” For Vietnamese people, food is our life; we are forever eating, cooking and talking about food. Food is communication – food is culture.”
Therefore, We want you to understand and know more about Saigon through the cuisine here. These are not the absolute best of everything, but rather a cross-section of delicious, cheap and authentic foods that are also conveniently located.
Part of the cuisine from central Vietnam, banh beo (literally “water fern cake”) are small round discs of rice flour, formed to look like lily flower pads found in the estates surrounding the old imperial city of Hue. Topped with crunchy pork rinds and toasted shrimp powder and served with fish sauce, they are a very rewarding dish to share as they usually come in multiples of 8 or 10.
Where: Nam Giao
136 Le Thanh Ton Street, in an alleyway behind Ben Thanh market. District 1
+84 (8) 3825 0261
BANH DA XUC HEN
Banh da xuc hen is a lovely and satisfying snack. A large rice paper crisp with hints of sesame and coconut arrives on a plate. It looks bare, but then you lift up the rice cracker and peek underneath, finding a pile of teeny tiny clams fried in lemongrass, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), chilli, onion and garlic. It is a simple dish in terms of ingredients but the taste is profoundly different than anything else I have tried. If you want a heavier version of this plate, opt for the com hen, rice topped with the same type of clams and served with a small bowl of clam broth on the side.
Where: Hong Hanh
17A Nguyen Thi Minh Khao Street, District 1
+84 (8) 3827 4252
BANH CANH CUA
Banh canh noodles are Vietnam’s version of udon, a thicker noodle that can be made with either tapioca flour, rice flour, or a combination of the two. The cua in this soup is crab, and the result is a viscous crab soup with thick noodles — not for those who shrink from goopy foods. Thickened with tapioca flour (and thus gluten free) it’s a satisfying meal for those who like their food consistencies to be adventurous, and with chillies, green onions, and fresh lime on top, a very tasty bowl.
Where: Kim Long
80/68 Tran Quang Dieu Street, District 3
+84 (8) 3843 6498
Steamed rice crepes filled with wood ear mushrooms and ground pork often seasoned with white pepper, banh cuon are a wonderful breakfast meal that covers all bases. I’d take this for breakfast over eggs and bacon any day, to the consternation of Western friends. But why not? You’ve got your carbs, your meat, your vegetables, and it comes topped with lightly steamed bean sprouts, chopped basil, and fried curls of shallots. It’s filling but not heavy, peppery but not too spicy. The dish literally translates to “rolled cake”, and originated up North, but is prevalent throughout Saigon. Each bite can be dipped into a sweet fish sauce with as much chilli as you’d like to add. When heading to the restaurant below, also try the fried bean cakes (photo below). Bonus points for the cutest chilli holder in all of Saigon.
Where: Banh Cuon Tay Ho 1
127 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, District 1
Banh xeo ( (larger sizzling rice crepes) is a savoury pancake that’s made of rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric, stuffed with ingredients such as pork slices, shrimps, sliced onions, bean sprouts, and button mushrooms. Unlike the ones you find in Nha Trang and Hanoi, banh xeo in Ho Chi Minh City is much smaller in portion as it is usually eaten as a snack or appetiser. The best way to enjoy banh xeo is by wrapping it in mustard leaf, lettuce leaves or rice wrappers, together with mint leaves, basil, herbs, and sweet fermented peanut butter sauce. Lastly, dip it in a sweet and sour fish sauce.
Where: Banh Xeo Muoi Xiem
204 Nguyen Trai Street, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 1.
BANH TAM BI
Looking at the menu you can see the familiar hu tieu (see below), but we make sure that you don’t know what banh tam bi was. So of course you will be a bit concerned because banh tam translated to “silkworm noodles” and you can wonder and ask yourself “what’s it? I would get for lunch”. But It turns out that they are tapioca noodles that merely look like silkworms, and are coated with a thick coconut sauce, pickled vegetables, a pork meatball, some pork sausage, and more.
Where: Quan Sadec
154 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, District 1
To be continued …