What do you eat when you are in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam? When X and I travelled to Ho Chi Minh with 3 of our friends last year November, and we were always eating until we enter a food coma. Here are all the food that we have feasted!
Pho (pronounced as “fur”) is a world-famous Vietnamese noodle soup – it’s light, refreshing and extremely delicious. The broth is made by simmering beef bones with vegetables and spices like ginger, onion, star anise, cloves and cinnamon, with fish sauce added at the end. The broth is served with al dente rice noodles and choice of meat (usually beef or chicken, but we always go for the beef option). Cilantro, Thai basil, mint, bean sprouts, lime and chili are served at the side for you to help yourself – I love the addition of herbs, it makes a huge difference in the taste of the soup.
We had our first pho at Pho Quynh, recommended by one of the locals and it was so good we went back again. The Special Combination has beef balls, cooked and raw beef slices and costs VND 65,000 per bowl. Others normal pho costs VND 55,000 per bowl. (Menu can be seen here, here and here.)
323 Pham Ngu Lao, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Banh Mi is a Vietnamese term for bread. Baguette was introduced by French during the colonial period and it has became a popular sandwich in Vietnam. We had our fair share of banh mi sandwiches during the trip but strangely we didn’t photograph them (probably too busy eating). The traditional banh mi sandwich is made by first spreading a liver pâté on both sides of the bread, then filling it with various cold cuts, cheese and vegetables. What makes it special is the addition of coriander which is a major love for me. They are available almost everywhere, but one really good one that I remembered was from ABC Bakery, where they can make a really long banh mi sandwich (and we bought it of course), which was about 20-inches long!
The above photo shows a Banh Mi Bo Kho, in which Banh Mi means bread and Bo Kho means beef stew. It’s slightly tomato-y with huge chunks of beef and carrots. We had it at Pho Quynh (address listed above) and it was really delicious as well. But I still prefer the pho (I’m baised heh).
223-225 Pham Ngu Lao Street, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Com Tam, translated as broken rice, is a Vietnamese dish made with damaged rice grains. During the rice milling process, it is inevitable that some of the rice grains will be damaged. In America and Europe, these damaged rice grains are used as a food industry ingredient, but in West Africa and South East Asia, these broken rice are used for human consumption.
Com Tam is served like Chinese cai fan (菜饭) style, with a wide variety of dishes to choose from. It’s probably more interesting for those who haven’t had this kind of meals before, but for us who are so used to cai fan, it tastes pretty normal.
Yes we had pho again, on the same day, at a later timing, at a different place. This time we head to Pho 2000, a small chain of noodle restaurants in Ho Chi Minh. It is probably made famous due to former US President Bill Clinton’s visit in year 2000 (is it a coincidence the name and year is 2000?)
We ordered, tasted and we weren’t impress. Firstly, the items are priced higher (see the menu here and here), and secondly, the pho at Pho Quynh tasted way better. So… nope, no address to be given for this one.
Trung Nguyên Coffee Break
The most popular coffee brand in Vietnam has got to be Trung Nguyen. Established in 1996, it grew quickly to be the largest domestic coffee brand within Vietnam, exporting its products to more than 60 countries. Many of the smaller cafés will also advertise that they are using Trung Nguyen beans, illustrating the quality of their beans.
I cannot say I love Vietnamese coffee as the amount of condensed milk in a cup of coffee is simply too much. But having a cup of coffee in one of the Trung Nguyen cafés is a whole new experience – you’ve got to have time, and patience. The coffee filter is placed on top of a cup with or without condensed milk (depending on what you order) and you’ll have to wait until the coffee has finish dripping (which takes 5 minutes or more) before you can enjoy it. We tried ordering coffee from the Trung Nguyen branch in Singapore (at Marina Bay Sands) but they didn’t have the same coffee experience.
There are a lot of Trung Nguyen cafés in Ho Chi Minh, so just Google it!
