Only about four hours away by plane, Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam and its culinary superstar. The food is full of fresh herbs: lemongrass, mint, coriander and Thai basil, and is one of the healthiest Asian cuisines. This was the colonizers’ capital, so you’ve got random French influences in the food as well as those beautiful banh-mi sandwiches.
While Shanghai languishes under this cold, damp sponge of pollution, Ho Chi Minh is currently a balmy 30 degrees. Flights are around 2000rmb return and hotels in the city can be dirt-cheap.
A long weekend in Ho Chi Minh is enough time to soak up some sun, relax and eat about a dozen meals. Whether it’s pho on the street or lobster in a colonial villa, you’re going to eat well, but here's a list of our favorite restaurants in the city.
You’ll see a Pho 24 on just about in every corner in the city. While it’s pretty good for fast food, for the city’s best pho, head to Pho Hoa. This family-run pho shop has been around forever but now covers two floors (there’s AC on the second floor). The pho here comes in eight varieties, each made from a different cut of beef or part of the cow: tripe, tendons, briskets, beef balls etc. There are no vegetarian options. If you want to try the lot, we recommend the dac-biet, which contains a bit of everything. Prices are around 15rmb a bowl (25,000 Dong).
Pho Hoa: 260C Pasteur Street, T: +08 8829-7943
Bo Tung Xeo
Noisy, busy, smoky and totally authentic, Bo Tung Xeo specializes in barbecued meat and seafood, from pork, squid, beef and chicken to snake, field mouse, crocodile and even kangaroo. It’s a huge, partially open-air, chaotic space, crammed with locals barbecuing at their tableside, drinking beer and enjoying themselves. The food is very cheap, and it knocks our street barbecue on its ass. You can cook it yourself at your own barbecue, or have one of the waiters do it for you. We say do it yourself, but leave your best clothes at home because things can get very smoky. Once the meat is cooked, wrap it in fresh lettuce and herbs (think Korean barbeque).
Bo Tung Xeo: 31 Ly Tu Trong, T: +08 8825 1330
The menu here focuses on dishes from Hue, the home of Vietnam’s last dynasty and one of the cultural capitals. Dishes such as banh cuon (steamed rice rolls), bun bo hue (a spicy beef pho with pig knuckle, beef brisket and rice vermicelli) are must-tries. This is more of a lunch than a dinner place, and it’s a great way to break the grueling heat after shopping at the nearby Ben Thanh Market.
Nam Giao: 136/15 Le Thanh Ton, T: +08 8825 026
Quan An Ngon
Quan An Ngon is set up in an old French villa but inside there are about a dozen little stalls, each with its own kitchen, that make different dishes on the menu. The menu is huge and all the different styles and flavors of Vietnamese food are represented. Try the green papaya salad or bun cha (vermicelli with minced pork balls and fresh herbs) or banh xeo (a rice flour and turmeric pancake with shrimps, mung beans and bean sprouts, eaten with fresh herbs). It gets very busy so come prepared to queue. Expect to pay about 200rmb for two people with wine.
Quan An Ngon: 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, T: +08 8829 9449
Street food in Vietnam is pretty clean. It’s also fast disappearing, but if you’re willing to explore, good street food can still be found in some of the smaller, more local neighborhoods. The Lunch Lady is a little off the beaten track in the Binh Thanh district, but her food is worth the journey. Made famous by Anthony Bourdain, she only cooks 80-100 bowls a day and lines can be long, especially since there’s only enough seats for about eight people. She makes just one dish a day (see the timetable below); they’re all good but we recommend Fridays. As with most street food areas, around the Lunch Lady’s stall are other little setups that complement and compete with each other. Next to her is a stall selling fruit shakes, or sinh to. They’re also pretty good and will cool you down while you stand in line.
Address: 23 Hoang Sa (down the alley on the right side). Cross street: Nguyen Thi Minh Khai
Daily from 11 am-2 pm (unless it sells out before that)
Mondays: Bun Thai (Thai noodles)
Tuesdays: Banh Canh (udon-like noodles)
Wednesdays: Hu Tieu Nam Vang (Cambodian rice noodles)
Thursdays: Bun Mam (seafood noodles with shrimp paste)
Fridays: Bun Bo Hue (noodles with pork, beef, pigs blood and the works – Fridays get busy)
Saturdays: Banh Canh again
Sundays: Bun Thit Nuong and Bun Nem Nuong (barbecue pork noodles)
Com Nieu Saigon
This is our swanky option, situated in a French colonial building in District 3. Com Nieu Saigon offers home-style cooking, not unlike the dishes you’d see in Vietnamese communities in Australia, Canada or the US. There’s around 300 dishes on the menu but try the crab (a specialty of northern Vietnamese cuisine) or mussels (from central Vietnam), or the clay pot shrimp or fish. Or – hey – go for the fish bladder and cashew nut salad. You only live once, right? The area is building up a good reputation for dining options, so it’s worth exploring to find out what else is happening here.
Address: 59 Ho Xuan Huong St., Dist.3, HCMC, T: 08 3930 2888
How to get there
There are two direct flights from Shanghai to Ho Chi Minh City every day. Flight Center has return tickets right now starting at 1480rmb plus tax. For a full list of their flights and holidays, click here.