The Saigon Times newspaper is giving me the opportunity to write for their Leisure section and I’ve decided that snack shacks are a worthy first topic. I am trying to find a tone different from my gas•tron•o•my voice, but am having some difficulty. Here’s my first shot at newspaper glory…
A cross between street food and sit-down eateries, snack shacks serve up light fare perfect for a small bite when the mood hits. Extremely popular among the local teen set, these restaurants appeal to families and couples as well.
Similar to the western “small plates” experience, diners can mix and match sweet and savory dishes to create a one-of-a-kind meal.
Menus vary from shack to shack, but mainstays include sticky rice, spring rolls, fresh salads, and Vietnamese desserts. These establishments offer enough variety to suit even the pickiest of eaters.
Prices range from 3,000-8,000 VND per dish, so don’t hesitate to order precariously and try something new because your wallet will not suffer.
Here is a quick run through of snack shack must-tries:
A close relative of Chinese dim sum and Vietnamese banh bot lot, these gelatinous dumplings are filled with minced pork and topped with fresh basil and a soy-based sauce. The meat filling is nothing special and tends to be skimpy, but the dumpling’s texture is appealingly chewy.
The literal translation of this dish is “fried dough,” but it resembles more of an omelet than a doughnut. Little bits of dough are fried to a crisp and eggs and scallions are added over them. The “omelet” is served beautifully golden and garnished with pickled carrots and radishes and a side of soy dipping sauce. The crunchy edges are a highlight.
While goi cuon is the most well-known Vietnamese spring roll, bo bia deserves some of the spotlight. These delicate rolls wrapped in rice paper contain sweet Chinese sausage, dried shrimps, lettuce, eggs, and a sautéed jicama and carrot slaw. Dipped in a bit of hoisin sauce, the roll’s sweet and salty double punch is sure to move your taste buds.
Ca Vien Chien
Think of these as fish meatballs. Generally served with hoisin sauce on the side, ca vien chien is best shared with friends because the flavor can veer toward monotonous.
The majority of the offerings at snack shacks fall under this category. A somewhat cloyingly sweet dessert, che usually contains beans (black, red, and mung), coconut milk, tapioca, plenty of sugar and shaved ice. Westerners unaccustomed to bean-based sweets may shun the fibrous texture of che, but it’s definitely worth sampling at least once. The best way to experience che is with a tall cup of che thap cam, which means “a little bit of everything.” A local favorite is che xung xa hot lua, containing coconut milk, mung beans, and pink water chestnuts.
Goi Du Du Bo
This shredded green papaya salad topped with basil, beef jerky, peanuts, and a light dressing puts Caesar salad to shame. The jerky is unexpectedly sweet and flavorful, while the papaya is fresh and light. Take into account that portions on this dish run small when ordering.
It’s hard to find a bad plate of xoi man— sticky rice topped with various meats (cha lua, cha bong, and pate), fried shallots, soy sauce, pickled vegetables, and an oil and scallion mixture. This simple dish never fails to satisfy.
In a town chock-full of food available at all hours of the day, it is not difficult to locate some grub when the munchies hit. The next time you’re hungry and hours away from mealtime, check out these snack shacks to suit your craving, whether it be sweet or savory:
91 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
2B Su Thien Chieu Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Che Ky Dong
153/7 Ky Dong Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
278 Khanh Hoi Street
District 4, Ho Chi Minh City