Savouring the night

There are a wealth of food markets and street food in HCMC after the sun sets.

By NGOC LINH on August 10,2017 02:46 PM

Savouring the night

NGOC LINH

HCMC is not just Vietnam’s economic centre, it’s also a great place for people seeking to try different types of food, no matter the time. Many parts of the city are just as vibrant at night as they are in the daytime, and those still on a night out can always find something to do, eat or drink in the city’s backpacker area around Bui Vien Street, at Ben Thanh Street Food Market, and especially at Rubik Zoo, inside the Botanical Gardens, which are all in District 1, or could even head out to areas local people prefer. Visitors can find a wide variety of food and drinks and indulge themselves with excitement in a relaxed atmosphere with other night owls. There are also food tours available for those reluctant to head out by themselves.

Downtown dining

Bui Vien Street, also known as Backpacker Street, is as busy during the day as other streets in the city centre, with one shop after another. But when night comes, it takes on a different appearance. Well-lit eateries brighten up the street and different types of music blare out from bars and restaurants and some people even stand on the street with a drink in hand.

In addition to Vietnamese dishes, Italian, Japanese and Korean food are easily found. There’s also a few expensive bars and restaurants, serving luxurious food and drinks to those with money in their pockets. Real street food is easy to find as well, with cheap dishes and snacks like smoked cuttlefish, smoked corn, and fruit, as well as beer. VND100,000 (less than $5) is enough for one person to eat and drink and feel the excitement.

Bui Vien Street is now a pedestrian mall on weekend evenings, making it safe and comfortable for visitors to get around.

A night in Binh Thanh

Ba Chieu Market in Binh Thanh district, just outside of the city centre, is a popular place for local people looking for food and drinks any time of the night. Some eateries have long been known for their great flavours and are open until 4am.

All of the eateries are busy, but the two most crowded are Xi Pho and Xoi Ga Ba Chieu. Some are more than 30 years old and constantly full because their dishes are both delicious and affordable. Many people are regular customers, and even those who leave the city for whatever reason make sure they pay the eateries a visit when they’re back in town.

There are not as many dishes here as at Tan Dinh Market in District 1, but xôi (sticky rice) with chicken or roast pork is very popular, costing around VND15,000.

The sticky rice with roast pork is covered with a piece of a banana leaf and a piece of paper to retain the heat. The sticky rice with chicken is no less delicious, with crispy chicken and a special sauce that makes the dish almost irresistible.

National favourites in District 6

Street 10 in District 6, in the western part of HCMC and known as ‘Food Street’, is another great place for street food, with about a hundred eateries.

From about 5pm, dishes are beautifully arranged according to their regional characteristics. Popular northern dishes like vermicelli with shrimp paste, Hanoi-style phở and bún chả, and rice sell for about VND15,000 a dish.

Another section has dishes from the central region, like Bún bò Huế (Hue-style noodles with beef), Bánh canh, and Bún chả cá Nha Trang (Nha Trang-style noodles with fried fish) among many others. Yet another section has dishes from the Mekong Delta, including My Tho-style hủ tiếu (noodles with seasoned sautéed beef) and Chau Doc-style bún mắm.

The smoked dishes on offer vary greatly, with smoked cuttlefish, fish, shrimp, and different types of shellfish, selling from VND30,000. Desserts are also found in large numbers, such as sweetened fruit soup and sweetened bean soup.

Customers can sit at one eatery and order other dishes from neighbouring outlets, which are mostly open until late at night.

‘World of food’ at Rubik Zoo

It’s not difficult to find food and drinks at eateries on the footpath, even late at night and in both the city centre and the suburbs. But for delicious food in a large space of 5,000 sq m, there really is just Rubik Zoo.

The shopping and food area opened in late 2006. Its food section has dozens of old shipping containers housing more than 50 stands selling food from Vietnam’s three regions - southern, central and northern - and even popular dishes from around the world. The food area is open from 5pm to 10pm.

At the entrance along Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street is an impressive gate that stands a dozen metres tall and was inspired by Big Ben in London. The old shipping containers are found in the middle of the area, arranged to form two towers, like old European castles.

There is also an impressive stage for nightly musical performances. To the right of the gate is a Hoi An-style coffee shop decorated with red lanterns. When night falls, hundreds of colourful tents and containers create a beautifully bright market area.

It’s exciting to take a walk between the food stands and have an enjoyable dinner on a weekend evening. Customers can choose Korean or Japanese but would also be pleased by the range of Vietnamese dishes on offer, like spring rolls, stir-fried noodles, fish balls, and sausage.

They can sit wherever they like, but the favourite spots are at the front of the stage, where they can watch music shows while enjoying their favourite dishes.

Ben Thanh Street Food Market

Benefiting from being just a few steps away from Ben Thanh Market, Ben Thanh Street Food Market is always busy. It came into existence almost two years ago and is open from 9am in the morning to 11pm at night. Its busiest time is between 6pm and 11pm.

There are more than 50 stands serving nearly 200 dishes, including burgers, pasta, pizza, and popular Vietnamese dishes like hủ tiếu (noodles with seasoned sautéed beef), phở, Bún bò Huế  (Hue-style noodle with beef), and bánh xèo (fried rice pancakes with shrimp).

Street food markets have recently become popular around Vietnam and are intended to give local people and visitors, including foreign visitors, the chance to enjoy a variety of national favourites in the one spot.

The food is beautifully arranged to attract attention and they smell delicious. Customers can choose what they like and then find a place to sit and eat. The market is made more attractive by decorations on the walls, which customers can admire as they enjoy their favourite flavours.

Vietnamese Street Food Tours

49, 17 Street, An Phu Ward, D.2

Tel: (028) 6684 9363

English-speaking tour guides pick up visitors from their hotel and take them to food streets in Districts 1, 3, 4 and 5 on the back of motorbikes. The four-hour tour is around VND795,000 ($35) per person.

Saigon Food Tour

Suite 603, 133 Duong Ba Trac St., Ward 1, D.8

Tel: 0907 639 858

There are two tours each day, from 7.30am to 11am and from 5.30pm to 10 pm, giving visitors the chance to experience Vietnam’s food culture. Each tour takes visitors to five or six districts, such as Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 10 and 11, where they can enjoy traditional Vietnamese dishes like bánh xèo (fried rice pancakes with shrimp) and Bún bò Huế (Hue-style noodles with beef). The morning tour costs VND908,000 ($40) per person and the evening tour VND1,135,000 ($50).

Guides also take visitors to historic relics before taking them to at least four food streets serving traditional Vietnamese dishes.

Saigon Free Walking Tours

Website: www.saigonfreewakingtours.com

Email: info@saigonfreewalkingtours.com, sales@saigonfreewalkingtours.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/saigonfreewalkingtours

Tel: 0122 8064 730

Saigon Free Walking Tours is a non-profit project run by students from the Tourism Administration and Travel Department at the Languages and Cultures Faculty of Hoa Sen University.

The tours provide international visitors with free guided tours with English-speaking guides to symbolic places in the city, like Notre Dame Cathedral, Independence Palace, and Ben Thanh Market.

Or they can take visitors by motorbike to Cha Tam Church and the Fito Traditional Medicine Museum. The Saigon Street Food Tour, by motorbike, is especially designed for visitors interested in tasting street food, including broken rice, bún (fresh vermicelli noodles) with smoked pork, and phở.

The guided tours are free, but visitors are advised to book at least one day in advance.

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