With a name reflecting anti-war campaign posters, Propaganda Saigon marks a different style of Vietnamese cuisine in the heart of Saigon.
Opening at the end of the Dragon Year, Propaganda offers a wide variety of inventive dishes, including incredible spring rolls and a smorgasbord of Vietnamese street food served with creative twists.
We delved into a number of tasty dishes from north, central and south Vietnam, and particularly enjoyed the “Bún chay gạo lức Propaganda”. This dish consisted of:
perfectly fried tofu,
an abundance of typical Vietnamese herbs and vegetables,
nutrient-rich puffed brown rice,
garnished with chilli, peanuts and shallots,
and served with a sweet soy sauce.
Puffed brown rice has recently crept into many Vietnamese recipes, as it is a popular healthy option that gives the texture a boost while adding a subtle mellowing flavor.
For a group of friends, the spring rolls are a must. With a wide selection you can have any meat you might want or vegetarian if the fancy strikes. We went with the chicken and avocado spring rolls and were not disappointed. With the clever twist of adding Western ingredients, they’ve created a brilliant new way to experience a typical Vietnamese dish. It also helps that they were cut into compact bite sized pieces – so much easier to eat.
Last point (because we probably shouldn’t go on about spring rolls forever), the peanut sauce they’re served with is to die for: a thick sweet sauce with the hearty crunch of chopped nuts. We found it hard to stop ourselves licking the bowl – though we did go so far as to use a handy invention, a spoon, to scrape the remnants directly from the dish.
The architecture is modern, clean and simple with French Colonial traces, seen in the old floor tiles and the Art Deco replica marble tables. The hand-drawn propaganda mural on their main wall ties the entire scene together making the restaurant vivid and lively – as one might imagine would have been the attitude of the artists originally making propaganda art years ago.
With multiple floors and a long narrow space to work with (similar to their neighbouring restaurant Au Parc), the smart table layout means people aren’t cramped, even at peak hours. Propaganda lets you gather with friends and family, relax and enjoy well made, modern Vietnamese street food.
Eating is one of the top things to do in Saigon. With a glut of tasty dishes to sample, it’s hard to decide what to choose For a short list of the must-try food in the city, you can read below. For more ideas, you can read our review: Top Street Food in HCMC.
No trip to Vietnam is complete without a steaming bowl of pho, the most popular traditional food in Vietnam. Simple yet complex at the same time, pho is served with flat rice noodles in a beef broth that usually takes several hours to prepare. The broth is usually topped with green and white onions, coriander leaves and bean sprouts. Accompanied with the soup is an array of garnishes that consists of gia (bean sprouts), chanh (lime), rau que (basil), hanh (scallions), tuong ot (chili sauce) and ot (sliced chilies). Most pho restaurants will have a wide assortment of meats and trimmings to choose from. Basic selections are either tai (sliced of ground beef ), bo vien (beef meatballs) or nam (beef flank). More adventurous eaters have the option of more exotic fare such as gan (beef tendon), sach (thin sliced stomach lining) or ve don (flank with cartilage). If you want a bit of everything in your bowl, order a pho thap cam.
Pho is not the only soup to eat in Vietnam. To truly experience all the soupy goodness that Saigon has to offer check out this blog. Bun Rieu is a great place to start your culinary voyage.
Local insight: Expect to pay around VND 30,000 – 40,000 for a steaming bowl of Vietnam goodness.
Take a walk anywhere in Saigon and you will eventually run into someone selling banh mi. Tasty, filling and most importantly quick to prepare, these sandwiches are perfect for fast paced Saigon life.
It isn’t banh mi unless it’s on a baguette. The type of baguette will range from each region and baguettes that originate in Saigon are generally lighter yet crustier in texture. Fillings consist of butter, soy sauce, pickled daikon sprouts and carrots, cucumber and coriander. Chilies are optional if you want to spice things up. The meat options are aplenty and a slew of them are listed here: cha ca (fried fish with turmeric and dill), cha lua (steamed pork roll), heo quay (roasted pork belly), pho mai (laughing cow cheese), pa te (pate), xiu mai (meatballs), thit ga (boiled chicken), thit nuong (grilled pork loin), trung op la (fried egg), and xa xiu (chinese barbecued pork)
Local insight: Banh mi is usually sold for about VND 10,000 – 15,000 depending on your choice of filling.
Literally translated as “broken rice”, this hearty dish is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This dish started with humble beginnings with Vietnamese farmers serving this rice at home as the “broken” leftovers were not suitable to sell in the market. Nowadays, it is served in Saigon and isn’t just for farmers anymore.
