence.
For those who would like to get a deep dive into Vietnamese cuisine, a daily trip to the Lunch Lady of Saigon is highly recommended.
Address: Chung Cư, Lô D, Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Đa Kao, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
6. Grilled banana in sticky rice rolls ( Chuối nếp nướng)
If you’re looking for dessert, check out the Chuối nếp nướng or Vietnam’s grilled banana in sticky rice rolls. Rice is the staple food in the country, and just like in Chinese cuisine, rice is also used in creating desserts.
The Chuối nếp nướng is made of sticky rice cooked coconut milk, a pandan leaf, and water. This adds texture and flavor to the rice.
Once the rice is cooked, they flatten it on a board so it becomes the banana wrapper. The entire dish is wrapped with banana leaves, which is then grilled for about ten minutes. After grilling, they remove the banana leaves and cut the rolls in bite-sized pieces. Then, they top it off with a healthy drizzle of sweet coconut sauce.
Chuối nếp nướng is a great dish if you’re looking for a snack or dessert after your meal.
7. Pancako(Bánh xèo)
Bánh Xèo, which means “sizzling pancake,” is a savory pancake that looks like Japan’s Ōmu Rice. Though the exterior looks like an omelet, the Bánh Xèo is made of rice batter that makes for the base layer of the pancake. Since it’s a savory pancake, the batter has turmeric, spring green onion and coconut cream.
The filling is made of a bunch of vegetables like mustard greens, cilantro, Vietnamese perilla, and dry mung beans. Then, there’s a meat pate made with shrimp, pork belly, onion, and bean sprouts.
Depending on the vendor, the Bánh Xèo can be served with peanut sauce, chili, lettuce or nước chấm (a Vietnamese dipping sauce).
8. Trứng Vịt Lộn Và Bắp Bào
The Trứng Vịt Lộn Và Bắp Bào is a unique Vietnamese street food made of duck eggs. It has many names in Southeast Asia with deep origins in China.
The duck eggs are processed by dropping them into salt water or a mixture of tap water and salted lake water. Then, the eggs are marinated together with locust flour, tea, baked spinach leaves, and more. Once the mixture is ready, the eggs are soaked in a slurry made of alkaline clay and water. There are other methods that include lime.
This incubation process prevents the bacteria from entering and allows the egg to absorb the marination during this period. They incubate these eggs for at least three months.
After cracking the top part of the egg, drink the soup inside to get the best taste. Then, savor the rest of the Trứng Vịt Lộn Và Bắp Bào with a sprinkle of salt or vinegar.
9. Bánh Tráng Nướng
The Bánh Tráng Nướng is another pancake street food made of rice paper. The key to a good Bánh Tráng Nướng is the batter.
The main materials include rice flour (with various types like cassava, corn, or green beans). It is mixed with tapioca flour to add more flexibility to the bread. Those who add in cassava flour aim to make the batter a little sour. But since it’s a savory pancake, it’ll just make it tastier.
The batter is then grilled with toppings made of vegetables and meat. The toppings vary from Chinese sausage, shredded chicken, seafood, or dried beef. They also add in cheese and eggs. The end result looks a lot like a small pizza. For the best experience, eat this together with a sprinkle of chili or tamarind sauce.
10. Grilling the squid
Squid is another popular seafood amongst street food vendors. It’s easy to cook and flexible enough to season. Squid is also a great accompaniment for drinks like beer.
The marinated grilled squid is also easy to prepare. But the key here is the grill. You want to visit a vendor that has a piping hot charcoal or the smoke won’t penetrate enough to add in a textured flavor to the squid.
The squid is lathered with salt and washed after 15 minutes. Then, they cut it lengthwise to allow the marinate to simmer on the insides. The grill is done in about 10 minutes. Eat it with a fish sauce dip or chili sauce.
11. Steamed sticky rice ( xôi hấp)
The xôi hấp is another exciting way to experience rice in Vietnam. This dish is prepared with fresh vegetables and are marinated over time. The rice also undergoes a longer treatment.
