This is an important question, and it’s best to be completely open and forthright about the topic. After all, most travelers have limited time on vacation and don’t want to risk getting sick. I have gotten extremely sick a couple of times during my time in Vietnam. I would say those odds are pretty fantastic, given my job is to take customers around eating local Vietnamese food in Ho Chi Minh City.
In Ho Chi Minh City, street food is generally considered safe unless it’s extremely low quality. However, travelers might not be acclimated to the foreign bacteria present, potentially impacting their vacation. The likelihood of contracting severe foodborne illnesses like salmonella is minimal. Opt for popular vendors known for quality and high daily customer turnover to ensure safety. Vendors with minimal food indicate potential low quality. For a positive experience, travelers should research and pre-plan their street food adventures.
Let’s jump into this topic a bit more to flush out the question fully: Is it safe to eat street food in Ho Chi Minh City?
How Common is Food Poisoning in Vietnam?
Food Poisoning in Vietnam is a concern for many people, and I am willing to say that serious food-borne illness outbreaks are rare, but they do happen. One of the largest Banh Mi vendors in Hoi An recently had a case of food poisoning that got over 300 people sick. This is one of the most popular vendors in Hoi An, and I eat there multiple times every time I go there. This sort of thing can happen to any business as every year there is a food poisoning issue among a franchise in the US, which has some of the strictest food regulations in the world.
The answer here is tricky because you might get some “sickness” no matter what you do. The bacteria in the food in Vietnam will be different because of location and food handling differences, and your body just isn’t used to it. In my experience, this is usually not detrimental or an issue for most travelers. You might have some loose bowel movements when you need to use the restroom over a span of a few days. This is quite normal as your body adjusts to this new bacteria it isn’t familiar with. You aren’t necessarily getting full-on food poisoning, which will keep you bedridden for a few days.
To summarize, actual Salmonella or dirty food poisoning isn’t common. If you are smart about where you eat and use a bit of common sense, you’ll avoid getting seriously sick. I take thousands of customers out every year to eat food in Vietnam. We haven’t had any issues, and no one has ever gotten severely sick.
What to Look for to Avoid Getting Sick? Tips for Eating in Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City
You might think eating at a restaurant will be your best bet to avoid sickness in Vietnam, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. You need to be careful: DO NOT order Western food from small restaurants or coffee shops that do not seem very busy. Let me explain why. Cheese, for example, is not an ingredient Vietnamese cooks are familiar with. That small coffee shop that has bought a block of cheddar to serve on a sandwich isn’t doing enough business to sell all of that cheddar. Unfortunately, the cook in the back is so unfamiliar with the product that he doesn’t know when it’s off.. and might end up selling it. This is a real-life example that I saw in my early days in Vietnam when I did a bit of restaurant consulting.
Summary: Is it Safe to Eat Street Food in Ho Chi Minh City?
Generally speaking, is eating Street food in Ho Chi Minh City safe? Yes, it is safe to eat street food in Ho Chi Minh City. Use my guidelines above for all your eating, and I highly recommend you research before eating out on the street. I know the excitement of hitting the ground running when you come to Vietnam and want to dive into the local food scene. It’s a risk-to-reward situation because you could stumble onto a place that is just too cheap and serves low-quality food. The amount of bacteria in the food might be too much for you to handle, and you could ruin a couple of days on your vacation.