The best Saigon cooking classes, street food tours and culinary experiences include everything from the hands-on cooking classes at GRAIN Cooking Studio started by Vietnamese-Australia chef Luke Nguyen to Saigon Street Eats’ in-depth street food tours to off-the-beaten-track neighbourhoods.
We’ve long said that the fastest way to get beneath the skin of a place is to shop the local markets, learn to cook the local food, and connect with locals over a meal or two (or three or four) – which is one of the reasons we started Grantourismo almost a decade ago, and why we’ve long suggested you sign up for cooking classes, street food tours and culinary experiences when you travel.
Cooking courses, culinary tours and foodie experiences provide some of the best opportunities for food-loving travellers to immerse themselves in great eating destinations such as Southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City – nostalgically called Saigon by its locals. While travellers to the sultry metropolis are often under the misapprehension that Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s capital (it’s Hanoi), for the city’s residents Saigon is Vietnam’s culinary capital.
And while we don’t have favourites (although we do love the food of Hanoi and Hoi An, where we briefly lived, and Dalat and Hue, where I also take participants on my Vietnam Culinary Tours), Saigon definitely boasts some of Vietnam’s best cooking schools, food tours and culinary experiences – from busy markets bursting with fresh local produce and fantastic Southern Vietnamese street food to memorable restaurants that offer so much more than a meal.
Unlike Hoi An, where a cooking class and street food tour have become so obligatory that every restaurant and hotel seems to offer them and the options are overwhelming, in Ho Chi Minh City there are so many other things to do and see (impressive museums, for instance) that the choices are fewer and decisions easier. Nevertheless, we’re here to help: these are the best Saigon cooking classes, street food tours and culinary experiences we recommend you book.
Best Saigon Cooking Classes, Street Food Tours and Culinary Experiences
Best Saigon Cooking Classes
These are the best Saigon cooking classes for learning to cook Vietnamese food in Ho Chi Minh City.
GRAIN Cooking Studio
If you’re serious about learning to cook Vietnamese food in Vietnam, GRAIN Cooking Studio offers one of the best Saigon cooking classes, with a high level of instruction (the head cooking instructor is a chef with deep knowledge and excellent English), an impressive set-up with individual cooking stations with gas burners and all the pots, pans and utensils you need right on hand, and roaming assistants in case you need help. GRAIN Cooking School was established by Australian-Vietnamese chef Luke Nguyen, co-owner of one of Sydney’s best Vietnamese restaurants, Red Lantern, and author of a slew of Vietnamese and Southeast Asian cookbooks, and restaurateur Bien Nguyen, owner of Xu Restaurant in the same building. Menus change frequently, but expect to learn to cook four Vietnamese dishes, including an appetiser, starter, main, and dessert, and to enjoy each dish after you make it. Highly recommend the optional wine pairing. There’s also a traditional Vietnamese filtered coffee-making demonstration at the end. Participants are a mix of tourists and locals, including Vietnamese studying abroad. Skip lunch if you’re doing the afternoon Vietnamese cooking class.
Saigon Cooking Class at Hoa Tuc
Another one of the best Saigon cooking classes on offer, the Saigon Cooking Class is located above Hoa Tuc restaurant in a former opium warehouse that’s now home to a handful of restaurants and bars. One of Saigon’s oldest Vietnamese cooking schools, the Saigon Cooking Class is aimed firmly at tourists. That doesn’t mean it’s not good – we made the dish above in the Hoa Tuc cooking class – it just means that these hands-on Vietnamese cooking classes, based on recipes for dishes served in the restaurant, are very relaxed, with plenty of time to share travel tales and trade tips in between preparing four traditional Vietnamese dishes. Instruction is at a slower pace than GRAIN with the chef providing step-by-step directions before participants cook their dishes together. Instructors take time to teach as much about Vietnamese produce and ingredients as they do cooking techniques and kitchen utensils. Saigon Cooking Class caters well to participants with food allergies and vegetarians and can adapt recipes and dishes accordingly, but you need to let them know when you book.
Vietnamese Cookery Centre
Said to be one of the oldest of Saigon’s cooking schools, the Vietnamese Cookery Centre has been offering Vietnamese cooking lessons to visitors to the city since it was first established in 1999 and is arguably another of the best Saigon cooking classes around. The cooking school is located on the top floor of a charming French colonial-era residential building dating to the 1930s, which you may recognise if you’ve been to the War Remnants Museum or you’re familiar with the iconic image from the Vietnam War of an American helicopter evacuating people on 29 April 1975, the Fall of Saigon, from the rooftop of the neighbouring building. The apartment complex was home to USAID and the CIA had offices on the top floor. The Vietnamese cooking centre offers six menus that change daily and each menu includes four dishes and dessert, and complimentary drinks. They also cater to vegetarians.
Farm To Table Cooking Classes Near the Cu Chi Tunnels
If you like the idea of getting out into the countryside and getting onto a farm to do some cooking, the Ho Chi Minh City agricultural villages near the Cu Chi Tunnels, offer some of the best Saigon cooking classes for learning to cook Vietnamese food. The full day farming and cooking class will give you the best insights into life on the farm in Vietnam as well as teach you how to prepare healthy Vietnamese meals using fresh organic produce. You’ll get to see livestock being fed – this is Vietnam’s cattle country, after all – and don a traditional Vietnamese conical hat and take a bamboo basket out to pick your own vegetables, herbs and fruit to use in your cooking class. The instructor, who is a professional chef, will teach you some regional cooking techniques and share lots of tips, as you learn how to cook local Vietnamese dishes, before enjoying what you’ve prepared for your lunch. One thing that participants always find fascinating about these experiences is that many of the local farmers have maintained the agricultural traditions of their ancestors and are doing some things in ways that they have always done them. Other highlights include learning about rice cultivation, mushroom growing methods and insights into how herbs are not only used for their fragrance and flavour in Vietnamese cuisine, but also for their medicinal properties and health benefits. If you don’t have a full day to spare, they also offer a half-day cooking class on the farm, as well as a day out that includes the farm-based cooking class and Cu Chi Tunnels tour.
