Oh, how we wish we could go back to the life of a nomad! The new experiences, the people, and most of all the food… Do you want to know exactly how to take full advantage of the different food experiences Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) has to offer? Then look no further. In this week’s blog, we’re going to give you a run down of the four (4) most popular types of restaurants that this wonderful food metropolis has to offer.
Street food is an ingrained part of Vietnamese cuisine, which is celebrated worldwide for its convenience, speed of service and its phenomenal flavours! Saigon is teeming with food vendors sprawled throughout the city: from wide open streets to narrow alleyways. There are usually only 1-2 sellers per vendor, but they are kept busy with long queues of hungry locals looking for a cheap and tasty on-the-go meal.
Why not try…
Banh Xeo Nga – This is one of our stops on the food tour, and are famous for their Vietnamese pancakes !
Banh Mi 37 – They do the best Perfect Pork Meatball Sandwich!
Family-owned restaurants typically only offer one type of dish which has been popular with locals over the years and ultimately made the family restaurant a household name. Their speciality could be a specific recipe or technique which the family has perfected and passed down from generation to generation. The true strength of restaurants like these are their affordable yet distinctly delicious dishes.
You can’t miss out…
Bánh Cuốn Tây Hồ – Try their popular fish sauce!
Miến gà Kỳ Đồng – It doesn’t get more traditional than this!
In Vietnamese drinking culture, there are some restaurants where people can both go out drinking to and eat dinner at the same time. Common dishes you can find at these establishments are shellfish, BBQ and hotpot. People tend to drink a lot of beer alongside the food and gather in hoards at weekends.
Join the party at…
The D Saigon – A unique and cozy bar inside the oldest market of Saigon.
Popular with tourists for their cosy atmosphere and English-speaking staff, it’s also the transformative experience that these traditional restaurants offer which attracts potential diners. Dining in one of these restaurants can feel like you have stepped back into 19th century rural Vietnam. These restaurants offer an immersive experience with beautiful decoration, relaxing music and a range of authentic Vietnamese food and drink.
A hidden gem…
Hue House – A rooftop restaurant that you wouldn’t even know is there!
Are you getting everything ready for your Pagoda Projects programme and counting down the days until you jump on the plane? Are your friends and family asking you loads of questions about your upcoming experience and even you aren’t sure what to expect?
We hope that our watchlist will get you excited to explore the sights and sounds of what is going to be your new home for a months. Why not download a couple of our suggestions to pass the time on your flight out…
Netflix // IMDb
A 10-part documentary series chronicling the Vietnam war featuring the soldiers, protesters, politicians and families who lived it.Amazon Prime // IMDb
An in-depth documentary about on refugee family’s attempts to face its divided past and heal the motional wounds of the Vietnam War.IMDb
Separated at the end of the Vietnam war, an “Americanized” woman and her Vietnamese mother are reunited after 22 years.Amazon Prime // IMDb
Anthony returns to one of his favourite places on Earth, journeying to the centre of the country, near the coast and to a city he has never been to, Hue.Netflix // IMDb
Snail and broken rice are staples of Ho Chi Minh City’s Outdoorsy street food culture which has been shaped by both history and family memory.YouTube // IMDb
Luke Nguyen, acclaimed owner and chef of the Sydney restaurant ‘The Red Lantern’, returns to the country of his heritage to take a culinary journey through the northern regions of Vietnam.Amazon Prime // IMDb
An old British reporter vies with a young U.S. doctor for the affections of a beautiful Vietnamese woman.IMDb
Two plain clothed U.S. military policemen on duty in war-time Saigon investigating serial killings when their job becomes even harder.Amazon Prime // IMDb
In the mid 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson and his foreign-policy team debate the decision to withdraw from or escalate the war in Vietnam.BBC // IMDb
Sue Perkins embarks on a life-changing, 3,000-mile journey up the Mekong, South East Asia’s greatest river, exploring lives and landscapes on the point of dramatic change.Amazon Prime // IMDb
A vicarious thrill ride as Tony discovers Vietnam from the buzzing streets of Hanoi to the rural beauty of the Montagnards, and the mysterious Island of Mr. Sang. This episode shows exactly why Tony has been completely seduced by Vietnam and its people.