Given the excruciatingly hot and humid weather, an air-conditioned café will provide a much-needed respite from the heat and humidity. Ice creams are desserts that can never go wrong, so I shan’t elaborate more on how good they taste, especially on a hot day! We had this at Trung Nguyen café.
How can we not have street food in Asia? As night falls, street food vendors began to set up their stalls along the roads near night markets. We were right outside Cho Ben Thanh market and decided to try a few.
I’ve searched high and low through the internet but couldn’t find out what this granny was selling (except for the gỏi cuốn (goi cuon), the Vietnamese spring roll). I’m guessing they are steamed rice cakes with assorted fillings (please correct me if I’m wrong!) We ordered a few varieties and sat on the stools she set up and munch on them. It seems to be very popular with the locals as locals kept stopping to buy them from her.
Chuoi Nuong, translated as grilled bananas, is a dessert dish that is commonly found on the streets of Ho Chi Minh. Bananas are grilled and covered with cooked sticky rice (glutinous rice). It is then sliced into pieces and drenched in coconut milk. The bananas we had, unfortunately, weren’t sweet – I wonder if it’s supposed to taste like that?
Bot Chien is basically fried rice cakes – it looks very much like the popular fried carrot cakes in Singapore/Malaysia but the cakes are made with rice flour and tapioca starch (in absence of radish). The rice cakes are first pan-fried in a generous (perhaps a tad too generous) amount of oil, then topped with beaten egg and chopped spring onions.
The next 2 dishes are probably the most interesting / exotic / befuddling food we have ever eaten on our trip as we had no idea what we have eaten throughout the whole meal. What made us go in to the non-air-conditioned restaurant was the fact that we saw many locals enjoying them with beer – since it’s so crowded every night, it must be good, right? They had only Vietnamese menu (we had no data/wi-fi to Google translate the menu), so we ordered by pointing at what others were eating.
We cooked and tasted, discussed and guessed, then asked the waitresses over and tried mimicking chicken, cow, pig in front of them to see if the meat was chicken / beef / pork, but to no avail – then we thought – maybe they are not meat, they are organs (like tongues, kidneys etc.)!
But boy, we couldn’t be more wrong. The meat is actually goat, but I guess none of us guessed it as there’s no distinct goat smell / taste at all!
Lẩu means “hot pot” while Dê means “goat” – put them together and you get Goat Hot Pot and that was what we were eating the whole time. According to some Googling, the goat is first roasted, then cooked in a herbal broth until tender. It is then scooped into individual hot pots with vegetables on the side. The vegetables are then added into the hot pots and enjoyed with the meat and soup.
Các Món Dê Nướng
Cac mon de nuong is loosely translated as grilled goat dishes. Goat meat and vegetables are grilled over a small charcoal fire briefly, wrapped in Vietnamese rice paper and vegetables before eaten. Just like the above – we had no idea what this meat was until much later. I can’t say I enjoyed the experience as I was eating without knowing what it is. Perhaps I’d enjoy it better if I had known!
I had loosely translated the Vietnamese menu for Lau De and Cac Mon De Nuong in the Flickr photo comment, take a look if you are interested!
Heading to a rooftop bar at night to see the nightlife in Ho Chi Minh is a great experience (especially when you have amazing company!) Enjoy the view of hundreds of motorcycles and cars buzzing and interweaving through the city while sipping away your alcoholic / non-alcoholic drinks. We had this view at OMG (which actually means Original, Music, Gastronomic), a rooftop bar located near Cho Ben Thanh market. I will suggest a drink but not a meal there (especially if you are a tourist) because there are a lot more delicious and cheap local food options around!
15-17-19 Nguyen An Ninh
And this marks the end of our food trail in Ho Chi Minh! There are a lot of other delicacies that we didn’t manage to eat in Vietnam – let me know what is your favourite Vietnamese food and I’ll make sure to eat it when I head to Vietnam next time! Till the next travelogue!
*Addresses are accurate as of Nov 2014.
Here’s the next Vietnam travelogue: