A quick collection of the street food we happily stuffed ourselves with this last trip to Hanoi! I hope this serves as a starter guide for anyone trying get a good spread of the vast array of street food there.
Unfortunately, with rising tourism to the region, the variety of food appears to be amalgamating into the few key dishes always featured in guidebooks and travel documentaries, run by the same proprietors. Or at least, this is my impression of Hanoi between my last trip 4 years ago and now. I hope I’m proven wrong!
1. Pho Bo Tai, Pho 10, 10 Ly Quoc Su
Generous slices of medium-rare beef curling as they cook in steaming, flavourful broth, this bowl of beef-based pho is just what I needed to combat an onset of the cold. A free flow of limes, pickled garlic and deceivingly spicy chili sauce sit on every table, for you to customize an indulgent blend of flavours. A hefty serving, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the speed at which the locals finish their bowls.
2. Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim, 67 Duong Thanh
A Hanoi staple, pork patties grilled to a lovely char and dunked in a fish sauce-vinegar-sugar broth for the smokey flavours of the meat to tie everything together. Fresh sprigs of mint and basil cut through the greasy flavours, more than dressing up your otherwise plain noodles. The crab spring rolls, however, weren’t as good as I remembered – a little too oily and salty to fully appreciate the sweetness of the crab, which was also shredded too finely for a decent bite.
3. Coconut Coffee and Yogurt Coffee, Cong Caphe, multiple locations
It’s probably the slightly stronger iron taste in Vietnamese coffee that allow it to pair so well with coconut and yogurt. The creaminess of these additions cut through sharpness of the coffee’s mouthfeel, and add a subtle, mellowed sweetness that can’t quite be achieved by sugar. Tastes almost like a healthy glass of Bailey’s, best drunk on the sidewalk.
4. Ngo Xao, mobile vendor
What a clever way of dressing up an otherwise unpalatable dish of Vietnamese corn, which is much much starchier and less sweet than its Thai counterparts. Use generously: butter, sugar, krill (the magical ingredient), steamed corn, chives; fry over high heat for a couple of minutes to let the flavours meld. The smell alone is intoxicating.
5. Bahn Mi 25, 36 Hang Ca
I’ve never had bahn mi prior to this, but something tells me this is almost as good as it gets. Smaller baguettes are used, toasted to a crisp perfection on the outside, while still maintaining a steamingly soft and fluffy interior. Stuffed generously with pate, saucisson, cream cheese or an omelette fried upon order, and topped with fish sauce, coriander and chili sauce (optional), it was quite impossible to stop at one (we had 4 over two days). A stop at this nondescript roadside stand is one of the best ways to start your day – topped off with a big smile from the incredibly hospitable owners.
6. Egg Coffee (optionally with rum), Giang Cafe
The drink that spawned a thousand imitators, none doing it quite as well as Giang Cafe, where it first originated. A narrow passageway leads to a double-storied enclave of locals crouched on small stools, drinking cup after cup of egg coffee and its variants, chatting the day away. The concoction of egg, -secret ingredients- and coffee is excellent whether drunk hot or cold, and I also recommend the egg coffee with rum for an unexpected alcoholic kick.
7. Mi Ga Tan and Special Fried Rice, Quan Cay Si, 11 Tong Duy Tan
A very traditional Vietnamese dish, that may not be to the liking of foreigners due to its heavy herbal accents and the woodiness of the vegetables. If you are into Asian food, however, the juxtaposition of homely, wholesome medical soups with plasticky, QQ instant noodles can be quite a marvelous experience! Don’t be put off by how black the soup appears – it’s full of stewed chicken and wolfberry goodness, amongst other things, and really exemplifies the mantra that the scarier it looks, the better it is for your health. The fried rice we ordered was also decent, with the floss adding a nice touch to each mouthful.
8. Bun Bo Nam Bo, 67 Hang Dieu
The best for last – I think this was my favourite street food dish this time around. Freshly fried beef slices, topped with a mountain of shredded vegetables, chopped peanuts and crispy shallots created a huge umami bomb that I couldn’t get enough of. Noodles absorbed the flavours of the gravy well, and worked well as a base to mellow any potential salt overload that came from the generous use of fish sauce. Such a fantastic balance of clean tastes from the vegetables and noodles, against copious amounts of smokey wok’s breath and beefy goodness. This is such a gem. I licked the bowl clean.