Amazon Prime // IMDb
An American finds refuge during the 1937 Japanese invasion of Nanking in a church with a group of women. Posing as a priest, he attempts to lead the women to safety.Netflix // IMDb
A boy and his mother move to California for a new job. He struggles to fit in, as a group of karate students starts to bully him for dating a rich girl from their clique. It’s up to the Japanese landlord, Miyagi, to teach him karate.Netflix // IMDb
Renowned warrior Yu Shu-Lien comes out of retirement to keep the legendary Green Destiny sword away from villainous warlord Hades DaiAmazon Prime // IMDb
Anthony travels to Shanghai. Forget all the antiquated views your might hold about a communist-run, creativity-devoid bunch of state-controlled androids. The modern China is a vibrant, dynamic monument to capitalism. And nowhere is that more glaringly obvious than in Shanghai, a city housing 116,000 billionaires and multimillionaires who modestly call themselves the ‘bao fa hu’ or ‘explosive rich’.Netflix // IMDb
Tofu pudding. Fish head soup. Goat stew. The family-owned street stalls of Chiayi are bastions of Taiwan’s culinary traditions.Amazon Prime // IMDb
Pull up a stool and get your chopsticks ready – A Bite of China is the quintessential TV series on all things Chinese cuisine – from its rich history to the rarest dishes and wildest ingredients. Shot in more than 60 locations and featuring top chefs of the culinary world – it will surprise even the most jaded foodies around.Amazon Prime // IMDb
A couple embarks on a journey home for Chinese new year along with 130 million other migrant workers, to reunite with their children and struggle for a future. Their unseen story plays out as China soars towards being a world superpower.BBC // IMDb
Dan Snow, Anita Rani and Ade Adepitan go behind the scenes to reveal the hidden systems and armies of people running some of the greatest cities on earth.Channel 4
With unique access to the Forbidden City, this documentary reveals the spectacular history of the world’s largest palace, and the secrets of its astonishing design.Amazon Prime // IMDb
A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.Amazon Prime // IMDb
The story of two men, who met as apprentices in the Peking Opera, and stayed friends for over 50 years.Amazon Prime // IMDb
This Oscar-winning biopic traces the life of Pu Yi, the last of the great emperors of China, from his ascent to the throne at the age of three, in 1908, to the time he was imprisoned in the Forbidden City, witnessing decased of cultural and political upheaval.Amazon Prime // IMDb
True story of Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountain climber who became friends with the Dalai Lama at the time of China’s takeover of Tibet.YouTube
Reggie discovers contemporary China, diving deep into four megacities in search of the new generations transforming their future.BBC // IMDb
A cookery show focusing on Chinese food, with demonstrations of how to make various Chinese dishes.Channel 4 // IMDb
Guy martin’s love of industry and endeavour leads him to china, where he reveals the unseen side of its innovation, technological development and gigantic manufacturing.Netflix // IMDb
In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a factory in an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.
Netflix // IMDb
At the forefront of transforming Mexican cuisine, Enrique Olvera champions traditional ingredients under a haute perspective as he delves into the roots of Mexico to create award-winning dishes at his restaurant, Pujol.Netflix // IMDb
A look at the life of notorious drug kingpin, El Chapo, from his early days in the 1980s working for the Guadalajara Cartel, to his rise to power of during the ’90s and his ultimate downfall in 2016.Amazon Prime // IMDb
A horrific car accident connects three stories, each involving characters dealing with loss, regret, and life’s harsh realities, all in the name of love.Amazon Prime // IMDb
Bourdain travels to Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Cuernavaca to commune with local residents who express their passion through food, art, and the struggle for an improved quality of life. Bourdain talks with journalist Anabel Hernández on the impact of the area’s drug trade-related violence and how it affects local quality of life.Amazon Prime // IMDb
A documentary on some of contemporary Mexico’s most iconic artists and performers.IMDb
A documentary feature about the life of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.Amazon Prime // IMDb
Tomas is too much for his lone mother so she sends him to live with his older brother Federico, aka Sombra, in Mexico City.BBC // IMDb
Dan Snow, Anita Rani and Ade Adepitan go behind the scenes to reveal the hidden systems and armies of people running some of the greatest cities on earth.Netflix // IMDb
A journey through the colorful and varied world of Tacos.BBC // IMDb
In 1968 the young Rick travelled down the Pacific Coast Highway to the Mexican border and beyond. 50 years later he retraces his steps from San Francisco to Mexico enjoying unique dishes and meeting chefs. Amazon Prime // IMDb
Tony heads to Mexico with Carlos,who took over Tony’s old job.IMDb
Two young Mexican attorneys attempt to exonerate a wrongly convicted man by making a documentary. In the process, they expose the contradictions of a judicial system that presumes suspects guilty until proven innocent.
