From island retreats to non-stop parties, Southern Vietnam offers both busy metropolitan and relaxed countryside vibes. If you’re already in love with Ho Chi Minh City’s skyscrapers, the Mekong Delta’s paddy fields, and Phu Quoc’s pristine coastline, the food here is also irresistible.
Broken Rice (Cơm Tấm)
Cơm tấmis a signature dish of Ho Chi Minh City. A typical plate of cơm tấm usually comes with a generous portion of broken rice, topped with a thin grilled pork chop and scallion oil. It’s also accompanied by pickled daikon and carrots, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and sweet fish sauce. Broken rice tastes a bit nuttier than regular rice, almost like risotto. When paired with the savory and tender charcoal-grilled pork chop, they make a perfect combination. You can also customize your plate by ordering additional toppings, such as shredded pork skin, egg-meatloaf, sunny side eggs, or Chinese sausages.
The main ingredient of cơm tấmis broken rice, which are rice grains collected during the milling process. Back in the day, this type of rice was only eaten by farmers because it wasn’t qualified enough to sell. From such humble origin, it’s now one of the must-try dishes in Vietnam.
You can easily find local cơm tấm eateries everywhere on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Although it’s typically a breakfast dish, you can also have it for lunch and dinner as well.
As the name suggests, hủ tiếu Mỹ Tho is a famous specialty from My Tho City in the Mekong Delta. The star of this dish is the noodles which are made from a special type of local rice named Go Cat. This type of noodles is clearer and chewier than other varieties.
A hearty bowl of hủ tiếu Mỹ Tho consists of hủ tiếu noodles, shrimps, minced pork, sliced lean pork, pork liver, quail eggs, fried garlic, and green onions soaked in hot broth. The broth is a soothing blend of natural sweetness from pork bones, dried shrimps, dried squids, onions, and radish. It’s also served with chives, celery leaves, bean sprouts, sliced chilis, and lime wedges. There’s another version called hủ tiếu khô with a special dressing sauce and a separate bowl of broth.
Originated from Cambodia and brought to Vietnam by Chinese immigrants since the 1960s, hủ tiếu has become a culinary symbol of My Tho. If you can make it to the Mekong Delta, nothing beats enjoying a bowl of hủ tiếu on a boat at a floating market. If not, you can easily find hủ tiếu in food carts or local eateries across Southern Vietnam.
Fermented Fish Noodle Soup (Bún Mắm)
Bún mắm is another representative from the Mekong Delta. It’s a famous dish originating from Soc Trang province. A typical bowl includes rice vermicelli noodles (bún), shrimp, squid, catfish, roasted pork belly, fish cake, eggplant, and stuffed chili all together in a dark savory broth. The robust broth is what sets bún mắm apart from other Vietnamese noodle dishes. The use of fermented fish results in a murky texture, pungent flavor, and signature aroma.
On the side, it comes with tamarind dipping sauce, lime wedges, sliced red chilis, and plenty of fresh Vietnamese vegetables and herbs, such as bean sprouts, water spinach, bitter knotgrass (rau đắng), water mimosa (rau nhút), banana blossom (bắp chuối), and yellow velvetleaf (kèo nèo).
Bún mắm is an interesting combo of different textures and flavors, but definitely not the easiest Vietnamese dish for your taste buds. If you’re not comfortable with strong aromas, bún mắm is probably not for you. The best bún mắm can be found in larger towns in the Mekong Delta, but you can also find several decent places in Ho Chi Minh City and throughout Southern Vietnam.