One of the best decisions we made for our Ho Chi Minh City travel itinerary was to book a street food tour on the first full day we were on the ground. We’ve learned from past experience that a tour or some exploration activity like a long hike is a great way to get your bearings and get acclimated to your travel destination. Saigon Street Eats came highly rated both online and in two travel guides. Contacting them to book a tour was easy via their website.
The Street Food 101 tour is a useful introduction as we were a bit nervous about how to find good vendors in a city that has multiple street food carts on every block. Our tour began promptly that evening as one of the guides met us in our hotel lobby and we hopped in a cab to meet in a central location. Then we met our motorbike driver(s) and were on our way.
Our guides took us to District 3, which is a city district known for street food. (We were staying in District 1, which is a district known for tourists.) We stopped at a small square where families were hanging out outside, listening to music, chatting, and enjoying the sunset. You can really get a sense of community that still exists in this culture, with multi-generational households still sharing living and outdoor space.
The tour included five stops and we were absolutely stuffed by the time we got to stop number three. They weren’t kidding when they advised to “arrive hungry” for this tour.
The tour begins with a quick walk around the neighborhood and a look at daily life. Our first food stop was a seat in the back of a stall selling Vietnamese pancakes. The open kitchen, seen in the video below, faces the street so that passers-by can see the food as well as drive or walk up and order from the cook herself. You can hear our guide explain what makes a good/safe street food vendor in the video.
After pancakes, it was a walk to another spot in the neighborhood at a bahn mi stall. The tour is vegetarian-friendly and any food item that may contain meat, like the pork in bahn mi, can be ordered without meat. There were no seats at this stall, so you take your sandwich in a plastic bag and eat as you walk. This sandwich was – hands down – the best bahn mi I have ever tasted and it goes to show that you can’t judge a food stall by its looks. This vendor was tucked back and very nondescript – you’d never know their bahn mi was so good unless you stopped and tried it!
The third stop was a seafood stop. The first three stops were all within walking distance to one another. This stall is located in what is almost like a “seafood alley” where there are multiple seafood food stalls. The thing I couldn’t get over was throwing my shells on the ground. Apparently it makes it easier to clean up and turn the tables faster since the staff can just remove the table and chairs and then sweep the floor, rather than wiping tables and clearing plates. Umm, ok, but it is still against every table manner that I’ve ever learned.
The fourth stop consisted of Bún bò Huế soup. At this point, my stomach was so full and my eyes were crossing, but how can you say no to delicious beef noodle soup?
The fifth and final stop was at a very busy and popular ice cream shop. We were so full at this point that I barely remember the ice cream. My stomach was ready to pop.
Overall, it was a fantastic time, though. It was a great idea to have our first night in HCMC consist of a street food tour. We also got a lesson in crossing the street in this city of 7 million motorbikes who interpret a red light as merely a suggestion, as well as several adventures on the back of a motorbike. It was a perfect introduction to the food and culture of this amazing city.