I immediately loved Hanoi. Yes, it is a big, crazy city full of motorbikes that come hurtling towards you from all directions and the air quality is so bad that sometimes you feel as though you are inhaling directly from an exhaust pipe, but Hanoi is cool, man. The French influence is evident in the architecture and the café culture, and they take their food serious in Hanoi. The streets are lined with food vendors, ladies carrying baskets of goodies on their heads, and small restaurants that specialize in (and often only serve) one dish. The food, like the beer, is cheap and good. The coffee is strong, and sweetened with condensed milk. Not surprisingly, I spent most of my time in Hanoi eating and eating and then having a beer and then eating again. I have put together the ultimate Hanoi Old food tour for those of you who find yourself in Hanoi’s Old Quarter ready to chow down. Please leave your self-restraint at the door.
Do yourself a favor and start your morning with a baguette and a cup of Vietnamese coffee (alternatively, Vietnamese tea is quite good). The baguettes in Vietnam rival those in France. Slap a little butter and jam on one, and you have the best breakfast ever. Most hotels and hostels will offer this up for free, but you can also find a delicious baguette on almost any street corner in Hanoi.
Banh Cuon Gia Truyen (14 Hang Ga Street): Stop number one is for Bahn Cuon, thin, warm rice rolls filled with ground pork and mushrooms and topped with crispy fried onions. According to the posters on their wall, this place has been featured in Bon Appetit magazine, but you wouldn’t know it from the local crowd. Cost: 35,000 dong – about $1.60 per plate.
Bun Bo Nam Bo (67 Hang Dieu Street): The Bun Bo (beef noodles) here are to die for. The combination of fresh herbs, slices of beef, rice noodles, in a bit of delicious beef broth is pretty much unbeatable. Don’t worry about the language barrier – they know what you want. Just find a place to squat on one of the plastic stools and wait for them to bring you a steaming bowl of noodles. Top it off with some fish sauce and chilies, if you like, and chow down. Cost: 50,000 dong – just under $3 per bowl.
Bun Cha (23 Hang Manh Street): This place serves up delicious rice noodles and a bowl full of grilled pork (including strips of pork belly) in a fatty broth. Bonus points for the huge plate of fresh herbs and large bowl of fresh chopped chilies, garlic, and lime wedges it is served with. Cost: 60,000 dong – about $3 per bowl. The last picture at the bottom of this post shows the full spread. They also serve up some delicious fried spring rolls here.
Little Hanoi (9 P. Ta Hien): First of all, look at the address on the door and make sure you are in the right place. Check twice. In Hanoi, many restaurants (and hotels) with identical names open up right next to each other – there is another “Little Hanoi” just a few doors down. This Little Hanoi is a full service restaurant and, while the other dishes looked quite tasty, I came here with a specific order in mind: the fresh do-it-yourself spring rolls. I would suggest chosing the crispy fried catfish as your filling. Add some rice noodles, fresh herbs, a little bit of carrot and pineapple, roll them up in the rice paper, dip and enjoy. The beef filling was also quite good if you are not in the mood for fish. Cost: 55,000 dong per order – about $3.
Cha Ca La Vong (14 Pho Cha Ca): This is probably a controversial pick, and may not even be the best place for Cha Ca, but it is THE place for Cha Ca – the street was named after this restaurant, which has been serving up Cha Ca for 50 years (or maybe 100, depending on who you ask). Sure, the staff is not the friendliest. They ignored me awkwardly for a few minutes even though I was the only customer at the time. They don’t/won’t speak English, and will slide a little laminated paper in front of you reading: “We serve only one dish in our restauran [sic] GRILLED FISH.” They charge 170,000 dong per person, which is very expensive comparatively, and the portions are quite small. But the Cha Ca is damn good. It is cooked on your table over a little gas burner. They add a bit of oil, the seasoned fish, and mounds of fresh herbs and let it sizzle. The smell of the dill cooking is absolutely intoxicating. And the combination of the fish, herbs, and oil poured over the rice noodles and slurped down is absolutely magical. Cost: 170,000 dong per person (about $8.20)
What if I don’t have an entire day to walk around eating stuff, you ask? First of all, you ought to reevaluate your priorities. After you are done beating yourself up for your poor planning, head over to Quan An Non (18 Phan Boi Chau). This large, bustling restaurant serves tourists and locals alike has a huuuge menu featuring all of the above dishes, and many, many more. In my opinion, this restaurant was good, but none of the dishes beat the excellent versions I enjoyed in the individual spots. But, it does allow you to try a bit of everything in one sitting. Cost: Dishes range in price from about $3-10, a bit more than in the above restaurants, but the service is top-notch and all the wait staff are willing and able to explain dishes and make suggestions in English.
Here is a Google Map of all mentioned Hanoi street food locations – WIFI is abundant in Hanoi, so hopefully you can use the map on your smartphone.
View Hanoi, Vietnam Food Tour – TheFeastingPhoenix.com in a larger map
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