It is strongly believed that once you are travelling to Hanoi, if you haven’t tried any street food in the Old Quarter, it means you haven’t been to the 1000-year-old capital. The food is extremely reasonable because you are able to have a full-stomach breakfast with only $1 that would be impossible in many countries. Moreover, the street food is available nearly 24/7 that you can fulfill your stomach whenever you feel hungry. Everything you need to do is take a seat on a tiny plastic chair along the endless sidewalk with full of lively activities, think about what to order, then enjoy what is called “the real Hanoi”.
Nevertheless, it is very confusing to choose what to eat, because there are hundreds of delicious dishes sold from narrow alleyways to bustling street markets, even on “mobile restaurants” which are street vendors carrying their restaurants on the shoulders.
1. Pho (Rice noodles soup with beef or chicken)
The first and foremost delicacy you “must must must” try is Vietnamese specialty of Pho which is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as a type of soup from Vietnam, containing noodles and small pieces of meat. The definition is quite simple, but the recipe is much more complicated.
Firstly, sellers put some rice noodles into a ceramic bowl, then top with chopped spring onions and some slices of beef or chicken (it’s up to your preference). After that, they pour clear tasty broth which usually comes as a secret recipe, and the seller never tells you how they make it because this recipe is their lives.
A delicious bowl of Pho is accompanied with fresh chillies, spicy sauce, a quarter of a lime, “quay” (deep-fried flour cake), and a platter of fresh herbs of lettuce, mints, basil, so on.
Noticeably, in case you are vegetarian, or beef and chicken are not your preference list, you should ask the seller to have “Pho Chay” (option without meat) instead of Pho Bo (Beef option) and Pho
Ga (Chicken option).
In Hanoi, Pho is served all day, but many local people choose Pho as the best for breakfast. There are various authentic restaurants in the Old Quarter you can try this tasty dish. Here are some choices locals prefer:
- Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su
Address: 10, Ly Quoc Su Street
Opening hours: 06.00 am – 10.00 pm
- Pho Bat Dan
Address: 49 Bat Dan Street
Opening hours: 06.00 am -10.00 am
06.00 pm – 08.30 pm
2. Bun Cha (Noodles with BBQ pork) and Nem Cua Be (spring rolls)
In the street eater’s paradise of Hanoi, the combo of Bun Cha and Nem Cua Be has made possibly the most delicious lunch available on the Earth.
After being seasoned properly, slices of pork belly are placed in the middle of 2 bamboo sticks, then grilled on hot coals in order to keep fresh inside the pork. Using an oven to grill can make pork dry and tough, so most of the sellers don’t choose this way though grilling on coal takes much more time. Afterward, these beautifully grilled slices of pork are placed on a bowl with a special dipping sauce made of fish sauce, tangy vinegar, sugar, and lime, then topped by garlic, a bit chillies, and pickled papayas. This barbecue soup is served with fresh rice noodles, herbs which all are mixed into the bowl.
Moreover, Bun cha is usually accompanied by another dish called “NEM” (deep-fried spring rolls with crab meat) and a cup of beer (if possible). The fact that, in 2016, the US President of Barack Obama tasted this combo of “Bun Cha, Nem Cua Be, Bia Ha Noi” in a local restaurant.
If you are staying in the Old quarter, you could visit these addresses for excellent Bun Cha
- Bun Cha Dac Kim
Address: 1 Hang Manh Street
Opening hours: 10am-9pm
- Bun Cha Hang Quat
Address: 74 Hang Quat (inside an alley)
Opening hours: 10.00 am – 02.00 pm
Otherwise, if you don’t mind going a bit further 3km from Old Quarter, you could go to the restaurant, Mr. Obama used to eat, located at 24 Le Van Huu, Hai Ba Trung District.
