The Best of Saigon Cuisine: What to Eat and Where to Find Them
Come to Saigon, feel Saigon taste, and taste the best cuisine. If Saigon cuisine is something not familiar to you, you should not miss this article. It is all about Saigon cuisine: how is the Saigon cuisine taste, what to eat, and where to find them.
- 1. About Saigon cuisine
- 2. Top 7 typical dishes to try in Saigon
- 3. Saigon cuisine restaurants: Top 5 restaurants in Saigon.
Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City, is a popular tourist destination due to its fascinating culture, classic French architecture, and sleek skyscrapers as well as rooftop bars and fantastic local Vietnamese cuisine. If you plan to visit Saigon in the future or are a 1st-time traveler in Saigon, you should read this article. It will give you general information about Saigon cuisine from the specialty of Saigon cuisine to typical Saigon dishes and popular restaurants in Saigon. Let us explore Ho Chi Minh city with us!
The taste of Saigon cuisine
1. About Saigon cuisine
The origins of Saigon cuisine
Saigon cuisine is a mixture of different cuisines from different countries. In the tenth century, Mongolia invaded the north of Vietnam and brought beef into ingredients for food in the north and the whole country. China dominated Vietnam for 1000 years, brought the use of chopsticks, cooking techniques such as stir-frying and deep-frying.
In the sixteenth century, the French came and they introduced foods such as potatoes, tomatoes, asparagus, snow peas, baguettes (French bread), paté, coffee with cream, milk, butter, custards, and cakes.
In the 1960s and 1970s during the Vietnam War era, the U.S. military introduced ice cream to Vietnam. Saigon cuisine is also affected by cuisine from neighboring countries like Laos, Cambodia, Thailand in the way they cook or use ingredients like spices, chili, coconut milk. Some dishes follow styles from other countries like Cambodian (Khmer) egg noodles, Indian curry dishes.
There is a mix of diverse cuisine in Saigon
Main ingredients of Saigon food
Thanks to the warm weather and fertile soil of Saigon and other southern provinces of Vietnam, Saigon has a variety of fruits, vegetables, and livestock in its ingredients to make various dishes. The food here is often vibrant and flavorful, with liberal uses of garlic, shallots, and fresh herbs. Fresh herbs that are commonly used are mint, cilantro, basil, lime leaf, lemongrass, green onion, perilla leaf, turmeric, ginger, Saigon cinnamon, and tamarind pulp. Moreover, a long coastline makes seafood a natural staple for people in this region. Lots of famous dishes in the Saigon are made from fish and seafood like banh khot or bun mam.
How Saigon food is made
The Saigon cook their food in a variety of ways: deep fry, stir fry, boil, steam, however because of the tropical climate in the south, Saigonese prefers simple cooking methods. Foods in Saigon are cooked for a shorter length of time than in other parts of the country. Saigonese prefers quickly grilling or eating raw. They also try to use a minimal amount of oil while cooking. They aim to preserve the freshness and natural taste of food as much as possible.
Grilling is a popular way to make Saigon food
The unique taste of Saigon cuisine
Saigon food is sweeter than any food in Vietnam. It is because of the habit to add more sugar and coconut milk to the food. People say things get sweeter in the South, it is right for both food and Saigonese. They are more laid back and happy. You can also find the food here spicy because Saigoners are not afraid of being a little heavy-handed with the seasoning like chili or pepper.
Food with sugar is a favorite dish of Saigonese
What makes Saigon cuisine well-known
A little sweet and spicy in Saigon cuisine is the attraction of Saigon food. Every dish follows the Yin and Yang principle, where Yin food is cool and expanding and Yang food is warm and contracting. Each dish has to be a perfect balance of the five taste elements: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy. Another thing to make Saigon food outstanding from others is the way Saigonese use spices and herbs to add to each dish. It is the fresh spices and herbs, not the dried ones that give the food better flavor. From the street vendors to the chefs in luxury restaurants, they have their own recipes and secret to make their own dishes.