Life would be so much easier if everyone liked to eat everything or could eat everything. I know my life would, but, like many people, there are some things that I don’t like and others I can’t eat because I am allergic. There are so many dietary requirements in one’s life that you have to be careful, especially when you are not cooking yourself. When you go to a restaurant and order something, it is hard to know what ingredients they use exactly.
It is ok! You don’t really have to eat EVERYTHING there is. There are several reasons why someone doesn’t eat a specific type of food. It could be allergic reactions, religious reasons or simply because you don’t like it.
I hate it when I start eating something and all of the sudden my entire body starts itching because of something I ate (a lot of times I don’t even know what exactly). Others react very differently from me. Sometimes you could have a serious reaction to it, so you have to be careful.
Vegetarian / Vegan
Many of us have chosen to live a certain lifestyle and we all have to respect it. Vegetarian restaurants are really common in Vietnam, as there is a large Buddhist population. It means that being a vegetarian is not a big deal!
It is important to know the Vietnamese word for vegetarian (chay) and that would get you through. You can make any Vietnamese dish into a vegetarian dish like phở chay, bánh xèo chay, hủ tiếu chay, cà ri chay, and so on. Or say “Tôi ăn chay”, which means “I’m vegetarian” or, if you are a vegan, “Tôi là người ăn chay trường”.
In some religions, certain animals are sacred like the cow in Hinduism. In other cases, for example in Islam is forbidden to eat pork.
But also in Judaism you can find dietary restrictions. Jews are only allowed to eat Kosher.
Or if you simply don’t like a certain time of food you just simply say “I don’t eat (type of food)” in Vietnamese “Tôi không (…)”. For example,
There are many other dietary requirements and restrictions. Don’t be afraid to try new things. You never know if you like something if you haven’t tried it!
Imagine yourself walking through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam and a wave of people with food in their hands comes towards you. Suddenly you are surrounded by all sorts of smells and flavors! Just the thought of that makes you hungry, right? So let’s explore the wonders of Vietnamese food together.
Some might say that Vietnamese food is like any other in Southeast Asia, nothing special. What they don’t know is how wrong they really are! Vietnamese food is neither bland nor boring.
The combination of fresh herbs and spices makes the food not only colourful, but also full of flavor. Although it might differ from region to region, there is always something that makes Vietnamese cuisine unique. The aroma, the taste of sweet and sour, and the hint of fish sauce are all combined and perfectly balanced. It is all about yin and yang, in every meal providing beneficial input to your body!
China influences heavily the food in the north. That means a lot of stir-fries and noodle-based soups. Then towards the southern part the flavors become more and more tropical, almost blending with Thai cuisine. But it is hard not to talk about the French influence in Vietnam cuisine.
One example would be the bánh mì which is basically a crispy/fluffy baguette filled with seasoned pork and vegetables like cucumbers, cilantro and pickled carrots. Some say you can find the best bánh mì in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.
When you walk through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, you are definitely going to find Phở. Pho is made of a smooth broth with vermicelli rice noodles and meat, topped with the freshest herbs you can find. It is a very popular street food in Vietnam and probably the most known Vietnamese food in the world. Surprisingly, is usually eaten as a breakfast!
If you are a pork fan, then bún mọc is for you. In it you can find pork sausage, fried pork meatballs, pork ribs and pork belly with a light mushroom broth and garnish with fresh herbs. That is a lot of pork and all in one bowl!
If you have more of an adventurous side, you can try the coconut worms in fish sauce and chili slices, usually eaten alive while drinking! One bite of these fellas pops salty and spicy flavors into your mouth. But be careful with their mandibles because these little worms may bite while you are trying to eat them!
Another daring option would be the balut, a fertilized bird embryo, usually duck. The Vietnamese believe that the balut is very nutritious and restorative for pregnant women.
But enough about meat!
Don’t be afraid to visit Vietnam if you are vegetarian. Vegetarian restaurants are really common in Vietnam, as there is a large Buddhist population. It means that being a vegetarian is not a big deal. And even if the restaurant is not specifically vegetarian, you can still find or ask for vegetarian options.
