As tourists and expats visiting Saigon, exploring Vietnamese food is one of the things you should definitely do. Although most fresh meat and other perishables are transported citywide by refrigerated trucks, food cleanliness and preparation standards vary in HCMC. Nonetheless, many residents enjoy eating out without any unfortunate food incidents and this includes dining everywhere from modest street stalls to international fast food chains and gourmet restaurants in the fanciest hotels.

It is not always true that the more expensive places have the cleanest kitchens, the freshest ingredients, or the best-trained employees. Just because an eatery boasts stratospheric menu prices and trendy decor does not mean the kitchen has been sanitized thoroughly. Of course, the inverse might also be true when considering eateries that at first glance appear aged and in need of a polish.

What are the basic guidelines for food hygiene in Ho Chi Minh City?

Local eateries around Southeast Asia are famous for upsetting stomachs (or worse) after an initial introduction with a country’s cuisine. Western stomachs are accustomed to certain bacteria, drinking water or the water used to clean plates, glasses and cutlery. However, gradual exposure to local cuisine and bacteria steels the stomach and soon many expats can comfortably head to their favourite plastic-stool eatery for a quick meal of Bún chả or Bánh mì.

Nevertheless, some caution should be exercised if you’re opting for street eats rather than a more established restaurant setting. A few tips:

››Eat at crowded restaurants.

››They are usually the safer bet because of higher food turnover and an established reputation. Even better, ask your friends to recommend a few trusted spots as you get acclimated. You won’t have a problem with this as your friends will surely give you recommendations even without asking.

››Go early.

››The earlier you eat at street stalls, the better. Food is fresher earlier in the day.

››Use your senses.

››Take time to smell the food if possible, it is a good indicator of freshness. Some Vietnamese food and cooking ingredients are pungent; you will soon learn the difference between fragrant and spoilt.

››Check the way food is handled

››Food handlers (usually stall owners) should be wearing gloves. If they’re not, glance at their fingernails for cleanliness. When possible also check cutting boards, washing water and food preparation surfaces. Also look for street stalls a good distance away from rubbish bins, bus stops and other public transportation.

Below is a general pricing table in Vietnamese Đồng (VND) for common food items:

››Coriander (Rau mùi): VND2,500/100g

››Mint (Bạc hà): VND3,000/100g

››Fish Mint (Rau diếp cá): VND2,500/100g

››Basil (Húng quế): VND2,500/100g

››Lime Leaf (Lá chanh): VND3,000/100g

››Lemongrass (Sả): VND2,000/100g

››Onions (Hành tây): VND1,500/100g

››Scallions (Hành lá): VND2,000/100g

››Garlic Chives (Hẹ): VND1,000/100g

››Perilla Leaf (Tía tô): VND2,000/100g

››Turmeric (Nghệ): VND7,000/100g

››Pepper (Tiêu) VND200,000/kg

››Coffee Bean Arabica (Cà Phê) VND30,000- 40,000/100g

››Garlic (Tỏi) VND70,000/kg

››Chili (Ớt) VND26,000/kg

››Ginger and Galangal (Gừng và Riềng): VND7,000/100g

››Beef (Bò): VND200,000-250,000/1kg

››Pork (Heo): VND80,000-100,000/1kg

››Chicken (Gà): VND60,000-120,000/1kg

››Tuna (Cá Ngừ) VND105,000/kg

››Vietnamese Rice (Gạo): VND11,000- 25,000/1kg

All items are available at HCMC wet markets and supermarkets. Prices may vary depending on location.

For information on hygiene go to Vietnam Still Struggling With Unsafe Food