Saigon Food Guide—Must-Try Dishes, Restaurants, & More!
If there is one place in Southeast Asia where cuisine is really exciting, it’s got to be Vietnam. Particularly its southern capital of Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, as we like to call it. The food in Saigon is unforgettable. Every meal translates into a unique or really fun experience -- thanks to the flavors, the settings, and of course, the people. A walk down its streets is accompanied by the aromatic smells of authentic Southern Vietnamese dishes. Before long, you’ll be tempted to want to eat every traditional Vietnamese food that the city has to offer.
From sitting in colorful plastic chairs, feeling lost in translation with locals, and having the best meals unparalleled for flavor and freshness in Southeast Asia—eating in Saigon is a surprisingly wonderful food experience that you must have at least once in your life.
In this guide to the best food in Saigon we’ll explore the Saigon food culture, Saigon cuisine, the must-try specialty dishes and the best Saigon restaurants to find them, food markets and food streets, Saigon street food, and the not-to-miss Saigon food experiences.
Saigon Food Culture
There is a sort of magic to the Vietnamese food culture where you can truly say it’s a memorable kind of food experience. Being the most populated city in Vietnam, Saigon welcomes people from everywhere. Every province’s signature dishes can be found there, such as Bun Bo (Hue), Com Ga (Hoi An), or Bun Cha (Hanoi).
You can also find specialties from around the world, such as District 5’s Chinatown or the melting pot of Thao Dien in District 2. The food in Saigon is therefore extremely inclusive and goes beyond the Southern and Saigonese cuisine specialties.
As a result, the rich Saigon food culture is simply unmatched. You will not discover any other destination in Southeast Asia that is as animated as the streets of Saigon. At any time of the day, you will find stools covering sidewalks filled with locals slurping soup, motorcycles by the street-side ordering their Banh Mi before heading off to work, and families tirelessly preserving the heritage of their Saigon restaurants and traditional Vietnamese recipes that have gone from generation to generation.
Regional Food in Saigon
Saigon and the southern provinces offer many interesting Vietnamese dishes or twists to national dishes. It is mainly due to its warm and humid climate, but also its proximity to the sea.
For example, the Southern or Saigon Pho is truly amazing due to the abundant quantity of fresh leaves that comes with every bowl (mint, thai basil, cilantro and perilla). It also has a wide array of seafood dishes, such as Hu Tieu, snails, scallops, and fried fish.
Finally, there is also a selection of fresh and crispy food such as the fresh rolls (Goi Cuon) or the shrimp pancake wrapped in lettuce (Banh Xeo).
Must-Try Saigon Foods and The Best Saigon Restaurants to Eat Them In
There are many signature dishes in the South of Vietnam and it’s quite hard to try them all, unless you have plans of staying there for a few months. Since we were living as Digital Nomads in Vietnam, we were able to truly discover the local Saigon food scene of the city, and that is what we are sharing with you.
As in the rest of Vietnam, most Saigon restaurants have one or two specialties at the most. In most cases, it means they are good at what they do and that the service is usually fast.
After spending months living in this dynamic city, searching for hidden and unique restaurants in Saigon, here are our favorite Vietnamese dishes you must try, and the best Saigon places to eat them:
Com Tam—Breakfast in Saigon
Com Tam is a typical breakfast in Saigon composed of broken rice with grilled meat, sunny side egg, and fish sauce. A wonderful way to start the day if you don’t fancy noodle soups in the morning! Our favorite place to eat Com Tam for an awesome Saigon breakfast is Com Tam 352.
Goi Cuon—Saigon Spring Rolls
The classic fresh spring rolls we all love, with jumbo shrimps and their signature dipping sauce. The best Saigon spring rolls can be found at the traditional Saigon restaurant Bun Bo Ganh.
Banh Mi—Traditional Vietnamese Sandwich
The staple, Banh Mi in Vietnam, is a French-inspired sandwich. An authentic Banh Mi recipe features grilled meat, cilantro, mayonnaise, and carrots in a soft baguette. Tip: no one in Vietnam calls it a Banh Mi Baguette.
Banh Xeo—Famous Vietnamese Crepe
This famous Vietnamese crepe is found throughout Southern Vietnam. It is a turmeric crispy pancake (which gives it its yellow color), with a mix of bean sprouts, shrimps, and pork.
You wrap it in lettuce and other herbs, and dip it in fish sauce. It’s a really fun experience, which is best appreciated at Banh Xeo 46, in an alley right by the Tan Dinh Church. This street-side Saigon restaurant was actually first made famous by the late Anthony Bourdain. It presents a unique experience where you can see Vietnamese cooks preparing the Banh Xeo right in front of you. It often gets quite crowded so come during the early lunch or dinner service hours.
Saigon has many versions of this traditional Vietnamese sandwich, and you will see many Banh Mi street food stalls, but the best Banh Mi in Saigon is at Banh Mi Lan Hue.