It is important to know the Vietnamese word for vegetarian (chay) and that would get you through. You can make any Vietnamese dish into a vegetarian dish like phở chay, bánh xèo chay, hủ tiếu chay, cà ri chay, and so on. Or say “Tôi ăn chay”, which means “I’m vegetarian”. Another option is to say that you don’t eat pork “Tôi không ăn thịt heo” or beef “Tôi không ăn thịt bò“.
There are a variety of vegetarian dishes you can get, like sticky rice (xôi). Most of the xoi are vegetarian and found in the food stands on the streets. Đậu sốt cà chua is a fried yellow tofu with tomato paste and onions. You can accompany your dậu sốt cà chua with some fried water spinach and garlic (rau muống xào tỏi) or some bok choy with shitake mushrooms (cải xào nấm).
Drinks are on me! A common drink is the Vietnamese iced coffee or cà phê đá made with freshly brewed dark roast Vietnamese-grown coffee and condensed milk. But if you go to Hanoi, you might come across the egg coffee (cà phê trứng) which includes egg yolk. Sugarcane (nước mía or mía đá) is a really popular drink during the hot summers. Kumquat juice is often added to the sugarcane to balance the sweetness.
Vietnam has its own brewery called Sabeco, which is Vietnam’s leading beer producer. They produce not only the classic Saigon Beer, but also Vietnam’s favorite 333. Bia hơi is a draft beer popular among the locals. It can be found in small bars and on street corners. It’s brewed daily and each bar gets a fresh batch delivered everyday! Going to the stronger liquor is the rượu đế, rice wine, made out of cooked glutinous rice.
Enjoy these delicacies and join us!
One of the most notable differences between Vietnamese and Western cuisine is breakfast. When most Westerners think of breakfast, images of toast, cereal, pastries, bacon and orange juice come to mind. In Vietnam, breakfast is a whole different ball game. A major difference in Vietnamese cuisine is the lack of dairy.
Milk, cheese, butter and yogurt are not staples in Vietnamese cuisine and often aren’t readily available in smaller markets and grocery stores., so many Western breakfast staples aren’t eaten often here. Vietnamese breakfast is usually savoury and people don’t shy away from stronger flavours such as pickled vegetables, marinated meat and spicy chilli peppers to eat first thing in the morning. Work and school start early morning, so many people go out for breakfast and grab a quick bite to eat on the way. Street vendors will open up early to sell their goods to passing commuters – always at a very cheap price!
Below I’ve listed some of the most common breakfast foods. This, however, is only a sampling of what options are out there – especially for the more adventurous eaters. So get your taste buds ready, and before you know it you will be a Vietnamese breakfast convert!
Pho is the most well-know Vietnamese dish in the world. The secret of its taste is a broth cooked on pork and beef bones (Pho Bo) or pork and chicken bones (Pho Ga) with seasoning and spices. Pho is served with rice noodles made of fragrant rice “gao te”, vegetables and meat pieces. Lemon and chilli are a “must” for the best taste of Pho.
Xoi (Sticky rice)
Xoi is one of the most popular breakfast dishes in Vietnam. Walking along the Vietnamese street you can see many street vendors carrying baskets of Xoi covered in banana leaves advertising their shops. There are two main types of Xoi: sweet and savoury. The sweet ones can be served with peanuts, corn. black urad beans, mug beans and more. The savoury one is with chicken, pork floss and/or quail eggs.
Also called Vietnamese sandwich or Saigon baguette, origins from colonial period in late 1800’s. It is made of Vietnamese baguette filled with meat options: pork, chicken, cha lua (Vietnamese sausage), meatballs, liver pate or fish patty and raw vegetables (mostly cucumber, tomato and coriander), often with mayonnaise or chilli sauce.
Bun (Rice Vermicelli)
Similar to Pho, Bun is also made of rice flour but has different shape. Pho has rather flat shape, whereas Bun is a more circular shape. There are many kinds of Bun, of which the most popular are: Bun Cha (vermicelli and grilled chopped meat), Bun Rieu (vermicelli and crab meat soup), Bun Thang (varied vermicelli), Bun Ca (vermicelli with fried fish), Bun Oc (vermicelli and snail) and Bun Bo (vermicelli with beef). The main ingredients of Bun are tomato, garcinia cowa and lemon lime, which give the soup its specific sour taste.
