Looking for the best Asian street food? Want to know where to get the best bánh mì in Saigon? Check out the best foodie things to do in Saigon then see our top picks in Hoi An and Hanoi. If you can’t travel at the moment, be inspired to cook your own dishes at home with our easy Vietnamese recipes.
olive’s top 10 foodie things to do in Saigon, Vietnam
Breakfast on the run – bánh mì
The ‘bánh mì‘ may look like a humble French baguette but in Vietnamese hands it reaches gastronomic heights. Available from vendors on almost every street corner, this is Vietnam’s traditional breakfast-on-the-run. The baguette is smeared with pungent pâté and crammed with candyfloss-light shredded pork, sour pickled carrot and radish, chilli sauce and a handful of fresh coriander, then toasted. It’s seriously addictive.
Street food scene – Saigon Street Eats
To get to grips with the city’s vibrant street food scene go DIY and graze your way from rickety stall to makeshift eatery along narrow Ho Thi Ky street in District 10 with its encyclopaedic array of noodle and rice stands, sizzling waffles and steaming pots of slow-cooked pork and coconut water. Pull up a stool at one of the low plastic tables and tuck into glutinous coconut spring rolls made from tapioca and rice flour sprinkled with sesame sugar and salt, or ‘banh cuon,’ mushroom and pork rice paper rolls with fish sauce, chillies, coriander and bean sprouts. Or book a street food tour with a company such as Saigon Street Eats. Morning and evening tours include Street Food 101 and the night-time Seafood Trail along one of Saigon’s ‘snail streets’ tucking into a range of crustaceans from sea snails to scallops and mussels.
Cook like a local – Saigon Cooking Class
In the heart of District 1, Hua Tuc restaurant’s Saigon Cooking Class starts with a shopping trip to the local market with the chef. After stocking up on ingredients, it’s back to the cookery school in a peaceful courtyard beside the restaurant. Donning aprons for the hands-on class you’ll learn how to whip up local specialities such as ‘Cha gio Sai Gon’ or Saigon fried spring rolls, ‘Goi rau muong’ or water spinach salad with chargrilled beef and ‘Mi xao don hai san’, crispy noodles with crunchy vegetables and squid, settling down at the communal table to eat each course as you cook it.
Vietnamese comfort food – pho
Often dubbed Vietnam’s national dish, pho (pronounced fuh) is a noodle soup, made from a fragrant beef broth, simmered for 24 hours and laced with herbs and spices such as star anise, ginger and cinnamon bark. The broth is topped with raw or cooked slithers of beef and served with spring onions, bunches of fresh basil, coriander and mint for shredding, slices of lime, fresh chillies and fish sauce. Founded in 2003, Pho 24 is a popular family run chain with branches peppered throughout the city, but one of the most famous pho joints – Bill Clinton ate here and framed photos hang on the walls – is Pho 2000 just opposite the Ben Thanh market. It’s not particularly atmospheric however, with a clattery canteen vibe. Far more authentic are neighbourhood pho restaurants such as Pho Quyen in district 10 where you can tuck into a steaming bowl of pho shoulder to shoulder with the locals.
Do the food shop – Ben Thanh market
Mooch around central Ben Thanh market with its distinctive clock tower. The cavernous market hall, near the train station, dates back to 1914 and has four main gateways and around 3,000 stalls. Head to the north gate to wander down alleys lined with fishmongers’ stalls, buckets of crabs and butchers counters. Outside there are stalls of fresh vegetables and herbs, keep you eyes peeled for water spinach or morning glory and water mimosa. The east gate is the entrance for Vietnamese dried goods, stalls piled high with dried noodles, tofu, vegetarian ‘fish sauce’ made with fermented pineapple and salt and ingredients such as dried wood-ear mushrooms. And if you feel peckish head to the food court for a plate of broken rice or ‘com tam’ (with shredded pork skin and egg) or bowl of ‘bun rieu’ (crab noodle soup), the sour broth topped with tomato and crab cake – add tamarind sauce, shrimp paste and chillies to taste.
