Have you ever wondered why Saigon is loved by both local residents and foreign tourists? This is because the city offers a lot for one to see, do, and taste to truly feel its depth.
Saigon’s street food culture is unmatched by any other destination in Southeast Asia. I mean where else do you see, at ANY time of the day, stools covering sidewalks, occupied by those slurping broths, noodles, rice dishes, and beer. It is that little something which helps make Saigon a city full of unforgettable experiences, and here are our recommendations on what you should try while you are exploring this dynamic city.
Di Nhau – Go for a Drink
“Di nhau” or “nhau”, is a locally popular way to talk about drinking in Vietnam. Saigon has a huge number of drinking venues mostly appearing as small sidewalk stalls in almost all parts of the city. After a hectic day at work, especially on Friday evenings, colleagues, friends, and family tend to gather at their favorite drinking spots for some long-overdue catching up.
“Mot, hai, ba dzo!!!”
This is the Vietnamese equivalent of “cheers!” and people say it out loud with laughter and joy before they start sipping from their bottles and glasses. There is nowhere else but at these places that you can truly feel another interesting part of Saigonese culture. In addition, the best of Saigon’s street food can be found at these venues, such as varieties of deliciously sautéed sea snails, tasty steamed or grilled chicken feet, tens of choices for hotpot, and many more dishes if you so desire to discover the local street cuisine.
Fun fact – Mot, Hai, Ba Dzho (pronounced YO) means 1, 2, 3 Cheers! (not 1, 2, 3, 4…)
Ganh Hang Rong – Carrying Poles by Local Women Street Vendors
Saigon is beautiful, not only due to its modernity but due to the beauty that emanates from its simplicity, such as “ganh hang rong” – the carrying poles skillfully balanced on the shoulders of local female street vendors. It’s hard to tell exactly when this sort of traditional business appeared but the lovely image of the bamboo poles carried by petite ladies in straw hats has been in the memories of the Vietnamese for generations. It is not difficult to encounter these hard-working women with baskets full of street snacks hung on the two ends of the pole. You will find it interesting to see so many items just in two baskets; boiled eggs, sweet potatoes, popcorn, and mixed savory rice paper, to name just a few.
Every day, regardless of the heat or sudden rains of Saigon, these women still patiently keep earning their hard-earned living on these carrying poles. If you ever happen to talk to a Vietnamese school girl about her favorite street snacks and where to get them, she will definitely point you to one of these lovely ladies.
Every day, regardless the heat or sudden rains of Saigon, these women still patiently keep earning their hard living on these carrying poles.
Ho Con Rua – Turtle Lake – An Hang – Our Spot for Street Food
Situated right in the heart of District 1, a five-minute walk from the back of the Notre Dame Cathedral, “Ho Con Rua” has been a very popular hang-out venue for the locals when night falls. People of all backgrounds, whether they are students or office staff, come here alone, with friends, or families to enjoy their favorite street food snacks after a busy day.
The street snacks found here are plentiful with various types and tastes from grilled food like crispy pizza-esque rice cracker, corn, banana sticky rice to seasoned street food like mixed rice paper, fried beef, and fish balls with pickled veggies, and so on.
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Thu Thiem – A New Hang-Out Destination for Locals
Since the Saigon river tunnels opened for traffic a few years ago, the way to District 2 has become much easier and more convenient. Hence it enables local residents to travel back and forth more often between this district and District 1, which is the city center.
Just opposite the river, “Thu Thiem”, has been so popular among city dwellers because of its wonderful view of Saigon at night from the soon-to-be-modern part of the metropolis.
Every night, hundreds of youngsters come over to “Thu Thiem” to admire the view while enjoying their tasty street snacks and drinks. I recommend trying “Dua tac” – kumquat coconut when going to “Thu Thiem”.
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An Vat – Snack
Eating snacks is also a part of Saigon’s street food culture. Having a hotdog or simply a pack of chips between meals can be seen as a typical snack in the western world.
However, in Vietnam or Saigon in particular, people snack on local street food instead, for example a bowl of “kem xoi dua” (coconut sticky rice with ice cream), “banh trang tron” (mixed rice paper), “goi cuon” or “bo bia” (fresh spring roll/summer roll), which normally comes along with green mango and guava served with a fruit dip made of spicy chili and salt as dessert.
Oc – Sea Snail – A Favorite Food of Saigonese
An oc or eating sea snail is a hobby of Saigonese at night. The snail menu in Saigon is the most diverse compared to other regions in the country. There are different kinds of snails cook in different ways. Your mouth must be watering when you sit at a snail restaurant. As a culture in Saigon, a streetside restaurant is a perfect place for local people to hang out with friends, chat, and drink together. There is even a snail street in district 4, Vinh Khanh street.
When eating at the crowded snail restaurant, you can easily hear free karaoke from vendors who sell candy and snacks. Sometimes, you can even see fire dancing! Then, eating snails is not only enjoying Vietnamese cuisine but also is a particular culture of local people.
I hope you are able to visit the places we have recommended and enjoy all the street side delights Saigon has to offer. Let us know if you find more places!
Enjoyed this article and want to learn about other Vietnamese food? How about some bun rieu, pho, or oc (sea snails)?
Check out the food section in Phuot3mien.com Blog for more information about delicious Vietnamese dishes!