For the Steamed Sticky Rice, the rice is usually soaked overnight. Usually, vendors use the gac fruit to make the marinate, giving the steamed rice an added wine flavor.
After the rice is soaked, it’s mixed in gac paste and coconut milk. Once the rice is mixed thoroughly with the gac marinate (gac paste), the mixture is placed on top of a large banana leaf. The rice will then steam for 20 to 45 minutes.
Then, the steamed sticky rice is served. Other vendors add in vegetables, meat or seafood to complement the rice. This is a healthy meal alternative if you want something you can eat on the go.
12. Spring rolls ( Gỏi cuốn tôm)
Vietnamese Spring Rolls are light and refreshing. These can also be used as an appetizer for your meal.
They wrap the Vietnamese Spring Rolls in translucent rice paper. It’s an assortment of thinly sliced vegetables with shrimp, pork, and rice noodles.
The difference with the smaller spring roll on this list is the rice vermicelli noodles. The vegetable in the Vietnamese Spring Roll would usually be greens like lettuces, unlike the carrots in the Bo Bia. This is generally heavier because of the larger portions of meat and the noodles inside.
The Vietnamese Spring Roll is best eaten together with a peanut dip.
13. Bò Kho Út Nhung
Bò Kho Út Nhung, like the Lunch Lady of Saigon, is a street food restaurant. Located on a dominant corner of one of Ho Chi Minh’s bustling streets in District 3.
The restaurant serves the best beef stew in the city. They are open from 6 a.m. until the wee hours of the night. The place is popular for students and workers who need that hot serving of noodle soup to start off their day.
Though it’s open in the morning, it’s recommended to visit after lunch hours because by then the stew has been cooking for longer hours.
There are two ways to order their beef stew: with noodles or plain with banh mi bread. For added flavor, ask your dish to be served with herbs garnishes.
Address: 109 Nguyễn Thiện Thuật, Phường 2, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh
14. Cá Viên Chiên (like Fried fish ball)
An important note to all travelers: NOT ALL FISH BALLS ARE CREATED EQUAL. For those who might be hearing about fish balls for the first time, it’s a street food version of fish cakes. Though most fish balls come from the same manufacturer (most of these are already processed), there’s a big difference in how these are cooked and prepared.
Fish balls at the Cá Viên Chiên are one of the most delicious in the city. They have a wide variety of fish balls (squid, chicken, skewers, etc.). The food is fried to perfection and is served with the best fish ball sauce. When eating fish balls, the sauce is the key.
They make the sauce with chili powder, soy sauce, condiments, and flour. The ingredients would simmer for a couple of minutes to create a thick paste sauce. This is where the best fish ball vendors distinguish themselves.
They have a few tables and chairs on the sidewalk, too. During busy hours, children and adults flock here.
15. Bún Thịt Nướng
The Bún Thịt Nướng is a bowl you will fall in love with. Prepared with fresh leafy vegetables, cucumber, and thin slices of carrots, this dish is the perfectly balanced street food meal. It’s also one of the most beautiful dishes served on the streets of Saigon.
The bowl is first garnished with the greens. Then, the light rice noodles are placed on top. Garnishes follow, then barbecued meat finishes the dish. There are some variations with peanuts and onion toppings, too.
The dish is complemented with fish sauce, but if you don’t like to soak the dish on the sauce, you can place it on a separate bowl and dip for every bite.
The last on our list is another noodle bowl. The Hủ Tiếu is the Vietnamese adaptation of the beloved Cambodian recipe, the Kuy Teav.
The Hủ Tiếu is a breakfast staple in the country. You can eat this dish either with the soup or just as is, dry with no broth.
It is made of rice noodles partnered with pork stock and toppings. It is also noted that this dish originated in China.
The rice noodles are briefly cooked in boiling water and drained on a strainer. They prepare the noodles as the base of the dish and then dampened with caramelized garlic oil. Depending on your preference, you can choose the noodle dressing.
Broth is the key element of this dish. For other vendors, the broth is prepared the day before. The best soup broth is commonly made from pork bones, sugar, fish sauce, and dried squid. In Vietnam, the mixture of pork and seafoods produce a complex taste in the soup.