After two winters of stuffing my face around this city I love, I decided to put together a guide to Saigon street food, gathering some of the places I keep coming back to in one place. These are not the absolute best of everything, but rather a cross-section of delicious, cheap and authentic foods that are also conveniently located. I tended to head to outer districts more often, on the hunt for that bun mam a friend told me about, or what was billed as “the best Peking duck in town” by my enthused landlady.

While fun side trips to outer districts are great, I wanted to put together a post that would be more helpful for short-term trips. The restaurants and street stalls below are fairly central to where most travellers stay, meaning people can frequent them even if in town only briefly.

The Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon Street Food Guide: Self-Guided Street Food Tour

This post was most recently updated: in August 2019.

One specific soup, a sweet-and-sour canh chua (photo in the “street food” section below), was what initially led me to the city. I was lured in by the complicated tastes and unfamiliar sting of the rice paddy herb on my tongue. It might have been one soup that brought me to Saigon, but it was the rest of the food that kept me there, and keeps me coming back. It is not just taste of food that makes Saigon so enthralling, but the act of eating as well, and all of the craziness that eating comprises. The swirling noise, the families all sitting and enjoying a meal on the street, smiling at you fumbling with your condiments. The beauty of food being not just a necessity but also a sight in and of itself: a window into culture, and a source of endless wonder.

Countless moments of me smiling as an old lady came over shaking her head at my terrible rice paper folding skills, correcting my technique as we sat at the edge of traffic. Or the bo la lot vendor who discovered my love of starfruit and made sure to have extra on hand when I returned. The beloved grandpa at the pho ga restaurant below, whoran over to my bowl repeatedly to ensure I added pickled garlic, lest I forget. The landladies that adopted me into their homes, feeding me, giving me hugs, teaching me how to cook.

There are hundreds of moments like these baked into the aggregate of my memories in Vietnam. Most of them derive from food. As Luke Nguyen says in The Songs of Sapa: Stories & Recipes from Vietnam,

For Vietnamese people, food is our life; we are forever eating, cooking and talking about food. Food is communication – food is culture.

Street food saigon taken literally: streetside eating

Streetside eating.

This is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it provides a good start. For those of you who loved your time in Vietnam and want to commemorate it at home with something a bit more tangible, please see my hand-drawn, one-of-a-kind Vietnamese maps of food. They’re available in t-shirt and poster form.

hand drawn typographic maps of food

Note: I also realize some of you would have preferred diacritical marks in lieu of plain Roman letters, but when typing into Google Maps to find these places, most travellers have indicated they prefer the non-Tieng Viet script. I’m happy to update the post if this is no longer the case.

Also, if you’re worried about street food: here’s how to eat it without getting sick.

And finally: for celiacs like me, see my Celiac’s Guide to Vietnam.

Browse the Saigon Street Food Guide By Section:

Saigon is most definitely a magical place for your tastebuds. The balancing act between warming and cooling ingredients, between heavier meats and lighter rice-based carbs, fresh herbs to round out the taste, never get old. I’m no culinary anthropologist, but in learning through eating, and being corrected by others also passionate about food, I’ve hopefully created a crash course here that will help travellers discover more about the city.

As I am no longer living in Saigon and offering Jodi Eats Food Walks for readers, I wanted to give everyone a self-guided street food tour that they could enjoy without me. It includes my favourite places to grab soups, snacks, and more. And I’ve also included sections for restaurants, drinks, and getting around town.

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