The dish is usually served with many different meat options such as suon nuong (barbecued pork chop), bi (shredded pork skin), cha trung (steamed pork and egg patty) or trung op la (fried egg). Diced green onion in oil is sprinkled on the meat and a side of pickled vegetables and sliced cucumber finish the plate. Served on the side is a bowl of the ubiquitous nuoc cham dipping sauce.
Local insight: Eating on the street will usually cost you VND 20,000 but expect to pay a bit more in a restaurant.
Bun Thit Nuong
Brightly coloured and fresh in flavour, this noodle dish is a great alternative to the heavier pho or com dishes served in Saigon. Unlike most Vietnamese dishes, bun thit nuong is served in one bowl and doesn’t come with additional garnishes. The Saigon version highlights the wealth of fresh vegetables produced in the neighboring Mekong Delta and Dalat regions. Fresh chopped leaf lettuce, sliced cucumber, bean sprouts, pickled daikon and carrot, basil, chopped peanuts, and mint are served with vermicelli rice noodle and topped with grilled pork shoulder.
You can also get the dish with cha gio (eggrolls) or nem nuong (grilled ground pork meatballs). Nuoc cham is served on the side and should be poured into the bowl. Mix it all up and what you have is a taste sensation in your mouth.
Local insight: A bowl of bun thit nuong will put you back around VND 30,000 but expect to pay more if you want some extras.
Though pho is the starlet of Vietnamese cuisine, its humble Saigonese cousin hu tieu is a soup that shouldn’t be overlooked. Named after a noodle made from tapioca, there are countless variations served in restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. One unifying ingredient is the broth. Lighter in flavour and a touch sweet, the broth is made from pork instead of beef. Though the definitive hu tieu is called hu tieu xuong that consists of pork ribs as the main meat ingredient, each restaurant or stall features their own specialties. Toppings can consist of sliced pork shoulder, a whole pork chop, wonton dumplings, meatballs, shrimp, squid, and/or fish. You can even mix up the hu tieu noodles with some pho or mi (chinese egg noodles) noodles for a bit of textural contrast.
Local insight: Sitting on the street will usually cost you VND 20,000 for hu tieu but expect to pay VND 30,000+ to sit in a restaurant.
Desserts in Vietnam are generally different than most western desserts. Granted, you will find the occasional French baked item taken straight from the patisserie and made Vietnamese here.
However, one set of desserts is inherently Vietnamese: chè. There’s nothing more enjoyable on a hot summer day than eating this chilly, sweet treat.
No, it’s not the famous beret-clad revolutionary whose face is plastered on shirts all over Pham Ngu Lao.
It’s a dessert. In fact, it’s a family of desserts. Chè may be served hot or cold, in bowls, glasses, or over ice. There’s a wide range of flavours, and might contain any amount of different ingredients: beans, tapioca, jellies, glutinous rice and fruit just to start. The options are nearly endless and it is almost impossible to produce a complete list. But we took a poll around the City Pass Guide offices. The result: this list of best chè dishes in Saigon.
Chè thập cẩm - Mixed sweet soup
Chè thập cẩm is the smorgasbord of the chè family, the absolute perfect choice for someone who wants a little bit of everything. This glass of chè has it all: beans, jelly, tapioca, steamed green rice flakes, mashed mung bean, coconut milk and sweet syrup on top. Everything is served in layers and then mixed up when eaten, making a sweet and savoury treat for a light and refreshing snack.
Chè thập cẩm is the best choice for someone who wants a little bit of everything. Image source: toilambep.com
Price: VND 10,000 to 22,000
Where to eat it:
Chè Kỳ Đồng
Address: 16C Ky Dong, D3, HCMC
Opening hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Phone: 090 895 41 66
Chè Kỳ Đồng is a one of the most popular mixed sweet soup shops in Saigon. It’s located in Ky Dong street, a spot it’s held for more than 34 years. The menu is updated every year with more new options for chè lovers, but the soul of this shop will always be mixed sweet soup. Everything is super affordable and the quality of their chè thập cẩm is high. Not too sweet, not to bland, creamy or chewy. All you need to do is to mix everything and enjoy.
Sâm bổ lượng (Ching bo leung Sweet Soup)
If you don’t want coconut milk in your sweet soup, you better check out sâm bổ lượng. This chè is a revered herbal remedy as well as a dessert.
A glass of sâm bổ lượng generally contains dried red jujube, dried longan, peanuts, lotus seeds, one to two slices of lotus roots and thinly shredded seaweed with sugar syrup, and crushed ice. Some of the ingredients are believed to aid the cardiovascular system and help the body function better. There’s nothing more enjoyable on a hot summer day than eating this chilly, savoury treat.
