When I first arrived in Vietnam back in 1993, there were food hawkers everywhere.
Some were stationary and some moved from street to street. These were the interesting ones as they all had their own call or chant to identify what they were selling. And they sold dishes like hu tiu go, banh chung, banh gio, trai cay (seasonal fruits), rau qua (vegetables), buying appliances, mai dao (knife sharpening), weighing scales and so forth. Their calls were so distinct that everyone could recognise exactly what good or service was on offer.
However over the years, the number of street hawkers has declined dramatically due to government regulations regarding food hygiene, safety and general public relations.
I find this such a shame because street vendors defined Saigon’s wonderful character, as well as providing a great variety of food day-in day-out, all year round.
I do agree that hygiene and food safety are very important, but I hope the government can find solutions allow street hawkers to continue trading. Vietnamese street food is amazing and the sector should be supported into the future.
My wife was the first to introduce me to the food street on Nguyen Thien Thuat between Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Dien Bien Phu in the heart of District 3. I felt like a kid in a candy store because I was surrounded by so much street food that I didn’t know where to start. I wrote about this food street three years ago. And ever since I’ve been searching for a similar street food nearer to my home in District 1.
Enter Hem 200 (Alley 200) situated between Doan Van Bo and Xom Chieu Street in District 4. It is literally minutes from District 1, just across the Khanh Hoi Bridge.
This bustling alley is a Mecca for local street food. I have found pretty much everything I can think of and then some.
But you must come by motorbike otherwise you will not be able to get through the alley. Take your time and stroll by every stall before you order.
Here are some of the more notable and specialised items of Hem 200:
Long bo pha lau (Vietnamese stewed with organ meats/intestine) served with a baguette;
Banh canh gio heo (thick rich noodle soup with pork hock);
Bun mam (Mekong-style rice vermicelli soup with fermented fish and seafood);
Chao vit (duck porridge);
Mien vit (glass noodle soup with duck);
Sup oc cua (crab soup with pig brains) I know what you’re thinking but it is delicious and
Com chien dui ga (fried rice with fried chicken leg).
Some other crowd-pleasers are oc (shellfish), especially ngheu hap xa (steamed clams with lemongrass), oc huong (flower snail), either pan-fried with chili or with salt and pepper. Grilled scallop with green onion is another winner, and any type of oc in tamarind or butter sauce is to die for. Other favourites are bot chien (fried rice flour cakes with eggs and green onions), banh trang tron (rice paper salad), hot vit lon and cut lon (duck and quail egg balut) and bun ca (vermicelli fish soup).
Of course there are the old standby dishes, such as goi du du (shredded papaya salad with dried beef, chili, roasted peanuts, thai basil and fish sauce, bun thit nuong (rice noodles with grilled pork), banh mi thit (baguette with meat) and bo la lot (grilled minced beef wrapped in a lo lot leaf). Lo lot leaf is also known as betel and it’s very similar to a grape leaf.
Let’s not forget desserts, such fried banana, fried sweet potatoes, nuoc mia (sugarcane juice), rau ma (freshly-blended pennywort juice), caramel flan, banh bo (chewy sponge cake), assorted che (sweet dessert soup) and fresh coconut juice. To be honest I’ve been down this alley a couple of times and I have barely scratching the surface of what’s available.