I had no idea what to expect from a Vespa food tour in HCMC but our guide introduced us to amazing eateries that you’d never find on foot…
I had no idea what to expect from a Vespa food tour in HCMC but our guide, who goes by an English alias Tim, introduced us to amazing eateries that you’d never find on foot. We snaked down hidden alleyways, stopping to taste everything from spring rolls to spicy seafood, coffee and coconut sweets. Basically, you eat until you can’t eat any more and visit restaurants you’d never dream of walking into as a westerner.
The traffic in HCMC is crazy, there’s vehicles coming at you from every direction and sometimes it’s so gridlocked that a local will get out of their car and start directing traffic. With a helmet, I felt really safe on the back of Tim’s Vespa though (he’s fully insured) and once you get going you realise the traffic is organised chaos and everyone flows around each other seamlessly, like a shoal of fish.
As we drove through downtown, Tim pointed out famous landmarks, stopping on a bridge so we could marvel at HCMC’s futuristic skyline. He showed us what used to be the highest building in the city 20 years ago, which is now dwarfed by modern hotels and skyscrapers. Twisting down backstreets, we arrived at a cafe to try some iced coffee and coconut rice paper sweets. People don’t have huge spaces to live in Vietnam so they spend a lot of time socialising outside, particularly in coffee shops. Tim even showed us a roundabout opposite Turtle Lake where young Vietnamese people go to eat street food and date, completely oblivious to the city chaos.
As an ex-French colonial city, the Vietnamese know how to make incredible French bread, which we tasted at HCMC’s top Banh Mi sandwich stall, packed with liver pate, salad and cheese, all washed down with Saigon beer. My favourite food stop though was a seafood restaurant full of local families sat around on tiny plastic stools, eating with chopsticks. Everything was cooked on a BBQ and Tim picked out some of the best dishes for us to try, including calamari mouth which was surprisingly tasty. I loved the scallops and fresh clams, which came with peanuts on top and a spicy sauce you could pour over the top.
Although food was the main focus of the tour, the unexpected highlight for me was visiting a wholesale flower market where they sell beautiful bunches of flowers and arrangements for weddings, funerals and businesses. It’s as local as you can possibly get and nobody bothers you at all, unlike other markets I’ve been to in Asia. I got to try Vietnam’s equivalent of a Cornish pasty, watched how sugarcane drinks were made and a Vietnamese woman even taught me how to cook rice paper over a coal fire, which was much harder than it looked!