Saigon is known as an adaptable and fast-developing city that keeps up with the world, even surpasses certain aspects with its quick-paced trends and passionate personality. But in this modern city, there are still traditional food stores that are doing their jobs to maintain the old soul of Saigon. Let me give you a glimpse into these five food stops, and you’ll understand why people say: “With age comes wisdom” (in this situation, with age comes deliciousness)!
The First Stop: Nuoc Mia 93 (over 60 years old)
English translation: Nuoc mia: sugarcane juice
Before getting into the intense feast below, let’s stop at Nuoc Mia 93 for a nice and gentle appetizer! Did you know that about 60 years ago in Saigon, Nuoc Mia 93 was the store that had the power to gather every Vietnamese generation? To this day, instead of dining and drinking in fancy food chains, many people, especially the middle-aged generations, still love spending time having a snack here to rewind their teenage memories.
Guests love this store because although it is located in the center of the city and surrounded by skyscrapers, it hasn’t been influenced by this modernity not one bit! The store retains its traditional Vietnamese house structure and decoration, big bricks and enameled tiles with stainless steel chairs. In their own way, this shop is preserving its old soul of Saigon.
From the name Nuoc Mia 93, you can tell that this store specializes in selling sugarcane juice. Unlike the industrialized sugarcane juice that you can easily find everywhere on the streets, the juicer in Nuoc Mia 93 still uses a manual sugar-mill from the 60s. This sugarcane juice is refreshing, and it pairs nicely with other snacks that they sell, such as goi bo (beef jerky), goi cuon (fresh spring rolls), ha cao (dumplings), bun rieu (crab paste vermicelli soup), and bo bia (popiah). Frankly speaking, although the food is good, it’s not considered “excellent”. But anyway, if you’re feeling hungry, give it a try since it has a variety of Vietnamese snacks for you to choose. Sipping a glass of sugarcane juice, munching some fresh spring rolls will make those sweltering afternoons into something to look forward to!
Location: 93 Cach Mang Thang 8, District 3
Opening Hours: 12 PM – 6 PM
Price range: 4,000 VND – 22,000 VND (0.2 USD – 1 USD)
The Second Stop: Banh Mi Hoa Ma (60 years old)
English translation: Banh mi: baguette
Banh mi is perhaps the most famous Saigonese food of all, and certainly one of the most addictive. Normally, banh mi is an easy-n-go food that is often seen in the hands of busy people walking around the city. But that doesn’t apply to banh mi Hoa Ma, which is located on a buzzing street near a quiet alley. Banh mi Hoa Ma was founded in 1958 by a Hanoian couple, so its taste and eating style is distinctly Northern: mild and gentle. The processing area is in the house, while the guests sit on small tables of the old Vietnamese style on two sides of the alley.
What I love the most about this store is that the vendor prepares the food right after the order, so it’s always hot and fragrant. On the sizzling pan, you will find six slices of tasty ham, two pieces of triangular fish cakes, two sunny-side-up eggs, sliced onions, and small fragrant rectangle-shaped pâté. The jambon is not salty, but the fish cakes are. Besides, the pâté here is pretty stiff! Do you know the reason why? Because only this kind of pâté can maintain its shape and flavor when it’s fried on a massive fire.
It will be a big mistake if I don’t mention the bread. The bread here is warm, crunchy, and gives off a typical aroma of flour and milk. There are two kinds of bread here: the first one is like the normal bread which appears everywhere on the streets in Saigon, and the other bread is one-and-a-half times bigger. If you choose the bigger of the two, the staff will carefully cut it into pieces to make it easier to eat. Taking a piece of bread, getting some jambon, fish cake, onions, pâté, and dipping it into the egg will obviously blow your mind! You can add pepper, chili sauce, or soy sauce to customize your baguette, but not too much or else your dish will be salty and lose its flavor! This dish goes incredibly well with Vietnamese coffee, so don’t forget to order one!
Hey my friend, come closer to me because I want to share with you my secret! If you sit at the back, you will be able to fully admire not only the morning life of Saigonese people but also the two legendary grandfather trees at the front of the store! The owners have been wondering about the name of those trees since their early opening days, but no one knows. Do you know what type of tree it is? If you do, please comment below or tell the owners. They’ll be really grateful!
Location: Alley number 53, Cao Thang street, District 3
Opening Hours: 6 AM – 11 AM
Price Range: 32,000 VND – 50,000 VND (1.5 USD – 2.4 USD ) for a baguette and 7,000 VND – 22,000 VND (0.3 USD – 1 USD) for a drink
The Third Stop: Banh Mi Bay Ho (over 80 years old)
Are you desperately looking for a loaf of authentic Saigonese bread? Park your bike near Banh Mi Bay Ho immediately, because this four-generation banh mi store will satisfy and drive you crazy (in a good way, unlike the heat of Saigon)! You might have thought that all banh mi are made equal, but boy you are wrong!
