How to Eat Like a Local in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnamese cooks in a steaming hot street food marquee © Michael Davis-Burchat / Flickr
Vietnamese cooks in a steaming hot street food marquee © Michael Davis-Burchat / Flickr
Photo of Isabelle Sudron
16 January 2017

Dining, eating and snacking play a large part in Vietnamese culture. Here are five simple ways to chow down like a local in Ho Chi Minh City.

In Vietnam, eating is an essential part of family life, social gatherings and dates. In fact, rather than asking others ‘how are you?’, the Vietnamese will often greet their friends with ‘have you eaten yet?’ With food and dining playing such an important part in everyday life, eating like a local is one of the best ways to experience the culture in Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon).

Vietnamese cooks in a steaming hot street food marquee | © Michael Davis-Burchat / Flickr

1. Go where the locals go

In Western culture, it’s common to search out a restaurant that has good online reviews. In Ho Chi Minh City, and Vietnam in general, word of mouth is the highest form of endorsement. Recommendations from a local are much more likely to offer a real taste of Ho Chi Minh City’s dining culture than the places listed online.

However, if you’re struggling to find local recommendations, simply head to the busiest spot on the street! The residents of Saigon vote with their feet, and the best places to eat tend to be the ones that are full to the brim almost every day of the week.

2. Don’t judge a book by its cover

Many of the most renowned places to eat in Vietnam are not fancy restaurants or five-star establishments but small, family-owned eateries. These places usually appear to be nothing more than a room full of plastic stools and tables, spilling out on to the pavement. But although they may not be much to look at, often they provide some of the best local dining experiences (and cuisine) in the country.

Pull up a stool! | © Paul Gallow / Flickr

3. Budge up

One of the best things about Ho Chi Minh City’s street food scene is that there’s always space for one more person. Even when somewhere is overflowing with diners, the staff always seem to be able to magic up enough space for another table. It may take a little manoeuvring to squash yourself into the crowd, followed by folding your limbs in half to perch on a miniature stool, but it’s worth it – what better way to experience authentic Vietnamese dining than amid a bustling crowd at a local restaurant?

4. Try the ‘bestseller’

When it comes to menus in Ho Chi Minh City, sometimes less is more. Some of the best restaurants only offer one or two dishes, and the fantastic flavour of their bestseller normally explains why. Don’t be surprised if the food from the simple restaurant that only serves one thing is much tastier than the restaurant that plates up 100 dishes.

5. Throw everything in your bowl!

Occasionally, visitors come away from Vietnam complaining that the food lacked flavour. But this is likely to be because some restaurants allow customers to season food to their own taste. So, if you find yourself surrounded by condiments, salads and spices, use them!

Flavour your food with the many options on your table | © Snips / Wikimedia Commons

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