As the rain started to pour down in Saigon, exotic smells evaporated from the worn cement roads. It was over 100 degrees out and we were constantly pulling our clothes from our skin. The locals protected themselves with plastic coverings and the street venders started closing up shop as the rain fell and we prepared for our “Taste of the Night” food tour. Vietnam as many know, is celebrated for it’s exceptional and rather healthy cuisine that includes only the freshest of meats, seafood, herbs and vegetables. Not ashamed to admit, most of which we had been stuffing our faces with since we arrived.
Just as the water slowly stopped torrentially coming down from the tropical skies above, Anh and Van were pulling up to our hotel. They were right on time, 5:30PM sharp. Wearing their darling yellow Saigon Food Tour shirts, they greeted us with excitement. After a few minutes of exchanging names and getting the rundown on how the next four hours would go, they helped us onto the motorbikes with them, and we were off.
Anh and Van were impressive from the start. Their effortlessly polished English coupled with their enthusiasm made for the perfect tour guides. Everyone on the tour got to ride on a scooter with one driver, meaning everyone essentially had his or her own personal guide for the night; an invaluable perk. Saigon can get chaotic with the massive amount of scooters on the busy streets, however, our guides made us feel comfortable and safe the entire time.
1st Stop: Street Food
We kicked off the night with some appetizers and drinks at our first stop, authentic Vietnamese street food at it’s best. Our guides continued to be accommodating, offering to get us any beverages we wanted. No one could resist the homemade brewed iced-tea. At this first place Van explained we were going to be eating “Banh Xeo,” their traditional pancakes originating from central Vietnam. These aren’t typical western pancakes drenched in butter and syrup; no, they’re actually filled with bean sprouts and either shrimp, pork, fish sausage or all three together. After cooking the pancakes, they are rolled up with fresh herbs and dipped in sauce. But before we indulged in the pancakes, it was time for the appetizers.
We started on oyster congee and fresh spring rolls. Although I don’t personally like fresh oysters, this congee was delicious! It was savory, full of fresh herbs and topped with crunchy onions. The spring rolls were tasty and refreshing as well.
Next we got hands on and did an herb tasting. Van handed the herbs to us one by one. She had us taste them all and tell her what we thought they were. The first one was easy for me, immediately I yelled out, “Wasabi!” Following the wasabi we tasted Thai basil, baby mango and fish mint, among many others. Once the tasting was done Van showed us how to make the main course, the Banh Xeo. Using any herbs we liked from the tasting, we stacked those in our own hands one on top of the other, then inserted the pancake inside, then rolled them up. The process was very fun, the result even better. I’m now returning home with a new set of culinary skills!
2nd Stop: Beef Noodle Soup
I didn’t know how they were going to top the first place, but they were up for the challenge. Anh and Van explained that next we would be visiting a place known for their Beef Noodle Soup. When we arrived I realized the two-story restaurant was packed and everyone was eating just one thing, the Beef Noodle Soup! We sat down and immediately were presented with these massive servings.
Before the ladies could explain what we were eating, my face was deep in the bowl. It was simply delicious, so salty and comforting. At this point everyone on the tour was full, very full. We couldn’t believe we had two more places to go to, next up was Vietnamese BBQ,
3rd Stop: Vietnamese BBQ
I had never had Vietnamese BBQ, so I really had no idea what to expect. After a fifteen-minute drive through busy downtown Saigon, passing the opera house, Turtle Lake and the post office, we were there. We almost felt like locals; the girls being so great pointing out all the major landmarks and explaining Vietnamese culture as we drove around. When we arrived at the Vietnamese BBQ place, we first saw flames curling into the night air near the back kitchen. We headed to the back of the restaurant to get close so we could all stop and take pictures.
What came next I will remember forever. Although hesitant at first, I ate frog! I not only ate frog, but I enjoyed eating frog. I couldn’t believe it, it was tender white meat and I loved it. After that monumental life experience we indulged in Bo Tai Chanh, delicious rare beef mixed with onions and lamb. It was unbelievably scrumptious.
4th Stop: Dessert
By now it was a struggle to move. We were all so full. Although stuffed, we couldn’t go on a Saigon food tour without finishing up with some Vietnamese desserts. We headed to Che Nam Bo, the dessert place. First we had Che Chuoi, a mixture of banana, coconut, cassava and tapioca, topped with peanuts! I forced myself to eat it even though I was so full that more food was the last thing on my mind. Just when I told them I was done, they brought out one last dish, pomelo and coconut milk. I was full but still appreciated the sweet flavors to end the night. After four hours of constant eating the tour sadly came to an end.
We said goodbye to the other couple and then jumped on the motorbikes with our guides for one last ride through Saigon. We had become so close to our guides from this experience that when they dropped us off we exchanged emails and facebook names.
I highly recommend Saigon Food Tour to anyone traveling to the area. The food is excellent, the experience is exceptional, and the tour guides are something to write home about. Saigon Food Tours should be your first choice of tours in Saigon. You not only leave having eaten extraordinary, authentic Vietnamese cuisine, but you also leave knowing real people from Saigon, excited to share their culture with you and the world, and you never know, it might even turn you into a local.
WATCH Adventures with Saigon Food Tour to see more.
Written by Hannah Marsala