When you get bored of eating rice at home- you can always depend on going out for a tasty bowl of noodle soup to break the monotony.
Most of these places I will write about are a bit out of the way from the city center, but riding a motorbike there is part of the fun. You could alternately take a private Vietnam Tour with someone like Xo Tours and they’ll show you the way. But if you are brave you might want to try driving to one of these places yourself, feeling the squeeze of the traffic as you navigate Hồ Chí Minh City’s busy streets. You will see so much more of the city by flowing in and out of the shoal of other bikes as you weave your way to your final destination. There is a feeling of camaraderie as everyone jostles for prime position in the traffic, we’re all in this together. If one person starts to go, we all go, no matter what.
1.Kỳ Đồng Miến Gà – 14/5 Bis Kỳ Đồng, Ward 9, District 3
This place is local, really local. If you have the time to venture out of the district 1 bubble to find this restaurant, nestled in an alleyway off a small street in district 3, you won’t regret it. Of the dozens and dozens of phở restaurants I’ve eaten at, this place is head and shoulders above the rest. It’s busy, it’s noisy, it’s perfect. Ask any local where to get the best bowl of chicken noodle soup and, if they’re in the know, they’ll inevitably send you here. The price is fair, it’s 42,000 VND per bowl, which is a little more expensive than the average cost, but it’s worth every last Dong. The portions are big, the meat juicy and succulent, the vegetables fresh and bright. The broth tastes rich and deep, a fusion of flavours exploding on your taste-buds. It’s the perfect meal no matter what the situation. After your meal, if you still have room, you can order desert.
The bánh flan is a favourite of mine, it’s a soft set custard served with a drizzle of coffee syrup on top, similar in taste and texture to a creme caramel. And for the thirsty there is a wide range of choices from sugarcane juice, iced tea, beer, all the way to fresh fruit juices and herb drinks. All in all it’s worth a trip here for the atmosphere alone, being seated at long tables, shoulder to shoulder with the friendly and boisterous locals.
2.Quán Hủ Tiếu – 14 Kỳ Đồng, Ward 9, District 3
At the start of the aforementioned alleyway is another hidden gem. A hủ tiếu stall, which is also incredibly popular with local diners. If phở is the dish the North is most proud of, then hủ tiếu could be the noodle dish of the South. Hủ tiếu is ubiquitous throughout South Vietnam, with all areas of the Mekong Delta having their own little twist on it. It originally hails from Phnom Penh, and has close tie to Chinese immigrants in the Mekong Delta region, but has now been made truly Vietnamese.
The soup here has a heavier taste than the taste of the national dish phở. I’d recommend the hủ tiếu hoành thánh, the noodle soup with wontons. In this soup dish you get slices of pork alongside your wontons, and the broth is pork based. Another satisfying bowl of soup.
3.Bánh Canh Hẹ Cô Mai – 56 Hoa Sứ, Ward 7, Phú Nhuận District
Do you like chives? If you answered yes, then you’re going to love this next offering. At a basic level this soup is similar to a regular bánh canh, but the twist is that its filled with chives. This lends the dish a gentle hum of alluvium. Alongside the chives you get a generous helping of fish cake, chả cá, sliced pork meat, and a couple of quails eggs. The noodles are thick and chewy, rather similar to Japanese udon noodles, but way less slippery. Thanks to all the greens in the bowl it feels healthy to eat. If you’re still hungry after you’re finished your soup the restaurant also has a wide range of steamed rice cakes on offer.
4.Bún Chả Phố Cố – 225 Phan Xích Long, Ward 2, Phú Nhuận District
This is one of the more hands on of the noodle soup dishes. I’m not sure if we can even class it as a soup. All of the components come separately and you bowl. This gives great opportunity for customisation, if you want more herbs you can have them, more meat go for it man. The choice is yours. The meat here is grilled to perfection. It has a lovely charred exterior, which gives way to a succulent interior. You get a mixture of little flattened pork meatballs and a few slices of pork, all grilled.
The soup element of this dish is an incredibly fragrant blend of pickles, garlic, black pepper and fish sauce. Despite all of these pungent ingredients it blends harmoniously into a deliciously smooth sauce. I’d also recommend ordering a portion of chả giò, the fried spring rolls, they’re a little different to the normal offering found in Saigon. This extra is a little pricey, but definitely worth it.
5.Bún Bò Huế Đông Ba – 110A Nguyễn Du, Bến Thành ward, District 1
If phở is the dish of Hanoi and hủ tiếu is the dish of the South, then you wouldn’t be wrong in saying that bún bò Huế is the dish of the middle. Of course there are other noodle soups from central Vietnam, but this is the most famous. As with all foods from central Vietnam this soup is spicier than it’s Southern and Northern cousins. It comprises of bún noodles in a rich, spicy beef broth. The main flavour in this soup is lemongrass, which when combined with the chili produces a refreshing taste unlike any other. On top of that you get a load of sliced beef and a fermented sausage.
This restaurant was recommend to me by a parking attendant from a shop near by, who gave me very vague directions, and it was well worth taking the effort to find it. This is a great offering, one of the best bowls of bún bò Huế I’ve eaten outside of Huế. It’s fairly close to the center of town, but still manages to remain a hidden gem due to its location on a small side street. Its spacious inside, with large tables able to seat big groups of people. The service is fast and cheery, and the food is great. If you can handle the heat, their chili jam is a delicious addition to the bowl. But be aware, it’s very spicy.
All photos above are the author’s own. Have a good noodle experience in Vietnam? Tell us below in the comments.