Popular foreign specialties such as German sausage, American and Thai barbecue, Spanish sweet egg custard, and Japanese baked cuttlefish cakes are now available as street food for Vietnamese people.
Notably, they are prepared and processed in the genuine style of their original countries and sold along streets in major cities like Ho Chi Minh City by ‘foreign natives,’ who are obviously Westerners in appearance, but native in their lifestyle.
Previously, these types of dishes were often displayed in expensive restaurants, but they can now be bought on the street for a reasonable price.
‘We don’t make it look expensive’
First up is the barbecued pork chop at the Ut Ut ‘street restaurant,’ located at 168 Vo Van Kiet Avenue in District 1, which is open from 4:00 pm every day.
Guests sit in small wooden chairs at low tables on the open space of the sidewalk of the avenue, looking out over Ben Nghe Canal.
The address is a favorite haunt of both locals and expats living in the city, with prices ranging from VND30,000-300,000 (US$1.5-15) per dish. Though it serves foreign food, locals account for as many as 80 percent of the customers.
Barbecued pork chops are prepared in the small garden in front of the restaurant, making it look like an outdoor BBQ party. Beer is the only thing not made in the garden.
The only problem is the crowd: It is common to see up to 30 guests standing in line for a table.
Albin Deforges, a French cook and one of three owners of Ut Ut, said, “We target locals, not foreigners, as our main customers. So we build this restaurant to serve American style BBQ in the Vietnamese atmosphere.”
The more it looks like a common food shop, the better it is, Deforges said.
“We don’t make it look expensive,” added the Frenchman, who has lived in Vietnam for over ten years.
He said he knows baked meat is a favorite dish of Vietnamese.
A guest named Nguyen Cong Nhat, 40, said while waiting for a table at Ut Ut, “Actually, I am not used to standing in line to wait like this, for there are many options for food in this city.
“But queuing up here is like one of the specialties of this restaurant.”
This street food specialty has become a breakfast staple for many people commuting on Hoang Dieu Street in District 4.
It is served by Dieter Engele, a 57-year-old German, whose ‘restaurant’ is entirely contained on a motorbike.
He is available from 6:00 am on a corner of the kilometer-long street.
The sausage is baked on an oven attached to the end of his motorbike. The prices and illustrated images of his food are all listed on a small sheet of A4 paper.
Bread is kept in a glass cabinet on the bike seat.
“A loaf of bread with German sausage inside is 25,000 dong [over US$1 dollar]. It is delicious,” said Lan Phuong, who often drives her child to Van Don, a nearby school.
“And he looks nice, and doesn’t speak a lot, so I like him and want to support him,” she added.
Standing at the street corner from 6:00 in the morning till 8:00 in the evening, Engele sells 70-100 loaves of bread a day.
As with other vendors in the city, he worries about his business, “It’s miserable if it rains. No clients. On rainy days, I have rice with sausage.”
Engele speaks German and Vietnamese, and is originally from Berlin, where he sold flowers.
“In 2003, I came here for the first time, and love this city.
“I came back in 2013 and now I have a girlfriend here so I just wanted to start a business here by selling sausage.”
He added that he wants to stay in Vietnam all his life and sell sausage – a famous German specialty all over the world.
Another German, Klaus Rutt, 44, has built a restaurant that serves the trademark Vua Xúc Xích (Sausage King). His eatery is called Leon King, in Binh Thanh District.
Rutt and his wife, Minh Nguyet, a Vietnamese woman, started building the Leon King brand name two years ago. All of the materials used to produce their sausage are imported from Germany.
Although his products have been wholesaled at restaurants and shops across Ho Chi Minh City, Rutt still prefers selling sausage from his truck on a corner of Phan Xich Long Street in Phu Nhuan District from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
Other foreign dishes sold as street food at a reasonable price in Ho Chi Minh City include Thai barbecued chicken called Nam Sao (Five Star); Spanish sweet egg custard in Go Vap District; Japanese baked cuttlefish cakes, called Takoyaki, on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street in District 1; and Japanese sushi on Nguyen Van Cu Street in District 5.