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Hanoi Food Photo | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer
Before I travelled around the world with Remote Year, when I thought of Vietnamese food I conjured up Canadian-ized-versions of it. Tasty, yes, and a favourite choice for a frugal meal out. But after spending a month in Hanoi and enjoying many of the classic northern Vietnamese foods and beverages, I can honestly say the food in Hanoi was my favourite of all of the cuisines I enjoyed during my year-long journey. And as a food photographer, well, Hanoi was also a feast for the eyes!
Many food & travel bloggers give you a top-10 list of Vietnamese foods with links to their favourite restaurants. Well, I’m just going to do a show & tell of my favourite Hanoi foods and beverages and share some stories that happened along the way.

Have some fun when you visit Hanoi and find your own favourite restaurants, hideaways, and street food vendors.

Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.
Anthony Bourdain

Hanoi’s staple food: Pho (noodle soup)

If you’ve been following along, you know that our Remote Year Curie group travelled to a new country each month. On an early morning in late January 2019, we boarded a bus from Marrakesh to Casablanca, Morocco then took a long-haul flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. It’s all a blur now but I remember thinking when I got to my apartment in Hanoi that I had been awake for almost 24 hours.

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.

Family sitting at a street pho restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Barbara Cameron Pix, Food & Travel Photographer

A typical Hanoi restaurant, street-style, where families gather for their daily pho.

Most street restaurants in Hanoi offer one food item only, and most often a Vietnamese woman holds court as the chef—in plain view of the diners.

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!

Pho chef in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Barbara Cameron Pix, Food & Travel Photographer

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.

tired travellers waiting for pho in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Barbara Cameron Pix, Food & Travel Photographer

My dinner companion, Zoe, was as tired and hungry as I was after 24 hours of travelling.

A full bowl of beef pho in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Barbara Cameron Pix, Food & Travel Photographer

Our first authentic Vietnamese pho! The great taste was matched by the great price: 40,000 Vietnamese Dong, or about $2.25 CAD.

A full bowl of chicken pho in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Barbara Cameron Pix, Food & Travel Photographer

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)

A Vietnamese woman makes street food in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Barbara Cameron Pix, Food & Travel Photographer
Bun Cha (“boon-cha”) is a pretty famous dish in Hanoi these days, ever since Anthony Bourdain treated Barack Obama to a meal there a few years ago. The side-street restaurant where they ate is now at full capacity all the time, but there is no shortage of other spots to enjoy this delicious Vietnamese meal.

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 bowl of bun cha in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Barbara Cameron Pix, Food & Travel Photographer
Many bowls of bun cha lined up in a restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Barbara Cameron Pix, Food & Travel Photographer

One small word but big taste: Nem (deep-fried spring rolls)

Nem: spring rolls, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer
The Hanoi version of fried spring rolls are quite addictive. Whenever I could, I added them as a side dish, or often simply ordered nem as a meal.

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.

Nem spring rolls deep fried, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer

Some other tasty Hanoi foods to try

With so much choice, it’s a challenge to narrow down my favourite Hanoi foods! Here are a few others.
Bánh Xèo is like a savoury crepe made from rice flour, water and turmeric powder. It’s stuffed with yummy ingredients like pork, shrimp, diced green onion, mung bean, and bean sprouts, and are made to share.
Bánh Xèo, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer
Remember I mentioned that Hanoi street restaurants typically offer one food item only, and that a Vietnamese woman usually holds court as the chef? This woman is making Bánh Cuốn, an artful process where a thin layer of rice batter is placed on the flat cooking surface, and fillings like minced pork, wood ear mushrooms, onions, shallots and seasonings are added, and then steamed into a roll. You will notice that an egg rice roll is also available for non-meat eaters.
Woman making Bánh Cuốn, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer
Bánh Cuốn steamed rice rolls, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer

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!

You either love Vietnamese che, or you don’t. That’s what I learned when my friends and I tried these 3 different variations of che, which can be considered a sweet beverage, dessert soup, or pudding. I even recall someone telling me it is often eaten for breakfast, and that makes sense because it has the consistency of porridge, and is somewhat sweet.
Varieties of Vietnamese Che, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer

When you crave North American food in Hanoi

Imagine this: you’ve just come out of a 7-day H1N1 flu bug, you’re weak and you’re ravenous. What’s the first thing you think of? Canadian comfort food, of course. Not noodle soup or noodles of any kind. I’m talking good-old-fashioned-white-flour pancakes with maple syrup, bacon, and eggs!

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.

Traditional pancake breakfast in Hanoi | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer
Another staple dish found in Hanoi and elsewhere is avo and toast, and I recall this particular one as tasting as good as it looks.
Avo & Toast, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer
Banh mi (“baan mee”) bridges the gap between North American and Vietnamese food. It’s a delicious sub sandwich, made with light and crispy French-style baguette and stuffed with savoury meats and often pickled vegetables and, my favourite fresh herb… cilantro.
Banh Mi, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer

Let’s talk about beverages in Hanoi

I knew about Vietnamese coffee, but I had never tasted it before visiting Hanoi. So my anticipation level was high… and I was not disappointed!
Tourist at a cafe in Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer
Vietnam is well-known for its coffee culture—the number of cafes and street vendors selling coffee is quite astounding. What is just as surprising are the vast numbers of Vietnamese people who gather to drink coffee morning, noon and night and… spit empty sunflower seed shells on the sidewalk as they converse.

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.

Vietnamese coffee, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer
But it’s what they do to their coffee that sets the Vietnamese bar so high. Yogurt coffee? Yes please! Egg coffee? Most definitely!
Egg Coffee, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer
Hanoi is riddled with places to get some great egg coffee. One of my travelling companions, Luke, recommended Cafe Dinh, a well-hidden and shall we say “rustic” place that was packed with curious tourists and locals alike. Once you find your way there and grab a spot at a low wooden table, it’s quite an experience to watch how the coffee is made, and then enjoy it’s robust, sweet, delicious flavour!
Coffee filters at Cafe Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer
Egg Coffee Prep at Cafe Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer
Egg Coffee at Cafe Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer

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.

If you know me, you know that I have a great appreciation for wine. Well, purchasing wine in Vietnam is not easy or cost-effective because it’s all imported. So the next best option is beer!

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!

Bia Hoi in Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer
Friends cheer with fresh beer in Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer

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

Chef in Hanoi, Vietnam | Barbara Cameron Pix | Food & Travel Photographer

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

Did you miss my first Hanoi blog?

Learn about the chaotic magic of street life in Hanoi.

Want to see where my year-long journey started?

Go back to the beginning in Lisbon, Portugal.

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