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Everyone knows Saigon is full of great food. But there’s one corner in District 1 where you can eat three excellent meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – in three excellent establishments, all within a few metres of each other: I call it the Food Triangle. Each ‘point’ of the Food Triangle represents a meal (map). One of these establishments is already spectacularly famous, but the other two, although highly regarded by locals, have yet to make it onto the traveller/expat radar. A day of eating your way through the Food Triangle – each meal interspersed with trips to other attractions around the city – is both a great introduction to Vietnamese food, and a great way to spend 24 hours in Saigon.
GUIDE: THE FOOD TRIANGLE
Three Delicious Meals at Three Local Establishments in Saigon
The Food Triangle is located at the northeastern edge of Saigon’s District 1, close to the banks of the newly revitalized Thi Nghe Channel. The area is leafy and quiet for most of the day, but at night, street performers (flame eaters, Michael Jackson impersonators, magicians) liven things up considerably. The three meals in the Food Triangle encompass a wide range of classic Vietnamese dishes, and the dining atmosphere at all three establishments is typical and local.
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BREAKFAST: PHỞ PHƯỢNG
Address: 25 Hoàng Sa Street, District 1 | Price: 45,000vnđ ($2) [MAP]
For over 30 years, Phở Phượng has been ladling out its cinnamon and star anise-scented broth to loyal locals and the occasional traveller. Phở – probably by now one of the most famous noodle soups in the world – is a national pride and a favourite pastime for many Vietnamese. Take your seat on a red plastic stool in the cool early morning air and let the soupy vapors invigorate you. Tear up those southern herbs (basil, mint, sawtooth coriander, rice paddy leaf), throw in some fresh-cut chillies, add a squeeze of lime, and let your day of eating begin. For much more about Phở Phượng read my full review HERE.
Breakfast: breathe in the vapors of Phở Phương’s aromatic beef noodle soup (more here)
LUNCH: THE LUNCH LADY
Address: 23 Hoàng Sa Street, District 1 | Price: 40,000vnđ ($2) [MAP]
A global street food superstar, the Lunch Lady occupies a shady corner of a local neighbourhood, just a 30 second walk up the alleyway from Phở Phượng. In the shadow of a creaking old apartment block (where, despite her fame, popularity and, presumably, fortune, the Lunch Lady still lives), Ms Nguyen Thi Thanh serves up her famous ‘rotating menu’ of a different soup each day of the week. Despite a certain amount of backlash in recent years (over the quality of her food and overcharging of foreigners, most of which is unfounded), the Lunch Lady remains a solid bet for a big, bright, nutritious bowl of noodles. The soups are wholesome and delicious: packed with chunky bits and pieces, and so colourful and tactile that I would gladly frame one and hang it on my wall. For much more about the Lunch Lady read my full review of her menu HERE.
Lunch: dig into one of the Lunch Lady’s edible works of art (more here)
DINNER: QUÁN 25
Address: 23 Hoàng Sa Street, District 1 | Price: 50-100,000vnđ ($2-5) per dish [MAP]
After the sun has melted away on Saigon’s hazy horizon, fluorescent strip light bulbs flicker on at eateries lining the banks of the Thi Nghe Channel: it’s dinner time. Quán 25 occupies the corner opposite Phở Phượng, with outside seating sprawling along the alleyway, continuing all the way up to the Lunch Lady. Grab a table, order a few local beers, and delve into the encyclopedic menu. If you can’t read Vietnamese, you can still rely on the silhouettes of animals to guide your way through the dishes. Quán 25 specializes in bê thui, or thịt bê (veal). However, they also do a refreshing gỏi ngó sên tôm thịt (a spicy lotus stalk, shrimp and pork salad with prawn crackers), gigantic ốc bươu nướng tiêu tía tô (grilled fresh water snails with perilla leaf and black peppercorns), crunchy bông bí nhồi thịt tẩm bột (deep fried pumpkin blossoms stuffed with pork) and, for the adventurous, chim sẽ nướng mọi (grilled baby sparrows dipped in lime, pepper and salt). The food is fabulous, and the dining ambience – lively, loud, humid, busy and animated – is what eating out in Saigon is all about.