2. Top 7 typical dishes to try in Saigon
2.1 Pho Saigon noodle soup
Pho, a traditional dish of Vietnam is undoubtedly the most well-known Vietnamese dish overseas. The main ingredients of this legendary soup noodles are broth, noodles, and some slices of meat. It can be beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp. Although its origins are from the north, the southerners have adapted it to their own tastes. When Pho came into Ho Chi Minh, it still keeps the original flavor, but Saigoners add a dish of raw vegetables to serve with the noodle soup, including odor ship, basil, and bean sprouts. Pho 24, Pho 2000, Pho Hoa, Pho Quyen are among the best restaurants for this noodle soup in Saigon. The average price of a bowl is 2.5 USD.
Pho Saigon noodle soup
2.2 Com tam (broken rice)
Com tam is a simple and popular dish in Saigon. People enjoy it any time of the day, but particularly in the morning. It is broken rice served with a 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). On top of the meat, there are several customary ingredients such as finely sliced cucumber, tomato, and pickled vegetables. It is normally served with a small bowl of fish sauces on the side. This dish is quite reasonable starting from 2 USD.
Com tam broken rice
2.3 Banh mi (Saigon Sandwich)
Banh mi is available almost everywhere in Saigon, it is something you should not miss when you are there. The bread is usually baked to be hot and crispy, then stuffed with spices, butter, meat, sauce, and vegetables (cucumber, cilantro, scallion). There is a variety of meat filling for banh mi to chose from: roasted pork belly (heo quay), fried fish with turmeric and dill (cha ca), boiled sausages (cha lua), meatballs (xiu mai), boiled chicken (thit ga), fried egg (trung op la), grilled pork loin (thit nuong), and chinese barbecued pork (xa xiu). A loaf of bread usually costs from 0.5 to 1.5 USD.
Banh mi 100 USD at An An Sai Gon
2.4 Goi cuon (Fresh Roll Salad)
Salad roll ranks among Vietnam’s most famous foods and is perfect for a hot summer day. Goi cuon is famous for its freshness that the vegetables bring to the rolls, with the purest combination of shrimps, fresh vermicelli, lettuce, and a thin slice of spring onion, they are all wrapped in a very delicate and gentle piece of rice paper which is the star of this dish. It is served with a small cup of dipping sauce which is a mix of freshly ground chili and hoisin-based dipping sauce topped with crushed peanuts. In some restaurants in Saigon, they barbecued strips of pork wrapped up with a green banana and star fruit and then dunk in a rich peanut sauce. Price starts from 2 USD.
Goi cuon Fresh Roll Salad
2.5 Hu tieu Nam Vang (Rice Noodles)
Nam Vang is the Vietnamese name for the city of Phnom Penh because the dish was originated from Cambodia and migrated to Southern Vietnam. Now, it became one of the most popular dishes in Saigon. The highlight of this food is the broth. Lighter in flavor and a touch sweet, the broth is made from pork instead of beef. The pork rib is the main meat ingredient, and it is topped with sliced pork shoulder, a whole pork chop, wonton dumplings, meatballs, shrimp, squid, or fish. You can even mix up the hu tieu noodles with some pho or mi (Chinese egg noodles) noodles. It is about 1 USD for a bowl of hu tieu.
Dry Hu Tieu Nam Vang
2.6 Banh xeo (Sizzling Cake)
Banh xeo is named for the sizzling sound the pancake batter makes when the rice flour pours into the hot frying pan known as the wok. It is giant bright yellow affairs, stuffed with pork, prawn, and bean sprouts. To eat the pancake, tear off or cut it into manageable slices, place it in the center of a rice paper or a lettuce leaf, add a selection of basil, balm, perilla leaves and roll it up. Dip the roll in the nuoc cham dipping sauce. The pancake is about 1 USD.
Banh xeo Sizzling cake
2.7 Sui cao (Jiaozi)
Sui cao is a kind of Chinese dumpling that has a thin cover and a meat kernel. Sui cao can either be boiled, steamed, fried, or cooked with noodle soup. In the past, it was cooked during Chinese New Year’s Eve. People hide a clean coin in a jiaozi for the lucky person to find. But, now this dish can be made all the time during the year and throughout the world. When it comes to Saigon, people slightly change it by mainly boiling jiaozi, serving it with light sweet bouillon and bok choy.
