Top 10 Food Recommendations for Ho Chi Minh City

It’s high time I wrote a post about this.snails eat

Every year, a few friends say they’re traveling to Vietnam, and since I used to live there, ask me for my top tips for traveling in Ho Chi Minh City. I’m more than happy to share recommendations; Vietnam will forever hold a special place in my heart. But as I’m sure both my Vietnamese and international friends who have lived in Vietnam will tell me—this list is far from complete.

Below started as a list given to a guy I was talking with on OKCupid (I really only gave him this list and then forgot to talk to him afterwards, whoops), and then evolved as other friends asked for recommendations in Ho Chi Minh City. While mostly favorite foods and quick tips and potentially outdated, the list has been vouched for by a friend currently living there (“pretty spot on” in his opinion)—the snails place is his recommendation, so you know who to blame if you need to 😉

Have a GREAT time; I know you’ll love it! Don’t forget to tell me your new favorites.

Quick Tips:


Causing trouble my first time driving a bike

Clearly causing trouble my first time driving a bike

Each building has their addresses on a sign above the door, which makes it easy to get around. Alleyways have really quirky addresses, but you can generally figure it out. The numbers work it’s way up from alleyway to street (to potentially even larger street). Find common words for road, street, district here.

Take motorbike taxis, or rent your own, but be sure to bargain for absolutely everything (for my China friends, even more so than China). You’ll find people friendlier than in China, but Vietnam is still a developing country so just keep an eye out. Vietnam is not a violent country by any means (I never felt like I was in violent danger), but do be careful of your stuff.

Motorbike thieves will try to pinch your stuff when you’re walking down the street. My friend got dragged by her shoulder bag late at night when a thief grabbed it while she was walking. My older expat friends have told me if this was the case, just drop your bag—it’s not worth it to get dragged. Never be scared, but just a heads up; keep things close to your person (bags/backpacks on your front, etc). I recommend a drawstring/cleat bag for this purpose.

Local Art

Vietnam also has some beautiful local art, infused with both local and French flavors from the colonial era. One of my favorite things to do was to wander around local art galleries. I bought a few beautiful paintings on silk, which I brought home for gifts (just keep them rolled up in a tube). Naturally I bought mine on the beach in Nha Trang when a lady came up to me and said, “Wanna buy some paintings?” But actually, it was a great decision, and I was able to bargain down to get three at a great price.


I lived on an alley off of Mac Dinh Chi close to the intersection of Dien Bien Phu. There’s a park across the street where they played badminton in the morning—so much fun. If you wake up early enough (before 7), you can join them before they take down the nets; they’re very friendly.

The Main Event: FOOD

Vietnamese food is AMAZING. As is their coffee. Street food is always better than restaurant food in Vietnam, IMHO.

Crabs are delicious!

Crabs are delicious!

