There’s no doubt that visitors to Hanoi, especially the food-focused ones, notice the constant presence of edible stuff on strolls around the Old Quarter. Street side meat, bicycles loaded with fruit and vegetables, simmering pots on doorsteps, boiling kettles, tipping teapots, sacks overflowing with rice. The food action happens on the streets and is not hidden indoors. At almost any time of the day one can find delicious food up and down the length of many Hanoi streets!
Hanoi food stalls don’t have much in common with western eateries. But which stalls sell the good food? What are those small little brown puffy balls? And what are the must tries? With dishes costing between 10’000 – 20’000 Vietnamese Dong (0.5 – 1 USD) you can’t judge by price and one would literally need a local Food-Guide to get a good start and not miss any of the locals favorites!
Tourist-friendly (and business-minded) as the Vietnamese are, they actually offer exactly that service! When we found the “Hanoi Street Food Tour” we immediately signed up and our incredibly friendly and resourceful food-tour-guide Thao lead us through Hanoi’s food maze 🙂
Food-Sights from the tour:
1) Bun Cha (Best in Hanoi: 34 Hang Than street). Possibly the best Bun Cha in Hanoi. Bun cha is the lunch of choice all over Hanoi. Pork patties and slices of pork belly are grilled over hot coals and served with fish sauce, tangy vinegar, sugar and lime, which, when combined creates a sort of barbecue soup that is eaten with rice vermicelli and fresh herbs. Accompanied by deep-fried spring rolls, this calory-rich dish is served with garlic and chilies on the side for an extra kick.
2) Banh Cuon (Best in Hanoi: 14 Hang Ga street). Banh Cuon (“rolled cake”) is a Northern Vietnamese dish that migrated to Hanoi. Thin steamed rice flour pancakes filled with seasoned ground pork, shallots and cloud ear mushrooms is served with Nuoc Cham, a fish-sauce-based dipping sauce, fried shallots and fresh herbs. Slightly goopy in texture, Banh Cuon are often eaten for breakfast or as an evening on the go.
The food stall:
3) Trang Tien or “Green Sticky Rice” Ice Cream (In Hanoi: Trang Tien street). Trang Tien is the name of the street where the identically named ice cream is sold. The ice cream shop exists for more than 50 years and everybody in Hanoi knows the famous ice cream brand. It is not only cheap (7000 – 8000 VND, ~0.35 USD) but also special in its flavor. Best selling flavors: “Green Sticky Rice” and “Green or Red Bean”:
4) Nem Cua Be, Banh Goi, Banh Ran Ngot (Best in Hanoi: 58 Dao Duy Tu street). You can find many types of excellent spring rolls all over Vietnam, but Nem Cua Be (Sea Crab Nem), made with fresh crab meat, are particularly good. Unlike regular spring rolls, they are wrapped into a square shape before being fried. Nem Cua Be are a specialty of Hai Phong, a seaside town not far away, but are fantastic in Hanoi as well. Spring rolls are a traditional dish and super popular, especially for celebrations.
Besides the Nem Cua Be we tried the Banh Goi (Pillow Cake) and Banh Ran Ngot (Sweet Donuts). The Banh Goi is a popular pillow shaped cake which has a crispy and golden brown shell, stuffed with pork or shrimps and vegetables. Skillfully folded into a half circle and sealed around the opening to make the pillow pattern it is served with sweet and sour fish sauce. The Banh Ran Ngot consist of a golden brown shell of sesame studded rice flour that is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside and yields a sweet and moist mung bean coconut filling.
The food stall with the chef at work:
The Banh Goi (Pillow Cake) and Nem Cua Be (Sea Crab Nem):
The Banh Ran Ngot (Sweet Donuts):
5) Banh Da Cua (Best in Hanoi: 59 A Pho Phung Hung). There is everything in this soup: spinach, tomatoes, onions, brown noodles, meat (also fish or crab), … When you get your bowl you top it up to your taste with soy sauce, lime juice, peanuts and chilis and enjoy!
