When my friends from other countries come to visit me in Saigon, I usually take them to my secret coffee shops in old apartment complexes down one of these roads, where I often sit in a corner, read a book, or write something. There are a lot of cool and interesting things to be found in these small alleys, sometimes I even think about operating my own alley tour one day when I get bored of being a writer. But who gets bored of writing, especially about Vietnam?

saigon-alley
There are many secrets hidden in the alleys of Saigon

I’m writing this article to share with you my favorite places to hang out in the alleys of Saigon. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Vietnamese Spicy Noodle Soup (bun bo gio)  

Located just across Christina’s The Mothership, this fantastic bun bo cart usually saves our tummy in the afternoon or evening. A bowl of hot spicy soup with brisket beef (nam bo), pork/shrimp sausage (cha lua/cha tom), and pig feet (gio heo). It is also served with a dish of boiled mixed greens. This dish is perfect for a lazy afternoon when I don’t want to do anything but chill, sit in the door canopy, and watch the world go by.  

Personally, I like making my own dipping sauce with the spices provided on the table. I pour three soup spoons of fish sauce into the small bowl. Then, I add a little bit of dried chili and finish with a few drops of lime juice. To eat bun bo, add the vegetables into your bowl and taste while it’s still hot. Add more dried chili if you want more spice. However, you should be careful because just a very little amount of the dried chili can burn your mouth!  

On top of all that, a bowl of meat Vietnamese spicy noodle soup here only cost 23,000 VND (about 1 USD!) Who says that you can’t buy a good meal with one dollar? This cart just proves that good food should come at a good price. Besides, you can order a cup of delicious sugarcane juice or pennywort juice at the neighboring cart while eating here. A combo of bun bo and juice only costs 28,000 VND.

If you want to learn more about bun bo Hue and where to eat it in its original form, check out this great article. 

Find your food here:

Bun bo gio
Address: Alley 212B Nguyen Trai, District 1, HCMC
Business hours: 3 PM – 8:30 PM
Price: 23,000 VND

Alleys in Ho Thi Ky market

My best friend and I usually go to the alleys in the flower market to have dinner whenever we feel like eating but are not sure of what we really want. The alleys in Ho Thi Ky market are truly a foodtopia, where you can find plenty of dishes with cheap prices and good taste. Whether you are looking for something for dinner or just a snack food to sit down and chit-chat with your friends, you can expect to find it all here.

I usually have grilled pork rolls (nem nuong), Vietnamese pizza (banh trang nuong), and kumquat tea. Sometimes, if I’m lucky enough the cart selling soup in the opposite alley won’t have run out of food yet. I will also sample a portion of Vietnamese pig brain soup. But if that doesn’t sound delicious, team sweet tooth can expect to find a cart that offers Cambodian sweet soup in one of the alleys here!

If the food isn’t enough motivation, then the flower market should be. You will be surrounded by a lot of flowers spilling onto the streets out of the shops, sometimes even covering the ground. Therefore, after having food, you can buy a bouquet of flowers to surprise your honey as a random act of romance.

Find your food here:

Vietnamese Pizza
Address: 57/19 Ho Thi Ky, District 10
Business hours: 2 PM – 7 PM
Price: 13,000 – 17,000 VND

Grilled Pork Roll (Nem Nuong)
Address: 57/17 Ho Thi Ky, District 10
Business hours: 2 PM – 9 PM
Price: 10,000 VND

Vietnamese Pig Brain Soup
Address: 68/4 Ho Thi Ky, District 10
Business hours: 3 PM – 6 PM
Price: 36,000 – 60,000 VND

Cambodian Sweet Soup
Address: 57/21A Ho Thi Ky, District 10
Business hours: 2:30 PM – 9 PM
Price: 10,000 – 20,000 VND

The sea-snail alley

Hidden Gems of Saigon's Unique Alleyways
Delicious sea snail in the alley

Some people might advise you not to eat seafood in Saigon because it could cause food poisoning. However, if you are in Saigon I think you shouldn’t leave this city without trying the tasty sea snails! Does it make sense to eat sea snails in Saigon even though it is not a coastal city? I’m very serious about this. Sea snail dishes in Saigon are special because of the variety of ways in which they are cooked.