Different from other Vietnamese sweet soups, sâm bổ lượng syrup does not have coconut milk in it. Image source: media.cooky.vn
Price: VND10,000 to 33,000
Where to eat it:
Chè Sâm Bổ Lượng
Address: 339/14 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, D3, HCMC
Opening hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Chè Thái (Thai Sweet soup)
If you don’t mind durian, have yourself a flavourful glass of chè Thái. A version of Thailand’s tub tim grob, the Vietnamese version is less sweet and uses a variety of fruits. You can actually find a rainbow in Thai sweet soup: the yellow of jackfruit, the red of faux pomegranate seeds, the green of Vietnamese jellos and the white of lychees and longans. All are served in a tall glass with condensed milk and a scoop of durian.
Chè Thái is served in a tall glass with condensed milk and a scoop of durian. Image source: sendo.vn
Price: VND 18,000 to 33,000
Where to eat it:
Chè Thái Ý Phương
Address: 380 Nguyen Tri Phuong, D10, HCMC
Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.
There are not only one or two chè shops in District 10’s Nguyen Tri Phuong Street – it’s an entire Thai sweet soup street! Around 7 p.m., the whole area featuring Thai sweet soup is lit up with neon lights, making you feel as if you are on a busy central street in Hong Kong. Customers, from teenagers to college students, from young couples to families with kids, sit on plastic chairs and tables overlooking the busy street and wait for their desserts to be served. You can jump into any shop you like, but we highly recommend Chè Thái Ý Phương, a nearly 20-year-old dessert shop. You won’t be disappointed.
Chè Khúc bạch (Khuc Bach sweet gruel)
“Chè khúc bạch” is very familiar to the Southern variety but it first originated in Hanoi. Its perfect balance of lychee, creamy jelly and almonds gives street food lovers a taste of summer.
It was introduced to Saigon long ago, but chè khúc bạch became a hit with Saigon youngsters in 2013. The original Khuc Bach sweet soup contains cheese jelly, lychee jelly, roasted shredded almond seeds and sugar syrup. “Simple” and “savoury” are the two words that best describe the flavour of this dessert.
Original chè khúc bạch contains cheese jelly, lychee jelly, shredded almonds and sugar syrup. Image source: images.sunflower.vn
Saigon’s beloved chè khúc bạch was creatively varied by adding new toppings and novel cheese jelly flavours. Nowadays, chè lovers have more options than ever to enjoy, such as chè khúc bạch with fruits, tofu, cheese, cocoa, green tea, chocolate and so much more.
Saigon shops offer a plentiful array of options for chè khúc bạch lovers. Image source: cdn01.diadiemanuong.com
Chè khúc bạch is best served with some shaved ice. It’s a great option for anytime of the day.
Price: VND 20,000 to 33,000
Where to eat:
Chè Khúc Bạch Thanh
Address: 68/210 Tran Quang Khai St, D1, HCMC
Opening hours: 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 PM
Chè Mâm (Sweet soup “buffet”)
If you can’t decide which Vietnamese sweet soup to try, order a bit of everything. In Saigon, varieties of sweet soups are served in small portions on a tray (“mâm” in Vietnamese); up to 16 options are available. This way, you can curate your own perfect selection of Vietnamese sweet desserts – from chè đậu xanh (mung bean sweet soup) to chè bà ba (a heavy, starchy combination of sweet potato, cassava and taro in a rich coconut milk soup) and so on. This is always a good option if you’re eating with a group of four or more.
Various flavour of sweet soup, all on a tray and ready to go. Image source: facebook.com/saigonsuada
Price: VND 5,000 to 30,000
Where to eat:
Chè Mâm Khánh Vy
Address: 242B Su Van Hanh St., D10, HCMC
Opening hours: 5:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Take a tour to this famous shop house through this video:
Video source: RICE
Besides local flavours, Saigon chè also include sweet soups brought over from other countries in the region. Regional flavours are added, making them culturally unique.
Chè Campuchia - Cambodian Style Sweet Soup
Cambodian-style chè is made with shaved ice, coconut milk served with durian sauce, strands of egg noodles, palm fruit, salted egg, mung bean paste and baby tamarind. The key ingredient that gives this treat its special flavour, however, is the pumpkin flan, a delicacy made from egg custard cooked in a hollowed-out pumpkin. These pumpkins are usually imported from Cambodia, which gives the custard a sweeter flavour than pumpkins in Vietnam. Make sure you don’t eat the rind!
