Within a few weeks of arriving in Ho Chi Minh City to start my new life, I encountered my first case of ‘Vietnam Belly.’ My body wasn’t adjusting well to the local food and cheap beer.

During this time, I met another Australian expat who introduced me to his employer, a prominent name in Vietnam’s teaching industry. Despite my health concerns, I went ahead and interviewed with the company, hoping that I would be able to recover by the time I started classes.

Early the next morning, I received a call from the school asking if I could cover a class since one of the teachers was sick. Excited about my first class in Vietnam, I quickly headed to the public school in District 3.

Once I arrived, I started to feel stomach cramps and overall discomfort. However, I looked up and saw a familiar sign—a street stall advertising ‘HOT DOG.’

I felt a wave of relief and relaxation wash over me. Finally, something familiar from Western cuisine.

A sign reads 'Special hot dog - Try and get addicted' at a street stall in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

A sign reads ‘Special hot dog – Try and get addicted’ at a street stall in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

I walked over to the street cart and, with my limited Vietnamese skills, I confidently said, “One hot dog, please.” Confusion quickly washed over the woman’s face as she mumbled something in Vietnamese. I persisted, repeating “One hot dog” as I pointed at the banner on her cart.

Eventually, she gave up trying to understand me and handed me a bag of food. I paid her, not much money, and returned to the school to find a seat to enjoy my familiar Frankfurt sausages in a soft bun with ketchup.

However, when I opened the bag and looked inside, I was shocked to find a triangular sandwich instead of a hot dog. I couldn’t believe it!

I had asked for a hot dog and she gave me a waffle—a mildly sweet, half-cooked cheese and sweetened bread toasted waffle. What could I do? At the time, nothing. So, I ate it and went to class.

Vietnamese hot dogs are stored in a glass cabinet at a street stall in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

Vietnamese hot dogs are stored in a glass cabinet at a street stall in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

Over the following months, I discovered that ‘Hot Dogs’ in Vietnam are not actually hot dogs but toasted waffle sandwiches. Different vendors offer variations of these sandwiches, but they all consist of cheese and bread, with some including meat and other fillings.

Knowing this cultural difference, I became curious about how this use of the term ‘Hot Dog’ came about.

Based on the limited information available, it seems that Vietnamese hot dogs only gained popularity around the turn of the century. Some sources suggest that local mothers started purchasing electronic appliances, including sandwich or waffle makers, which were considered a novelty at the time.

A couple makes Vietnamese-style hot dog using a toasted sandwich maker on the street in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

A couple makes Vietnamese-style hot dogs using a toasted sandwich maker on the street in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Their cart’s menu displays a list of different fillings customers can opt to their liking. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

To provide filling and affordable breakfasts and snacks for their children, mothers started making triangle-shaped toasted sandwiches. Some of them even sold these sandwiches outside of local schools, catering to children coming and going from classes.

These mildly sweet, yet somewhat bland, cheese and bread triangles were the ideal fast-food option for children who may not have been accustomed to the strong flavors of traditional Vietnamese cuisine like com tam (broken rice) or hu tieu noodles.

There is no definitive record of how these sandwiches came to be called hot dogs, but it’s plausible to believe that the term was adopted as a cultural equivalent to grabbing a street hot dog in America.

Vietnamese hot dogs are sold at a street stall in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

Vietnamese hot dogs are sold at a street stall in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

Over time, this practice has spread across the country, with vendors selling these toasted waffle sandwiches on highways and main roads throughout the day and night. They offer a quick and affordable snack for only VND5,000-6,000 (US$0.21-0.26). These sandwiches are small enough not to spoil your appetite but substantial enough to provide the energy you need to continue your journey without stopping.

These days, I tend to opt for fresher snack options between meals. However, I still find amusement in stumbling upon a ‘Vietnamese hot dog’ vendor. It’s a hot dog that isn’t actually a hot dog.

If you haven’t tried one yet, make sure to stop and indulge in at least one on your travels. Don’t forget to capture a photo of the Hot Dog sign for your social media page. It’s just another inventive and wonderful aspect of Vietnamese culture that makes this country uniquely special at every turn.