Fresh, light and gluten- and dairy-free, Vietnamese street food is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. It’s also one of the most delicious, thanks in part to the liberal use of herbs, lime juice and chilli. And Hanoi is one of the best places to start getting to know it. Here, you’ll find some favoured Vietnamese street-food dishes, along with the best venues at which to sample them around the city.
Usually consumed at breakfast or lunch, this iconic soup made with beef and beef stock, ginger, cinnamon, black cardamom, star anise and nam pla fish sauce may well be the unofficial Vietnamese national dish, but it has its heart in the country’s capital, where you’ll find the best examples. Among the top places to try it are atmospheric, hole-in-the-wall Phở Bát Đàn, a local favourite selling only three types of beef phở and one side dish, youtiao (‘Chinese churro’), to dip into the unctuous broth.
The capital’s lunchtime stand-by is easy to hunt down – just follow your nose or look out for the clouds of smoke rising from charcoal grills all around the city, charring fatty pork to be served in broth with white-rice noodles, herbs, nam pla and a dipping sauce. This is what Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate during their famous meal in the city documented in Parts Unknown. In 1959, food writer Vu Bang said that Hanoi was a town “transfixed by bún chả.” Try it at Bun Cha Ta in the Old Quarter, where the genial staff will show you how to eat it properly.
These robustly flavoured, richly textured noodles with crab meat, crab cake, chilli, lime juice and coconut dip, and fresh spring rolls made of rice paper filled with fresh vegetables, pork and prawns, dipped in sweet soya sauce and topped with roasted peanuts are best tasted at Madame Hien. This gorgeous restaurant by Brittany-born chef Didier Corlou serves food inspired by the ancestral cooking of Vietnamese women, including his own wife’s grandmother.
These deep-fried patties from Hanoi’s West Lake are made using shrimp fished from the waters by torchlight at night-time. Historic Bánh Tôm Hồ Tây may be criticised for its service and somewhat elevated prices, but locals and visitors alike flock here for shrimp cakes made to a recipe handed down through generations of the same family, accompanied by chilled local draft beer and lake views.
This classic Hanoi dish of pancakes filled with a mix of rich pork, shrimp or chicken, mushrooms, shallots, and nam pla is the most popular breakfast food in the country. Try it at the Old Quarter’s Bánh Cuốn Gia Truyền, which often features on Hanoi street food tours, and where you can see the rolls being hand-made at the front of the store.
These crispy crêpes made from rice flour, turmeric and coconut cream and stuffed full of pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and herbs are named ‘sizzling pancakes’ for the sound made when the rice batter hits the hot skillet. Eat them at Bánh Xèo Sáu Phước, where they serve nothing else to an appreciative clientele of mainly local families. The owner will show you how best to eat them, sliced up and wrapped in rice paper.
These traditional Vietnamese desserts – the first a sweet sticky rice topped with ice cream and roasted coconut, the second consisting of ice, taro, red beans and coconut milk served in a glass – are best sampled at Chè Hương Hải 93 Hàng Bạc, a gem of a place with a few indoor and outdoor seats, a vast menu and almost ludicrously low prices. Be prepared to wait at weekends.
This is an update of an original piece by Nandini.