In addition to stunning landscapes spanning the whole country, unique cultures, an interesting history, and kind people, Vietnam is famous for its cuisine. With a diverse range of influences, from Cambodia and Thailand to Japan and France, there’s a dish for everyone. You can very easily find a dish to your liking, but if you really want to find the ones that stand out, you have to trust a local to take you around.
With that in mind, we at Onetrip have designed a delicious food tour, allowing tourists and expats alike to experience the best of what Vietnam’s cuisine has to offer. We’ve been running unique, off-the-beaten-(or eaten?)-track tours around the country for the past two years with the sole intention of showing outsiders and even locals alike, the real Vietnam. Our knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides will take you around on motorbikes, from stalls to restaurants, and explain to you what is special about what you are eating.
You will not only get to eat to your heart’s content and find dishes you will otherwise miss if you explore on your own, but you will also get to ride around Saigon’s streets on the back of a motorcycle at night, interact with locals, and enjoy the city from a different perspective. This tour, spread over four districts, will certainly be a memorable tour from appetizer to dessert.
Onetrip’s Evening Food Tour starts in the evening, usually at 5:30 PM. This is when the sun goes down and the city is about ready to come to life, one makeshift sidewalk stall at a time. The streets get busy with commuters leaving work for home and slowly, the giant open-air restaurant of Saigon opens its doors for its second shift of the day. The first dish on the menu, Bo la lot, is quite special.
Bo la lot (grilled beef with betel) and kumquat tea
Bo la lot is essentially minced beef mixed with garlic and shallots and seasoned with salt, pepper, and fish sauce, which is then wrapped in wild betel leaves and grilled over charcoal. Sounds delicious, right? It is! When served, you are given Vietnamese rice paper, rice vermicelli noodles and a wide array of greens from lettuce, basil, heartleaf, coriander, and chives to green banana, cucumber, and starfruit. Of course, as with any dish in Vietnam, you are given chilies on the side and nuoc cham – the ubiquitous Vietnamese fish sauce for dipping. Nuoc cham is the general name for fish sauce, it doesn’t really matter what ingredients are used, and in this particular joint, the fish sauce is mixed with sour anchovy paste. Either way, these additional condiments give you the opportunity to experiment around with flavors according to your taste, and enjoy this dish to the fullest.
So how do you eat this dish? First, spread out a piece of your Vietnamese rice paper so you can fill it with some rice vermicelli noodles, some veggies, and some herbs. Then, put the main ingredient, the delicious bo la lot on top, and make a roll out of it. Boom! All you have to do now is just dip this in the nuoc cham and enjoy your very first meal of the food tour.
Verdict: Absolutely delicious! The mix of the flavorful meat covered in herbaceous leaves, combined with the raw veggies and vermicelli, along with the sauces, creates an explosion of flavors in your mouth. The individual flavors are actually a little hard to separate because they harmonize beautifully. The betel leaf especially gives a very earthy taste, something that’s quite hard to replicate using other ingredients. The betel leaf and the rice paper also add crispiness to the otherwise soft minced pork dish. Another fun aspect of this dish is you must roll the bo la lot yourself. Being able to interact with your food is a feast for all your senses.
Bo la lot originated in South Vietnam so you are able to find it throughout Saigon, but of course, we have found the best of the best. The food is delicious, but what’s more, is that all that surrounds you enhances your dining experience – the Saigon street nightlife. There’s no better introduction to the city and its culture than sitting on the sidewalk on tiny stools and enjoying a complex, interactive meal, while at the same time observing others go about their day, and traffic speeding by. The husband and wife who run this venue are also absolutely lovely – understanding your needs even before you voice them.
There’s still one more special thing that makes your experience even more memorable. It’s the kumquat tea that comes with the dish! It’s a very simple tea, made from kumquat, tea, sugar, and ice, but the important thing is that this place has the ratio just right so the result is a beautifully sweet, yet sour drink. Another plus is that this drink is great for your health as it has a good dose of vitamin C.
Banh xeo (pancake)
A food tour around Saigon is incomplete without banh xeo, one of the most popular Vietnamese dishes after pho and banh mi, among foreigners. The word banh xeo translates literally to ‘sizzling cake’, and this name couldn’t be more appropriate as you will hear these babies being made long before you see them.
Banh xeo is the culmination of a Vietnamese twist on French crepes. It is a pancake made from the base ingredients of rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric powder. The turmeric is what gives the pancake its distinctive yellow color. Common additional ingredients include mung bean paste, bean sprouts, prawns, and slices of pork but you can find different takes on this dish in different venues.
