Eating a country’s food is the best way to get to know it’s culture. Vietnam is famous for its cuisine, and has a diverse range of dishes, from pho to banh xeo to com tam. The food even changes as one makes their way from the south to the north or in reverse. Street food is the way to go when in Vietnam, but you get basically anything you crave. Burgers, kebabs, spaghetti, pizza, curries – Vietnam is international.
But this article is solely about street food. A new street opened up just a few days ago, Nguyen Van Chiem street. This was in response to the authorities cracking down on vendors that were unauthorized to carry out their business. This was also in an attempt to make street eating safe. Here is an all-you-need-to-know about Nguyen Van Chiem street, with an extra section in which we personally interviewed a few vendors and hungry customers.
Street Food in Saigon
Street food is one of the oldest business models of the country. From small restaurants with outdoor seating on little stools, to mobile carts, to women balancing bamboo poles skillfully on their shoulders, you find it all in one city. Saigon really is a giant outdoor restaurant with the biggest menu of diverse and delicious dishes you can find. The dishes are also healthy – usually people associate street food with being oily and unhealthy. But in Vietnam, sure some of it is oily, but most of our dishes are super healthy and full of greens. We have noodle soups, we have rice, we have pancakes, salads, cakes, teas, crackers and rolls. There’s a bit of everything, and usually the meat is not the star of the dish.
These dishes have also originated from throughout the country, not just from Saigon. Not only that, but there are influences from neighboring countries such as China, Cambodia, and Thailand. Some foods bear a striking resemblance, others just take a few tips here and there. Most dishes, however, have been customized to suit the local Saigonese taste – perhaps sweeter, more vegetable, flavor and ingredient rich!
It’s common to see people enjoying their dishes while sitting on the sidewalk, on stools just a few centimeters off the ground. That is the local culture, and if you don’t take part in it, you won’t really enjoy all that Vietnam has to offer. Streets are cluttered with hundreds of people just enjoying their dishes with their friends, or even alone on their bikes. It’s a beautiful and colorful sight.
Banishing Street Food Vendors
Unfortunately, in an effort to strictly tidy up the sidewalks of District 1, since January 2017, the police have been trying to prevent all food stall vendors doing business along the street. Of course, with this comes many questions. How would these vendors sustain their living? How would the country retain it’s beautiful culinary and street food culture? What about tourism? After all, the food culture is a huge part of a reason why someone would like to visit a country. So then the idea was to centralize all the stall vendors into several streets, and developing such streets into safe and sound stops for any food lover in the city to enjoy a meal or two.
What Makes Nguyen Van Chiem Food Street Special?
The type of food being offered: There are roughly 20 outlets on the street, offering either meals or beverages. You can find common breakfast dishes that Vietnamese people love to eat on this street. These include com tam (broken rice with pork), banh mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwiches), hu tieu (Vietnamese pork noodle soup), banh canh (crab tapioca noodles), bun moc (rice noodles with meatballs), dim sum, milk tea, and soymilk, among so many others. By the way, you can click those names for more info 😉 You can also find delicious breakfast from Hue (bun bo Hue) on one stall located to the side of Diamond Plaza. Vegetarian options are also offered.
The location is close to many tourist attractions: The Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, The Notre Dame Cathedral, The Central Post Office, The Saigon Book Street, Turtle Lake, etc, are just a few feet away! The location is therefore an ideal stop during a whole day of sightseeing. The beautiful Han Thuyen park nearby is also a big plus for nature lovers. Why not get some takeaway and have a picnic in the park as you watch locals go about their day. The park is also perfect for a coffee break – to get away from the crowds and traffic noises of Saigon. It’s an oasis in the middle of the city.
Good hygiene: When it comes to street food, hygiene is always questioned. There are things you can look out for on your food hunt that signal whether the stall has good hygiene or bad hygiene conditions. You can check this article for detailed information: The Beginner’s Guide to Food Safety in Vietnam
On this new Nguyen Van Chiem food street, it’s very simple. Glass covers each stall on three sides, preventing dust from entering the food prep area. Furthermore, the vendors here have to pass a certain government quality standard before being able to run their stall here. So you know you’re safe.
Supporting low-income families: Stall vendors on Nguyen Van Chiem street are from low-income families, and they are able to make a living by maintaining a low-cost business. Apart from the cost of materials, they are not required to pay any other costs, such as space rental fee, business registration fee, etc. This contributes to the low prices attached to food sold on the street. Furthermore, stall vendors are trained on hygiene practices and garbage sorting, gradually improving the quality of not only the products but also the services of the vendors. Thus, they receive more hungry customers, and earn more.
What People Say About Nguyen Van Chiem Street:
Talking to the buyers and sellers on the street, we saw that most of them deliver a welcoming attitude toward the new Nguyen Van Chiem food street.
To get a little more insight into this whole thing, we asked a lady enjoying her delicious banh canh (crab tapioca noodles) with her group of friends on what her opinion was.
“We highly support this! We think that the authority has been making the right efforts in managing street food like this. Believe us, we have been spending most of our life in this city, and we think that this food street truly improves the image of our city.”
A young lady grabbing her breakfast before her office hours begin was a little more unsure of the benefits of the government’s efforts, but she sure does enjoy the location and also the hygiene conditions.
“I actually like it. It is close to my office so it is convenient for me. The idea is new, so we are not sure about whether it would be effective, but the food is good. I feel safe when choosing food here.”
The Bun Moc stall is right next to the Bun Bo Hue stall. We asked the Bun Moc stall vendor on how things were moving on.
“No rental fee at all! We are from low-income families, they (the authority) check our profile in detail. We had to pass a health check program. They are really strict on this. She came from Hue, let’s ask her,” she said, pointing to the bun bo Hue stall vendor. The bun bo Hue stall vendor echoed the same sentiments.
How to Get to Nguyen Van Chiem Street
It is so simple to locate this small peaceful Nguyen Van Chiem street from your GPS. It is right behind the big luxurious Diamond Plaza in District 1, opposite to the high-end Trung Nguyen café. Stalls are located along the pedestrian looking street, which does allow passing-by motorbikes to park on the side for a quick breakfast or grabbing a to-go.
Some Tips and Tricks:
- Try not to bargain for your food here. First, it is unnecessary, and second, these vendors are honest and trying to make an honest living for themselves and their families. You can prioritize stalls with the prices listed on their menu if you wish.
- Please keep an eye on your belongings!
- Opening hours are 6 AM – 9 AM and 11 AM – 1 PM.
General Information about Nguyen Van Chiem Food Street
Name: Nguyen Van Chiem food street
Address: Nguyen Van Chiem street, District 01, HCMC (behind Diamond Plaza)
Opening hours: 6 AM – 9 AM and 11 AM – 1 PM daily
Most common dishes: Breakfast and slight lunch, suitable for taking away. Dishes mentioned above.
Visitors: Locals from neighboring areas and tourists
Try your luck at this street and let us know what you think in the comments!
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