During the day, visitors to Saigon flood Ben Thanh Market to rifle through stalls selling chop sticks, dried fruit, pottery, clothing, jewelry…basically everything. But as the sun sets, the main building is shuttered and food stalls set up shop around the square.
While cheap chicken, beef, and pork dishes are available, the real draw at this Saigon staple is reasonably-priced fresh seafood.
My first night at Ben Thanh, my girlfriend Sarah and I each gorged ourselves on king prawn, served Vietnamese style with lime and a salt, pepper, and chili powder mix. The entire cost, including beer (13,000 VND each), was 230,000 VND (about $14.50 USD).
The meal certainly didn’t break the bank, but it was one of our more expensive dinners. The prawn was priced by weight (300K VND per kilogram), so we headed back the next night to see if we could cut costs in fixed-price dishes at another stall.
We started with shrimp spring rolls with lettuce (35K VND, about $2) and two Saigon beers (24k VND, $1.50). Next, we had a half-dozen shrimp fried with tamarind (100K VND, $6.30). They were messy, but the postprandial finger licking made it worth the shrimp shucking. Lastly, we tried a small portion of the vermicelli fried shrimp and crab (40K VND, $2.50). It was mediocre and misleading — with two crab legs and a single piece of shrimp, I suggest springing for the large portion.
Final cost of the second meal: 198,000 VND, or $12.50, just two dollars less than the king prawn feast. The quality at both stalls was good, and since there’s only one soundtrack at Ben Thanh — revving motorbikes — don’t waste your time combing over every menu.