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Spending some time in Ho Chi Minh City and want to get a taste of all of the local culinary offerings? Look no further than the Vietnam Guide Home hostel, as the staff members here know a lot of the great street food spots- all of which are in walking distance of the hostel! Every night at 19:10, a different staff member will take you around to a variety of restaurants and food stalls in the area. If you stay here multiple nights in a row, you can go on the food tour multiple times to try more things, as you are taken to a different set of restaurants every night. It’s also pretty amazing what you can get for around 100,000 VND (approximately 4.29 USD) so it’s an incredible bargain to get a nice, filling meal. So what sorts of foods can you expect to try on the tour if you decide to tag along? Here’s a guide to some of the offerings you can try here! Please note that for every entrée listed below, there will likely be a vegetarian option (although you likely won’t get something that closely resembles the dish that everyone else is trying). Please inform the tour guide if you’re allergic to peanuts or fish, as many of the entrées and some of the desserts contain these items. Keep in mind that cross-contamination education is not usually a thing here. If you’re severely allergic to these items, you should be especially cautious. Your tour guide will be happy to assist you with getting food that won’t make you sick, however- they’re very accommodating and kind people who want to help you have a great experience here.
Broken rice with pork rib (Cơm tấm Sài Gòn)
This delicious entrée is found at one of the sit-down restaurants on the food tour. The broken rice consists of rice (obviously!) pressed into noodle form, savory slices of pork, greens, various pickled vegetables, an egg roll or two, and fish sauce. The restaurant that we normally go to has fish sauce in large metal buckets on the tables covered by plates. While it’s perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing presentation, the fish sauce is fine to eat and it can add a nice flavor to your meal. When you hear the term “broken rice” it may sound like the food is defective in some way. I can assure you that this is not the case- it’s simply a cheaper variety of rice which is a product of milling process and it’s a pretty common ingredient in Vietnamese cooking. You won’t be disappointed if you give this food a try but keep in mind that it’s quite filling and you should make sure you’re saving room for the 2-3 other stops that you’ll be making on the food tour. You can expect to spend 35 000 VND on this item.
Bún Thịt Nướng
This is another delicious type of entrée that you might try when you join the food tour. It’s also a noodle dish (this time with cold vermicelli noodles) with grilled pork on top, some herbs such as basil and mint, lettuce, bean sprouts, and some fresh spring rolls. Fish sauce is commonly used to top off the dish, as well as some roasted peanuts, and yummy pickled carrots. Again, this dish is also quite filling and you should make sure to save room for the other stops on the tour. The dish will set you back 25 000 VND.
Bò Lá Lót
This item is also an entrée-sized portion, and I find that we go to the restaurant that serves this on almost every food tour. If you go a couple of nights in a row, you will almost certainly be able to give this food a try! The main part of the dish is fresh grilled beef rolled in “lolot leaves” (it closely resembles rolled grape leaves, which you might find in some Middle Eastern cuisines). You’ll get a package of rice paper sheets which are used to create a spring roll. First, take some cold vermicelli noodles (don’t be shy using your hands, they’re very sticky and it’s hard to be delicate about assembling them), one of the lolot leaf rolls, a piece of fresh lettuce and some mint. Next, roll the rice paper up to create a spring roll shape. It may take you a couple of tries to make a roll that’s tightly rolled and easy to eat- if you need help, your tour guide can demonstrate how to do this. Finally, when you have your roll, dip it in fish sauce and enjoy! Keep in mind that the rice paper stretches when it gets wet but it may tear if you’re not careful. This is probably one of my favorite items on the entire tour. Keep in mind that you will share a platter with one other person from the tour so you’re going to split the cost of the dish, which is 25 000 VND per person.
Chuối nếp nướng (grilled banana)
This delicious dessert item is a great complement to the meat-laden entrées that you might have tried earlier in the tour and it’s suitable for vegetarians and vegans. It consists of bananas grilled in thick coconut juice and it’s a very fragrant dish. It’s a sweet treat with healthy ingredients so you can enjoy this item guilt free! It should cost 10 000 VND for one portion.
Kem sôi dừa (Coconut ice cream)
Fun fact about me: I’m actually in heaven being in Southeast Asia because I will literally eat anything and everything with coconut in it. If you feel the same, this dessert will be particularly wonderful for you! It consists of coconut ice cream (with fresh coconut meat strips), purple sticky rice, and peanuts. The presentation is very cute- it’s served in a coconut shell bowl and comes with a free cup of coconut water. This costs 23 000 VND and is undoubtedly one of my favorite stops on the food tour. Enjoy!
While this offering actually originated in China, it’s made its way to Vietnam and the locals have put their own special twist on it. It’s a versatile dish, as it can be eaten as a snack, a breakfast, or a late-night offering after you get home from the bar! It consists of fried dough (my favorite!) cut into square shapes and served with papaya, pickled carrots, and chili, soy, or satay sauce. As this dish is fried, it can be quite heavy so if you’re getting too full, feel free to share with others (and your tour guides!). This should cost you 17 000 VND. Enjoy!
Snake Whiskey, Lizard Whiskey, and Banana Whiskey
The storefront that sells these beverages is actually kind of amazing- I have great respect for the hustle here. The business is actually a laundromat but they also have a sort of moonshine-type operation happening in front where you can take shots of various alcohols. They sell whiskey with dead snakes, whiskey with dead lizards and for the vegetarians/vegans out there, they even have a banana whiskey alternative! The strength of the alcohol is likely not standardized, as I believe it’s brewed on the premises (although I could be wrong about that). The standard price for the snake whiskey is 10,000 VND per shot (0.43 USD) but we seem to get a discount, as we pay 5,000 VND (0.21 VND)- likely since we bring them so much business! Try this local offering at least once to say that you’ve had the experience. It’s gained a bit of notoriety among the visitors at the hostel (for good reason, it’s obviously a novelty for most people).
This dish consists of finely ground rice mixed with water. Dusted with salt, the dough “cloth” is filled with shrimp, mushrooms cooked in spices, onions, and served with sauce. The item has a dumpling-type look to it and combines sour, sweet, salty, and spicy tastes. It’s a unique dish so definitely give it a shot if this sounds good to you! You can expect to pay approximately 15 000 VND for this offering.
Bánh Tráng Nướng
This dish is popular in HCMC and it’s a cheap way to fill up during a meal. It consists of rice paper, thin toasted bread, mixed vegetables, cheese, and eggs. It can also contain sausage, shredded chicken, seafood, or dried beef- it depends on the restaurant. It often contains chili sauce or tamarind sauce so this is a great dish for people who appreciate spice. It should cost 20 000 VND on the food tour.
Bánh Tráng Trộn
This delicious dish consists of a piece of rice paper cooked on a grill and filled with items such as quail eggs, shrimp, leafy vegetables, and hot sauce, as well as various spices. The man who makes this dish is extremely methodical about making these, and I personally think that watching him work is half the fun of ordering this dish! He has an intense level of muscle memory for cooking these, as he probably does it all day every day. He doesn’t even think about it anymore, he just does it. Also, I think watching him crack quail eggs with one hand is pretty cool, I strive to be a machine at doing that someday. For this dish, there are 3 spice levels: no spice, medium spice, and heavy spice (try the latter with caution, it will probably make you feel like your mouth is on fire depending on whether or not spicy food is a regular part of your diet). I normally choose the “medium spice” level, as the flavor is more manageable for my delicate little taste buds. This treat should cost 20000 VND.
“Doraemon” cake (pronounced “durimon”)
This item is a personal favorite of mine but do keep in mind that it’s quite caloric. This is a fluffy pancake filled with various ingredients (one time I got one with sour cheese one time it seemed to be filled with straight up butter!). It really depends on your preference- your tour guides will be able to tell you about all of the available fillings but I believe that the standard one is filled with butter. Happy eating/artery clogging!
If you’re looking to get all of the street food tastes of Ho Chi Minh City on a cheap budget, the Vietnam Guide Home food tour is an excellent opportunity for you. Try a different variety of entrées, desserts, and drinks every night that you stay at the hostel. You won’t regret giving this truly wonderful and (usually) healthy cuisine a try while you’re in HCMC! Enjoy your stay with us!
About the author:
I’m an American backpacker who has been traveling in South East Asia for the past 2.5 months. I left a job in finance to see more of the world and to teach English abroad. I’ve loved my experience in HCMC and beyond and I hope to share some of my experiences with prospective and fellow travelers.
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