Where do I even begin? I’ve never found it so difficult to start an article, but the overwhelming amount of information to share has caused a bit of writer’s block. Do I split it up into several articles, do I just write one really long one? Having put this off for a few days I’ve decided to just get started, we’ll see where we end up at the end of all this.
Hanoi is an amazing, beautiful, and very lively city. You can find food at every street corner and it is all delicious – we didn’t have a single bad meal. We spent 5 days in Hanoi and ate our way around town, sitting on plastic chairs on the side of the street most of the time. Our strategy was twofold, first of all we googled a bit and found some recommendations online, and when we had gone through all of those we simply went to the places that were crowded with locals. So let’s get started…
Bún chả, a grilled pork and noodle dish originally from Hanoi. You get a bowl of grilled pork (belly and minced meat patties) in an insanely flavorful broth, a plate of noodles, and a pile of Vietnamese herbs. You can and should also order a side of nem cua bể, crab spring rolls. Dip, eat. You can throw some chilies in your broth if you want to crank up the heat. We quickly discovered that the tiny chopped red chilies in Vietnam pack quite the punch. It actually resulted in some heart burn on my side but a trip to the pharmacy solved that and I was good to go again. Though I almost ended up with the wrong medicine. The pharmacist didn’t speak any English and I had to use hand gestures and interesting facial expressions to depict heartburn, “no I’m not vomiting” and “no I don’t have diarrhea” were also acted out. But back to bún chả. So good!
Next up was bánh cuốn, a rice noodle roll with pork and mushroom. So good we had it twice. First at Bánh Cuốn Gia Truyền (recommended online), and then in a food alley where they sold all sorts of goodies. This roll is dipped in a fish sauce based sauce. In fact, a lot of the food in Vietnam is dipped in a sauce, as you will read later on in this article.
Wandering the streets of Hanoi you encounter a lot of stands selling snacks. The first one we tried sold deep fried banana and corn patties. The banana is mushed, dipped in a very thick batter, and then fried for what seemed like quite a long time. The corn patty was given the same treatment. We also had bánh rán mặn, a fried pork and rice flour dumpling of sorts, it also contained mushroom and was served with hot sauce. Not pictured, but also sampled during our stay were a fried dough ball filled with mung bean paste (bánh rán), fried bread filled with custard, a meat pie, a pastry filled with vegetables and meat, a rice and black sesame tortilla of sorts, and various meats on sticks.
We came across a lady selling pork, all sorts of grilled pork. So we got some and she cut it up into bite size pieces. On one of the evenings we even found durian! I don’t know if this is very popular in Vietnam as we only came across it once. Being durian lovers, we had to have some, even if we had just drank some beer. If you are unaware of this rule, please note carefully, never mix alcohol and durian – your stomach will hurt and you will feel awful. And so after enjoying the durian immensely, we suffered the consequences of having upset stomachs that evening. We were fine the next morning but had a pretty restless night.
You can’t go to Vietnam and not have bánh mý, the Vietnamese sandwich on a French baguette. In fact, we tried 5 different bánh mý stalls and have chosen Bánh Mý Như Ý on the corner of Hàng Thùng and Nguyễn Hữu Huân as the best of the ones we tried. You need to get the perfect mix of salty creamy pate and pork meats, the crunch of fresh vegetables, the sourness of pickled vegetables, and then some spiciness from hot sauce to top it all off.
There were a lot of small seafood restaurants, you could even call them pop up restaurants as they appeared on the streets after 6pm. We decided to have dinner at one and ordered crab, shrimp, and some clams. We were seated across the road from the ‘restaurant’ on tiny plastic stools and our table was an aluminum platter on a plastic stool. The seafood was served with two dipping sauces, the red one was a bit spicy and the white one was sour and lemony. The seafood was very fresh an delicious. What’s interesting is that everyone just throws their shells on the floor, so by the end of the dinner you’re surrounded by a mound of shells around you. To wash off we crossed the road again and used the hose on the side of the road that they had set up just for that purpose. Doesn’t get better than that!
We passed by a restaurant that was quite packed and saw that everyone was eating snails. They would stop there, park their scooter, have some snails, and move on again. So we decided to try some as well. The snails were sea snails and therefore tasted somewhat like bulot or periwinkle. They were boiled and steamed in a a flavorful broth containing ginger, lime leaves and lemongrass The dipping sauce, as expected, was amazing here. Garlicky, sour, slightly spicy and could be customized by adding scallions, ginger, chili, garlic and lime leaves. You just want to lap it up.
Last, but definitely not least is the famous noodle soup from Vietnam, phở. We found a small place selling only phở bò in an alley and jumped in. The broth is delicious, meaty and comforting. The thin beef slices are thrown in raw, and are therefore perfectly cooked by the time you eat it. It was served with fried dough sticks that you dunk into your broth. Completely and utterly satisfying.
I almost forgot to mention the coffee! I never knew about Vietnamese coffee, and in fact, I never drink coffee. But while we were there, we must have had 3-4 cups a day. The coffee is very smooth with a strong caramel flavor. They serve it there with condensed milk, either hot or on ice. We spent many hours just sitting at a coffee chop, enjoying a cup of coffee and watching people go by. We’ve only seen a little bit of Vietnam and Hanoi sure has gotten under our skin. We can’t wait to go back and see the rest of the country one day…