29.07.2021, 12:05

Food is what I miss most on streets of Ho Chi Minh City

Editor's note:This article is written by Ray Kuschert, an Australian living in Ho Chi Minh City for more than eight years, in July 2021 while the city is practicing social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19. The story captures daily life in Ho Chi Minh City without COVID-19.

Variety! Taste! Experience! The jewel of the east in taste has got to be Vietnam. And the crowning glory of that jewel is street food in Ho Chi Minh City. Until you have experienced the vast array of flavors on offer, you will never know what real street food can offer.

Walk down any street in Ho Chi Minh City and you are sure to see food on sale for as little as 50 cents. Banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), pho (beef noodle soup), com tam (broken rice topped with grilled ribs), hu tieu (rice noodles), and many local dishes are always on offer in this amazing city, and around the clock. Many come with a six-inch red plastic stool to rest your feet whilst consuming the amazing cuisine of this intriguing location.

Grilled ribs and a sign reading 'Com tam' on the sidewalk are how you know you are in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

When traveling, a staple piece of advice is to always eat what the locals eat. In Ho Chi Minh City, the locals will often tell you there is nothing better than oc (sea snails) and hot vit lon (fertilized duck eggs). And until you try these unique delicacies, you just don’t know how good food can be.

Oc might sound a little gross, but it is actually a really enjoyable food. As a base line, oc share some characteristics with oysters and muscles in western cuisine, but are delivered in the form of a snail, either farmed or harvested from the ocean. Served with fish sauce (nuoc mam), salt and chili, it is the must have food if you are with some friends and want to have a few beers with ice. Oc and beer go together like milk and honey.

A portion of 'ngheu hap Thai' (clams steamed in Thay style), a famous dish, can be found at every snail stall in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

The sizes of the sea creatures can range from the size of your fingernail up to hand size, and all have different flavors and cooking styles. To support this unique food, you may also be able to get oysters (hau), mussels (so), and even a special flower crab (ghe). This will be all washed down with a local Tiger, Saigon or 333 beer.

But the best thing is you can never eat oc alone. It is the food of friendship with the most fun coming from giving your friends the menu and asking them to choose the next dish to come to the table. Even if you do eat alone, you will find someone inviting you to join them and share a beer.

Fresh seashells are waiting to be cooked at a small stall at Vuon Chuoi Market in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

Another great hunger buster is hot vit lon. This ugly-looking egg is boiled and served in the shell, or with a sauce. The egg is about half traditional yolk, but harder, and the rest has parts of a baby duck, like the head and beak. It is the perfect snack food or appetizer at a party.

Street sellers serve them on the street. You simply sit on the red plastic chair and ask for one or three, never ask for two because it is considered bad luck. Crack the shell at the top, making sure you don’t spill the liquid inside, and add some pepper salt or chili. The final challenge is to drink the fluid, then using a spoon to scoop the duck's head, inners, and yolk out to enjoy the most amazing taste in Vietnam. I know it sounds bad, but it really is delicious.

When the term ‘street food’ is used, we often think about roaming vendors selling anything to make a dollar but that is not the case in Ho Chi Minh City. Street vendors live and die on the quality of their food. Most have been selling in the same location for decades and share their food as if they were feeding their own children. That is what street food in Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam is all about. You can be confident that the quality of street food is equal to what your own mother would give you at home.

'Hu tieu' is one of the most popular street foods in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

Whether it’s a moment to soothe your hunger, a breakfast banh mi on the way to work, or a moment with friends that will soothe your soul and warm your heart, Ho Chi Minh City street food just cannot be found anywhere in the world. The red plastic chairs are a sign of welcoming, the old ladies are a sign of reliability. The food has a taste you can’t find anywhere else, and the friendliness, well, the friendliness is more than I ever expected, and more than I deserve. It really is the jewel of the far east.

You cannot die wondering! You must visit Vietnam once to see what different can really mean, and what human kindness really is. Plus, you can eat yourself crazy across the city and gather memories that will last a lifetime. See you in Ho Chi Minh City soon.

'Bun bo' can be found in every corner of Ho Chi Minh City, from fancy restaurants to low-cost street stalls. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

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