According to the late chef and traveller extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain, Vietnam was his favourite country in the world. It was the first country he ever visited, and the experience remained entrenched in his psyche, making him come back over and over with every new travel show he hosted.
Every foodie who has ever tasted Phở and other Vietnamese dishes could probably relate. The complexity of textures, aroma, and taste of Vietnamese dishes is not like anything else in the world. With fresh ingredients that are distinctly Southeast Asian, combined with a touch of French techniques and influences, what you get is a taste of a culture whose history is as storied as its cuisine.
Before it was cool to go on a food crawl through the streets of South East Asia, Anthony Bourdain was already tasting everything he can get his hands on without regard for sanitary conditions and proper chairs and tables. He was happy to eat his mystery bowl of goodness at the streets of Saigon on a tiny plastic stool and table while scooters noisily passed by.
If your Vietnam tour package includes a visit to Saigon—currently known as Ho Chi Minh City—
it’s the best opportunity to see the country in the eyes and taste buds of the great Anthony Bourdain. Find out what made him fall in love with the country though a Saigon food crawl based on his travel shows.
Bánh Xèo 46A Đinh Công Tráng (featured in “No Reservations”)
Start off your food adventure with a trip to the Tan Dinh market; specifically to Bánh Xèo 46A Đinh Công Tráng, a humble food stall selling Bánh Xèo.
Bánh Xèo is the Vietnamese twist on the French crepe. Instead of a sweet dessert though, the crepe is savory with added shrimp, pork, mung beans, and sprouts to add a surprisingly crunchy texture to the dish. As with most Vietnamese dishes, it comes with a variety of fresh leafy greens including lettuce, local basil, mint, and more. It’s an incredibly healthy dish as you envelope a piece of the crepe in some greens and dip the whole package in seasoned fish sauce before eating.
Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn (featured in “Cooks Tour”)
Cơm Niêu or rice in a clay pot is a dish that’s as impressive as the performance that comes with serving it. Restaurant waiters are trained to break the clay pot to reveal the toasted rice dish and then throw the hard rice to another waiter who juggles it on a plate before serving.
While it looks gimmicky, there’s no gimmick when it comes to dish’s excellent flavour and unique texture. The toasted rice outside gives it a super crunchy texture, yet inside, the rice remains fluffy. While at the restaurant, make sure to sample other authentic Vietnamese dishes as well, such as the Cơm Dap or the charcoal-grilled rice in a clay pot.
Ốc A Sòi (featured in“No Reservations”)
For many Vietnamese, it’s not beer and pizza it’s beer and Ốc or snails. Ốc A Sòi serves a variety of fresh seashells and snails cooked however you like it—boiled, stir fried, roasted, etc.
When eating snails, forget about table manners, as you are required to suck the mollusk like there’s no tomorrow to get to the chewy, meaty deliciousness that’s hiding inside those oddly shaped shells.
If you feel overwhelmed with the variety of snails and seashells, you could try the local favorites: mud creepers in stir fried coconut sauce, grilled sweet snails, buttered fried snails, and blood cockles in tamarind sauce.
Madam Thanh, The Lunch Lady (featured in “No Reservations”)
While most legendary street food cooks in Saigon specialises in just one dish, Madam Thanh chose to perfect 7 dishes to serve to her customers, one for each day of the week.
On Monday, it’s Bún Thái day. The noodle soup is inspired by the famous Thai soup, Tom Yung Goong and come with shrimp, beef, and squid, among other good stuff. Next, Tuesdays are reserved for the soup from the Northern region of the country, Bún Mọc. It comes with pork and mushrooms, topped with toasted shallots.
On Wednesdays, Madam Thanh creates her cà ri gà or chicken curry, a hearty soup with potatoes and sweet potatoes, and heavily seasoned with hot chilies and curry. For Thursdays, Bún Mắm is served. The dish repels most tourists with its pungent fish sauce base, but it is a favorite among locals.
Friday is a day for bún bò Huế, a noodle soup from Huế in central Vietnam, while Saturdays are for bánh canh cua, one of the country’s richest soups with crabmeat, shrimp, and pork. Finally, Sundays call for bún riêu, a soup that has almost everything but the kitchen sink. It’s a tomato and crab-based soup with tofu, snails, pork, and chả, a kind of Vietnamese meatloaf.
Foodies have Anthony to thank for showing where great food can be found in Vietnam, most especially in Ho Chi Minh City. Most often that not, they are in humble street corners and unassuming hole-in-the-walls that only locals would know of. So, the next time you find yourself in Saigon, hungry and lost, make sure to think: “exactly where would Anthony Bourdain eat?”