Ho Chi Minh City will challenge your perception of proper sidewalk usage: A simple stroll down the street requires dodging parked and moving motorbikes while also tripping over food carts and customers seated in plastic chairs. But the fragrant aromas of grilled meats and simmering soup just might tempt you to abandon any restaurant plans and join them.
The owners of Saigon Street Eats, Barbara, an Australian, and her Vietnamese husband, Vu, specialize in shepherding hungry tourists through their city’s overwhelming selection of street food. Their strategy for choosing might seem counterintuitive. “Paradoxically, if a place looks a bit run-down, it’s usually a sign the vendor has been in business a long time and is therefore very good,” Barbara explains. She also recommends seeking places busy with locals. “You should also look for a lot of rubbish on the floor,” she adds “This is a sign of a popular street food place.” The language barrier will ultimately present another challenge, so adventurous eaters should just point at a dish that looks good and go for it.
Eating at busy street food stalls is also safer from a health standpoint. As most stalls don’t have refrigeration, sticking to freshly cooked or steaming-hot food is a good precaution. But keep in mind that it’s common to get an upset stomach when your diet changes dramatically. “People often think they have food poisoning when their bodies are reacting to a change in their eating habits, often including a lot of cheap beer,” explains Barbara.