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Where to eat in Ho Chi Minh City

With its diverse districts and thriving street food scene, chef Luke Nguyen shows us a few of his foodie finds in the Vietnamese city

Where to eat in Ho Chi Minh City
Executive Chef Luke Nguyen of Vietnam House

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What I love about the food scene in Ho Chi Minh City is its incredible diversity — you can find authentic regional dishes from all over Vietnam. Saigon (as many locals still call it) has very defined districts, each with a different dining identity: District 5 is great for Chinese food, District 4 for snails and seafood, District 7 for Korean barbecues, District 3 for street food — like grilled bananas or rich bun bo hue pork soup — and District 2 for international cuisine.

Ingredients

Perilla leaves: They’re aromatic and herbaceous, with nuances of mint, basil and anise. I use them in salads and rice paper rolls as well as to wrap meat before chargrilling it.
Butterfly pea flower: Known for its incredible indigo shade, it’s traditionally used to colour desserts or as a tea. However, I also use it to colour jasmine rice and noodles for savoury dishes.
Fish sauce: A vital condiment and a staple seasoning. The best is made on Phu Quoc island in south Vietnam where they bottle the first press with no artificial flavouring.

Must try

Cao lau: Thick, al dente rice noodles served with a broth flavoured with five spice and lemongrass, topped with roasted pork and garnished with crispy, crouton-like noodles, lettuce, bean sprouts, herbs and a rice cracker. Find it in restaurants specialising in central Vietnamese cuisine, such as my favourite, Hoi An.

Insider’s HCMC: Where to eat

Pho Ngoc
I love the beef pho at this 30-year-old institution and always order an extra poached egg on the side. Hem 30, Ho Hao Hon

Oc dao
You haven’t experienced HCMC if you haven’t had oc (sea snails). I always order oc huong here — snails grilled with chilli salt. Hem 212B, Nguyen Trai

Banh Mi 37
Juicy, chargrilled pork balls in a crispy baguette with cucumber, pickled radish and carrots, sweet soy sauce, coriander and chilli. Just be prepared to queue. Hem 37, Nguyen Trai

Australian-born Vietnamese chef, author and TV presenter Luke Nguyen opened Vietnam House, a fine-dining Vietnamese restaurant, in Ho Chi Minh City in 2017. vietnamhousesaigon.com

Published in the September 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)