Hanoi: Capital of Vietnam and the epicenter of Vietnamese food.
Vietnamese food is known throughout the world for its delicious foods and unique food culture. Hanoi is the best place to taste every flavor that makes Vietnamese food so special.
You already have to eat three meals a day so make sure each meal is as unforgettable as the last. Here are the 10 foods you must try in Hanoi:
1. Bánh Cuốn – Steamed Rice Rolls
Any proper meal begins with light appetizers and Hanoi has plenty to offer in that regard. Steamed rice batter is filled with minced pork and a few fresh vegetables and rolled into nice little packages for this simple dish of Bánh Cuốn. Topped with fried shallots and some herbs, the rolls are served with dipping sauce made from fish sauce to add even more flavor.
Around Hanoi, you’ll find different variations of Bánh Cuốn. Some will have a prawn in each roll, others will use a different type of flour for the roll itself. You’ll be able to order Bánh Cuốn from street stalls, where you might get to see the flour being rolled onto fabric over boiling water, to fancy restaurants. No matter where you stop, this is a perfect way to start a lovely Vietnamese meal.
Another great option for an appetizer is the green papaya salad, a dish popular throughout Southeast Asia. Though not as common as the Thai version, the papaya salad you’ll find in Hanoi leans into the sweetness a bit more than Thailand’s spicy sibling. The salad contains mainly just sliced papaya mixed together with lime, garlic, fish sauce, and chilis. Usually topped with cilantro and lime, this dish is quickly thrown together and quickly disappears from any table!
Just like the banh cuon, you’ll see stalls mixing up papaya salads along the streets of Hanoi and you’ll see it on just about any menu in the city. Vietnamese food is such a social event, make sure to order this with a group of friends and pass it around from plate to plate. This salad is so simple, why not learn how to make it yourself along with many other dishes:
3. Cà Phê Trung- Vietnamese Egg Coffee
As you walk around Hanoi, you’ll see numerous cafes and coffee shops. Stop into any one of them and be sure to order the egg coffee. Only found in Vietnam and invented in Hanoi, this is a necessary stop while visiting the city.
The story goes that when there was a shortage of fresh or condensed milk in Vietnam, someone had the brilliant idea of using hand-whipped egg yolks. Although now a machine is usually used on the egg yolks and condensed milk was added, it’s still an incredibly tasty and special drink. The flavor sits somewhere between a sweet, strong coffee and a warm cake, which is a perfect place to sit while taking a break.
4. Phở - Vietnamese noodle soup
This noodle soup is so ubiquitous around Vietnam, and especially Hanoi, that no trip here is complete without a few bowls of pho. At first glance, the dish appears so simple. A clear broth with noodles and shallots topped with a meat (usually beef or chicken) and a few herbs. Once that first spoonful passes your lip, you realize this simple broth is anything but. You can taste the hours of simmering needed to reach this flavor, how the chicken or beef bones simmered with cinnamon, ginger, star anise, cardamom, and clove.
Eating pho around the city, you never know what balance of flavors you’ll discover. Some bowls will be strong with cinnamon, others will be heavy with star anise. One bowl will be overwhelmingly aromatic with spices while the next is incredibly meaty from the bone broth. Every bowl is an adventure of the taste buds and a story of the chef’s recipe passed from one generation to the next.
5. Chả Cá – Grilled Fish with Dill and Turmeric
This stir-fried fish dish is so important to Hanoi, they named a street after it. The white chunks of fish are marinated in turmeric and galangal then often fried right at the table in a large pan of oil, dill, and other herbs. It is usually served with vermicelli noodles, a pile of fresh herbs, and a dipping sauce (mam nem).
