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Have some fun when you visit Hanoi and find your own favourite restaurants, hideaways, and street food vendors.
Hanoi’s staple food: Pho (noodle soup)
And I was hungry!
Luckily our Remote Year city guide was filled with food recommendations, and because we knew that pho (‘pha’), or noodle soup, was the most classic Vietnamese food to try, Zoe and I found the closest “restaurant” to our apartment and set off on foot. I use “quotes” because our western expectations are of a restaurant inside four walls—not tiny plastic stools and tables on the street.
A typical Hanoi restaurant, street-style, where families gather for their daily pho.
At this pho restaurant menus don’t exist. The servers just watch you sit awkwardly on the low stools and nod when you give them a hand signal for the number of bowls you want to order.
It’s assumed you want meat in your noodle soup (pho bo for beef and pho ga for chicken), but a non-meat option is usually available. Condiments like pickled garlic, sliced red peppers and limes adorn the plastic tables so you can adjust the soup to your taste.
We learned the pho-ordering rituals on our first visit, and then practiced them almost daily for the next month because the pho was just so darned tasty!
This pho chef sits at her stool, flanked by all of the pho ingredients, for many hours each day! She soon recognized us, so our steaming bowl of delicious pho was placed in front of us within minutes of sitting—er, squatting.
My dinner companion, Zoe, was as tired and hungry as I was after 24 hours of travelling.
Our first authentic Vietnamese pho! The great taste was matched by the great price: 40,000 Vietnamese Dong, or about $2.25 CAD.
While Vietnamese people eat pho at every meal, I normally enjoyed mine for lunch or dinner. But I wanted to try it for breakfast before I left the country, and this chicken pho was the perfect way to start a day.
My most favourite Hanoi food: Bun Cha (char-grilled pork and rice noodles)
Like on the street, where grandmothers sit on the sidewalk grilling pork belly beneath large red and yellow signs that shout “BUN CHA 25K”(25,000 dong, or about $1.40 CAD) for the classic Northern Vietnamese dish, one of the most fulfilling meals you will ever enjoy.
Why is bun cha so tasty and fulfilling? Could be the grilled pork belly, and/or ground pork patties served in a salty-sweet sauce. Add rice noodles and mounds of fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, mint and lettuce and, well, the mixture of all those tastes just sends me over the top!
One day a couple of friends and I followed some bun cha signs and our hungry stomachs down a sketchy dark walkway, only to find ourselves in a home kitchen where we were lovingly served some tasty bun cha by the matriarch of the home!
Check out a story I wrote for Edible Vancouver & Wine Country magazine, which includes a bun cha recipe so you can make it yourself.
One small word but big taste: Nem (deep-fried spring rolls)
Just like many Hanoi foods, each restaurant or street vendor has their own signature flavour for nem. But all of the fresh ingredients, like lean minced pork, sliced mushrooms, carrots, & onions and seasonings, wrapped in delicate rice paper and deep-fried… well, for me, they all tasted great!
One of our Remote Year tracks (experiences) was at Hanoi’s Apron Up Cooking School where we created nem from scratch—in fact, we bought all of the ingredients at the street markets in Hanoi’s Old Quarter and then diced and sliced and deep-fried these delectable treats.
Some other tasty Hanoi foods to try
At this street food restaurant, slices of a spam-like sausage were added to the Banh Cuon steamed rice rolls. While a bit reticent to taste it at first, my hunger overcame my doubts and I totally enjoyed it!
When you crave North American food in Hanoi
Quite to my surprise, traditional pancakes seem to be a staple dish around the world, so I was thrilled to have a restaurant close to my Hanoi apartment that served the most delicious pancakes! It was all I could to do snap a quick pic before devouring these heaven-sent pillows of yum.
Let’s talk about beverages in Hanoi
The standard Vietnamese coffee is a strong, dark-roasted drip coffee served with sugary-sweet condensed milk. The balance of the strong coffee and sweet milk is what takes this beverage over the top, hot or iced.
Coffee is filtered before it’s added to the whipped egg yolk, condensed milk & sugar concoction that makes egg coffee more like a dessert that you must enjoy with a spoon.
There are some traditional Vietnamese bottled beers, but what I really enjoyed was bia hoi, or fresh beer. It’s a really light draught lager (about 3% alcohol) that is brewed daily. It’s really cheap, maybe costing about $.50 CAD, and it’s served so cold that it’s super-refreshing on a hot & humid day in Hanoi!
Our Vietnamese tour guide teaches Luke, Ron and Tunde to offer the traditional Vietnamese cheer—Một, hai, ba, vô! (mote hi ba yo) / One, two, three, cheers!—while enjoying bia hoi on a street corner in Hanoi.
Hanoi’s rich food culture
Hanoi’s rich food culture spans traditional street vendors to fusion hipster joints to high-end luxury restaurants and is just one of the reasons I absolutely loved my time in Vietnam.
I’ll admit I was a bit nervous at first to eat street food because I had suffered so much the previous month due to food-related illness. But, if you’re squeamish about where your food comes from, a visit to Vietnam has to desensitize you—especially after you taste all the fresh food. It’s farm to table, right in front of you. “Eat local” isn’t even a term in Vietnam, it’s a cultural norm.
And it’s why Hanoi, Vietnam is high on my list of places to visit again.
#VisitHanoi #HanoiFood #RemoteYear #RemoteYearCurie #RYCurie