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Jul 12, 2000 11:26 AM

Southern Vietnam Chow

  • m

This is a bit of long shot, but I'm going to Southern Vietnam in August (I know - it rains a lot) and like most of my vacations, the agenda will be dictated by my stomach. Basically, I 'm looking for any food-related suggestions: restaurants, stalls, markets, etc. I'd really like to find somewhere to take a few cooking classes, but so far I've come up empty.
I've done a bunch of research already, but any reccommedations/annecdotes would be appreciated.

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  1. Yum! My advice is limited and dated--I was last there 5 years ago and it's practically a different country now--but you will definitely eat well in HCMC. Remember not to think only in terms of Vietnamese food--the Cholon district had the best Chinese I have ever had (random place--don't remember where) (some kind of puffed-wheat things with a pink marshmallow looking sauce and shrimp; some sort of eggplant with beef). I had been traveling hard, so splurged at 2 nice Vietnamese restaurants downtown HCMC--Lemon Grass (on the main, chic strip of clubs, restaurants, heading down to the water), which was lovely, quiet, very refined, complex food (at the time, about $6/person); and the very noticeable yellow colonial building on the same street a few blocks down, also pret. Also great, great sandwiches from any place at lunch time, and baguettes and sweet coffee in the a.m.--you can find them anywhere.

    However, outside of HCMC (southwards in the delta), I ate terribly. There has to be better food but I wasn't there long, travel restrictions kept me from poking around too much, etc. But even in Can Tho I had only terrible food. Every single thing I ate had some sort of tomato sauce of catsup on it, I think in an attempt to please my white self. Only exceptions were the vendors at Mekong crossings. Get corn on the cob--sweet, chewy and smoky. Also, if you buy a whole pineapple, they will carve it for you right there in an instant, in an amazing fashion that results in essentially four pineapple-popsicles, with the tough center as the "stick." Possibly the best way to eat fruit I have ever seen.

    My general travel rule, by the way, is to eat safer food (cooked, or from clean, busy, sanitary places) at the start of my trip and work my way towards the riskier food (e.g., fresh unpeeled ingredients in rice paper, herbs to wrap around spring rolls), by the end. That way, the inevitable (for me) stomach bug ruins the weeks after my trip, but less of the trip itself, and I still get to eat good stuff on the last day or two. I just pay for it all the way home.