If we’re Instagram friends, you’ll see that I just came back from a food tour… I mean, business trip… from Vietnam and Singapore.😅 Coming back from our business trip, I want to share some insight into the street food and safety that Vietnam (and Asia in general!) has to offer. My friend was telling me that she visited Thailand and DIDN'T EAT THE STREET FOOD because she was scared because she didn't know what was safe or not. My heart broke for her. In my humble opinion, it's really hard to get to know a culture or a country unless you've eaten their food. 😁😉
We were in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for a few days before we went house hunting in Singapore. While we were there, we wanted to go and try all the street food that we hear so much about from TV Shows and watching YouTube. We only had two days in HCMC, we weren’t really sure where we wanted to go, and most of the street food places that we wanted to eat at didn’t have a proper name or sign. So we (super last minute!) decided to sign up for a Motor Bike Food Tour.
Now, I’m not going to tell you WHERE to eat in HCMC because honestly… I don’t even know what the names of those places were and most of the places there don’t have a sign up. I WILL tell you though that we were mostly in District 3. The name of the food tour was Saigon Street Eats. It was about $50USD for a 4-hour tour. That costs covers unlimited food and drink at 5 different locations AND pick up and drop off at your hotel/Air BnB. If you’re ever in Ho Cho Minh City, you NEED to go on this tour. Even if it is a little on the expensive side.
If you have ever seen/been/heard about Ho Chi Minh City, you should know that in that city, the motor bike is the king. Just hoards upon hoards of bikes weaving in between cars and people and up on sidewalks. Its scary and intimidating to see all these bikes around you in a car. Can you imagine being part of the chaos on a bike?! Its TERRIFYING on a bike. Me and my driver became SUPER CLOSE within minutes of meeting because driving through that city is UNREAL and SO SO SO SCARY and I became a human backpack clutching onto this man. It was only a 20 min ride from our place to the first meet up spot but that poor kid had a Justine Shaped Sweat Stain on his back. 🤷🏻♀️Also, at the end of the night.. there was a torrential downpour and both of us ended up sharing a poncho.. so... yeah...
ANYWHO… enough of that story… this is why you’re here right?! Here is a SUPER quick guide to the safe practices for some yummy Vietnamese Street Food.
THIS IS OKAY! storefront with a small inside dining area? yes. locals? yes. one specialty? yes. transparent food prep station? yes.
This is NOT okay. locals? yes. transparent food prep? yes. storefront with a small inside dining area? no.
No Pop up Shops: The NUMBER ONE rule here is NO POP UP SHOPS. You need a “proper” store front with a little cart in front and a small dining area inside. The place might be popular so there might be outside seating as well, but make sure to see the indoor dining area. I use the work “proper” loosely and in quotes because there’s not really a proper name out front. Normally these establishments are out of peoples homes, so the owner and the family sleep upstairs while the customers eat downstairs in what would be a living room or family room that’s converted into a restaurant!)
The reason WHY you DON’T want to eat at a pop up shop or a free standing cart is because there is no running water for that establishment. Normally these pop ups have one bucket. That’s one bucket to wash hands, to wash dishes, to wash veggies, to wash herbs… etc. Gross.
TRANSPARENT KITCHENS! If you decide to venture out to get some street food, eat at places that prepare the food in front of you. Be weary of places (not proper restaurants, street food places) that have to prepare food in the back. Locals say that if they have to go to the back to prepare the food, they are most likely giving you food from the day before or uneaten food from previous customers.
Follow the locals… with caution! This is a given – but if you see lots of locals eating there… you know its yummy authentic food. HOWEVER! I see a lot of locals eating at those popup stalls. I’m not gonna eat there. I’m pretty sure the local university student or motorbike delivery guy has a stronger stomach than I do. So as long as you follow the whole transparent kitchen and proper store front rules, you’ll be good!
One Specialty: While on the street food tour, our guide said you need to eat at a place with ONE specialty in many different flavors. All the places we visited really had only one specialty – Banh Xeo, Banh Mi Sandwhich, Seafood, Bo La Lot, and Dessert!
There were only two places that really had a menu and that was the seafood place because they had a bunch of different seafood they could prepare for you in many different ways – but all the seafood was fresh, literally the family caught it all a few hours before opening! And the dessert place because duh… who only wants one kind of dessert?
Sò điệp nướng mỡ hành - Vietnamese Scallops with Peanuts and Scallions
Bánh xèo - Crispy Pancake (with shrimp and pork) - You eat this in a mustard leaf with herbs, pickled veggies, and delicious dipping sauce.
Other things to take note of…
If you get something with ice, make sure it’s made by an ice machine. You can normally tell that its made by an ice machine if there’s a circular hole in the ice (bullet ice) or its shaped like a long crescent (crescent ice).
NOT a picture of street food - but notice the ice in my cup!
If you are eating soup with fresh veggies and herbs that are a little wet from the local water (I’m sure you’ve heard, don’t drink the water in Asia….) and you’re feeling a little nervous about it, take an extra precaution and dunk the veggies and herbs into the hot broth. I’ve eaten veggies without dunking them in my broth and was fine.
Chả Giò - crispy egg roll filled with mushroom and pork wrapped in lettuce and tied with a green onion! YUM
nộm rau muống - water spinach salad
Fruit from a cart is generally safe. Make sure to peel your fruit before eating it. If you’re eating something with skin, just take your water bottle and give the outside a good rinse before biting into whatever fruit you bought.
If you go to a night market or hawker center, there are strict hygiene policies in place usually overseen by the government.
If you want to immerse in some beautiful culture, the easiest way to learn about a different culture is by their food. If you’re on the fence about trying street food, hopefully this super quick guide will ease your nerves.
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