Cha Ca can be found all across the city but if you decide to head to Cha Ca Street, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. You can join the long line at Cha Ca La Vong, one of the most famous cha ca restaurants that serve only this one dish. This was the first cha ca restaurant to set up on this street but today you’ll find numerous others competing for the best version. Try one spot or try a few. Either way, this is a dish you do not want to miss.
by Paul Arps
By this time, you’re probably getting thirsty. In Hanoi, there’s nothing better to quench your thirst than a cold glass of bia hoi. Literally translated to “fresh beer”, bia hoi is a draft beer than can be found almost everywhere in northern Vietnam: bars, restaurants, street corners, etc. It’s a light beer that is brewed every day and only last about 24 hours. Each morning, the bia hoi spots will receive the steel barrels of this beer cold and ready to serve to their customers at a dramatically cheaper price range than any other beer on the menu.
As you travel around Hanoi, you’ll see numerous small bars with names that start with “Bia Hoi”. These places are perfect to try it out but always be on the lookout. You might see a barrel on the sidewalk with just a few short stools around. Sit down on a stool and have a cold bia hoi. You won’t regret it. Don’t know where to stop? Book a street food tour and they’ll make sure you have the perfect glass of bia hoi:
7. Bánh Mì – Vietnamese Sandwich
This famous sandwich can be found all around Vietnam but is derived from the French influence of the colonial period. “Banh mi” translates to wheat bread although it usually refers to either the baguette used in the sandwich or the sandwich itself. Banh mi sandwiches are considered breakfast or snack foods so you’ll mostly find the sandwich in street stalls around town and they often close early. So don’t plan on a supper banh mi!
A banh mi, just like any sandwich, could include any number of combinations of fillings. There will usually be some type of meat, commonly pork. On top of the meat will be a pile of fresh and pickled vegetables: cucumber slices, cilantro, and shredded carrots. The bread will be smeared with some type of sauce; mayonnaise or a chili sauce being the most popular. All combined, this French-inspired savory sandwich ends up being fully Vietnamese and incredibly tasty.
8. Bún chả - BBQ Pork with Rice Vermicelli
There’s perhaps no dish more reflective of food in Hanoi, or even Vietnamese food, than bun cha. You have slices of pork flame-grilled and dropped in a bowl of sweet broth made from fish sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and chilis. Next to that is the pile of rice noodles found in so many dishes. Then there’s the bed of fresh Vietnamese herbs that show up in so many of the dishes on this list. All combined is the delicious bun cha.
A few years ago, this dish was brought to international fame after President Barack Obama and the late Anthony Bourdain sat down at Bún Chả Hương Liên for bun cha and a cold beer. If you head to this local shop, you’ll find the table and chairs used by the two enclosed in glass and photos of the event all over the restaurant. Famous or not, one bite into the bun cha will explain exactly why Bourdain wanted to bring his noteworthy guest here for a bowl.
9. Kem Xôi - Sticky Rice and Ice Cream
For those with a bit of a sweet tooth, this dessert is for you. Three simple ingredients make for the perfect snack after a long day of sightseeing: coconut ice cream on a bed of sweetened sticky rice topped with toasted coconut flakes. Coconut ice cream is popular all over Southeast Asia because of how fresh and refreshing it is but when joined with the sticky rice and toasted coconut flakes, the dessert takes on a whole new level of flavor.
While around town, look out for any shop or street stall with the word “chè” on its sign. This word is used for any traditional Vietnamese sweet dish, drink, dessert soup, or pudding. If you see it on a sign, there will be plenty of options but be sure to start with the kem xoi.
10. Bánh Xoai - Mango Cake
If you still want a little sweet treat but nothing as heavy as the kem xoi, then banh xoai is the treat for you. While walking around Hanoi, I can guarantee you’ll see a few vendors selling these small, powdered treats off a tray or out of a large bag. You might see “mango cake” on the sign but don’t be fooled, there is no mango or mango flavors in this treat. It’s named after the shape!
Made from glutinous sticky rice shaped around a peanut and sugar filling, this soft and doughy treat is perfect for a few bites while you check out the city’s nightlife. On your way for a glass of bia hoi, grab a few of these to share with your friends for a lovely night out.
Hopefully you found some perfect dishes and treats for your trip to Hanoi. If all this food looked amazing, why not book a cooking class in Hanoi so you can learn the secrets behind the dishes and be able to recreate them once you get home. Check out all the cooking classes offered in Hanoi: