A Local’s Guide to Real Saigon Street Food

This is Vietnam’s most authentic dining and it really doesn’t get better than what you see in the street. It’d be a waste not to expand outside of the usual pho and noodle dishes in this wondrous city filled with colorful dishes and ambiguous fragrances.

With legs too long to bend and forced to extend under the table, and butts numb on plastic stools, sweaty patrons circumvent dinner. Sitting only 30 cm above the ground, drunken diners focus intently at the dish in the middle of the table. It’s a common sight on the Saigon street food scene.

This is Vietnam’s most authentic dining and it really doesn’t get better than what you see in the street. It’d be a waste not to expand outside of the usual pho and noodle dishes in this wondrous city filled with colorful dishes and ambiguous fragrances.

Let’s take a culinary journey to expose Saigon’s authentic, wonderful (and sometimes weird) street food. Plus some places where you can go to get them.

Sticky rice with crispy chicken skin (15,000 VND/serving)

Sticky rice with crispy skin chicken is one of the most popular street food

10am to 3pmUnnamed, Hem Chung Cu Hoang Dieu, Ward 9, District 4

Soft and crispy, salty and sweet, xoi da ga gion at this store ticks all the boxes. As the grains cook in a savory bone broth, the soft sticky rice pulls apart to release an aroma of sweet, chicken steam. The textures perfectly complement one another. The vendors finish this delicacy with marinated crispy chicken skin, and scatter crunchy, fried shallots and sweet, oiled spring onions across the dish. It’s no wonder this hawker stand requires a well-deserved, long wait.

Skewered pork rice paper scrolls (25,000 VND/10 scrolls)

Skewered pork rice paper scrolls with spicy sauce

11am to 8pm, Unnamed, Corner of Huynh Thuc Khang and Nam Ki Khoi Nghia, District 3

Banh trang lui is a delectable and savory treat on-the-go. Garlic minced pork and thinly-sliced Chinese mushrooms and vegetables fill these soft rice paper scrolls. They burst with flavor. These bite-sized explosions come on skewers of four, and are best enjoyed when dunked into the sticky and sweet chili dip provided.

Duck embryo in tamarind sauce (15,000 VND/serving)

Duck embryo with tamarind sauce at a vendor on Saigon street

3pm to 11pm, Hot Vit Lon Kim Thao, 104 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien, District 2

Yes, you’ve read correctly. Duck embryo, also known as hot vit lon, is a ball of rich goodness. This Saigon street food is bizarre to some. But three components unite to create an equilibrium of textures: a creamy semi-hard yolk, crunchy white albumen and a juicy, sweet duck fetus.

If you’re skeptical about trying this traditional Vietnamese dish, the taste is slightly masked by a delicious sweet and tangy tamarind sauce (sot me). More flavor comes from a fresh, peppery Vietnamese coriander (rau ram), and the tastes and textures dance in sync and celebrate in your mouth. If you’ve come this far, you may as well take the full ride and wash it down as the Vietnamese do — with a cold, crisp beer (or two).

Beef wrapped in betel leaves (40,000 VND/serving)

Beef wrapped in betel leaves

5pm to 11pm, Bo La Lot Tan Quy, 47/20, 2 Tan Quy, District 7
The Saigon breeze, from meters away, carries the smoke released from a bo la lot grill. Each roll of heaven boasts a ground beef patty infused with spices and lemongrass, and wrapped in a musky, green betel leaf. The tight pockets are then skewered and grilled. As the leaf-skin soaks up juices from its beef filling, the charred rolls create the smoky and moist bo la lot over a hot grill.

Commonly served with woven vermicelli noodles (banh hoi) and fresh herbs, you can wrap them with the beef rolls in a crunchy lettuce leaf then dip the combo into a sweet fish sauce. Delicious! (Note: this dish may contain peanuts).

Sea snails (50,000 VND to 100,000 VND/serving of tapas)

Sea snail is very popular in Saigon

9am to 9pm, Oc Dau 3, 18 Nhieu Loc, Ward 3, Phu Nhuan
Oc Dau 3 is the name if seafood is your game. The place hosts a variety of oc (sea snails), crustaceans, oysters and more. Patrons at this hawker stall can select from mounds of freshwater treasures that tingle the taste buds. Sometimes they char them, other times they toss them in a variety of dressings. And always, the sweet creatures dance in pools of your choice including: coconut, lemongrass, garlic, butter, chili, fish sauce, spices…the list goes on!

The snails are often part of a big night of drinking, and the more the merrier. This allows guests to share and enjoy the mouth-watering sea jewels, tapas style. A variety of dips provided include lemon salt and pepper, chili vinaigrette, sweet fish sauce and spicy green sauce. It may take some practice at first to perfectly use the tiny metal forks and pull the little buggers from their shell. But the result is always satisfying, as the innards crunch and slosh in their marinades.

Offal congee (50,000 VND/serving)

Offal congee porridge

11am to 7pm, Chao 170B Vo Thi Sau, Ward 8, District 3

Headache? Flu? Stomach ache? House on fire? Eat some congee! Any Vietnamese person will tell you that their parents raised them to believe that Chao is the elixir for all life’s problems, major and minor. “An chao di (Eat some congee),” they say. This savory Vietnamese porridge made up of thick rice in broth ranges from those made of traditional meat to seafood and even to frog. But at Chao Long 44, it’s all about the pig offal (long) and blocks of pork blood.

Cooked over time, the rice grains have gradually absorbed the flavors of long and pork bones to release an organic sweetness. Each spoon of light porridge is a cuddle for the soul. The chewy texture of organs and gelatinous cubes of blood curd adds an extra layer of textural satisfaction. Each bowl is finally garnished with bean sprouts and chopped shallots and a sprinkle of white pepper for spice, adding crunch and freshness. A tip to anyone daring enough to try chao long: order a side of dau chao quay, a deep-fried breadstick puff to dip into your chao. And soak up all that goodness.

Saigon street food waits for no one

And there you have it folks. Some of Saigon’s weird, wacky and wonderful food. Vietnam has no true differentiation between breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper, so any time is a good time to try something new. Who knows? You may even discover the Vietnamese within you.

A general rule of thumb when eating Saigon street food: the closer you sit to the ground with as little personal space possible, the more flavorsome and authentic the dish will be. So what are you waiting for? Let’s order. “Chi oi!”