Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is an instant awakening of the senses. Sights, sounds and smells immediately have your attention. Taste is our goal though and District 1 is a great place to start. Are you ready to graze Ho Chi Minh City?
Quan An Ngon is the perfect place for visitors to experience the many regional cuisines of Vietnam under one roof. Set up hawker style, each kitchen is open and focused on their speciality. Pho and soups, pancakes and omelettes, grilled seafood, BBQ pork & beef, extensive salads and stir-fries come from individual stations. Ingredients are fresh, serves generous and flavours exquisite. Don’t be surprised by the prices, you will notice the difference to streetside dining but for the convenience of experiencing the range of flavours here, it’s worth every dong.
Are you on a budget or simply excited for the street food experience? You know the drill, the higher the patronage, the fresher the produce. Generally, vendors specialise in 1 dish. Look for Pho Bo in the mornings. This noodle and beef soup with an abundance of herbs is traditionally eaten for breakfast. You’ll find the vendors heading home around 11:00. If you miss them there is always Pho 24, a chain of Pho eating houses open 24/7. To make Pho Bo at home follow Helen’s instructions below.
Banh Mi, or bread roll, are assembled on many a street corner and you will always find them at Ben Thanh market. The rolls are crisp on the outside while light and fluffy inside with fillings including paté, BBQ pork, greens and plenty of fresh herbs. Fresh herbs and salad leaves are a theme through almost every Vietnamese dish enhancing texture, flavour and self-satisfaction for eating so healthily. 😉
Banana flowers are a common ingredient fresh and cooked in dishes. See if you can find shredded chicken with banana flower salad or order the sweet and spicy blood cockles with shredded banana flowers. Of course, you’ll have no trouble finding fresh spring rolls with pork and prawn and traditional deep fried spring rolls with lettuce leaf wraps.
The French have left their mark on the dining scene with The Refinery. Located in a disused Opium Factory, local ingredients are used to prepare French bistro fare. The grilled salmon salad with quail eggs and a cheeky chilled white wine make for a perfect lunch. Next door at Hoa Tuc Vietnamese cuisine takes on a contemporary edge. Here the beef in betel leaf rolls are hand-rolled by you using lotus root, star fruit, noodles, peanuts and a plethora of greens.
Take the Hoa Tuc run cooking class upstairs at Saigon Cooking School. A visit to the market for fresh ingredients begins the morning and devouring the delectable self-made dishes completes the course.
Opposite, Beirut provides a Lebanese fix complete with Shisha and belly dancers. Blanchy Street Japanese-Peruvian Cuisine will entice with their ceviche and Jaspers has a well rounded international menu. This small enclave in the heart of District 1 has something for everyone.
Beer connoisseurs will enjoy the 6 flight at Pasteur Street Brewing Co. Try something different with the passionfruit beer and a sour with lime and tamarind.
Ranger live music venue in its contemporary warehouse art space have acts on rotation and bar specials.
The rooftop bar at the Rex Hotel will set you back a pretty penny for cocktails but the view over the Opera House and Continental Hotel make it worth the expense.
Head to Eon Helibar at the top of the Bitexco building for Happy Hour. Buy 2 get 1 free while the sun sets over the Saigon River.
At Chi Hoa, sample their flavoured vodkas. Choose from ginger, orange, coffee, hibiscus and basil or have one of each.
For Latin music, tapas and great mojitos, La Habana is worth a visit and if the attention of beautiful girls is your want then hightail it to Fox Hostess Bar. You’ll trip over Sports bars and Irish pubs in Ho Chi Minh City, they’re generally found close to international hotels.
The famous Vietnamese coffee is not to be missed. Thick and black with a hint of chicory, the coffee is drip-filtered directly into the cup over 4-5 minutes. Condensed milk is the key and can be added prior to the coffee or after. If the milk has been refrigerated it will be extra thick and remain at the bottom of the cup. Choose to stir or savour the coffee-soaked condensed milk at the end. Guaranteed to lift spirits and put a spring in your step.
First timer tips:
Petty theft is common in HCMC. Be wary of motorcycle pillion passengers with their hands-free. Handbags and smartphones can be whisked away in the traffic in no time.
Save time by completing the online visa application and take your receipt to the airport visa office on arrival. Show the receipt, pay the cash and you’ll only need to wait 5-10 minutes.
Have you been to HCMC? Are you a lover of Vietnamese food? What do you crave from this delicious cuisine? We’d love to hear your favourites in the comments below. Eating and drinking in Ho Chi Minh City: it’s a thing we love….