Sui cao Jiaozi
Book Ho Chi Minh City Food Tours to enjoy the best food in Saigon
3. Saigon cuisine restaurants: Top 5 restaurants in Saigon.
3.1 Ngon Restaurant
Ngon Restaurant is one of the famous and well-established restaurants in Saigon. Ngon means ‘delicious’. This restaurant is located inside a refurbished mansion with lotus ponds next to The Reunification Palace. It serves authentic Vietnamese local cuisine stylized like street food but in a hygienic ambiance. Highlight on the menu of this restaurant is a variety of noodles, rice dishes, fresh spring rolls, Hue noodles, and black pepper crab and finger food at a reasonable price. Prices for main dishes start from 50,000 VND.
- Opening Hours: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
- Address: 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1
3.2 Cuc Gach Quan
Cuc Gach restaurant is always in the top 10 of the best restaurants in Saigon. It is more popular after Anjelina Jolie and Brad Pitt came to eat here during their visit to Vietnam. The restaurant is an old French colonial house, restored with a lot of recycled material. It has different rooms, courtyards, plants, and ponds. The atmosphere is simple but sophisticated, so is the food, which is simple, fresh, traditional, and refined. Cuc Gach Quan menu is based on vegetables, not using sodium glutamate and other chemical preservatives. Price is about 200,000 to 320,000VND.
- Opening Hours: 9:00 am – 11:30 pm
- Address: 10 Dang Tat, Tan Thanh, District 1
3.3 Anan Sai Gon
Anan in Vietnamese means “eat eat”. The reason why the restaurant has that name may because you can not help eating in this restaurant. The restaurant specializes in street food-inspired dishes created by the award-winning chef Peter Cuong Franklin. It is located right in the middle of a wet market, Cho Cu, making it easily accessible to the freshest ingredients. Fresh ingredients incorporating with French culinary techniques creates an imaginative cuisine for An an. In this restaurant, you can find the controversial 100 USD banh mi, a Da Lat-style margarita pizza (125,000 VND), or the special pho (275,000 VND), a chocolate egg (125,000 VND). The restaurant has a rooftop bar where you can enjoy cocktails and cold beer.
- Opening Hours: 5:00 pm – 0:00 am
- Address: 89 Ton That Dam, Ben Nghe, District 1
3.4 Di Mai Saigon
Di Mai, aunt Mai in English is new in Saigon, but it now gains its spot on the list of Best Restaurants in Saigon. The restaurant follows a vintage style. The food is varied, with a lot of local delicacies. It is a great place for light lunch or casual dinner with friends. One of the best food in this restaurant is banh mi which differs from other on the way the chefs filling the warm, flaky bread with honey-glazed tofu, fish cakes slathered in dill, and peanut satay sauce or lemongrass roasted chicken in the bread. Other attraction on the menu is the appetizer platter: fish cake, beef salad, seafood, and grilled pork spring rolls, roasted duck salad, and dried shredded beef papaya salad. Price for spicy grilled chicken is 195,000 VND while spring rolls dish is 78,000 VND.
Opening Hours: 07:30 am – 10:00 pm
- Dì Mai Ben Thanh Times Squares: 136-138 Le Thi Hong Gam, District 01.
- Dì Mai Vincom Center Landmark 81: L02-03, 772 Dien Bien Phu, Binh Thanh District.
- Dì Mai Crescent Mall: L3-54, Crescent Mall Phase 2, 101 Ton Dat Tien, District 7.
Di Mai restaurant
3.5 Secret Garden Saigon
Secret Garden Restaurant is located on the top floor of an old apartment building. It is a garden with beautiful decoration of lanterns, greenery, and wooden furniture in the heart of Saigon, walkable to Ben Thanh market, or the Reunification Palace. The Secret Garden offers traditional "home-style" Vietnamese food at a reasonable price. If you are looking for a place to try authentic Vietnamese food in a cozy place with friends or families, this place is highly recommended. Bo Xao Ot Xanh, Goi du du tom thit are among famous dishes in this restaurant. Price for a drink is about 30.000VND and an appetizer or salad is 80.000VND.
- Opening Hours: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
- Address: 158 Pasteur Street, Ben Nghe, District 1.
Secret garden restaurant in Ho Chi Minh city
Saigon food in particular and Vietnam food, in general, is one of the most fascinating parts of Vietnam. Together with cuisine from other parts of Vietnam, Saigon cuisine creates a unique Vietnamese cuisine. You will not be able to feel that until you taste it. So, plan a trip and take a South Vietnam tour or Ho Chi Minh City Tour to enjoy Saigon Cuisine.
Image sources: Internet