Here are some of my recommendations; try common periwinkle (oc mo) or crab (cua) sauteed with tamarind sauce (rang me) if you love a sour taste. Those who love BBQ feasts will not want to miss the grilled half-crenate ark topped with Vietnamese scallions and oil garnish (so long nuong mo hanh), grilled scallop with cheese (so diep nuong pho mai), or grilled shrimp with salt and chili pepper (tom nuong muoi ot). If you are looking for a fatty taste, I’m sure you will fall in love with sea snails stir-fried with coconut milk (oc len xao dua). For a proper dinner, you can also order a dish of fried noodles with seafood or a pot of Thai-style clam soup (ngheu hap Thai). Last but not lease, oysters are also very cheap in Vietnam. It’s time for an oyster party!

Sea-snail alley in District 8

There is a sea-snail alley in District 8, where you can find at least three families selling sea-snails. However, it is a little hard to find. Try to follow my instructions: When you arrive on Duong Ba Trac street, besides looking for the address, you can also look for a coffee shop called Nhat Nguyet. It is located at the beginning of the sea-snail alley. Upon arrival, you can either show local people the name of the cart you want to find or explore the alley by yourself. The portion servings here are not big but you can order many different dishes at the same time to share with friends.

Find your food here:  

Oc Tuyet
Address: 456 Duong Ba Trac, District 8
Business hours: 4 PM – 9 PM
Price: 20,000 – 30,000 VND

Oc Bao
Address: 456 Duong Ba Trac, District 8
Business hours: 9 AM – 9 PM
Price range: 20,000 – 30,000 VND  

Not in the mood for traveling further than District 1 for food? You can also check out Oc Dao. This place is a little pricey but the food quality is worth it.

Find your food here:

Oc Dao
Address: the end of alley 212B Nguyen Trai, District 1
Business hours: 10 AM – 11:30 PM
Price range: 60,000 – 110,000 VND  

In District 10, there is another sea-snail cart in an alley. They have the best fried noodle with melo melo (mi xao oc giac) in town! Make sure you eat it with the fish sauce they provide to enhance the flavor of your dish!

Find your food here:

Oc 157
Address: the beginning of alley 157, 3/2 street, District 10
Business hours: 4 PM – 7 PM
Price range: 25,000 – 80,000 VND  

Nha Trang Style Grilled Pork Roll – Nem Nuong Nha Trang

I found this awesome nem nuong restaurant on an evening wandering around Saigon with my close friend. At first glance, I was impressed with the bright and homie space decorated with dried flowers. The owner subtly designed his restaurant with a sink at the entrance, therefore you can wash your hands before wrapping and rolling your nem nuong.

 

nem-nuong-saigon
Nem nuong Nha Trang in Saigon

The superstar dish to order is definitely Nha Trang style grilled pork roll. Besides the meat, this dish comes with some veggies like lettuce, herbs, mango, cucumber, pickled carrot, vermicelli, fried rice paper rolls, and rice paper. It won’t be complete without a bowl of peanut sauce cooked in their secret recipe. This is how you can decipher whether the nem nuong is of high quality or not, just the sauce. Wrap everything on the dish in a piece of rice paper, roll it, and dip in the peanut sauce. Take a bite, close your eyes and feel the savory taste in your mouth. Right at this moment, you will feel that life is worth living!

saigons unique alleyways
Nem nuong at Oanh Vy

In addition, you can also find some other specialties of Nha Trang here, such as jellyfish noodle soup, fish cake noodle soup, central style desserts and more. The price is also very cheap in general. You will pay 50,000 VND for a set of nem nuong for one to two people.

Find your food here:

Nem Nuong Oanh Vy
Address: 245/4 Nguyen Trai, Nguyen Cu Trinh Ward, District 1, HCMC
Business hours: 10 AM – 2 PM and 4 PM – 8 PM
Price range: 40,000 – 50,000 VND  

Cafes Hidden in Alleyways

Even though there are countless numbers of coffee shops in Saigon, it is hard to find a place where I feel comfortable to sit for a long day. That’s why whenever I find one, I keep it a secret. I only reveal it to a few of my closest friends. Usually, these coffee shops don’t have many customers, regardless of the fact that the drinks are good and the service is great. I suppose they deserve more attention, and you, my friends, can be the ones to give them a little love.

