Hearty Hanoi; what to eat and where to go?
February 28, 2019
by Caitlin Wilcox
You booked your trip to Vietnam, you touch down on your first day with a list of things to explore… and your stomach rumbles. Whatever your considerations when choosing a travel destination, everyone has to eat. And, in a place like the capital, Hanoi, what do you eat? There is a whole world of amazing local street food to be discovered, but sometimes you need a few pointers of assistance. This article will give you a run down of local restaurants close to three main tourist spots in Hanoi.
Where to go? Hoan Kiem Lake
A landmark if ever there was, this lake holds a venerated position in the mythical birth of the nation, and remains a lovely spot to wander and acclimatise to the Vietnamese way of doing things (large pavements and a reduced risk of getting run over are a bonus). It’s ringed by great restaurants to try local dishes, and the surrounding roads are pedestrianised at weekends.
What to eat
Not technically food – although, given the richness, you could count it as a meal – egg coffee was the brainchild of a local man in response to the lack of milk during the French war. He added whisked egg white to coffee and, after 40 years (!) of refinement, it finally became a staple in the 1980s. Sweet, meringue-like foam with the sharp bitterness of super-strong Vietnamese coffee delivers a delicious energy boost.
Cafe Dinh, 13 Dinh Tien Hoang, Hang Trong OR Giang Cafe, 39 Nguyen Huu Huan, Hang Bac
20,000-40,000VND (~0.60GBP/0.85USD-1.30GBP/1.70USD) for coffee. Menus in English.
Vietnam’s ubiquitous dish. Rice noodles served hot in a clear, meat broth with a heap of herbs and chicken or beef, depending on your preference. You can add chilli (highly recommended) and order a side of fried dough-sticks to wallow in the broth and soak up all the flavour. This place serves the beef variety, with a slight twist; they sauté the beef with garlic before adding, which gives the meat a stronger and more satisfying flavour. Scroll on for a more traditional version further down.
Pho Thin – 1955, 61 Dinh Tien Hoang, Ly Thai To, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
60,000VND (~2.00GBP/2.50USD) for pho
10,000VND (~0.30GBP/0.40USD) for dough-sticks
Where to go? The Women’s Museum & Hoa Lo Prison Memorial
South-west of Hoan Kiem Lake are arguably two of Hanoi’s best museums. The Women’s Museum is an excellently curated chronicle of the role of Vietnamese women in making Vietnam today, from the dynastic era to the Vietnam-US War. The Prison Museum, known as Maison Centrale when built by the French before gaining infamy in the US as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’, marks the history of the area before its construction as well as conditions (via some rather macabre dioramas) of prisoners kept inside. Historical bias aside, it’s a fascinating place.
Women’s Museum open – 8:00-17:00 daily
Entrance – 30,000VND (~1.00GBP/1.30USD)
Hoa Lo Prison Museum open – 8.00-17.00 daily
Entrance – 30,000VND (~1.00GBP/1.30USD)
What to eat
Fuel up before your museum jaunt; xoi xeo is sticky rice with an assortment of toppings, although don’t let its simplicity fool you. I would heartily recommend finding this spot on the corner of Hang Bai and Vong Duc. The ladies selling it are usually there until about 10.30am divvying up leaf-wrapped parcels of rice, mung bean and fried shallots with admirable dexterity and speed. The result looks unimpressive and tastes incredible; they finish it with hot chicken fat and it’s deliciously savoury, warming and filling.
Street vendors on Vong Duc where it meets Hang Bai
Price: 10,000VND (~0.33GBP/0.40USD) for one xoi xeo parcel
Bun Bo Nam Bo & Hu Tieu
Learning is hungry work, so luckily there’s a spot nearby for a bowl of something great. Strictly speaking, neither of these dishes originate from Hanoi – but hear me out! Bun bo nam bo (Southern beef salad) is supposedly Southern in origin – hence the name – however, on arrival in Vietnam’s south, you may struggle to find it. Some say it’s a misnomer and was actually named after a street in Hanoi on which it originated, but, whichever story is true, this restaurant’s example is one of the finest. Rice noodles topped with just-fried beef, fried shallots, herbs, lettuce and peanuts with a hint of sweet sauce; add a squeeze of kumquat (small limes) and chilli sauce and it’s the perfect restorative after a few hours absorbing history. Their other main dish, hu tieu, is definitely Southern, but this version opts for crispy pork slices over seafood. It retains the sweet and peanutty flavoured broth and wider rice noodles that absorb it all. I’d recommend one of each to share with a friend. Or yourself.
Bun Bo Co Tuan – Hu Tiu Xa Xiu Chien
49C Tran Quoc Toan, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
40,000VND (~1.30GBP/1.70USD) for bun bo nam bo or hu tieu
Where to go? Old Quarter
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is known as the ‘36 Streets’ traditionally, after the logical notion of denoting each street by the type of goods sold (e.g., Hang Ga, or ‘Chicken Street’). Though not all have survived in name or merchandise, these streets comprise the basis of Hanoi’s traditional quarter and as such are an unmissable part of the experience. Noisy, busy, full of incongruous sights (chickens, fridges, plasma TVs… on motorbikes), they also are a great location to scope the local food. Here are some spots to help organise your wanderings.
What to eat
My favourite Hanoian dish, I could write terrible poetry about it for longer than I should admit. Grilled, marinated belly pork and patties combined in a sweet, seasoned broth with crunchy radish and carrots, accompanied by rice noodles for dipping and enjoying. Pile on the garlic and chilli, the fresh herbs and leaves and throw away concerns about halitosis. Grab a crab roll and iced tea to balance everything out too. This place does quite a sweet version with deliciously flavourful meat and well-balanced crab rolls that aren’t overpoweringly seafood-y. The bitterness of the tea cuts through both and marries together perfectly.
Bun Cha Hang Quat, 74 Hang Quat
Open – 10.00-14.00
30,000VND (~1.30GBP/1.70USD) for bun cha, 10,000VND (~0.30GBP/0.40USD) for crab roll, 5,000VND (~0.15GBP/0.20USD) for iced tea
This place is renowned for very good reason. Be prepared to go early (and I mean early) and queue for a bit, as it remains supremely popular with locals as well as a pull for tourists. It’s truly worth it though; their meat is so well-seasoned and the broth is phenomenal, giving a great balance between the components. Grab the dough-sticks and a dollop of chilli and enjoy.
Pho Gia Truyen Bat Dan, 49 Bat Dan
Open – 06.00-10.00, 18.00-20.30
50,000VND (~1.60GBP/2.10USD) for pho, 15,000VND (~0.50GPB/0.65USD) for a plate of dough-sticks