This size of the dish varies throughout the country as well, and lucky for you, the biggest version of banh xeo can be found down south, in Saigon. Just like every other Vietnamese dish, banh xeo is served with a basket of herbs such as basil, mustard leaf, and perilla, and these serve as the wrapper. Use the lettuce as the base and then layer with whatever else you wish, and then place a piece of banh xeo in the middle and roll it up. Dip this into the fish sauce you are given and then give your mouth a party.
The crispy pancake blends well with all the ingredients and a very special kind of fish sauce hybrid with additional ingredients of pineapple and tomato. The sauce is simultaneously sweet and sour, and is certainly a great addition to the taste of the banh xeo.
What’s so special about this place, though? Here you can have a go at making this dish by yourself! Vietnamese cooking classes are quite popular among tourists, so what’s great about this tour is that you get a little bit of a cooking class, in addition to riding around Saigon at night, in hunt of the best food. What more could you possibly want?
Banh trang nuong (grilled rice cake with minced pork)
The night’s still young. Where to next? Time for the third dish and for this we head off to Turtle Lake, a popular street-food spot where you can find many vendors serving all types of common delicacies of Vietnam. Our favorite here though is the “banh trang nuong” – a Vietnamese taco-pizza hybrid, and also the most common junk food among the Vietnamese youth.
Banh trang nuong is really just grilled rice paper with minced pork, baby shrimp, and spring onion, with the addition of egg to bind all the ingredients together. You will find many variations of this around the city as some vendors add cut up sausages, shredded chicken, corn, and even cheese. You can also make it as spicy as you like. There’s actually no traditional way of making this, as banh trang nuong is quite a recent addition to Vietnam’s diverse cuisine, created out of pure resourcefulness.
While you enjoy your dish at the location we take you to, you can also enjoy the surroundings. Even though the lake is named Turtle Lake, there are actually no turtles living in the lake. There’s however a story to the lake which has many different versions, depending on who you ask. The story most people are familiar with is that a famous Chinese Feng Shui master, invited by the previous president Nguyen Van Thieu, built the octagonal lake, and put a large bronze turtle in the middle of it for good luck. Ask us for the full story behind it as you eat your delicious banh trang nuong.
After you’re done, enjoy the park before you head off to your next spot.
Sinh to…but flavor is up to you!
The best way to cool down after a few hours of stuffing yourself is by having more food. Just kidding, it’s time for a smoothie! You can see many “sinh to” signs around Saigon as people love their smoothies here, just like their love for coffee. The Vietnamese have their own take on the traditional smoothie, and by this we mean that they add condensed milk to it, just like they do to coffee. Sounds odd, we know. The condensed milk blends perfectly with your chosen fruit and highlights not only its taste, but its smell. But the secret is to get the portions and the consistency right and this is why we have chosen this location for you. We’re not giving the name away, you’re just gonna have to come and see!
Here, you can just about mix any fruity flavor you can think of, such as strawberry, orange, avocado, durian, and coconut. The fruits here are always fresh and ripe, so you will find the space quite full throughout the day, even at night! It’s up to you if you want to drink on the spot or take your smoothie away, but why not just take a seat on the sidewalk, enjoy your drink and reminisce about all the good food you had just minutes before? If you’re feeling hungry after all those thoughts, we can go for round two!
So, you think that’s all this food tour is about? No, it isn’t. However, these four will always be part of the tour, but there will also be some other delicious additions to your itinerary so you will be kept on your toes. We enjoy leaving a little bit of mystery because where’s the fun in letting you know every single detail? So build up that curiosity of yours as you ride through four districts of Saigon on the back of a motorbike, and let us satisfy that by letting you experience the best of what each location has to give.
The tour is not all about the food either. Take a moment to breathe in the Saigon air, and try to notice the unique things about the city and its people you would otherwise not notice. Their customs and traditions. The way they live their lives. Interact with them too – don’t be afraid to say hi. It’s certainly a world away from what you must be familiar with, but you will enjoy being a part of it, even if it is for a short while. We hope you enjoy your taste of Vietnam, one bite at a time!
Convinced? Hit us up at our website, onetrip.vn, if you have any questions or are ready to go on this journey with us. More information is, of course, available on the website, and you can also check out what our previous guests have to say on our TripAdvisor page.