Writing a guide to the best cheap eats in Saigon is the journalistic equivalent of building an exact replica of the Great Pyramids without the slave labour. In other words, heroically time-consuming and practically pointless. Great cheap food is everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. From the toothless old crones purveying goodies such as bot chien (fried rice cakes with egg) and cut chien (tiny fried quails) to the street side quans (basic restaurants), there’s far too much to recount in a mere slip of a blog posting. The best advice I could possibly give is just to use your nose and your sense of adventure and get eating.
Of course, I do have some favourites I can pass on. For me the greatest pleasure of living in Saigon is eating some of the freshest seafood I have ever tasted with friends while downing several icy bottles of Saigon Red beer. Venues vary but I’m currently getting a lot of pleasure out of the venues on Vinh Khanh in District 4. It’s hard to single one in particular out (indeed, it’s difficult even to provide an exact address) but the one on the corner between Ben Van Don and Hoang Dieu serves up seafood of a particularly exemplary provenance. Try the tom nuong (barbecued shrimps) and the cua rang muoi (salt and pepper crab) out for size.
Other cheap eats include Vietnamese perennials such as pho bo (rice noodle soup with beef) and hu tiu nam vang (Khmer/Chinese style noodle soup with pork, liver and shrimp. Decent versions are everywhere but, for me, I’d go to Hu Tiu Quynh
on Nguyen Trai for the latter and probably Pho Hung (also on Nguyen Trai) for a filling late night or early morning bowl of Vietnamese goodness. Pho Hung also does a mean line in bun thit nuong (Vietnamese rice noodle salad with grilled pork).
Moving slightly (but not that much further) up the scale is another humble venue on Nguyen Trai known as Pho 99. Ostensibly a pho joint, it is actually much better regarded for its fantastic (and super-cheap) fillet steaks. Sourced from a farm near Cu Chi, the tender meat gives lie to the notion that Vietnamese beef can’t be used for anything other than slow-cooking. Served up with fries, salad and banh mi (a baguette) it is an absolute snip at around $4.