Saigon is a big city with plenty of high-dollar, splurge restaurants ready to take your hard-earned vacation money. Luckily for the thriftier of travellers, however, it’s still easy to eat on the cheap in HCMC. Here’s how to eat for less than 100,000 VND (US$5) a day.
You can start strong during breakfast. Just head down the nearest street and start checking the various carts along the way. Some of the most popular Vietnamese dishes in the Western world are among the most affordable options at breakfast, with pho being close to the top of the list. A bowl of pho in the morning will set you back around 25,000 VND, which would actually give you some room to treat yourself to a less than 10,000 VND glass of cafe su da. Alternatively go for the similarly priced bun bo hue or you could save around 10,000 VND with a bowl of hu tieu.
If soup isn’t your early meal of choice, another popular breakfast option, banh mi, is also one of the cheapest. A fresh, Vietnamese sandwich with all the fixings can be had for around 10,000 VND.
At lunchtime head to the nearest market for a plate of street food. All the breakfast options will still be available, but some new cheap plates will pop up. Rice dishes, especially anything com tam, will be easy to find on the cheap; a plate of rice, a helping of vegetables and a grilled pork chop can be had for less than 30,000 VND. Bun thit nuong, at around 20,000 VND a plate, is another cheap lunch option that is easily found in markets. You’ll also see a few new soups available, like the crab soup canh bun, which are equally inexpensive. Drinks can easily add to your total bill, so to stay within budget skip the bottle of soda and order tra da, which will be close to free.
For dinner you’ll find even more options. All the food from earlier in the day will still be available, along with additional selections. Dishes that require frying, for instance, become more popular at night, such as mi xao bo, a fried noodle and beef dish.
During the evening, your average plate of food will be slightly more expensive, but serving sizes are somewhat bigger. A dinner plate of mi xao bo will run you around 30,000 VND, as will most plates of com tam. Cheaper option include banh xeo, which can be had for just 15,000 VND, or a bowl of chao can be had for a similarly low price.
You might be reaching the last few dong out of your 100,000 VND but, if you’ve managed your meal money well throughout the day, you may even have enough to finish your dinner in style with a 10,000 VND beer in Pham Ngu Lao. Bon appetit!