Best Saigon Street Food Tours
After doing one of the best Saigon cooking classes, we suggest doing one of Saigon’s best street food tours.
Saigon Street Eats
Started by Saigon local Vu and his Australian wife Barbara, Saigon Street Eats was Ho Chi Minh City’s first street food tour company and remains the best, offering a range of specialised small group food tours. If you’re a fan of noodle soups and Vietnamese phở in particular, then the 4.5 hour Pho Trail is a must. Expect to kick off the morning walking tour with lessons on how to cross the road and how to pronounce Vietnam’s best-known dish (it’s ‘fur’ not ‘foe’), before exploring the ‘real’ Saigon starting with a 35 year-old soup joint. The four-hour walk also takes in a chaotic wet market, a laidback park and a temple famous for its fortune telling. Seafood lovers shouldn’t think twice about signing up for the evening Seafood Trail, which includes a stroll through a lively local neighbourhood, where you’ll get to feast on an array of ‘Ốc’ (crustaceans), including sea snails eaten with a safety pin, scallops, mussels, and prawns, and learn how to drink like a local, beginning with a lesson in the art of Vietnam’s boisterous toasting ritual. I assure you that if you like a drink you’ll put your “Mot! Hai! Ba! YO!” to very good use on your trip. If you’re new to Vietnamese food, then the evening Street Food 101 Tour by Moto is your best bet and the best introduction to Vietnamese street food you’ll get. If you’re game, you can ride behind a local driver on the back of a motorbike taxi (xe om), but if you’re not, or your insurance doesn’t cover it, you can move between locations by taxi. You’ll begin in a bustling hẻm (alley) crammed with food stalls, where you’ll sample a couple of specialties before moving onto a different neighbourhood. Vu has a very deep knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine and its culinary history, so you’ll leave his Saigon food tour with a head full of stories as well as a full stomach. A typical tour includes a handful of stops, dessert at a local market, and beers. If you’re a beer lover, you can upgrade to the craft beer option and get a pack of three Pasteur Street craft beer packs to enjoy on the tour.
Saigon Secrets Night Food Tour and Cooking Class
If you enjoy cooking but don’t see yourself doing a 4-hour cooking class and you like trying street food but can’t imagine spending a whole evening eating, then this Saigon Secrets Night Food Tour with cooking class is probably the best option of the best Saigon cooking classes and street food tours for you. Over four hours, the guides will zip you through seven districts of Ho Chi Minh City behind your guides on the backs of motorbikes to sample seven different types of food and drink – that’s seven in total, not 14 if you’re getting worried! You’ll do as much exploring as eating and sipping, and you’ll round off the experience with a short and sweet cooking class in a local home. The food you’ll sample will give you a taste of the breadth (and length!) of Vietnamese cuisine, from bun thit nuong (grilled pork, noodles and fresh greens) to banh xeo (Vietnamese turmeric prawn and pork filled pancakes), while places you’ll visit include everything from the wholesale flower market, the ‘fashion street’ of Nguyen Trai, where many locals shop for clothes and accessories, and the island that is District 7, where you’ll visit a floating market and get a cooking lesson is making a secret family recipe.
Ho Chi Minh City Sightseeing and Street Food Tour
If you’re a street food lover and it’s your first time in Saigon and you have a tight schedule, this private Ho Chi Minh City sightseeing and street food tour is a terrific option. You’ll get to see Saigon’s most notable landmarks, learn about the city’s history, and gain an insight into local life on a tour that combines popular sights and local experiences, with five food tastings to keep you sated. And you’ll do it all on an exhilarating, fast-paced 5-hour ride through the city’s chaotic traffic from the back of a motorbike. You’ll take in Saigon’s main attractions, the Saigon Opera House, City Hall, Central Post Office, and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as get a taste of local life at a popular temple, a wet market, where you’ll local drinks and street food snacks, and the Ho Thi Ky wholesale flower market, where you can join the locals for a hair wash and massage before visiting the Cholon Saigon’s Chinatown and exploring the city’s canals and a floating neighbourhood. Dietary issues can be accommodated and accident insurance coverage is included.
Best Saigon Culinary Experiences
Binh Tay Market
While most market-lovers visiting to Saigon make a beeline to Ben Thanh Market in the city centre, we prefer to hit Ho Chi Minh City’s Cholon or Chinatown, dating to the late 1770s. Unlike many Chinatowns around the world it hasn’t given over to tourism, perhaps because it sprawls across a number of blocks with no single thoroughfare that can easily be pedestrianised. At its centre is Binh Tay Market, which is predominantly a wholesale market, but is still a wonderful place for food enthusiasts to explore as much for the aromas of herbs and spices, the photogenic sacks spilling over with dehydrated mushrooms and dried chillies, and tables and shelves crammed with pickles, condiments and dry goods. There’s a dimly lit food section where you can pull up a stool and slurp a bowl of soup with the stallholders before wandering the streets around the market where you’ll find more food, as well as fresh herbs, fruit, vegetables, seafood, and the like for sale. Go early in the morning when it’s most lively.
Those were our picks of the best Saigon cooking classes, street food tours and culinary experiences. Do let us know if you do any of these and what you think, and do feel free to share your tips below if you think you’ve discovered one of the best Saigon cooking classes or food tours that you think we should be including. We’re happy to test them out on our next trip and add them.