The vibrant and vast city of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a city that never sleeps with experiences tucked away in each district and alley ranging from food to cultural points. But the unforgettable aspect of Saigon is its food culture. Of all the blogs we read, each and every one of them suggested a food tour. Before booking one, we were apprehensive and wondered what this tour could possibly offer which we ourselves could not explore. And let us start by saying our trip in Vietnam would have been incomplete without a food tour in HCMC.
All the details for a food tour
Essentially these food tours are on a bike ranging between 3 – 6 hours covering vast areas and all local delicacies. While if you are not comfortable with a bike, you can also choose to do the tour in a car. Most guides speak English making the entire experience smooth and informative. Before a trip, your food preferences are taken into account before they tailor make an entire menu to explore. The cost covers all expenses including insurance and the food you have along the course of your trip. Most companies run night and day trip which may include some sightseeing as well.
We went with Tiger Tours for a Saigon street evening tour which costed us about 48 USD per person and included over 10 dishes, drinks, pick and drop and insurance. The certificate of insurance they provided was from a company owned by the government and safeguarded us from accidents. As my friend and I, both had very different preferences we were worried about the range of dishes. But despite this, we enjoyed an array of dishes which were delicious and well-planned! Our guides were extremely friendly and left us at our hotel feeling happy. We got an inside scoop into life in Saigon in a generous and warm manner.
While we highly recommend Tiger Tours for numerous reasons, it is their story that truly made it more special. Most of the bike tours in Vietnam hope to help college students, but Tiger Tours went a step further. The company has only female employees and they hope to empower one another and make an earnest living. To create a trend of recruiting more women and providing a balance in opportunities provided to them, Tiger Tours started this woman only initiative. And after hearing their story from our guides, we could not help but feel happy to be a part of their journey. Read more about them here!
So here are some reasons why you cannot miss the coveted food tour:
1. Value for money!
At about 48 USD for four hours including everything from transport to food and insurance! The trip had everything we needed and delivered more than what we expected. Each dish was thoughtfully planned, was comfortably within our preference yet was something authentic in Vietnamese cuisine. During our culinary feast, we started from the city centre District 1 and went all the way across to Chinatown in District 5. The tour started with a feast, as our table boasted of some freshly stir-fried morning glory, Pho, grilled pork garnished with peanuts, served with rice paper and an assortment of herbs. Aside from this we also had chilled Vietnamese tea here.
Our next stop was a small vegan joint which had an assortment of Vietnamese dishes but all Vegan. Here we had some spring rolls with tofu and a papaya salad.
The next step into a flower market was everything bright and fun. All the small alleys showcased beautiful flowers, some were produced in Vietnam while some freshly imported from neighbouring countries including Thailand. Amidst all the beauty lay lanes and lanes of street food accommodating locals and their delicacies. We started with some roasted bananas, some stunning pork dumplings and this dish called Banh Trang Nuong which is essentially a Vietnamese pizza with a rice paper base, coated with eggs and topped off with an array of condiments including prawns, pork before the seasoning is added. This was a treat!
To conclude our culinary adventure, we headed to Chinatown. The long drive gave us time to prepare for the dessert. Our final platter included some coffee flan, coconut jelly and Che with beans. The local dessert Che is basically a sweet soup featuring different elements. This dessert soup has a tone of hero ingredients starting from fresh fruits down to even corns, beans and potato. It is finished with some thick coconut milk and ice.
2. Beyond the culinary
Even though the tour was essentially about food it went beyond that as the guides took us through flower markets, across districts and even different types of food joints. From the story behind each store to the significance of different religious symbols and even their own personal lives, the conversations were so enriching, educational and inclusive. Our guides, Heidi and Amy, towards the end of the trip had become friends who were equally curious about our culture and traditions.
3. The hospitality
Beyond the usual, our guides were prepared for every small little aspect of the tour. Right from the moment we hopped onto the bike to the very last good bye, they documented every dish and moment which was shared with us via mail soon after the trip ended. During the trip they provided with hand sanitisers, tips on using the chopsticks and even helped us with our itinerary for the following day. Their suggestions really made for the perfect trip.
To conclude with some extra tips…
Try carrying as little as you can while on these trips and use a bag that you can securely manage at all times. Absolutely avoid backpacks. Despite how safe and warm these trips are, you will cross many alleys and lanes which have witnessed thefts and pickpockets. So, to be safe, we carried only our phones as the trip covered all expenses. Always check the T&C especially cancellation section before making a booking with a tour group. We booked offline by calling the group directly from the number given on their site and paid in USD for the trip while you can also book online and avoid the hassle.
Some of the other food tours highly-rated in Saigon include OneTrip, Back of the Bike tours or even AirBnB experiences. Each and every one of these companies offer authentic and also professional services while taking your around the city. Be sure to check out TripAdvisor reviews for some added insight into these companies… the one thing in common is that each of their tours make for a local experience you cannot afford to miss!