The food stall:
The warm welcome:
Hmmm. Finger-licking good… 😉
6) Che Do Den (Best in Hanoi: One of the many street stalls close to Hom market). Che, or sweet soup, is a mixture of sweet and savory flavors. Varieties are made with any number and combination of beans, milk, tapioca, fruit, coconut cream, glutinous rice and last but not least, plenty of sugar.
Previously Che varieties could be found by the hundreds in eateries dedicated solely to the dish. Now, Che is usually sold as a dessert in restaurants or at stalls along the roadside. Eaten both hot and cold, when mixed with a generous helping of crushed ice, Che becomes the perfect roadside treat.
Although Che has surrendered some of its popularity to sweetened iced coffee drinks and ice cream shops, Che can still be found easily on most busy streets and in small eateries down most of Vietnam’s alleyways. Many shops sell Che to take on the go, but the best way to enjoy Che is parked on one of the eatery’s tiny chairs with a glass and a proper spoon. Many traditional Vietnamese restaurants still sell Che alongside their lunch and dinner fare. The type we tried was the Che Do Den and while it tasted fairly interesting, it is not a dessert we go craving for 🙂
The food stall with the ingredient selection:
The final dessert composition:
Tini on a tiny chair. Those little chairs always made us laugh, because they look like they were made for Lilliputians 🙂
7) Bia Hoi (Best in Hanoi: Bia Hoi corner in the heart of the Old Quarter). The infamous beer “Bia Hoi” is the most common brand in Hanoi, but also found in many other parts of Vietnam. The word “Bia” means beer in Vietnamese and it is pronounced almost like an Australian pronounces “beer” 🙂
The words “Bia Hoi” translate to “fresh beer” and that is what you get. The beer is made freshly each night, delivered around the city the following morning and guzzled down by the time the bars close the same night. Since there are no preservatives added to Bia Hoi it becomes pretty much undrinkable after 24 hours.
The best place to try it in Hanoi is at one of the four casual places on Bia Hoi Corner in the heart of the Old Quarter. The Price for a 12 oz glass is on average about 5000 VND (~24 US cent…) but we’ve seen it cheaper too still.
The beer tastes like a very light lager. It does not contain any preservatives and the alcohol level is usually between 3 and 4%. You can’t find the ingredients anywhere, but word on the street is that it is a normal lager made with hops and barley malt and contains around 50% rice, which helps keep it light and clear. Wait! Rice in beer? Not that unusual: For example Budweiser also contains around 30% rice.
Definitely great to crunch your thirst on a hot day and delicious if it is not watered down in order to stretch the batch out a bit more…
It is typically served in the alleys of the Old Quarter. Another specialty is that while all food stalls sell the beer, none of them are allowed to seat guests in the alley. This results in people hectically removing all the chairs as soon as anybody spots a policeman. So while we were relishing our beer we were urged to stand up and hand in our little plastic chair twice. I guess this regular standing up drill also prevents people from drinking too much and not noticing 😉
8) Egg Coffee (Best in Hanoi: Giang Cafe at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan Street). Invented by Nguyen Giang in 1946 when working as a bartender for the famous five-star Sofitel Legend Metropole in Hanoi. The egg coffee recipe is almost the same as in the early days, with its main ingredients being egg yolk, Vietnamese coffee powder and sweetened condensed milk. A slightly modified recipe can be found here.
Our fabulous street-food guides 🙂
On our way home we headed along the weekend night-market:
Crossed one of the busier streets:
With all these people on the streets it is easy to see that an efficient food distribution system is necessary. And it seems that this distributed-kitchen approach works!
We really enjoyed the street food tour and would warmly recommend it to anybody visiting Hanoi! After all, in our opinion the food is always an important part of experiencing a different country and culture! And Mrs. Thao was a great guide! In addition to the great background stories and explanations we received, the foods were very tasty and we found two or three new favorite dishes. For everybody a bit worried about the quality we can reassure that the food seems safe to eat as none of us had any after-effects from this evening eating out 😉
Now that we knew were the good places were we even kept visiting them when we were in the vicinity…