Dim Sum in Chinatown – Cholon
Cholon on the west bank of the Saigon River is Vietnam’s largest Chinatown established at the end of the 18th century and sprawling across districts 5, 6 and 11. ‘Cholon’ translates as ‘big market’ and along with narrow alleys peppered with pagodas, temples and tiny restaurants, this is where you’ll find Saigon’s largest market, Binh Tay. Built by the French in the 1880s, it’s crammed with around 3,000 stalls. Swing by for some dim sum or banh bao – filled steamed buns.
Up on the Roof – rooftop bars
Saigon’s skyline at night is a jaw-dropping sight and the city has a liberal sprinkling of rooftop bars where you can watch the sun sink behind the skyscrapers, cocktail or local craft beer to hand. The most famous is the Rex Hotel where American military briefings were held each day during the Vietnam War (dubbed the 5 O’clock Follies by foreign journalists), the glitziest the Social Club Saigon on top of the Hotel des Arts, but the highest is the Eon Heli Bar in the Bitexco Financial Tower. Soar up to the 52nd floor for wraparound 360 degree views and let the mixologist whip up a signature cocktail such as the Heli Freezer, muddled fresh grape, lime, London Dry Gin, Eon syrup and tonic or a Saigon Rush (tequila, Aperol, lychee, lime juice, sugar syrup, eggs and aromatic bitters).
Saigon by night – Vespa Rouge food tour
Zip through the city streets at night on the back of a vintage Vespa, veering down neon-lit side streets, weaving in and out of the snaking traffic to explore Saigon’s gastronomic hotspots with your guide. Vespa Rouge‘s food tour lets you mingle with the locals at a neighbourhood fish restaurant, tucking into clams with lemongrass at the crammed pavement tables along with stir fried crab with salt and chilli and tiger prawns with garlic. It’s DIY cooking at another popular spot where hot pot is the speciality, cooked at the table on a burner, the fiery coconut milk and chilli-laced broth packed with mushrooms, noodles and slithers of raw beef, before a nightcap at a local café bar.
Modern Vietnamese restaurant – Anan
Edge your way through the crowds milling around the wet market stalls along Ton That Dam street to the low-key entrance of Anan, award-winning chef Peter Cuong Franklin’s hip eatery and one of the hottest tables in town. Anan means ‘eat eat’ – not a hardship when the menu showcases his take on new Vietnamese cuisine, street food-inspired dishes created from the freshest local ingredients and a nod to French culinary techniques. Think Truffle Pho with rare Wagyu beef, 24 hour beef rib, black truffle, rice noodles and herbs or Viet Chicken Nuggets with a sesame, lime and caramel dipping sauce, wedge of lime and chilli kick. The cocktail list also gives a local twist to familiar favourites. Try a ‘Phojito’, fragrant sticky rice wine, sugar, lime and coriander with a smoking cinnamon stick – on the roof. Anan also has the coolest rooftop bar.
Room with a view – Caravelle
The historic Caravelle Hotel overlooking the Saigon Opera House has stellar food and drink credentials from the gourmet breakfast buffet (platters of exotic fruit, creamy matcha custard croissants and banh mi and Pho made to order) to the Tapas Kitchen which gives a Vietnamese twist to the traditional light bite. Think black pudding, scallop and apple spring roll with curry spiced mayo or raw shrimp ceviche with pomegranate and cress for a tart citrus kick – washed down with a signature cocktail: the Lang Toi is a Vietnamese caipirinha laced with homemade lemongrass cordial and kumquats. You can sign up for the hotel’s ‘Pho Fridays’ a complimentary breakfast excursion once a week. At 8am the concierge leads guests down a nearby alley to Pho Minh one of the oldest pho restaurants in the district to have breakfast with the locals. And then there’s the rooftop bar, Saigon Saigon where correspondents hung out during the Vietnam War. They even brew their own beer: the Caravelle Terrace Draft.
These food experiences were organised by Audley Travel which offers a range of trips to Vietnam including a 13-day Essential Vietnam tour from £2,505 per person including international and domestic flights, transfers, accommodation and excursions and activities.