Editor’s note: Canadian teacher and travel content creator, Cassanda Cassidy, has spent much of her four years in Ho Chi Minh City exploring the local food scene. One of her most favorite dishes is bún thịt nướng (noodles topped with grilled pork) for no doubt.
As a self-proclaimed foodie, I’ve challenged myself to try every single dish from every recommended restaurant in the city. I have an ever-growing list detailing all my favorite places and the ones I’ve been itching to try.
My current obsession is hunting down the perfect bún thịt nướng. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of enjoying this dish, it consists mainly of rice noodles (bún) and grilled pork (thịt nướng). Then come the toppings: crispy fried spring rolls, herbs, bean sprouts, lettuce, cucumber, peanuts, and pickled carrot. It is of course topped with the best Vietnamese condiment there is - fish sauce.
Bún thịt nướng was one of the very first meals I had when I moved to Vietnam over four years ago. On my second night here, I went out searching for food, absolutely starving after my long journey from Canada. The smell of something divine stopped me in my tracks. I immediately rushed over to where the smell was emanating from.
|Two bowls of 'bún thịt nướng' served at Kieu Bao, a 'bún thịt nướng' brand with six branches across Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Cassanda Cassidy / Tuoi Tre News
There I saw a small stall with a few tiny plastic chairs. I immediately placed an order, without even asking what it was. I was so hungry that I didn’t care! An older gentleman brought over a delicious-looking bowl and the rest is history.
Would it be an exaggeration to say that this moment changed my life? Maybe. But I’ve eaten this dish almost weekly since then.
I’ve now eaten countless bowls of these tasty noodles. I believe that I may have very well found the best in the city. Of course, it would be rude of me not to share these results.
Here are my two favorite bún thịt nướng spots – one a great place to sit and enjoy, and the other for when you’re on the move.
|'Bún thịt nướng' consists mainly of rice noodles (bún) and grilled pork (thịt nướng). Photo: Cassanda Cassidy / Tuoi Tre News
Sit and eat
One of my favorite ways to discover new spots is to scroll through Google Maps, clicking on anything that seems interesting. That’s exactly how I stumbled upon Bun Thit Nuong Kieu Bao 3 at 139 De Tham in District 1.
|Kieu Bao, a 'bún thịt nướng' brand with six branches across Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Cassanda Cassidy / Tuoi Tre News
Make no mistake, though. Kieu Bao is hardly a secret. When I arrived on a Sunday afternoon, there was but one seat left in the restaurant and a slew of delivery drivers waiting outside. Always a great sign!
I went with the noodle, grilled pork and two spring roll option. The assembly line of workers had my order ready in less than two minutes. A ladle of fish sauce and a heaping scoop of chilies later, I was ready to dig in.
From my first bite, I knew this would be somewhere I’d come to regularly. The meat was deliciously seasoned. The portions are huge, especially considering the price. Above all, they keep buckets of fish sauce on the table. Yes, you read that right: fish sauce BUCKETS. Consider this my official petition for fish sauce to always be served this way!
Price? Only VND29,000, over a dollar, I know.
|A bucket of sweet and sour fish sauce seen at Kieu Bao, a 'bún thịt nướng' restaurant with six branches across Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Cassanda Cassidy / Tuoi Tre News
If you didn’t have previous knowledge of this spot, you’d most likely drive by it without a second glance. This street stall is not much of a stall, but more a plastic table and the owner.
After hearing my friend talk up this place for years, I finally made the journey to District 3 to see if she was right. Would this truly be the best bún thịt nướng in Ho Chi Minh City? My stomach was very ready to find out.
The owner greeted me with a big smile. She and her husband have been serving street side dishes from this very location in front of 55 Vo Van Tan Street for many years.
|A street vendor sells 'bún thịt nướng' on Vo Van Tan Street in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Cassanda Cassidy / Tuoi Tre News
“Cho một tô bún thịt nướng!,” (One bowl of bun thit nuong, please!) I said. She quickly got to work assembling the noodles, pork, spring rolls, herbs, and toppings.
There are no chairs or tables so this meal is truly one to-go. I rushed home, eager to try. This little dish packs so much flavor!
The VND30,000 (US$1.21) portion here is a bit smaller than Kieu Bao, but the taste was sublime. The spring rolls were crispy and delicious, and the meat was nice and tender. I’m not sure what they do with their fish sauce, but it’s one of the better ones I’ve ever tasted!
|A to-go box of 'bún thịt nướng' sold at a stall on Vo Van Tan Street in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Cassanda Cassidy / Tuoi Tre News
These bún thịt nướng spots have made their way into my heart and my top two best in Ho Chi Minh City. Is there a clear winner between them? Definitely not. They are both mouthwatering and worth every dong. Though, I may have to give a slight edge to the larger and more customizable portions at Kieu Bao.
There are still plenty of bowls of these delectable noodle dishes out there, waiting patiently for their turn to be tried. Like in life, this search for the perfect bún thịt nướng is more about the journey than the final destination.