Did we mention that Hanoi is officially our top 10 cities we recommend you must visit? It’s a city full of busting, beeping, loud, rapid moving people, scooters, bikers, taxis and food stalls that crowd the streets to a full swing of life. It’s the Paris of France with Asian mentality. Zoom, beep, zoom, beep, beep! It’s a city you love or hate, but I guarantee you if you stay for more then a week you will fall into the madness and discover the flavor and taste for energy.
— Have you tried the Bún chả? — Asked Marine, a girl
who we met during a couch surfing event and who was ordering it at a local restaurant.
Have we? That is one of our favorite dishes in Vietnam and is the talk of all tourists in Hanoi.
But wait before I go ahead and spill the best beans and dishes to sample in Hanoi let me throw some facts about Vietnamese cuisine. I am far from an expert but some basics I think I learned.
Vietnamese cuisine is more complex than you might think. Just because most of Hanoians dine out on the streets doesn’t mean that each dish is not created with the love, thought and basic principle of Ying and Yang. Did I say Ying and Yang? Yes, like other Asian cultures Vietnamese cuisine is influence by the principles of Ying and Yang as well as the five flavors (sweet, salty, bitter, sour and spicy). The “heating” and “cooling” of ingredients and the contrasting flavors and textures result in a well-balanced and beneficial diet for the body. For example during the summer is uncommon to eat chicken as it’s considered hot. Chicken is mainly enjoyed during winter days to balance the hot and cold.
Vietnamese method of cooking is considered and recently voted as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. The use of fresh herbs, including lemongrass, mint, long coriander and Thai basil leaves adds to the health benefits and distinct flavor. The key element in all Vietnamese kitchens is the fresh ingredients, which allow for our healthiness. Not to mention fish sauce, soy sauce, chilies and rice, the essence of all meals.
Our Ying Yang? Was the freshness against the fried. I kid you not, the entire time moving around Hanoi, I felt like I had a big fried duck stock in my belly. Maybe, that had something to do with us eating meat again or maybe it was the fried goodies like Bánh Cuốn that are irresistible to pass on while tramping though the Old Quarter of Hanoi.
Overall food plays a major role in Vietnamese culture and everyday life. Both the preparation and consumption of meals is serious business, and often connected to a long tradition of recipes that have been handed down through the generations.1
On that note let me dig into some of our favorite dishes we have tried in Hanoi. They are in no particular order so get ready to drool and follow the Hot Toddies food extravaganza. Close your eyes, oh no wait open them back up, you have to read this but imagine yourself sitting down on a small plastic chair surrounded by chatting locals with bouncing feet and moving chopsticks. It’s not fancy, no candle lights, just a hole in a wall that specializes in one dish, a damn good, tasty dish.
Since I mentioned it earlier lets start with Bún chả.
Bún chả is a thin white round noodles served on a separate plate in a bowl with grilled pork, lettuce, herbs accompanied with a tub of raw garlic and chili on the side. The bowl with pork has broth in it and you add the noodles and herbs/lettuce to it. It’s usually served with deep fried crab spring rolls (Nem Rua). Yum Yum I tell ya, this is one of our favorites. Iza and I order a portion each the first time, way too much. Unless you are a monster and gobble huge portion then go for it. Perhaps a normal portion for middle America, either way just be aware it’s plenty of food. Come hungry to Nem Restaurant at No. 1, Hàng Mành Street. 55,000 VND, plus spring rolls 30,000 VND.
Phở – There is no morning movement without a phở in sight. It’s the official staple of Vietnamese breakfast a simple core noodle soup with either Ga (chicken) or Bo (beef). If you have been to Vietnam or planning to go this is one dish that will not escape you. It’s served all over; they take their Phở seriously. Typically eaten for breakfast but it’s served all day as lunch or dinner. Phở varies from place to place; our favorite is Phở 10 on 10 Ly Quoc Su north of cathedral. From 35,000 VND.
|Pho Bo in Dang Ha
|Pho Bo from Pho 10
Bánh mì a Vietnamese baguette or French bread containing pâté, Vietnamese mayonnaise, different selections of Vietnamese cold cuts (of which there is a large variety, most commonly ham, cheese, and a Vietnamese bologna), pickled daikon, pickled carrot, and cucumber slices. To any westerner this sounds like the norm and a typical lunch take-away during office hours. For the Hot Toddies this was a treat we have been craving for a while. Polish pork cold cuts are the freaking best and we surely crave them, having a taste of the Hanoi style cold cuts definitely activated some longed taste buds. Our favorite spot? Nguyễn Sinh, an old school Hanoi restaurant with a reputation built on a Hanoi-style execution of French dishes. We had a mix dish with liver goose pate (foie gras), pork, rabbit cold cuts, baguette and cucumber, tomato salad for 170.000 VND for two. But just as good are the take-away Sandwiches for 50,000 VND. Nguyễn Sinh located on 17-19 Ly Quoc Su Street.
|Cold cuts from Nguyen Sinh
Bánh cuốn (literally “rolled cake”) It is a crepe like roll made from a thin, wide sheet of rice flour filled with ground pork, minced wood ear mushrooms, and other ingredients. Sides for this dish usually consist of Vietnamese pork sausage and bean sprouts, with the dipping sauce called nước mắm (mixed fish sauce). Sometimes it contains a drop of cà cuống, which is the essence of a giant water bug. This dish is usually eaten for breakfast but great for any time of the day. It’s a healthy choice with a small portion to nib on. After 1 hour of trying to find a recommended place by Google we stumbled upon a spot that was on Hang Ga a small hole in a wall with two ladies making the Bánh cuốn outside. Four tables inside makes it a cozy little place allows for the local atmosphere. Based on the posters inside it looks like they were featured in food magazine and are well know. This was a good find and a toothsome spot. 35,000 VDN.
Bún bò Nam Bộ a big bowl with noodles, a tiny bit of broth, fried beef, shallots, herbs, peanuts, bean sprouts and other stuff. You add chili sauce and soya sauce to it for an extra tasty meal. We have shared this flavorful bite with Christy and a bunch of other couch surfers that tagged along for the food extravaganza. This meal goes perfect with a beer. We only had one chance to try this dish but it was a damn good time. A good place to try Bún bò Nam Bộn is on 76 Hang Dieu. 40,000 VDN.
|Bún bò Nam Bộ
Chả Cá Lã Vọng Fish. Alright, let me make some things clear, this is NOT a fish soup! When reading about this dish many sites referred to it as a fish soup. Actually it’s simmered fish with herbs and pan fried on hot heat, eaten with bún noodles, peanuts and sauce. It’s super popular and the Chả Cá Lã Vọng restaurant at No. 14, Chả Cá Street is the spot to try it. It’s the original birth of the dish. A bit pricier for what we are used to paying on the street but a good alternative to Vietnamese food testing. 150,000 VND per person.
|Chả Cá Lã Vọng Fish
Ahh the fried goodies that spread the aroma all over the streets
Bánh gối a stuffed moon pillow shape fried pastry, which resembles empanadas. This magic moon goodie is usually stuffed with minced pork, clear noodles and mushrooms. It’s served with slightly spicy sauce and vegetables. Usually in the same spot you can get Bánh rán crisp, brown, fried glutinous rice balls in the shape of a large egg. The savory kind is stuffed with glass noodles, mushrooms and minced meat bits (bánh rán mặn) while the sweet ones are stuffed with mung bean paste (bánh rán ngọt) and sometimes, shredded coconut. The sweet fried balls are usually sprinkled with sesame. From 4,000 VDN to 9,000 VDN per piece. 52 Ly Quoc Su Street.
|Bánh gối and Bánh rán
Banh My a Vietnamese Doner Kebab sandwich stuffed with pork, red cabbage, sweet slaw, cilantro, tomatoes, and cucumber, shit load of mayonnaise and red chili sauce. Delicious option for the after hour and perfect with a Hanoi beer its a street guru for the tipsy. 25,000 VDN. On the corner of Hang Bac and Hang Dau.
Bánh bao (literally “covering cake”) is a ball-shaped dumpling with pork or chicken meat, onions, eggs, mushroom and vegetables inside. The steamed bun often has ground pork or chicken. This delicacy originated with the baozi from China. Bánh bao are generally smaller than baozi, and are filled with savory fillings, the most popular of which is seasoned ground pork. Iza had the pleasure to try this fluffy ball, which we bought from an lady selling it on Hang Can Street. 20,000 VDN.