3. Banh Mi (Vietnamese bread or Vietnamese sandwich)
“Banh Mi”, along with Pho, is one of three Vietnamese words stated in the Oxford Dictionary as a special dish in Vietnam cuisine. Moreover, Banh Mi proudly appeared on the Google Doodle in March 2020. The Guardian also appreciates Banh Mi at the second in the list of the most 10 delicious street food in the world.
So what makes Vietnamese bread surprisingly special? Banh Mi actually is originated from French baguette, however, it only became more popular in Vietnam when locals came up with a unique recipe to make bread loaded with various kinds of meat (pork, beef, chicken), sausage, coriander, pickled carrot, so on. Sauce of chili and mayonnaise also are available for this dish. Before being served, the whole bread is baked for 2-3 minutes, therefore, when you take each bite, you can hear the sound of crispy from the toasted bread outside, but still very soft from the fillings hidden inside.
If you are taking a stroll around the Old Quarter, you can see many stores, food selling carts selling Banh Mi. Just a few minutes after ordering, you can enjoy a hot delicious sandwich for breakfast, lunch, even dinner. Besides items for meat-lover, there are diversified choices for vegans with egg, tofu, mushroom.
Don’t hesitate to go to these addresses for Banh Mi:
- Banh Mi 25
Address: 25 Hang Ca street
Opening hours: 07.00 am – 09.00 pm (except Sunday, closing time is 07.00 pm)
- Banh Mi P
Address: 12 Hang Buom street
Opening hours: 06.30 am – 01.30 am next day
4. Cha ca (Turmeric grilled fish with dill)
For someone who isn’t interested in meat, you should head for a distinctive dish named “Cha Ca”. After being seasoned with garlic, ginger, turmeric, dill, pepper, so on, filleted fish will be served on a sizzling pan. This dish can be eaten with rice noodles, peanuts, spring onions, and dipping sauce. An outstanding “Cha Ca” is well-seasoned, soft, but not tender.
Cha ca is very famous so that a whole street is named “Cha ca” where you can find some restaurants specializing in serving this dish.
- Cha ca La Vong
Address: 14 Cha Ca street
Opening hours: 11.00 am – 02.00 pm; 05.00 pm – 09.00 pm
- Cha ca Thang Long
Address: 21 Duong Thanh street
Opening hours: 10.10 am – 09.30 pm
5. Local desserts (Che + Egg coffee)
If you are into dessert, there are many choices after tasting so many foods above, and you are getting full. It’s the best time for dessert.
The first option is “Che” – Vietnamese terminology indicating a traditionally sweet dessert which is a mixture of different fruits, jellies, beans, coconut milk, etc.
There are 2 famous “Che” restaurants in Hanoi’s Old Quarter:
- Che Huong Hai
Address: 93 Hang Bac Street
Opening hours: 07.30 am – 00.00 am
- Che Bon Mua
Address: 4 Hang Can Street
Opening hours: 10.00 am -11.00 pm
Besides some sweet desserts, make sure you try Egg coffee before leaving Hanoi. The reason is that egg coffee is an excellent drink of Hanoi which is difficult to find elsewhere. You may find it weird but its taste is amazing for both coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers.
Egg coffee is accidentally invented in the 1940s due to the limitation of fresh milk. To make a cup of egg coffee, egg yolk is whisked carefully before pouring onto coffee which stays at the bottom of the cup. Therefore, remember to mix it before drinking.
Now, egg coffee is ready. Have a seat. While you are sipping and chilling a cup of coffee, you can enjoy how the world is going by.
Available mostly within Hanoi Old Quarter, it is highly recommended:
- Cafe Giang
Address: 39 Nguyen Huu Huan
Opening hours: 07.00 am -10.00 pm
- Cafe Dinh
Address: 13 Dinh Tien Hoang
Opening hours: 07.00 am – 09.30 pm
Last but not least, Hanoi street food tour is an activity which must be on your visit to this beautiful city. Have you been to any country in which the US President could freely to eat in a local restaurant with local people, and the Canadian Prime Minister chilly sat on a little chair along the sidewalk to drink a cup of coffee? Come and discover it.