Also known as Cellophane Noodles or Glass Noodles, Mien has a similar shape to Bun but it is made of seaweed and cassava flour. Mien’s broth is similar to Pho but contains more sour spices and has a fishy taste because is mostly served with seafood. The most popular type of Mien in Vietnam is Mien Luon (Mien with eel) and the other variables are Mien Ngan (Mien with goose meat), Mien Cua (Mien with crab meat) or Mien Ga (Mien with chicken).
It is a paper-thin rice crepe filled with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms. Banh Cuon is served with Vietnamese ham cha lua, cucumber, boiled bean sprouts, cilantro, Vietnamese basil and topped with fried shallot. Banh Cuon is the most popular in Hanoi, where it originated.
Com Tam (Broken Rice)
Com Tam is the signature of Saigon’s street food. This rich and filling meal contains of broken rice (where the name comes from), honey marinated pork, shredded pig skins, egg meatloaf, fried eggs, cucumber and pickled carrots with a side of fish sauce. What is worth mentioning, Com Tam is one of few dishes in Vietnamese cuisine that are not eaten with chopsticks but with a knife and fork!
And of course, no breakfast is complete without a cup of Ca Phe, a flavourful coffee that can be found only in Vietnam.
Want to try a delicious Vietnamese breakfast? Then Apply now!
An estimated 33% of the world’s population (give or take) use chopsticks on a daily basis. For the hungry first time user, guzzling down your meal with two small wooden sticks can be a real challenge! Chopsticks might seem tricky to master and somewhat unnecessary for those of us that grew up with a knife and fork in hand, so why have they come to dominate the culinary habits of much of Asia?
Chopsticks are over 5000 years old! Long sticks of bamboo were first used in China to retrieve morsels of food from cooking pots on the fire. Later, evidence of chopsticks used as table utensils emerged as far back as 500-400 AD. It’s said the spread of popular chopstick use across China was down to population boom and fuel shortages; food was chopped into smaller pieces in an attempt to make the meagre rations go further (thus eliminating the need for knives at the table). Whatever the reason, people in Vietnam, Japan and Korea soon followed the trend not far behind!
Different types of chopsticks
Made of lacquered wood or bamboo, lightweighted but not giving the impression of fragility. Typically 9 inches long with a blunt, slightly tapered tip. A đũa cả is a large pair of flat chopsticks that is used to serve rice from a pot.
Typically unfinished wood, slightly rectangular top with a cylindrical blunt end. Doesn’t roll off the table so easily and more surface area means you’ve got a higher chance or transferring those tasty morsels all the way from the middle of the table right to your bowl!
Traditionally lacquered wood or bamboo, with a rounded top and a pointy end that’s perfect for de-boning fish. They’re a little bit smaller than the Chinese equivalent and you often find red pairs for the ladies and black ones for the gents.
The shortest model of the three, Korean chopsticks are usually stainless steel and flat or rectangular shaped. Potentially more hygienic but it definitely makes it harder to get a grip on your food!
FUN FACT: The king used pure silver chopsticks which would change colour if they came in contact with certain poisons. The people started using metal chopsticks to emulate him.
The behaviour etiquiette in a Vietnamese restaurant is not that strict as in Western countries, but there are some rules when using chopsticks that must be followed!
1) Don’t dig in the food on a plate, just get the piece which you want to eat.
2) Don’t pick one piece, then drop it back on the plate and change to another piece.
3) Don’t let your chopsticks be covered with oil, just try to keep them as clean as possible. If it happens your chopstics are very dirty and there are no communal untensils provided to pick up food, it is allowed to reverse them into the clean side.
4) Don’t use your chopsticks to make noise (like pretending to be a drummer using the bowls on the table!)
5) Don’t wave your chopsticks.
6) Don’t use chopsticks like a fork.
7) Don’t use your chopsticks as toothpicks.
8) Don’t lick or suck on your chopsticks.
9) Don’t put chopsticks vertically in any rice bowl ,since it resembles the incense sticks for the dead.
10) Don’t put the food directly from shared plate to your mouth, first put it in your bowl.
11) Don’t put chopsticks in a “V” shape after finishing your meal, it’s interpreted as a bad omen.
12) Don’t put your chopsticks in shared soup bowl.
Remember these guidelines and you will never have any problems in a Vietnamese restaurant!