Apart from the chaotic traffic, the culinary scene is one that should not to be missed when in Hanoi (link to city blog). Hanoi offers so much more than the usual Pho and Banh Mi which are popularised by the Vietnamese restaurants. Below are some of the best foods and drinks in Hanoi!
Bun Cha @ 1 Hang Manh and 21 Nguyen Hau Huan Street
One of our first meals in Hanoi was a nice hearty breakfast at 1 Hang Manh, a recommendation from a local friend who introduced it as one of the best Bun Chas in town. Not knowing what a Bun Cha was, we found ourselves sitting on mini stools in a tiny room upstairs of a shop house and being served plates of dry vermicelli noodles, mixed herbs with vegetables, a plate of beef, and a bowl of fish sauce. Not knowing what to do, we sort of figured our way by observing the table next to us.
It turns out there are systematic steps in enjoying Bun Cha. The first is to shred the herbs and vegetables of your choice and dip them into your sauce bowl. The second step is to grab a little bit of the vermicelli noodles, some beef and dunk it into the sauce. Allow all the ingredients to soak in the flavours and the fish sauce. The third step, which is an optional one, is to add a teaspoon of mince garlic that is provided – this provides a punch and heated taste to the mix. Be sure to order a side of deep fried spring rolls to accompany the Bun Cha too!
Banh Mi @ the side of the street or at 7 Cho Gao Street
The French left behind some of its delicacies during its colonization of Vietnam until the 1950s and some of the French delicacies seems to have merged with the local life and cuisine and the baguette is one of them. Having arrived into town early in the morning, most breakfast spots were shut. Walking down the main streets of Hanoi in the early morning was a refreshing change, as you see genuine locals go about their business. Having walked around with no luck for food, we bumped into a lady sat on the side of the street making the baguette sandwiches. She had a portable cooker and was literally frying sausages and eggs on the road with her frying pan. The result of this road side cooking demonstration was an incredible banh mi, filled with sausages, eggs and the secret ingredient of pate! That crunchy baguette was so fresh and the combination of ingredients was a perfect start to the day.
Pho at Quan Pho gia Truyen
This is probably the most popular and famous Vientamese dish in London and I was on a hunt for the best Pho in Hanoi. Funnily enough, locals call it Pho Bo as pho apparently is something quiet rude to say locally. It was on our second attempt of the local Pho Bo that was really delicious, at Quan Pho Gia Truyen. The signs were shown early on when there was a long queue at the shop front early in the morning.
This was a mix of tourist and locals but mostly the latter. No one in the shop seem to speak any english and you just kind of queue and nod when you get to the front. Watching the cooking crew doing their job just shows the efficiency of the place. One putting the noodles in the bowl and smoothly spooning the broth into the bowl, another chopping up the meats and the last cooking up the raw beef. The real challenge was actually looking for a spot to sit and eat, but with customer turning over very quickly, you will be settled in while your beef is still pinkish and cooking in the hot broth! It was a warm and flavourful meal, probably the best Pho I have ever had!
Cha Ca La Vong Restaraunt
It is not very often that a restaurant serves only one dish but at Cha Ca La Vong restaurant, they really do only serve up one dish – Cha Ca La Vong. It is a turmeric marinated fish cooked in front of you with seasonal vegetables and herbs and served with rice, spring onions, and lots of peanuts. The smell of the food is fantastic and the taste is even better. I loved eating a mouthful of all this, the herby fish with the crunchy vegetables and the nutty peanuts, soaked up with fish oil. The one dish I wish I had more of in Vietnam!
Hanoi Street Food Tour
This is one of the highly recommended tours to do in Hanoi and showcases a diverse number of unique local Vietnamese dishes. You get to try around 10 different dishes as you make your way by foot around the dense old town of Hanoi. Our guide was lively, funny and brought us to try some really incredible places! Here are some of the more unique dishes we tried:
We started off with Nom a dried beef salad at It Ma May Street – essentially two types of dried beef served over some noodles and vegetables. Most of these stops are at really local shops, the kind that you normally won’t go into unless someone brings you. Definitely very little English spoken at these places!
One of the most unique dishes was the Banh Cuon, a steamed rice pancake at 14B Bao Khanh Street. At the front of the store, you see the real action of the super flat and thin rice pancake being steamed, before being wrapped up with fillings and sprinkled with a healthy handful of peanuts and deep fried onions. The texture of the pancake was so smooth and light!
Bun Nam Bo are these little bowls of dry noodles, something very different to Pho Bo. It might sound like something a bit dry but there is enough sauce and liquid in the noodles to keep the texture and taste alive. Definitely something different and unusual, especially when the peanuts come into play!
The tour ended at a stop at a dessert restaurant (95 Hang Bac street) with a range of very interesting sweets! There were lots of ice creams, puddings and yogurts. The perfect place to end a long evening of eating!
For coffee lovers, Vietnam is an awesome place to visit. The culture here mainly revolves around nice little coffee houses and of course their incredible coffee beans. We managed to try quite a few coffee places while in Hanoi and all really good experiences!
Cong Caphe – Hang Dieu street
This was the first coffee I had while in Vietnam – sitting on the side of the street on a little stool, heat blazing and drinking a nice cold iced coffee. Its a great sensation as you peoplewatch the busy streets of Vietnam. The coffee itself was great as well – I couldn’t get enough of it!
Egg Coffee at Giang Coffee
Slighty hidden on Nguyễn Hữu Huân and up some stairs is probably one of the most popular coffee houses in Hanoi. Giang Coffee is a laid back cafe with low wooden tables and chairs in what looks like an old town house.
What is so special about this place is their egg coffee which basically is a combination of Vietnamese coffee, an egg, condensed milk and hot water. It can be quite sweet but definitely worth a try!
Just off Hang Bac street and at the back of a jewelery store is AG Cafe. Stepping into this new coffee shop really takes you out of the hussle of the Hanoi centre. Its decor is relaxing, comfortable and just nice to sit and look around at. The coffees are great and really well made as well. The place doubles up at night as a space for school kids to do some extra tutoring!
All in All
The street food and coffee culture in Hanoi is just incredible. The options are plentiful and you won’t be disappointed. In fact, you will be raving about the different dishes you have tried and be looking for anything similar back at home!
Also published on Medium.