Mo Coffee  

On a rainy day last year, when my band was looking for a quiet coffee shop to practice singing before our showcase, my guitarist took me to the lovely Mo Coffee. I fell in love with it straight after I opened the door and saw a cozy and light-filled room with a big window in the center. The owner has decorated the space with a lot of books and vintage items such as an old telephone, black and white photos and many small vases of flowers. It’s a cozy and retro corner in Saigon.

Picture yourself taking a sip of Vietnamese coffee and writing in your travel journal. There is also a piano for those of you who want to spontaneously play a piece of concerto. Because of all of these seemingly small details, I officially became their repeat customer. I often go to Mo Cafe to work, meet up with my friends, or to chill by myself.

saigon's unique alleyways
A corner of Mo Cafe

The only thing I don’t like about this coffee shop is the heat. Their AC doesn’t work very well so it’s a bit hot in the day time during summer. Still, I would rate Mo Cafe four out of five stars and recommend it to anyone who wants to find a shelter in Saigon.

Find your coffee here:

Mo Coffee
Address: Alley 353 Nguyen Trai, Nguyen Cu Trinh Ward, District 1, HCMC (First floor)
Business hours: 8:30 AM – 9:30 PM
Price range: 25,000 – 40,000 VND

Mam Cafe

There are many factors that make Mam Cafe one of the must-visit places in Saigon. First of all there’s Charlie, the friendliest dog in town. He won’t stop jumping on you and even licking your toes once the owner lets him meet you. Next is definitely the lovely vintage decoration that gives a cozy touch to this lovely place. Mam can be divided into four spaces: the terrace is ideal to have a sit and chill day when the Saigon heat is not insanely high. But even better? Their fair-trade beans are organic and purchases support political independence and sustainable development.

mam-cafe-saigon
Inside Mam cafe

Those who are looking for a co-working space can share the big table with other nomads or choose a table for yourself in the table area. If you want to be a lazy cat, lay out on a soft bed and read a good book. Finally, maybe you fancy a lovely garden with natural light? My dear Alice, you can find your wonderland in the backyard.

I have been to a lot of coffee shops since I love coffee culture. I noticed that music is one of the things that helps me decide whether I want to come back or not. Unlike most of the other shops that replay top hits or cheesy Vietnamese songs, Mam Cafe’s playlist is always relaxing, allowing you to unwind. It is important because it helps me stay focused and therefore work better.

Mam Cafe’s Vietnamese coffee is really good. I’m really addicted to it (not because of the caffeine) but it is very strong. So I suggest not drinking it at night. Also, if you can’t handle strong coffee and don’t want to feel nauseous, you should order something else instead of coffee. This shop also caters food for the hungry traveler for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Find your coffee here:

Mam Cafe
Address: 55/15 Le Thi Hong Gam, Nguyen Thai Binh Ward, District 1
Business hours: 7:30 AM – 10 PM
Price range: 35,000 – 69,000 VND

If you have a free day in Saigon and don’t know what to do, I recommend spending it on checking out the alleys in Saigon. You can either follow my suggestions above or explore it by yourself. Don’t be afraid of getting lost, the alleyway will lead you to another big main road….or a whole new world.

Pro Tips:

Do:

  • Ask for the opening time of some alleys. A few will close at certain times for security purposes. I can’t even pin down the times, so I always suggest going on the early side.

Don’t:

  • Go to the alleys at night since it might be dangerous or risky.
  • Enter the dark alleys alone as it can be insecure.

Besides local food, are you curious about where the Saigonese usually go shopping? Check out this article to discover the best local markets and spots to find great deals. Here are some more articles you may be interested in:

The Unspoken Rules of Cho Lon (Saigon’s Chinatown)

Trying the Unique Drum Roasted Coffee 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!

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