Cháo plain rice porridge quite common among Buddhist monks, nuns and lay people, it can be a simple breakfast food eaten with pickled vegetables or fermented tofu. There are many varieties of cháo found in Vietnam, chicken, duck or pork based served with different condiments are just few. Walking near our guesthouse in the afternoon, we couldn’t resist sitting down on tiny plastic chairs and ordering one. It came in a small bow topped with fried onion and fried bread like pastry. It was a small yet filling meal that we enjoyed while sitting on the street. You can find the ladies selling it around 2pm at Ly Quoc Su north of cathedral 20,000 VND.
Bánh xèo “sizzlin-g cake” a Vietnamese savory pancakes made of rice flour, water, turmeric powder, stuffed with slivers of fatty pork, shrimp and bean sprouts and then pan-fried. They are served wrapped in mustard leaf, lettuce leaves or rice paper, and stuffed with mint leaves, basil, fish leaf and/or other herbs, and dipped in a sweet and sour diluted fish sauce. While in search of seafood near West Lake and no success we returned to the Old Quarter and took a seat near the market for this surprisingly tasty dish. It was Christy who recommended this delight. A part from being a bit heavy on the belly from the deep fried effect it was a damn good “pancake”. We enjoyed this near the Don Xuan Market ally off the Cau Dong Street. 25,000 VDN.
Chè a sweet dessert beverage or pudding usually made from beans and sticky rice. Many varieties of chè are available, each with different fruits, beans (for example, mung beans or kidney beans), and other ingredients. Chè can be served cold – such as sâm bổ lường, which includes driedjujube, longan, fresh seaweed, barley and lotus seeds. Often is topped with coconut milk and ice for an icy taste. I happen to absolutely love this dessert, however Iza hates or I should say dislikes as hate is a strong word jelly and for her the consistency of Chè resembled jelly too much. So jelly lovers this is what you have to try. It’s sold all over Hanoi as a drink or in a dessert bow. I enjoyed this treat very much and I think everybody should try it. A good selection is near the Don Xuan Market a thigh ally off the Cau Dong Street. 15,000 VDN.
Ice-cream, you have to try Ice cream in Hanoi, is famous for it.
A must drink for drink.
Bia Hơi local beer mostly found in small bars and on street corners of Hanoi and all over Vietnam. The beer is brewed daily and each bar gets a fresh batch delivered every day in plastic jugs. It is a very light refreshing lager at a fraction of the cost of draft or bottled beer in the Western-style bars. Bia hơi production is informal and not monitored by any health agency. This is the cheapest beer we have drank in all of our travels, paid 8,000 VND for a plastic cup, as tourist we still over paid, normally it goes for 3,000 VND. Grab a seat and chat with the locals.
(sorry we got to tipsy to remember to take photos)
Coffee anyone?? So far Vietnam and Cuba have the best coffee. A specialty in Vietnam is the Kopi luwak (Malay pronunciation: [ˈkopi ˈlu.aʔ]), or civet coffee, is one of the world’s most expensive and low-production varieties of coffee. It is made from the beans of coffee berries which have been eaten by the Asian Palm Civet and other related civets, then passed through its digestive tract. A civet eats the berries for their fleshy pulp. In its stomach, proteolytic enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through a civet’s intestines the beans are then defecated, keeping their shape. After gathering, thorough washing, sun drying, light roasting and brewing, these beans yield an aromatic coffee with much less bitterness, widely noted as the most expensive coffee in the world.2 It’s damn good. Interesting right? Sadly I have no idea if we tried the Kopi luwak I learned about this yesterday, however, the coffee we had was damn good and strong. Our spot, Barista Coffee shop, 21 A Ly Quoc Su Street.
A must do in Hanoi?
Sit around the small chairs near St Joseph’s Cathedral with the young crowd order a lemon tea and nib on sunflower seeds. It was our everyday ritual and a good meeting point.
Wait, should we talk about the wide variety of dog meat around?
For a quick and easy way to find all of these Vietnamese dishes check out our Google map of all the places to be.
View Hot Toddies Street food Extravaganza around Old Quaters, Hanoi in a larger map