Vietnam's buzzing southern capital offers a taste of the spice of life.

Favourite flavours

Vietnamese cuisine is regional, so while you're in Ho Chi Minh City, be sure to try local southern specialties. Many dishes use similar ingredients but add different flavours. For instance, delicious banh xeo, or pancakes, come stuffed with pork, prawns and bean sprouts; hu tieu soup is also heavy on pork and prawns but the addition of crab, garlic, chives and other goodies changes the taste entirely. Fish fans will enjoy canh chua, a fish soup with tamarind, and ca kho to, which is fish caramelised in a clay pot.

The local drop

One of the joys of travelling through Vietnam is sampling each city's beer. In Ho Chi Minh City, the local drop is Hoavener, produced by the Hoa Vien Brauhaus (Address: 28 Mac Dinh Chi, Distric 1. Phone: (08) 3829 0585). Try the pilsner-style bia vang or the dark lager bia den.

Top tables

You can't beat the Temple Club for ambience. Housed in a converted Chinese temple, it has a fantastic 1930s feel and if any of the furnishings catch your eye, they're all for sale. The food is worth a visit, too: try the shrimp in tamarind sauce. 29-31 Ton That Thiep, district 1, phone (84 8) 3829 9244. For a different take on Vietnamese cuisine, try Lang Nuong Nam Bo (285 Cach Mang Thang Tam, district 10, phone (84 8) 3 863 2309), which specialises in Mekong Delta-style barbecue. This is DIY dining, with diners grilling meats including wild boar and goat on individual hotplates. As with many former French colonies, Vietnam still has plenty of fine French-style restaurants. If you're in the mood for Gallic flair, Le Bordeaux (72 D2 Street, District Binh Thanh, phone (84 8) 3899 9831) does a nice line in classics such as coquilles Saint Jacques and duck confit.

Budget bite

Cheap food is easy to find. If you want to eat like the locals, head for Minh Duc (35-100 Ton That Tung, phone (84 8) 3839 2240, one of the cafeteria-style eateries popular with young people. It's noisy and the stools aren't that comfortable but the food is good and you won't find a more authentic experience anywhere.

Special night

There's something very Sydney about sleek, sexy Xu (first floor, 71-75 Hai Ba Trung Street, phone (84 8) 3824 8468), so it's no surprise to learn the restaurateur behind it is a Vietnamese Australian. Start with a lemon grass-infused cocktail before moving on to delicious, if high-priced, modern Vietnamese fare.

Locals love

The tasty beef and noodle soup known as pho is a Vietnamese staple, enjoyed mainly for breakfast but often lunch and dinner, too. Savour a bowl at Pho Hoa (260C Pasteur, phone (84 8) 3 829 7943), which has been dishing up some of the best pho in town for close to six decades.

Don't leave without trying

Street food. But if you're squeamish about street food, the place to head is Quan An Ngon (160 Pasteur, quận 1, phone (84-8) 3827 7131), in which 20 former street vendors have set up under one roof. It's a hit with locals and you'll love it, too.

                                                                                                              Source: The Sun-Herald