The key ingredient here is the pumpkin flan. Image source: media.christinas.vn
Price: VND10,000 to 22,000
Where to eat it:
Chè Cô Huôi - Chợ Hồ Thị Kỷ
Address: 57/21A Ho Thi Ky St, D10, HCMC. (in Ho Thi Ky Market)
Opening hours: 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.PM
Phone: 090 991 87 07
Ho Thi Ky Market, located on the borders of District 10 and District 1, is well known as Ho Chi Minh City’s largest flower market, as well as Saigon’s unofficial Cambodia Town. You can find various Cambodian dishes here, and sweet soup is one of them.
Meet Fresh is a Taiwan-based chain, popular for its herbal jelly, widely adored by Vietnamese youths. A bowl of Meet Fresh contains a combination of herbal grass jelly and taro balls. Some of the common toppings include beans, nuts and fruit, depending on your preference. This Taiwanese Sweet soup is finished off with brown sugar, coconut milk and sugar syrup. For anyone unfamiliar with these ingredients, grass jelly is an Asian dessert, made from the leaves of mesona chinensis, a member of the mint family. Taro balls, the more chewy, mochi-like balls, similar to the Chinese sticky rice balls, are made out of taro.
The Five Oysters is a pocket of calm on one of Southeast Asia’s busiest tourist strips. The owner, Ho Quang Man, established his now thriving restaurant three years ago this July, and its careful ambience and tasty Vietnamese cuisine attract customers from all walks of life. Tourists, expats and locals fill the Five Oysters every night to soak in the quiet music and relax in the warm light.
How did it start?
We decided to ask the man himself.
When did you start the Five Oysters, and why?
This month I am celebrating three years of running the Five Oysters. Before that, I owned a clothing brand for more than 10 years and I also worked for an international bank in Vietnam.
I was born and grew up in a seaside province near to the city, so I knew all the best seafood suppliers well. I also love cooking, especially Vietnamese food, so I decided to open the Five Oysters after leaving the bank. I made all the arrangements, connected with suppliers, and opened the next day! I knew I would have to learn as I went, and it’s been hard, but I also knew that if I focused on my customers and worked hard to bring them what they enjoy my business would grow quickly. And it did.
Is it easy to start a restaurant in this city?
Maybe not easy, but definitely a good idea! Vietnamese people love eating out a lot. However their taste and eating styles change very fast, and Western taste is also very different. It is difficult to cater to everyone.
What vision did you have for the business when you started it?
To keep improving. Always keep improving. I think I saw the Five Oysters as an opportunity to learn, and customer service was a completely new field to me when I started out. The clothing business is different than hospitality, but one thing that applies to both industries is "love your customers".
Before I was happy to bring my customers a nice costume, and now a cool meal. I also wanted to show people the food of my country, Vietnam. I think it is important to share the real Vietnam with tourists at a good, fair price. It all comes back to “love your customers”.
What is the biggest challenge that you’ve faced since you started the Five Oysters?
The biggest challenge is ongoing - learning to know your customers. It is hard to “love your customers” if you don’t know what they are looking for, and at the Five Oysters we are always learning more.
When I started the Five Oysters I had very little idea about Western taste. I knew what Vietnamese people like to eat, I am Vietnamese! But my restaurant is on a famous tourist street, and what local people love to eat is not always what Westerners can enjoy. Since Five Oysters is located in the backpacking area, we have to learn everyday what foreign tourists love most from a huge range of local cuisine, and adjust our menu and cooking to that. It is a challenge but a rewarding one. The Five Oysters is always a calm, friendly place and I think it’s because we really care about our customers’ experiences.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City?
I don’t think I can advise anyone, since the success of my restaurant is small. Restaurant business is super hard. You have to spend time and money to learn, and the competition is always changing! But I always remind myself everyday to keep fighting.
I think that’s the best advice: be ready to change, always love the customer, always try to know the customer, and above all - keep fighting. Apart from that, make sure that what you’re serving the customers is good.
Who do you employ in the Five Oysters?
I want to serve the most authentic Vietnamese cuisine, so all kitchen staff members are professional Vietnamese cooks. Service staff could be anyone! Almost all the waiters and waitresses at Five Oysters are University students. They are young, active and open minded to learn.
I know that many restaurants in the backpacker area only employ Vietnamese, but I think it is important to be fair to everyone. We have worked with one girl from Cambodia, someone from the Philipines, etc.
What vision do you have for the Five Oysters in the future?
People usually call us "the best Vietnamese restaurant in the backpacking area". We are working hard everyday to deserve it. I have recently bought the building next door and expanded my restaurant to allow more people inside.
For now, I want to focus on building up the Five Oysters as a totally unique place for food, atmosphere and service. I don’t think about opening a chain right now, but maybe in the future, maybe in my favourite city Hoi An. Who knows! For now, let’s focus on Ho Chi Minh City.