Opposite to the bread made in Banh Mi Hoa Ma, this bread doesn’t have the smell of milk. The pork pie and pâté are homemade, so although each meat has a distinctive flavor, they mix so well together. The chili is spicy but bearable. Cucumbers, green onions, and sour pickles are added to balance the fattiness of the pork, which makes people return time and time again.
The most impressive ingredient is the pâté. It’s sweet, salty, flavorful, soft, smooth, greasy, and addictive. I’m sure that you cannot find it anywhere else! The moment you take your first bite, the aroma of the pâté will rattle, and fill even your mind with its fragrance, it might even bring you to the heavenly gate of Saigonese cuisine. How about the price? Good news for you is that you don’t need to go bankrupt to eat well since the price of this tasty baguette is just 13,0000 VND (0.6 USD)! The owners are super friendly, so if you want extra pâté, just tell them!
I believe that many people have a love and hate relationship with this banh mi store. The baguette is sold only from 2 PM to 5 PM, and it makes me go nuts sometimes. The owners explained that they regard their baguette as a snack, not a real meal, so they don’t need to be open all day long. Although they have their reasonable excuse, I just can’t accept it! Their baguette is so savory that I just want to immerse myself in the flavors 24/7.
Location: 19 Huynh Khuong Ninh, District 1
Opening Hours: 2 PM – 5 PM
Price Range: 13,000 VND – 20,000 VND (0.6 USD – 0.9 USD)
The Fourth Stop: Com Chuyen Ky (over 60 years old)
English translation: Com: rice
One of the old Saigonese dishes is com tho (steamed rice in a small pipkin), which was influenced by Chinese people more than a hundred years ago. Drifting along the flow of time, this dish is thought to have been lost to the past. Fortunately, some of the long-standing eateries still retain this unique cooking style, and one of them is Chuyen Ky. This 60-year-old store is also a familiar meeting spot for many guests who want to try Chinese cuisine in Saigon.
Did you know that there is more than one way to cook rice? This store will revolutionize your thoughts on rice, it’s not just a boring side dish. The rice grain is put in a small pipkin with water, then it’s steamed until cooked. But the most fascinating thing about this store comes from the food. It is insanely good you guys, especially ham vi chung hot vit (steamed yellow croakers with duck egg), tom chien kho (fried shrimp), suon rang muoi (fried ribs with salt), and canh cai chua nau suon (pickled mustard greens with rib soup).
The fried shrimps and ribs made me speechless with its crunchy outer layer and tender texture! The chef gently pours in the typical sweet, salty, and a bit spicy Chinese sauce to flavor the protein. I can’t help but want to be a server here so that I could sneak a glance at their cooking process! The menu has up to a hundred kinds of food and drinks so you can try different dishes every day. The owner is super generous, she allowed me inside her kitchen! But it was such a pity that I didn’t have enough time to know their cooking secrets. Sorry guys!
Pro tip: There are three different bottles of sauce on the table: dark soy sauce (the bottle with a green cap), soy sauce (the tall bottle with a red cap), and vinegar (the short bottle with a red cap). Normally, you use dark soy sauce for vegetables, ordinary for meat, and vinegar for salad. Choose your sauce wisely or else your dish can be less delicious!
Location: 67 Ton That Dam, District 1
Opening Hours: 11 AM – 5 PM
Price Range: 60,000 VND – 150,000 VND (3 USD – 7 USD) for a dish
The Last Stop: Pho Hoa (nearly 50 years old)
English translation: Pho: The legendary Vietnamese rice noodle soup
If you travel to Vietnam without trying pho, will you have really gone to Vietnam? From the outside, Pho Hoa is just a normal store on the roadside, but once you try the soup, you’ll know the reason why it is always packed with foodies. This store is neatly located on the chaotic Pasteur Street. These guests have been visiting the store starting with their first date to the time they had their first grandchildren, which means that the quality is hands down superb!
Pho Hoa has exceeded my expectation about the quantity and quality of Saigonese pho! Your pho will arrive within a minute of ordering and the broth is hot, rich, refreshing, and flavorful at the same time. There are fresh vegetables, limes, and chili on your table to add to your food at no extra cost. The beef and chicken come in huge portions and it tastes so juicy and tender. Believe me, Pho Hoa is everything you need for an authentic Saigonese meal, so finishing a big bowl is just a breeze!
Location: 260C Pasteur, District 3
Opening Hours: 6 AM – 12 AM
Price range: 65,000 VND – 80,000VND (3.4 USD – 4 USD)
“You’re just too good to be true
Can’t take my eyes off you
You’ll be like heaven to touch
Oh I love you so much”
Frankie Valli might have composed the song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” for his girlfriend, but I want to borrow his lyrics to honor my lovers – these Vietnamese foods as well! There you go my friends, you now have my food list, be free and eat. In case you still have room left in your tummy (#respect), challenge yourself with these foods and drinks in Saigon:
If you enjoyed reading this article and would like some more fun info about what to see, do and eat (and a bunch of interesting cafes!) in Vietnam, follow us at the Christina’s blog!