When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch
food / travel

Vietnamese Foodie Delights On Moped Tour Of Ho Chi Minh City

Food stall in Ho Chi Minh City
Food stall in Ho Chi Minh City
Martina Miethig

HO CHI MINH CITY — The night begins with a concerto of motor bike horns as the heat lies like a damp rag over everything. All the mopeds take off at the light, tooting their horns at once, and in the twilight we leave behind Ho Chi Minh City's tourist district, with its French-colonial buildings, town hall and theater. We plunge instead into the nightly bustle of the city formerly known as Saigon.

Nguyen Tien is a confident driver and tour guide. "We're going through Chinatown right now," she says in perfect English front the front of the moped. No sooner has she uttered these words, we smell the medical, slightly musty herbs and roots of traditional medicine. The camera in the driver's helmet is capturing the scenes around us. Too bad it can't capture scents too. Like the other smells on this "Foodie Tour" of Ho Chi Minh City, these are to be savored.

Of course, Ho Chi Minh City has a rich nightlife, where gourmet restaurants, styled establishments and airy "sky bars" that present the Vietnamese metropolis from a bird's eye view abound. But anybody out with Nguyen is treated to another city perspective entirely: from the ground up, outside the comfortable air-conditioned interiors and straight into the chaos of the night markets via moped.

[rebelmouse-image 27088562 alt="""" original_size="1024x680" expand=1]

Photo: Sam Sherratt

Moped guides such as Nguyen come to the hotel door, and are easily recognizable in their long white outfit of pants with a tight-fitting, side-slit tunic, and their little candy-colored mopeds. After sundown, Saigoners meet in thousands of cookshops and open-air locales. But first, we need to make the obligatory round through the district. Particularly on Fridays and Saturdays because, since the 1990s, this is when there are aimless show races between two-wheelers with zigzag maneuvers and constant horn blowing.

Hours of dining begin

Now, along with a hundred other Honda drivers, Nguyen drives straight into the crossing. Miraculously, a route opens, and we reach the Dong Ba soup kitchen in the first district. It specializes in only one dish: Bun Bo Hue, from the imperial city Hue in the country's center. In the steaming soup bowl are long noodles, strips of beef and onions. Using chop sticks, we mix it with soy bean sprouts, strips of banana flower and a spinach-like green called morning glory, along with a bit of chili or fish sauce.

[rebelmouse-image 27088563 alt="""" original_size="1024x768" expand=1]

Photo: Charles Haynes

While the guests slurp the delight, another guide, Tai Dang, talks about Vietnamese cuisine, showing mouth-watering dishes on his iPad. He uses the opportunity to introduce some of the more gruesome specialties, at one point showing a cute little dog. His audience is outraged. Tai himself doesn't like dog meat, and says he'll leave that to his northern countrymen. He only tried it once, at a client's request.

"Di thoi, let's go!" After eating, everybody gets back on their mopeds, and soon we're off to the Bui Vien in the backpacker quarter, then past the kebab shops, massage parlors and tattoo studios and back to Chinatown, the fifth and oldest district in Ho Chi Minh City. After a photo op at the Binh Tay Market, the city's wholesale market, Tai Dang tells the story of Cho Lon, which means "great market." For 300 years, the Chinese and their descendents who fled from southern China have been trading here legally and illegally on the surrounding streets and sidewalks. These days, the smartphone has replaced the abacus, and the sweet smell of opium no longer wafts through the area.

Shopping while on mopeds

When the Vietnamese go food shopping, only seldom do they dismount from their mopeds. Take the night market, for example. Customers maneuver through the narrow streets between the stalls full of baskets laden with fruit, vegetables, hens and hatchlings. Fish and crabs are stacked in plastic containers. The "luck birds" twitter in their cages, and the voices of market women hawking their wares rise above the din of the mopeds.

[rebelmouse-image 27088564 alt="""" original_size="1024x768" expand=1]

Photo: Robert Lafond

In district eight too, visitors are welcomed with delicious smells: pepper, chili and other nose-tinglers. In Trung Son, there are barbeque and hot pot, or stew, places all over, all of them with 300 seating spaces under corrugated roofs. At the "Lau de 3 Q," the dish of choice is goat meat with okra shoots, cooked on the table's coal grill. To accompany it, diners dunk mint and basil leaves in a dip of salt, pepper, chili paste and lemon or soy sauce. After that come grilled prawns and squid on skewers with icy glasses of "Saigon Bia," or beer.

Twenty minutes later, we're in Phu My Hung, a clinically clean and chic part of the city with town houses and 20-story apartment blocks with tennis courts and Olympic-size pools next to parkland with jogging paths and artificial lakes. Two million people live here. "Fifteen years ago it was a swamp," Tai says. The streets are deserted. There are no mopeds, and hardly any cars or people. Street lights change in the emptiness. It's like a ghost town.

Those who participate in the tour shouldn't let their plates be piled too high, just try a little bit of everything the way the Vietnamese do. Because the last foodie stop, in the fourth district, when you are practically too full to eat another thing, surprises you with the best the tour has to offer.

It's on an inconspicuous, somber little street. A pair of red stools sit before a white-tiled house facade pushed against a long table, right next to the parking space for motorbikes. Servers bring plastic chairs, plastic dishes and napkins. Then they bring the food: quail and mountains of crab claws in chili and garlic. They also bring scallops garnished with spring onions and finely chopped peanuts. Five of these cost just two euros.

[rebelmouse-image 27088565 alt="""" original_size="1024x768" expand=1]

Photo: Cristina Bejarano

After this treat, Tai recommends duck eggs with the embryo ("lots of protein, good for men"). But he only eats one before getting back on his two-wheeler and rolling through the night to the hotel merrily blowing his horn.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


Why The World Still Needs U.S. Leadership — With An Assist From China

Twenty years of costly interventions and China's economic ascent have robbed the United States of its global supremacy. It is time for the two biggest powers to work together, to help the world.

Photograph of Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden walking side by side in the Filoli Estate in the U.S. state of California​

Nov. 15, 2023: Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden take a walk after their talks in the Filoli Estate in the U.S. state of California

María Ángela Holguín*


BOGOTÁ — The United States is facing a complex moment in its history, as it loses its privileged place in the world. Since the Second World War, it has been the world's preeminent power in economic and political terms, helping rebuild Europe after the war and through its growing economy, aiding the development of a significant part of the world.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

Its model of democracy, long considered exemplary around the world, has gone through a rough patch, thanks to excessive polarization and discord. This has cost it a good deal of its leadership, unity and authority.

How much authority does it have to chide certain countries on democracy, as it does, after such outlandish incidents as the assault on Congress in January 2021? The fights we have seen over electing a new speaker of the House of Representatives or backing the administration's foreign policy are simply incredible.

In Ukraine's case, President Biden failed to win support for the aid package for which he was hoping, even if there is a general understanding that if Russia wins this war, Europe's stability would be at risk. It would mean the victory of a longstanding enemy.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest