Slurp it up.
Saigon has no shortage of street food but the city’s selections of soups are where you will find some particularly impressive dishes. Here are a few soups that you should give a try while trawling the streets of the city.
The most famous of Saigon’s street soups is easily pho, and the vendors on the city’s streets have turned their craft into a fine art. Pho seems simple enough; made with flat rice noodles, some meat and a healthy helping of greens thrown in however, it turns out it is anything but. Most vendors start preparing their stock the day before it will be served, each concocting a slightly different version of the soup. Going to different pho kitchens can lead you to experience completely different soups; some are sweeter, some heartier. Usually, you will have a few choices of meat, ranging from thinly sliced beef to meatballs, but at larger pho restaurants you can have dozens of options. Pho isn’t at all hard to find and, while street carts do sell it, the best pho spots are typically the more permanent, established locations. Expect a bowl on the street to cost around 20,000 to 30,000 VND.
Although it has a different Vietnamese town in its name, some say the best bun bo hue is found in Saigon. Bun bo hue is a more straightforward soup than pho, with fewer options when it comes to meats and extras. It starts with a pork or beef broth spiked with lemongrass then combined with noodles and sliced beef. A traditionally spicier soup, bun bo hue is usually topped off with Chinese sausage, some greens and a plate of bean sprouts. Its round, spaghetti-like noodles can become slippery for even masters of the art of chopstickery when combined with the broth — losing a big bite can cause a bit of slash back during your meal. Avoid wearing white! A very popular soup, its simplicity makes it one of the more common carts you’ll see on the street — don’t expect carts to be huge in size or to have a huge variety of ingredients on display. A bowl usually runs 20,000 to 30,000 VND.
While other soups in Saigon have some options when it comes to what you put into them, generally at least some things, like the noodles, are a constant. Hu tieu is a must-try because there are simply so many varieties. The basic dish consists of a light pork broth with slices of pork, Chinese sausage, bean sprouts, green onion and a healthy dose of thin white rice noodles but as you get more comfortable with the dish you can get more creative. Don’t like the noodles? You can try thin or thick, yellow egg noodles or a brick of ramen. Want different meat? You can add shrimp, quail eggs or small wontons. You can order your broth on the side and prepare the soup in your own special way. This is a popular soup and easily found on most of the city’s streets; you can usually spot it as one of the only street carts with multiple noodles on display. Hu tieu is also cheap, with bowls as low as 10,000 VND and rarely over 20,000 VND.
If you’re really itching to try something new, canh bun is one of the more unique soups you’ll find on the streets of Saigon. It’s a brightly coloured dish, usually made with vibrant orange rice noodles much thicker than what you’ll find in other soups, and topped off with freshly blanched morning glory. The colour isn’t however what makes canh bun stand out — it’s the minced crab added to the bowl, which looks like a ground pork or beef. Topped off with tofu, Chinese sausage, cubes of congealed blood and a healthy dose of chilli paste, a bowl of canh bun is quite a meal. Finding canh bun is a little harder than some of the more famous soups, as you rarely see it sold on its own; your best bet is to head to a market and find a stall. Expect a bowl to cost 20,000 to 35,000 VND.
By Max Murta
Last updated on 23rd October, 2014.