The best Ho Chi Minh City dishes are well regarded as nutritious, savoury, and hearty delights that can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Some of the defining traits in Vietnamese cuisine include rice, noodles, seafood, pork and beef, as well as various fresh herbs and spices, all of which result in robust flavours and unique interpretations. Although the city is evolving into a cosmopolitan landscape with sprawling shopping malls, fine-dining restaurants and luxury hotels, you can still find plenty of roadside eateries, vibrant street market, and street food carts to satisfy your appetite for authentic Vietnamese delicacies.
Dining in Ho Chi Minh is not just limited to Vietnamese pho and coffee, as you can also enjoy fresh seafood, noodles, rice, spring rolls, and meats prepared with an array of cooking methods. Also great for travellers on a tight budget, some of these top must-try foods in Ho Chi Minh City are not only hearty and filling, but also cost less than VND 40,000 per dish. This is what to eat in Ho Chi Minh for a real taste of the city and Vietnam.
Available almost everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City, banh mi is a quintessential Vietnamese dish that you should never miss out on. This baguette sandwich is priced between VND 10,000 and VND 15,000, with pickled vegetables, pate, butter, soy sauce, cilantro, chilies, and hot peppers. Quick and tasty, you can also choose from a variety of meat fillings for your banh mi, including heo quay (roasted pork belly), cha ca (fried fish with turmeric and dill), cha lua (boiled sausages), xiu mai (meatballs), thit ga (boiled chicken), trung op la (fried egg), thit nuong (grilled pork loin), and xa xiu (Chinese barbecued pork).
Pho is rice noodle that’s served in a flavourful soup with beef, bean sprouts, lime wedges, and greens such as basil, mint, cilantro, and onions with a side of chilli sauce for added spice. A basic bowl contains tai (beef slices), bo vien (beef meatballs) or nam (beef flank), but diners can also opt for more exotic ingredients such as gan (beef tendon), sach (thinly-sliced pig stomach), and ve don (flank with cartilage). This popular breakfast option is priced between VND 20,000 and VND 30,000 at any local restaurant or street market in Ho Chi Minh City.
Oc (Vietnamese Shellfish)
Best enjoyed with cold beers, oc refers to platters of Vietnamese shellfish that are prepared in varying methods. Due to its popularity, there are plenty of roadside stalls and inexpensive restaurants with raw snails, blood cockles, clams, shrimps, and crabs displayed out front. After selecting those that strike your fancy, you can enjoy them grilled, sautéed, curried, or steamed. Priced at VND 20,000 onwards, we highly recommend grilled mussels with scallion oil and peanuts (chem chep nuong), blood cockles sautéed in tamarind sauce (so huyet ran me), and clams steamed with lemongrass.
Com Tam (Broken Rice)
Com tam is actually ‘broken rice’ in Vietnamese, usually served with fried egg, diced green onions, and a variety of meats such as suon nuong (barbecued pork chop), bi (shredded pork skin), and cha trung (steamed pork and egg patty). Diners can also enjoy this dish with a side of pickled vegetables, cucumber slices, and nuoc cham Vietnamese dipping sauce. Com tam can be enjoyed any time of the day as it is relatively inexpensive, with street markets and roadside food stalls selling for about VND 20,000 per bowl.
Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Spring Rolls)
Goi cuon or Vietnamese spring rolls comprise vermicelli noodles, pork slices, shrimp, basil, and lettuce tightly wrapped in translucent banh trang (rice papers). Due to its very subtle flavour, you can dip it in a mix of freshly ground chilli and hoisin-based dipping sauce topped with crushed peanuts. This traditional appetiser is a healthier alternative to cha gio, which is a deep-fried egg roll made with a combination of mung bean noodles, minced pork, and various spices.
Banh Xeo (Crispy Pancake)
Ban xeo is a savoury pancake that’s made of rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric, stuffed with ingredients such as pork slices, shrimps, sliced onions, bean sprouts, and button mushrooms. Unlike the ones you find in Nha Trang and Hanoi, ban xeo in Ho Chi Minh City is much smaller in portion as it is usually eaten as a snack or appetiser. The best way to enjoy ban xeo is by wrapping it in mustard leaf, lettuce leaves or rice wrappers, together with mint leaves, basil, herbs, and sweet fermented peanut butter sauce. Lastly, dip it in a sweet and sour fish sauce.
Hu Tieu (Rice Noodles)
Hu tieu is a subtler version of pho noodles, featuring a clear pork-based broth, flat rice noodles, and an assortment of pork toppings. There are also countless variations available in Ho Chi Minh City, though the most popular one is hu tieu xuong, which is topped with pork ribs. Alternatively, you can enjoy hu tieu with shrimp, squid, or fish if you’re not a fan of pork. A bowl of hu tieu is usually priced at VND 18,000 at street stalls and VND 25,000 onwards if you’re dining at more established restaurants.
Ca Kho To (Caramelised Fish in Clay Pot)
Served in numerous Vietnamese restaurants within Ho Chi Minh City, ca kho to refers to catfish braised in a clay pot. This dish is prepared by cutting a whole catfish into fillets before it’s braised in a thick gravy made with a combination of soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, shallots, garlic, and various spices and seasonings. Due to its intense sweet-salty flavour, ca kho to is always served with a plate of white rice.
Banh Cuon (Rolled Cake)
Loosely wrapped in a steamed fermented rice sheet, banh cuon contains a mix of ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, onions, Vietnamese ham (cha lua), steamed beansprouts, and cucumbers. You can easily spot vendors selling banh cuon in prominent marketplaces such as Cholon and Ben Thanh Market as well as local restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. This traditional Vietnamese dish is sometimes topped with shrimp floss, coriander, and herbs, with a sweet-sour dipping sauce made with fish extract, lime, and chilli.
Bun Thit Nuong (Vermicelli Noodles with Grilled Pork)
A hearty dish in Ho Chi Minh City, bun thit nuong features vermicelli rice noodles with freshly chopped lettuce, sliced cucumber, bean sprouts, pickled daikon and carrot, basil, chopped peanuts, and mint, topped with grilled yet tender pork shoulder. Diners can also opt for bun thit nuong cha gio, which comes with crunchy slices of cha gio (deep-fried eggrolls). As with most Vietnamese dishes, you also get a side of nuoc cham sauce to mix into the bun thit nuong for a flavourful ensemble.