  1. Quan An Ngon: A great “street food restaurant” that makes Saigon’s amazing street food in a more upscale, hygienic restaurant atmosphere; highly rated on TripAdvisor. I took visitors from out of town here! Go here first to better understand what you’re eating off the street.
  1. An ambitious friend amazingly finished this list of 100 Vietnamese Foods to Try from Wandering Chopsticks, which has brilliantly more adventurous foods. Here’s a list from CNN Travel that actually still has a great collection, but keeps it to 40. “Banh” means “bread,” but you’ll find that’s a pretty elastic definition. Eat any and all kinds of spring rolls, fresh are my favorite. Try all the sauces; find on any street corner. I’m all about goi cuon.
  1. Banh Xeo 46A: I LOVE Banh Xeo (fried savory “crepe”)! I didn’t realize until after I’d been there a few times that THIS was the place Anthony Bourdain recommends. It’s tough to find–you’ll wing through a ton of alleyways, but totally worth it. Locals also love it. You can also find it at the Quan An Ngon restaurant.
  1. Banh Mi—a great breakfast (or anytime) food. When I was there, one cost about $0.25.
  1. Bun Thit NuongThis is my favorite kind of dish! I recommend any kind of “bun” (rice noodles), but bun thit nuong is my favorite. I got this meal for lunch quite often, as the lady right outside my window sold it in my alley, but you can find bun thit nuong in a lot easier to find places!
  1. GaneshIf you’re tired of Vietnamese, try this Indian place. Best Indian I’ve had outside of India. Surrounding area also pretty cool for exploring.
  1. COFFEE! Vietnam made me love a good cup of coffee, so be sure to stock up before you leave. My recommendation is the weasel coffee, which you can find at Ben Thanh Market (the big market, near the backpacker’s district). You can find weasel coffee at less hectic places, but this is where I picked up mine. Make sure to pick up the traditional Vietnamese drip coffee filter; they’re super cheap, and make GREAT gifts (Get like five+. YOU get a filter; YOU get a filter)! My favorite way to have Vietnamese coffee is “ca phe sua da”—sweetened iced coffee. “So ubiquitous and so popular that it’s the one single Vietnamese term that expats here are even more likely to be familiar with than the local words for ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’” This is most likely accurate. Vietnamese coffee packs a big punch, and it’s consistency may be that of motor oil. Just do it.
  1. Cuc Gach Quan: Classic Vietnamese dishes in a uniquely artistic, easy-to-dine environment. “Expensive” for VN. Also good for out-of-town guests.
  1. SEAFOOD: If you like seafood, definitely try to have a seafood night. Snails make a really fun meal, as does crab. Just be careful and try to find one that’s been vetted by friends; I’ve known friends to have a nasty case of the runs after a bad snail meal. This one vetted by Migrationology seems to be all right, though I’ve never been. A friend in HCMC recommends Oc Dao. Fair warning, although super popular with the locals, this place may be a little challenging for travelers (language barrier).

Address: Ốc Đào Nguyen Trai 212/C79 Nguyen Trai St., Nguyen Cu Trinh Wd., Dist.1, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

  1.  Crab. I don’t have any particular recommendations as to where, but just go and find yourself some ohmygosh delicious crab. They sell it on the beach, they sell it at little shops.

Bonus: District 5 & 6 are Ho Chi Minh’s “Chinatown;” fun for food. There are many Chinese-Vietnamese families in the city and throughout the country.

Double Bonus: Craft Beer. Fairly new to HCMC. I knew Mike when I lived in the city; his blog (linked) shares info on the fledging craft brew scene here. Pasteur Street in general is a pretty awesome area. 

Lean In Vietnam

Truc on a tuk-tuk.

Truc on a tuk-tuk while traveling in Cambodia.

Let me tell you about my friend Truc.

A master’s student studying hospitality in Singapore, Truc is from Vietnam. The tourism and hospitality industry is booming in the rapidly developing South East Asian country, and by studying in the influential city-state Singapore where she can fine-tune her English, Truc has more opportunities and a better chance of getting a good job when she returns to Vietnam.

Like my Chinese friend Olivia, Truc is crazy talented, and as a passionate foodie and traveler, she’s previously traveled throughout South East Asia as a travel writer, and never turns down a chance to try somewhere new.

I’ve been lucky enough to stay in touch via email and Facebook with Truc after we worked together in Ho Chi Minh City, and I was thrilled to see she’d emailed me to respond to my recent post about my Chinese friend Olivia and what she thought of the book Lean In. Many of the links are in Vietnamese, but you can figure them out if you use a Google Chrome browser with the built-in translation on.

What I’ve appreciated the most about reading and sharing Lean In are the stories and genuine exchanges shared with friends and family–all over the world. This international exchange has meant a lot to me, and if you’ve gotten something out of this story, I would love it if you could share this post with your friends on Facebook, Twitter (@GinnyTonkin), or LinkedIn.

A little piece of Truc’s brain.


Ginny oi, how are you doing? Just finished reading “What do women in China think of Facebook coo Sheryl Snadberg’s book Lean In?” Great piece of writing and lots to think about actually. It made me run straight to the keyboard, and yes had to write something to you.

I’ve read some articles recently about women in China who were trying to get married to rich old men by signing up for a “contest” in which they would be interviewed or have to perform some basic skills in housework such as ironing, washing clothes, sewing etc. So is it proving that “Most Chinese women look for money, appearance, a house and a car?” and they’ll try every way to make it become reality? Thinking about that makes me sad. Sad because that society with such a narrow mindset has pushed the women in the maze of doing what people want them to do instead of doing what they love to do, and more importantly “focusing on what’s really inside.”