Pho—Iconic Vietnamese Food in Saigon
Pho is one of the most iconic Vietnamese dishes and one of the must-try Saigon foods. In fact, its origins are said to be from the fusion of Vietnamese noodles and herbs with French beef broth.
In French, the words pot-au-feu literally translates to pot in the fire. A pot-au-feu is traditionally made by boiling together vegetables and beef bones then mixing in meat to the soup. Pho, as it is today, is a generous bowl of tasty and fresh broth paired with various pieces of meat and herbs. The Pho in Saigon is different from other parts of Vietnam as it tends to be sweeter and more flavorful. While for example, the Pho in Hanoi tends to be clearer in color and purer in flavor. For us, the best Pho Saigon has to offer, is at Pho Anh.
Mi Quang—Vietnamese Rice Noodle Soup or Salad
Mi Quang is a tasty Vietnamese dish of cold rice noodles, with seafood, brisket, and herbs. It can be served with broth as a soup, or without as a salad. It is topped with sesame crackers that give texture to the softness of the entire dish. You can get a delicious hearty portion of Mi Quang in Saigon at Mi Quang 85.
Hu Tieu Nam Vang—Popular Saigon Street Food
Hu Tieu Nam Vang finds its origins in Cambodia and around the Mekong River. It is a surprising noodle soup with pork bone broth, meatballs, fish balls & shrimps.
As a popular Saigon street food, you will have ample opportunity to try Hu Tieu Nam Vang, but our favorite Saigon restaurant to eat this eclectic dish is Nhan Quan.
Bun Thit Nướng—A refreshing Saigon Food
Bun Thit Nướng is a refreshing cold rice-vermicelli (noodle) dish (without soup) featuring herbs, vegetables, and grilled pork. It is quite similar to the Bo Bun which is the more commonly known name in the West. For us, the best spot to find this refreshing Saigon food when it’s warm outside is in Bun Thit Nuong Chi Tuyen.
Best Food Markets and Food Streets in Saigon
For us, the perfect way to sample a bit of everything at a decent price is by exploring Saigon food markets and/or food streets.
Here are our top picks when it comes to open food markets and food streets in Saigon:
Pham Van Hai Market (Tan Binh District)
This Saigon food market is an extension of the covered market. At night, the vendors setup on the big square and you can sample tons of dishes, surrounded by locals.
Vinh Khanh Street Food (District 4)
Vinh Khanh is a long street full of Vietnamese street food and karaoke. It is especially known for its seafood and barbecue restaurants.
Co Giang Street (District 1)
After living in the neighboring Cau Kho, we can say that Co Giang is as authentic as it gets, especially in the center of District 1, which is supposedly a touristy area. It’s definitely the best alternative to the Ben Thanh Market food hall or Bui Vien for Saigon street food in the evening. They also have brick & mortar restaurants, such as excellent Chao Long or Bun Thit.
Best Saigon Food Experiences Not to Miss
A Morning Bowl of Pho Saigon-Style with the Locals
While pho can be found all over the country, we particularly love its southern version. A bowl of Saigon pho is best enjoyed in the early hours of the day when it isn't too warm and humid just yet. You’ll probably be sharing a spot with locals on their way to work, with the hustle and bustle of the city as a backdrop.
The Morning Ca Phe Sua Da Ritual
Right after our morning bowl of pho in Saigon, we would treat ourselves on most days with a Ca Phe Sua Da, the Vietnamese iced coffee. Made of strong robusta beans and condensed milk, it is both refreshing and energizing. On slow days, we drink it on a long chair, watching the world go by. We also get it from a street stall from a lovely coffee lady in District 3. The café culture in Saigon is unlike anything you’ll ever see elsewhere. From modern cafes to street vendors, this delicious, iced coffee can be bought literally everywhere.
Feasting on Seafood
We’ve always associated seafood with something really fancy, especially in the west. Here, it becomes an occasion to gather and celebrate, in settings that are way different. You’ll first be selecting your seafood in Saigon, from baskets of empty shells. Spicy crab legs, scallops with grilled peanuts and clams are amongst other things you can expect here. You’ll see people sitting outdoors, throwing the shells in a bucket while swallowing liters of beer.
Final Thoughts on Food in Saigon
For us, Saigon will always be the food capital of Asia. It ticks all the boxes in terms of price, variety, unique signature dishes, great atmosphere yet with the abundance of herbs, it all somehow feels healthy.
What about you? Have you ever been to Saigon or Vietnam? What are the traditional dishes or food experiences you had, which made you fall in love with this incredible city?
About the Authors
Antoine and Marielle of Offbeat Escapades are digital nomads and van lifers, from Belgium and the Philippines. Their blog features the best offbeat destinations, extensive budget guides, and essential van life tips that will convince you to pursue a life of mindful travel – from vibrant cities in Asia to deep within the architectural sights and natural wonders of Europe. Find them online: Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Youtube