If you thought all Vietnam had to offer in terms of delicious food was banh mi and pho, you are sorely mistaken. Those two dishes, though deserving of all the hype, are just the tip of the culinary iceberg that is Vietnamese food. And in Hanoi, the capital city, all you have to do to taste the best food the country’s got to offer is to step outside. Your next life-changing meal is never more than a few steps away.
For the beer drinker:
Bia Hoi Truc Bach
For Hanoians, bia hoi is life. Roughly translated as ‘fresh beer’, bia hoi are street side beer gardens that serve up ridiculously cheap draught beer (at P10 a pop), usually drunk in glasses or plastic cups, sometimes with ice, while sitting on tiny plastic stools. This is where Hanoians come to shoot the shit with their buds, while munching on fried peanuts and pork ribs.
Where to go: 50 Cua Bac, Truc Bach, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
For grub on the go:
Banh Mi 25
Hanoi is all about the hustle: whether you’re on the back of a motorbike, navigating your way through rush hour traffic, or jockeying for a table at your favorite noodle spot, the ability to think (and eat) on your toes is important. Enter, the ubiquitous banh mi. A feat of culinary construction, it combines all the best flavors of Asia in one, stuffed-to-the-gills sandwich. Found in the heart of the Old Quarter, Hanoi’s main tourist hub, Banh Mi 25 is the perfect spot for a quick bite.
Where to go: 25 Hang Ca, Hang Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
For a life-changing bowl of noodles:
While pho definitely deserves its place in the international food scene, there are other Vietnamese noodle dishes that also deserve their place in the sun. Case in point: hu tieu, flat rice noodles topped with pieces of fried pork (a la lechon kawali), bean sprouts, peanuts, and fried shallots. Tying the whole dish together is a sweet, porky broth and a smattering of fresh herbs.
Where to go: 49B Tran Quoc Toan, Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
For the adventurous eater:
While they sure do love their noodles and meat dishes, Vietnam has a long and rich tradition of eating virtually anything that moves. Highway 4 serves up traditional country-style Vietnamese dishes like crickets roasted with lemon leaves, sun-dried beef with ant and salt dip, spicy grilled frog legs, and eel meatloaf wrapped in pork fat. For those who’d rather play it safe, the catfish spring rolls are a “safer” but equally delicious option.
Where to go: 5 Hang Tre, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
For the vegetarian:
While Hanoi, or Vietnam in general, may not be the most accommodating place for vegetarians, it does have its fair share of veg-friendly options. Take, for example, bun dau. Fried tofu served with rice noodles and a pungent fermented fish paste sauce on the side for dipping. Like a lot of dishes in this city, the best spots to try this dish are always on the side of a road. And it goes without saying, the busier the spot, the better it is.
Where to go: 31 Hang Khay Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
For the meat lover:
Bun cha Huong Lien
No trip to Hanoi is complete without having bun cha. This Hanoi-specific dish consists of rice noodles (bun), grilled pork patties and pork belly floating in a broth flavored with fish sauce and sugar. Throw in a bunch of fresh herbs into the broth, dip your noodles in and fly off into porky heaven.
Where to go: 24 Le Van Huu, Pham Dinh Ho, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi
For the traditionalist:
Pho 10, Pho Suong
There’s nothing quite like a steaming bowl of pho bo (beef pho) after a night of heavy drinking. It’s downright restorative, especially when eaten first thing in the morning, which is the norm in Vietnam. Word to the wise: order the pho tai chin to get a mix of rare and well-done beef.
Where to go: 10 Ly Quoc Su, Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
For the fish lover
Just like bun cha, cha ca is a uniquely Hanoian dish. Fillets of white fish (usually catfish) are marinated in turmeric, dill, and ginger, then sautéed in a pan right in front of you, with a mix of dill and green onion. Dip it in some fermented fish sauce, paired with rice noodles and a bottle of Bia Hanoi, and you’ve got yourself a delicious meal.
Where to go: 14 Cha Ca, Hang Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
For pancakes, Viet-style:
Just like in the Philippines, where the best meals are often the ones you eat with your hands, Hanoi is no exception. Banh xeo is insanely addictive. A crispy rice flour pancake stuffed with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts, the beauty of this dish is in its assembly. First you take a sheet of rice paper, stack some of the pancake and a few herbs, roll it up, dip it into the sweet and salty nuoc cham, and cram the entire thing in your mouth for a flavor explosion unlike any other. Rinse and repeat.
Where to go: 26 Tran Hung Dao, Phan Chu Trinh, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
For your coffee break:
Cong Caphe – yogurt coffee or coconut coffee
Coffee is serious business in Vietnam. In fact, it’s the second largest global exporter of coffee, outranked only by Brazil. If you can’t live without your caffeine fix in the morning, caphe sua da (iced coffee) is the preferred choice. For something a little different, try Cong Caphe’s coconut coffee or yogurt coffee. Both of which are tasty options that’ll change the way you look at coffee forever.
Where to go: All over Hanoi