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Once you’ve snaffled up the usual Vietnamese classics, it’s time to add a little adventure to your eating habits. As an alternative to the usual food tours that you’ll find dotted around Saigon, here are some truly off-the-beaten-track delights. Some of these are not for the squeamish, but trust us… the reward is well worth the challenge!
Whilst you can find some of these specialties in other parts of Vietnam, Saigon is the place to be to try them all. Dishes you can’t find elsewhere without local knowledge are easy to source here. The Saigon street food scene is unrivalled elsewhere in the country, and if you can’t find it here, it’s not worth having!
Pha lau is a Saigon street food that’s hugely popular with local people, both young and old. It’s a soup made from the offal of cows. This typically includes the lung, heart, kidney and parts of the stomach. Everything is purified well in advance by thorough washing and rubbing with salt and lemon.
It’s a protein-fest that’s much cheaper than eating prime cuts of beef. Pha lau is usually prepared with milk, noodles, and spices. As a result, it’s much creamier than many soups found in Vietnam.
Westerners who are put off by the thought of eating offal can rest assured that they’ve likely been eating it in the form of sausages for years! The difference with pha lau is that nothing is disguised. Pull up a chair next to the locals and have this for dinner.
Where to eat pha lau in Saigon: Pha Lau Restaurant, 601 Cach Mang Thang Tam, Ward 15, District 10
Better known as durian in many parts of the world, sau rieng is a fruit with a pungent scent that puts many people off trying it. Go for a wander around a Saigonese fruit market and you can’t miss them! They’re pretty large and covered in sharp spikes. Crack one open and you’ll find bunches of creamy yellow fruit, often prepared by sellers in advance.
Sau rieng is a love-it-or-hate-it type of food. It can be found across Southeast Asia. Its smell is so strong that it’s banned from many public places in certain countries. Some find the smell to resemble unmentionable bodily-functions or sweaty socks. Whereas to others, it’s akin to chives, onions, and blue cheese.
Make sure you try it on your tour around Saigon’s foodstuffs! Whatever you make of the smell, the taste is very different. It’s sweet, creamy, and moreish, and an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Where to eat sau rieng in Saigon: Ben Thanh Food Market, 26-30 Thu Khoa Huan, District 1
Tiet canh means “blood soup”. Whilst its origins lie in the north of the country, there are plenty of places to hunt it down in Saigon. Tiet canh usually uses duck’s blood to get its reddy-brown color, though geese blood is also popular.
If you can overcome your squeamishness at the dish’s appearance, you’ll find tiet canh to be a tasty, protein-rich breakfast or lunch. Yep, there’s a tinge of blood in the taste, but this is mixed with fish sauce, minced meat, herbs, chillis and nuts to create a full-bodied soup that’s quite unlike anything else you can find in Saigon.
Where to eat tiet canh in Saigon: Chao Long, 93 QL13, Ward 26, Binh Thanh District
Wandering around Saigon’s street food joints will introduce you to vit lon. If you’re wondering why hardboiled eggs are so popular on the street, here’s why. Better known in other parts of Asia as balut, vit lon contain cooked duck embryos. You’ll get all of the regular goodness normally found in an egg, only with a small chick inside as well. This makes for a protein kick that a regular egg can only dream of!
You’ll find vit lon eaten in various ways across Saigon. Commonly, they’re just snaffled down like hardboiled eggs, often accompanied by beer and rice crackers. More dedicated Saigon street food vendors will serve them in a bowl, mixed with chili, lemon juice, and herbs. Best eaten after dark on a Saigon street food crawl.
Where to eat vit lon in Saigon: Vit Lon Kim Thao, 104 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien, District 2
The thought of eating insects has freaked out many a visitor to Vietnam, but they’ve long been recommended by the United Nations as an abundant source of nutrition. If you’re looking for a Saigon food with a difference, make sure duong dua is on your list.
These are the larvae of coconut beetles. You can find them in the freezer cabinets of many supermarkets here, but they’re best eaten in their live state. Left unharvested, the bugs grow into palm weevils, which nobody eats. In their larvae form, they’re found in a number of dishes ready-cooked. Or they’re simply dipped into a spicy fish sauce and eaten raw.
Interested in their flavor? Well, the outside is crispy yet chewy, but get through this and you’ll enjoy a buttery center.
Where to eat duong dua in Saigon: Huong Rung, 32 Nguyen Trai, Di An, Binh Duong District
Chuot dong means rats, though they’re not the kind of rats you might see scurrying around the city. Highly popular in Cambodia, they’re mostly eaten in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region, which historically has a large Khmer influence. They also have a dedicated following in Saigon.
So, chuot dong are rats found in the rice fields — a world away from cities, garbage cans, and sewers! They’ve lived a virtually vegetarian existence and are much smaller than their city-dwelling cousins. You might find chuot dong–based curries or stews, but in Saigon, you’re most likely to find them barbecued on skewers.
Many Saigonese swear by eating them, as their meat is said to keep one looking young! The taste is somewhere between chicken and rabbit. Try this instead of a regular meat skewer next time you’re in town, whenever hunger strikes.
Where to eat chuot dong in Saigon: Various street food vendors, Vinh Khanh, District 4
Special mention: Bo Cap Lua Restaurant
If you’ve munched your way through our list of interesting Saigon foods and been left wanting more, take a journey to Bo Cap Lua Restaurant. It’s well away from most tourist hangouts in Go Vap District, and offers a menu containing dishes that even many local Vietnamese people haven’t tried.
Alongside a long list of different insects, here you can find fried tarantulas, scorpions, and lizards to eat. There’s a happy, beery atmosphere to be found inside, and a dedicated clientele. If you’re really on the lookout for Saigon food with a difference, make sure Bo Cap Lua is on your list.
Where to find Bo Cap Lua Restaurant in Saigon: 17D. So 11, Ward 11, Go Vap District
We hope you’ve enjoyed our trip around some of Saigon’s stranger food offerings! For an overview of the food found across this amazing country, see our ultimate Vietnam food guide.
And don’t forget to check out our handy resource, The Ultimate Guide to COVID-19 Travel Restrictions, to remain up-to-date with regulations around the world.