In a few words, what is the Five Oysters? Who do you cater to?
Five Oysters is just a name including my favorite number and a kind of seafood popular in Vietnam, a country with a long seacoast.
Actually, over half our menu has nothing to do with fish or oysters. But we are proud of our seafood, and as we have a good supply source and talented local cooks in our kitchen, I am confident to say that the Five Oysters cuisine is 100% Vietnamese.
We cater to tourists, locals, expats, anyone.
Why did you buy the building next to the Five Oysters, and expand?
As you know the competition in the tourist area is very high. If you have something good, people will copy you very quickly. At Five Oysters, we do not walk, we run.
Before I renovated, some nights of the week and especially during the weekend, we did not have enough tables for our customers. At that time the business next to us was for sale so we decided to buy it, and make the place bigger. Now we can receive big groups of customers, and also group parties like birthday or anniversary events.
Why do you think your restaurant is rated so highly on Tripadvisor?
For two years continually we received the certificate of Excellence by Tripadvisor. It's really a gift from our customers. Although the reviews can be positive or negative sometimes, we learn a lot from it and always make it our first aim to fix any issues. We never increase our prices on the menu, even though rent on Bui Vien has definitely increased, because we want to keep our food and drink at the low budget range for tourist people, especially backpackers.
The restaurant, which derives its name from the Buddhist mantra “om mani padme hum” or “peace comes from within”, serves health-conscious fare by detailing the nutritious properties of ingredients like lotus, sesame, mushrooms, brown rice, homemade tofu and seaweed.
What’s the story behind the creation of Hum restaurant?
Hum is a concern of Long Thanh, a Vietnamese investment and financial company. The owner, Ms Hong Dang, has always been a big vegetarian food fan and wanted to open a vegetarian restaurant for a long time.
Among the management team, we looked for opportunities and concepts. Our project manager went to Thailand to find a chef, Nguyen Van Ngoc, who used to work in Thailand for many years. Consequently many of our dishes are inspired by Thai cuisine. The restaurant opened on 29 September 2012, in a beautiful, colonial-style villa.
Is the restaurant successful?
Yes! Though, to be honest, it took about 6 months before business really picked up. In the beginning it was a bit slow because we didn’t do a lot of advertising or marketing as we absolutely did not and do not want to run a commercial-style restaurant.
At first we mainly served a Vietnamese clientele, but after a while our healthy food and pleasant ambience started to attract expats and tourists. TripAdvisor now recommends us, so we’re constantly welcoming more guests.
How many seats do you have?
We have 120 seats and we serve breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week. We open at 7 am, close at 10 pm and the last order is at 9:30 pm.
After Tet we’ll launch a new drinks menu that features a lot of cocktails. Indeed, the atmosphere here looks a bit like a lounge. Around 100 people are now working for the restaurant including those in marketing, human resources and accounting, which is directly handled by Long Thanh.
Can you tell us more about the concept?
First and foremost we propose healthy food – this decision is unrelated to any religious concept as we also serve eggs and milk and use garlic and onion – ingredients that are not usually consumed by traditional vegetarians. We serve no ‘faux meat’, like fake sausages, for instance.
Above all we’d like people to begin thinking of vegetarian food as not being boring!
We do not want the restaurant to feel crowded. We pay a lot of attention to the environment, to the architecture and design, and we want our customers to feel good here.
Service is the most important thing we’d like to bring to our customers. We want to make sure that our guests are satisfied.
To prepare healthy food, does Hum use specific ingredients or shop a specific market?
We always use fresh products. We source all ingredients from reliable suppliers that have certificates for the products they sell. For some rare ingredients, we get them from traditional Vietnamese markets and we always try to get the best possible quality.
But in the end, our chef judges the product and has the final word. Fruits, for instance, need to taste good as well as look appetizing to the eye.
Do you have an expansion plan for the brand?
Our objective is to expand, but at the moment Ho Chi Minh City is our key market. We just opened a second restaurant and people have started to recognize the Hum brand. Once we establish a strong foothold in Saigon, we may expand farther.
Finally, what is the meaning of ‘Hum’?
Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying the prayer, ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the powerful, benevolent attention and blessings of Chenrezig, the deity of compassion.
The final syllable, ‘hum’, represents indivisibility. All six syllables, ‘om mani padme hum’, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path that is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech and mind into the pure exalted body, speech and mind of a Buddha.
- Hum Vegetarian, Café & Restaurant, 32 Vo Van Tan, District 3, HCMC. Tel: (848) 3930 3819