I’m attaching a link (Sorry this is written in Vietnamese, no English versions) which describes the “contest,” the way young ladies in a part of China take part in the “contest,” and wait to be picked to become wives. I don’t think that’s how a marriage starts off. Are ladies just like items in the market that men can stop by, start to choose the suitable one(s), bargain and then just grab one if the deal is made?While reading all those words in your writing, more or less I’ve found a shadow of Vietnam’s society in which women in the countryside still have to follow the old path of their parents and listen to whatever they tell them to do, getting married at a very young age in particular. Here are some other links. Men from China looking for partners in Vietnam’s countryside.

But it’s not just about marriage, women should be equally treated even in their families, in the workplace and everywhere. They can be primary earners but still, have the right to receive an equal responsibilities and salaries as well. Simply they just deserve it.

Being different is not acceptable as well… in most Asian societies. At school, at work and even worse in the family, it’s hard for others to accept that you’re different, especially if you’re a girl. I mean different in your own way, different but not weird.

When all of this will end and stop negatively influencing the generation nowadays, I don’t know, but I’m giving high hopes that there are still people like you, Olivia and Sheryl (Sorry but I haven’t got a chance to read Lean In, they don’t have it here in Singapore : )) who will be able to keep inspiring people to live their life and and “find the value of love and life.” : )


360˚ tour from the Bitexco Tower

Modified from the original post on June 1, 2011 on Girl Meets World, which chronicled my travels in Vietnam and South East Asia.

Don’t look down.

Look up. 68 stories up. The Bixteco Financial Tower is the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City, and at 861 ft, it ranks 24th in the world.

The impressive view from below the Bixteco TowerThe impressive view from below the Bixteco Tower

Recently opened to the public, one can visit the city icon’s Skydeck for $10. For any Western tourist, this seems reasonable, but this actually keeps out the majority of locals or domestic tourists. This is a huge sum for locals; just as an indicator, local Vietnamese public school teachers are paid in between $60-$100 a month.

Nevertheless, its seen as an icon of modernization, and I needed to see it for myself. During my last day in Vietnam, I chose to visit the tower, and take in the city that had been my home for the past eight months.

Check out my 360˚ tour of Saigon! Or find the video in the player to the right.

Controversial due to its profitability and rumors about its less-than-perfect building safety standards, it nonetheless strikes an impressive figure on the Saigon profile and provides a spectacular view of the city. The owners have plans to open a restaurant directly above the observation deck, as well as a food court on the 6th floor.

The helipad on the side invites CEOs and other VIPs to meetings via helicopter, though I do believe I am correct in saying it hasn’t been used yet. The tower’s unique shape resembles the lotus, a predominant symbol of Vietnam–though I have friends that have described the tower as a cucumber with a chunk lopped off the side

Camp songs? Great ESL teaching tools

Modified from the original post on May 28, 2011 on Girl Meets World, which chronicled my travels in Vietnam and South East Asia.
Le Ngoc Han third graders excited to have their picture taken.At the local primary schools, the students are more rambunctious because their parents aren’t paying for them to go take English class. So, at the start of class everyday, we sing a song to burn up some of the kids’ energy. If found that modified camp songs transfer really well to ESL.

On the last day, I filmed my third graders singing “The Penguin Song,” an old camp favorite. The song worked so well because it not only made the silly squirmers stand at attention in between each verse, learn new animal body parts, but also tuckered them out from jumping up and down at the end of the song. “The Banana Song” and the “Hokey Pokey” are also class favorites.

Little Sisters

Modified from the original post on May 27, 2011 on Girl Meets World, which chronicled my travels in Vietnam and South East Asia.

No syrup in Vietnam, so these Little Sister-made pancakes are served with blackberry jam and honey.

No syrup in Vietnam, so these Little Sister-made pancakes are served with blackberry jam and honey.

It’s pancake time!

