Hanoi offers some of the best street food in South East Asia. The charming city is a street food paradise with the interwoven alleys of the maze-like Old Quarter offering up a marvelous range of steaming local dishes. Venture beyond the touristic Old Quarter and you can find even more dishes ranging all the way from barbecued dog (thit cho) to snail soup (canh ốc).
Makeshift stalls, shabby looking shop fronts, pavement barbecues and plastic tables and chairs are common sights. The signage and menus are often in Vietnamese and so as a newcomer to the city, the food scene that you’ve heard so much about can be fairly overwhelming. Many street food vendors specialize in only one or two dishes so once you get your head around the ‘must try’ dishes, it becomes a lot easier.
The only solution is to dive straight in – you won’t be disappointed. Traveller and expat in Hanoi, Siobhan Smith, gives us her ‘top picks’ of Hanoi Street Food – guaranteed to make your life a little easier!
1. Bún chả
A Hanoi specialty, this is a must try when visiting the city. This dish is often found at specialty food stalls, serving nothing else. This makes ordering very easy and is a good place to start exploring the street food scene. A solid favourite with locals and visitors alike, Bún chả is made of chargrilled pork patties, vermicelli noodles and salad leaves. The pork patties are barbecued over smoldering coals, usually smoked by a conical hat wearing lady with a hand fan. This tasty meat is served in big bowls with a vinegary fish sauce broth and crunchy pickled cabbage. On the side you are served salad leaves and copious amounts of chili and garlic, to be added to taste.
Bún chả- a must try while in Hanoi
Arguably Vietnam’s most famous dish, a visit to Hanoi would not be complete without sitting down to a steaming bowl of Phở (pronounced ‘fuh’). Put simply, Phở is a noodle soup served with herbs and either chicken (Phở gà) or beef (Phở bò). The secret to good Pho is in the broth. Often simmered for hours with meat stock, the tastiness of the flavoursome broth makes or breaks the dish. A mild dish, it is usually served with chili, lime and garlic on the side to be flavoured to taste. Traditionally eaten as a breakfast item throughout Vietnam, get in there early as generally Phở is more readily available in the morning.
Pho- breakfast of champions
3. Bún Bò Nam Bộ
A light and refreshing dish, Bún Bò Nam Bộ is Vietnamese street food at its finest. Fine rice noodles (the bún) are pilled on top of a bed of fresh lettuce and topped with beef (the bò part), bean sprouts, onions and herbs. A sweet broth made of fish sauce is then ladled over these key ingredients and topped with roasted peanuts and dried shallots. Some fresh mint is a welcome addition and, as with a lot of Hanoi street food, chili, garlic and lime are often served on the side.
Top tip: 67 Hang Dieu Street is famous for its Bún Bò Nam Bộ. Head here around midday to rub shoulders with local Vietnamese workers on their lunch break.
Light and refreshing but extremely flavourful
4. Nem Ran
Nem Ran are Vietnamese spring rolls and can be found all over Hanoi, usually only costing 10,000 VND per sizable piece. There are lots of variations on classic Nem meaning it is advisable to try as many as you can while here! Nem are often served as an accompaniment to Bun Cha but more than hold their own as a meal or delicious appetizer. Crispy, fried and stuffed with glass noodles, mushroom and anything ranging from minced pork to crab meat. Nem are almost always served with the famous Vietnamese dipping sauce ‘Nuoc Cham’ which is a wonderfully sweet and sour concoction of lime juice, fish sauce, lemon grass and chili. Not to be missed.
You’d be silly to come to Hanoi and not try Nem Ran
5. Bánh Gối
Bánh Gối translates as ‘pillow cake’ and is a wonderful Vietnamese appetizer. A light pastry is stuffed with mushrooms, glass noodles, minced pork and various seasonings, folded and deep fried- admittedly not the healthiest of street foods! Bánh Gối is served with a side of fresh leaves, herbs and ‘Nuoc Cham’ dipping sauce to balance it out. Simply delicious.
Top tip: 52 Ly Quoc Street, beside St Joseph’s Cathedral, is the main player in town making this dish. While there try the Nem Cua Be (crab spring rolls) as well, they’re delicious.
Deep fried deliciousness!
6. Phở Cuốn
Phở Cuốn often causes confusion when seen on a menu boards and is not to be mixed up with Vietnam’s famous noodle soup (above). ‘Cuốn’ refers to the fresh rice paper sheets which are used to roll beef and fresh herbs, making a sort of fresh spring roll. These are served with ‘Nuoc Cham’ and are a fairly recent but warmly received addition to Hanoi’s street food scene.
Top tip: Head to Truch Bach lake, Tay Ho district, where you will find a whole street dedicated to Phở Cuốn dishes. Heaven.
Fresh, fresh, fresh-Phở Cuốn
7. Bánh My
Bánh My simply translates as bread and is a poignant, lasting symbol of French colonialism. In Vietnam, these baguettes are given a local twist by stuffing them with pickled vegetables, shredded daikon, slices of cold meat, egg, mayonnaise, chili sauce and pork liver pate. The Bánh My (bread) is essentially a blank slate and you can usually choose what the chef adds to it. In recent years, Bánh My kebabs have become very popular in Hanoi and these are a perfect accompaniment to cold bia hoi (local, organically brewed beer). You will find Bánh My carts on most street corners, all over Hanoi. Don’t be put off by the carts often grubby looking facade. Be brave and you will never look back.
Try all the fixings on these delicious sandwiches, the more flavour the better!
8. Chè Khúc Bạch
One of the many weird and wonderful Vietnamese deserts, Chè Khúc Bạch is a concoction of floating ice, jelly like vanilla flavoured cubes, local lychees and coconut water. Served in a bowl, topped with crunchy muesli like pieces, it is magnificently refreshing and a perfect addition to a Hanoi summer day!
Top tip: Look out for any signs with any dishes preceded by Chè – this usually means desert. There are a vast amount of different Chè dishes to sample in Hanoi – not an easy job but someone’s got to do it!
A fabulous way to end a meal-Chè Khúc Bạch
About the author– Siobhan Smith is a 26 year old girl from Scotland who set off in January of this year, in search of adventure. So far, she has traveled round Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam. Currently teaching English in Hanoi and planning her next move, you can keep up to date with her travels here: http://overdueadventure.wordpress.com/
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