Food aficionados in southern Vietnam will probably be familiar with the name Ăn Sập Sài Gòn. Its founder, the acclaimed Ho Chi Minh City food fanatic Nguyen Hoang Long, leads us to District 10, an accessible area with a distinctly local vibe. There, he shows us seven authentic, atmospheric and adventurous street food restaurants.
Read on in Vietnamese
Street food has a special place in the hearts of the residents of Saigon. Parallel with a rapidly developing city where you can find upgraded $100 pho or extravagant fusion bites is the continued popularity of makeshift storefronts and stalls, and rickety food carts with low plastic stools that sell delicious, inexpensive Saigon specialties.
The options are unbelievable. That’s especially true in District 10. So to help us decide where’s best, we enlisted the “living dictionary” of Saigon’s street food to tell us his favourite places to go. Nguyen Hoang Long, founder of Ăn Sập Sài Gòn, has been voted the most genuine local food reviewer and Vietnam’s cuisine and culture ambassador for his truthful guidance that has helped residents and visitors get to grips with street food Saigon-style. His 132,000 followers on Instagram not only get the best guidance for the most delicious local food, but also a window into Vietnamese culture. Plus, they also get to share Nguyen Hoang Long’s endless wonder about the food here.
The street food restaurants he’s chosen here are all in District 10. And he promises they will tantalise your tastebuds on their way to your heart. “Simply put, you will never go hungry when you’re around District 10,” he tells us as we set off.
1. Beef Bone Vermicelli Noodles At 436B/154 Lane Street 3/2
Xi quach means bones. It’s a favourite noodle topping preferred by locals. A dollop of beef bones gives flavour to the rich, nutritious, comforting and flu-fighting broth. That makes this restaurant a special place to seek out for any self-respecting noodle slurping enthusiasts.
“It’s like an orchestra of flavours,” Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s Nguyen Hoang Long says happily. There’s the enticing tender beef flank slices. Flavorful beef cakes. The slightly spicy broth. Fresh noodles. And those savory beef bones. Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s Nguyen Hoang Long drools at his bowl of noodles. There’s no-fuss and no sign at this tiny single-dish food stall run by a lovely old couple. Find it, as with all these places, in one of Saigon’s hottest food havens, District 10. But beware, despite having no sign, and being quite hidden, this place often gets crammed in the late afternoon and early evening hours. “It’s simply delicious, and a great way for tourists to crack the local scene.”
Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s verdict: “It’s simply delicious, and a great way for tourists to crack the local scene.”
Location: 36B /154 Lane, Street 3/2, District 10
Hours: 16.30 – 19.30
2. Beef Skewer Banhmi Cambodian Style At 41A Le Hong Phong
Delving even deeper into District 10 reveals even more exotic food borrowed from other cuisines and countries. Vietnam’s neighbour, Cambodia, is well-known for its luscious barbecued meats cooked over hot coals and served with a tasty hot sauce. The Vietnamese owner of Beef Skewer Banhmi Cambodian Style does an amazing job combining the crispy, crackly and buttery banhmi with the delicacy from his wife’s hometown – Cambodian beef cooked on skewers and crammed with sophisticated flavours.
“The beef is marinated with layers of ingredients. Lemongrass brings a hint of bright citrus flavour, fresh ginger adds a pungency and turmeric adds a mild bitterness,” Nguyen Hoang Long says approvingly. “It’s paired with pickled papaya and cucumber so you don’t have to be too much of a carnivore. It’s bloody cheap too, at only 10,000VND a skewer, and 5,000VND for a buttered baguette.”
Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s verdict: “Bloody cheap, and crammed with sophisticated flavors.”
Location: 841A Le Hong Phong, Ward 12, District 10
Price: 10,000VND per skewer
Hours: 10.00 – 22.00
3. Bun Bo Hue A Hung At 68/106 Đồng Nai Street
While pho is the soul of Vietnamese cuisine with its light yet flavourful broth, standing in contrast is the mighty bun bo Hue, a signature noodle dish from central Vietnam. This eclectic bowl gets its kick from lemongrass, shrimp paste and spicy sate, and there’s lots of umami flavour thanks to the pork and beef bone stock. Then there are the toppings. “This bowl has sliced brisket, crab balls, pork hocks, and pork blood. And finish the job with a tangle of herbs and a squeeze of Hue lime,” Nguyen Hoang Long nods as he squeezes the fruit onto his bowl.
Some people argue that the best bun bo Hue is not from the city from which it originates…but in Saigon. Nestled in a small alley behind BigC Dong Nai, District 10 lies the pure indulgence of Bun bo Hue a Hung. This is Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s favourite bun bo Hue to be found anywhere in Vietnam.
“The crab balls here are to die for – lumps of crab meat with light seasoning to retain that original umami taste. And there’s a homemade minced lemongrass sauce that is especially seductive – I once almost cried because it’s absolutely yummy but so spicy at the same time,” Nguyen Hoang Long laughs about his own noodle obsession.
A bowl here costs between 35,000 and 40,000VND. And it comes with all those generous toppings. “But you can try the special bowl for an extra 20,000VND, but don’t blame me if you are too full to get up later!” Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s Nguyen Hoang Long smiles cheekily.
Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s verdict: “If the best bun bo Hue is found outside Hue, then this might be the place.”
Location: 68/106 Đồng Nai, District 10
Price: 35,000 – 60,000VND
4. Bún Chả Hà Nội – Bún Chả Lê Lợi At 243/7 Tô Hiến Thành
“I did promise to make your tastebuds take flight,” Nguyen Hoang Long smiles as he leads us to Bún Chả Hà Nội – Bún Chả Lê Lợi. This place is a little Hanoi haven in Saigon. There’s the fatty grilled pork with vermicelli and a side dish of sweet and sour dipping sauce, commonly known as bun cha.
“If you want to show off how experienced you are with this dish, follow the Hanoians. The Northern way to eat bun cha is to dip both cha vien (ground pork patties) and cha mieng (grilled thin-sliced pork belly) in the broth, mix it with vegetables and noodles and then eat them together,” Nguyen Hoang Long instructs us.
Along with it, you can savour an appealing nem ran (fried spring rolls, northern style) for only an extra 8,000VND.” Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s founder says as he sits down to order a full bowl of bun cha. “The first bite will hit your tongue with a harmony of flavours from the dipping fish sauce and the crunchy, tangy pickles that cut through the perfectly marinated pork that will melt in your mouth.”
Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s verdict: “A harmony of flavors at this Hanoi haven in Saigon.”
Location: 243/7 Tô Hiến Thành, District 10
Hours: 07.00- 13.00
5. Bún Đậu 29 – Mắm Tôm Tóp Mỡ At 237 Tô Hiến Thành
Vietnam is known for its pungent sauces that can drive the less adventurous away. Besides the infamous local fish sauce, mam tom (fermented shrimp paste) is often regarded as the pinnacle of stinky delicious. And so bun dau mam tom, a dish that incorporates that stinky sauce as well as tofu, is a must for daredevils undisturbed by the idea of engaging with pungent shrimp flavours.
Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s Nguyen Hoang Long loves the presentation here. The food is served in round-shaped bamboo containers, called mẹt, which are commonly used to present food in the north. “A full mẹt consists of noodles served in chunks, cha com (green rice pork nuggets), thinly sliced steamed pork and long lon (steamed or baked pig offal). Customise your sauce with sugar and kumquat and remember to whisk the mixture afterward to bring out the flavour of this wholesome, unique dip.”
But what sets Bun Dau 29 apart from other bun dau places is their crispy top mo (pork skin and fat), giving the sauce additional fatness. “Your weighing scales may not like this, but the greasy dip makes my mouth water all the time,” An Sap Sai Gon confesses.
Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s verdict: “A sharing plate for the fearless foodie.”
Location: 237 Tô Hiến Thành, District 10
Price: Sharing dish for 460,000VND and a single serving 55,000VND
Hours: 10.00 – 22.00
6. Bánh Giò Đông Các At 243/7 Tô Hiến Thành
Banh gio (a pyramid-shaped rice dumpling) is a simple yet versatile snack if you feel like something savory. It is commonly found in Vietnamese delicatessens and sandwich shops, convenience stores and supermarkets. It’s best eaten fresh from the steamer, when its hot, soft and steeped in its banana-leaf wrapper. “But the best banh gio has to come from Hanoi,” Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s Nguyen Hoang Long concedes.
“Another staple of the Hanoi food scene, banh gio is my favorite dumpling comfort food. Fortunately, Banh Gio Dong Cac is owned by Hanoians who deliver the perfect soft rice dough encasing a savory pork, shallot and wood ear mushroom filling,” our favourite foodie smiles.
The portion is generous enough for an afternoon snack, but if you order a full portion with grilled pork, sausage and cucumber, it’s likely to last you till supper. And then there’s their secret sauce – the owner’s personal spicy concoction that turns this simple handful of ingredients into a marvelous morsel.
Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s verdict: “The perfect snack made by Hanoians whose special sauce elevates this into a marvelous morsel.”
Location: 243/7 Tô Hiến Thành, District 10
Hours: 07.00 – 19.00
7. Trứng Cút Mắm Me At 233 Hoà Hảo
Lots of Asian countries have food that foreigners might consider to be bizarre. Vietnam is no exception. Trung cut mam me (mini balut with tamarind sauce) is a Saigon favourite that’s also not for the faint-hearted. But Nguyen Hoang Long suggest giving it a try. “Because the aromatic scent of tamarind along with a spicy chilli kick harmonises the pungent smell of the fetal eggs. “
“It’s nutritious too,” Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s Nguyen Hoang Long claims while patiently queuing for a portion of six mini balut in its special sweet and sour sauce for only 10,000VND. “It’s a craving you have to fix right away,” he laughs.
And who doesn’t like a little crunchiness to their snack? But this humble food stall in District 10 goes one step further by frying the eggs before soaking them in the yummy sauce.
Ăn Sập Sài Gòn’s verdict: “The perfect place when you have a craving for one of Saigon’s stranger snacks trung cut mam me or fetus egg.”
Location: 233 Hoà Hảo, District 10
Price: 10,000VND for six mini balut.
Hours: 10:00 – 23:00
Photos by Nam Tran Duy and Khooa Nguyen. Edited by David Kaye.