My center, Apollo Education, teaming with Saigon Children’s Charity established the Little Sister’s/Little Brother’s scheme, partners teachers with HCMC teens for about an hour every week. I partner with two friends from the center, Hannah and Lizzy, with four fun gals. In addition to helping them practice their English, we play games, make bracelets, watch movies, and most recently, make PANCAKES.

Fluffy pancakes are one thing that this born and bred American misses from being over seas, and I wanted to share some fun cuisine from home. My place in HCMC isn’t too far from the center, so one evening we all walked over and made a feast out of banana pancakes.

After a quick spin of the blender to make the batter, we showed them how to flip the flapjacks. I thought they might be shy working the frying pans, but this crew proved me wrong, pushing me away and manning both burners over my stove.

Feel free to browse pictures to the right in my Picasa gallery.

Badminton hiney kickin’

Modified from the original post on March 23, 2011 on Girl Meets World, which chronicled my travels in Vietnam and South East Asia.

I have never been so afraid of middle-aged men in my life.

Squinting through the net, secured in place between a pole and a tree, I awaited the next serve.

Well, not quite of them, but for my ego, I thought as I looked at my opponents.

It was 6:34 a.m. I had been awake for 9 minutes. I still had my glasses on.

And, I was getting my hiney handed to me on a make-shift badminton court by a group of grandpas.

Early morning is the time for exercise in Vietnam in order to beat the heat. The sport of choice? Badminton. Oh, in most parks, you can see quite a variety of activities: kung fu, jogging, ballroom dance, group aerobics, but the real competitive fire comes out for this fast-paced frenzy of soul-crushing defeat.

That’s if only you’re me, don’t stretch, and wait for the time you’re supposed to head out the door to get out of bed.

At the urging of my French roommate, I agreed to join her for this early-morning ritual the night before–at my suggestion. Badminton is everywhere in the city, and I wanted to try it. She warned me though, despite enjoying the game and the community atmosphere, we would face tough competition.

On the court, our opponents called out, “Bay, Hai!” 7 to 2. It had hardly been three minutes. Our tough competition was beginning to look bored.

We had been invited to into a game by this group of older Vietnamese. Inclusive, community spirit is big in this neighborhood, and its a novelty to play with a westerner. But I was thinking they were beginning to doubt including us as a strategic addition as they rearranged to “even” the teams.

I loved playing with these men. A group of sweaty, t-shirt clad, middle-aged Vietnamese sweet enough to let us into their badminton game.

They appreciatively laughed as I dropped expletives when I’d miss a return.

They even showed me a little bit how to play, although I think it was because their patience was wearing thin on my faltering early-morning coordination.

The first crew switched out, and a grey-haired woman sauntered onto the court. “Oh, watch out, she’s good,” warned my roomie.

Her playful girlish giggles followed my attempts to return the birdy. Though a bad back kept her from bending to reach the shuttlecock, an expectant, impish grin encouraged me to scoop it into her palm, in order to slam it back over the net into my face.

A new, more youthful character also arrived on the scene, probably hoping to salvage the situation. My new Vietnamese friend, a computer teacher in his 30′s, offered me a turn to serve. Still facing the white-haired wonder-woman, I knew it’d be a quick game.

With a smirk, our elderly opponent leaned over the net to ask our ages. “Hai muoi hai, hai muoi ba,” 22, 23. She then thumbed at her chest, inviting us to guess hers. “Bon muoi lam,” 45, I guessed politely.

Over 60. Incredible.

But that didn’t defeat my new teammate’s spirit.

“You come tomorrow, and we can play again?” he asked.

“We’ll see,” I ambiguously reply, thinking of my head on my pillow.

By 7:30, the sun was starting to unleash its heat, traffic was coursing through the streets, and people were returning home to wash up before work. The police also came round by 7:45, to make sure all nets were down, so that others could use the park normally during the day, signaling the end of the morning’s exercise.

I trotted back to our alley like a wounded solider, ready to fall back into bed. Chatting with my roommate, we exchanged ideas about how to improve our game, like getting up early enough to stretch and practice to warm up before facing competition.

Come tomorrow, play again?

I’ll sleep on it.