Ho Chi Minh City ignites the senses: step on to its streets and you're assailed with the roar of traffic and intoxicating smells of street food. This city will fulfil your every food fantasy, offering hundreds of street vendors and generations-old family shops where you'll find familiar traditional dishes like pho and banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake) or be tempted by lesser-known local favourites. Here are a few of our favourite spots to get you started …
1. Banh Mi at Banh Mi Hong Hoa
It's one of the world's most famous sandwiches and no trip to Ho Chi Minh City would be complete without a couple (or 10) of banh mi. Invented in 1954 as an on-the-go meal, banh mi merged the French tradition of bread and cold cuts with local ingredients to create one of the most satisfying foods you can eat in Vietnam. On the ground, banh mi are a street-food staple eaten for every meal from breakfast to supper. You'll find a banh mi seller on every corner.
The best we ate was at Banh Mi Hong Hoa. They bake their own bread onsite: a baguette that showers crumbs as you bite in to reveal its chewy soft interior. Order the classic banh mi thit: a crispy baguette slathered in sweet mayonnaise and chunky pate stuffed with cold cuts, pork floss, coriander, chilli, a baton of cucumber and pickled julienned daikon and carrot. You'll demolish it so quickly that you'll be contemplating ordering a second within minutes.
Eat at: Banh Mi at Banh Mi Hong Hoa, 62 Nguyen Van Trang, Phuong Phạm Ngu Lao, Quan 1. Open daily 5.30am to 9.30pm.
2. Papaya salad at the street stall in District 1
If you're after a unique street-food experience, make your way to the city's most popular papaya salad stall, which sets up on a main street in District 1 outside an office block. Plates of shredded green papaya are tossed with beef liver jerky, peanuts, fragrant Thai basil and prawn crackers before being stacked on a tray and hoisted on to shoulders.
The women who run the stall ferry the plates to the park across the road, dodging traffic to deliver them to the other half of their staff who add a liberal squirt of sweet and spicy chilli sauce over each salad before handing them to waiting diners. Crunchy, chewy, fresh and aromatic, this is one plate of food you don't want to miss. Add to that the spectacle of watching the orders being shouted across the road and the women swerving traffic as they shuttle the food back and forth; this is quintessential Ho Chi Minh City eating.
Eat at: Papaya salad stall, 259A Hai Ba Trung, Phuong 6, Quan 3. Open daily from around 3pm.
3. Bun thit nuong at street stall in District 8
Pho is the dish that most travellers want to tick off their "to eat" list upon arriving in Vietnam but one taste of bun thit nuong and we swear pho will become a distant memory.
Room temperature rice vermicelli is tossed with crushed peanuts, pieces of crunchy spring roll, pork mince, smoky pork patties grilled over charcoal, handfuls of fresh herbs and beansprouts, and drizzled with nuoc cham - the ubiquitous and delicious dressing of fish sauce, rice vinegar and sugar. Bun thịt nuong personifies Vietnamese cuisine in a mouthful: fresh, sweet, fragrant and savoury.
The best bun thit nuong we ate was from a woman who sets up her small grill roadside. Nab a stool in front of her stand and prepare for one of the best bowls of noodles you'll eat here. The smell of pork cooking over charcoal, the relentless drone of scooters tearing past, her smile as she watches you tuck into her food - it's local street food at its finest.
Eat at: Street stall located at PMW5+8Q Phuong 12, District 8. Open 9am to 5pm.