I love this place and will continue to frequent for one reason only: the roll-your-own fresh ginger beef nem. Costs 50,000, and it's enough to feed two people as a large appetizer. at only 55,000 - 60,000 VND for a large main with rice, it's great value too. Definitely try the beef (or pork, or chicken) with citron, chilli and caramel and the chicken and cashew nuts is also a favourite.Good prices, cute atmosphere, excellent service, convenient location.
Favorite Dish: the roll-your-own fresh ginger beef nem.
Food stalls can be found at literally every corner. It'll take a little courage to eat in some of them as the food looks uncommon if not strange or inedible - but you'll most likely be satisfied afterwards. Basically all of them have their "menu" visible on a large plastic sign. If you plan to eat in food stalls, it might be a good idea to learn the most important dishes or their ingredients. For instance, pho (pronounced like fur) is a very tasty noodle soup that you will find almost everywhere. Dishes with chicken are called something plus ga, dishes with beef include the word bo (pronounced almost like boar). In case you're willing to try dog meat, you should know that it's Thit Cho in Vietnamese.
It's literally impossible to describe and recommend one food stall - many of them are worth a try, while others are an offense to your stomach. Nevertheless, I will try to do so. Back in 2004/2005, when I worked in Hanoi, I ate lunch at a specific food stall daily. Their specialty was Com Rang (pronounced kerm saang), i.e. fried rice. Unfortunately, the place closed down a year or so ago as a new road was built - the golden age of Com Rang is over... :(
Here's what it was like back then:
"Com Rang is fried rice and you'll find it many places all over Hanoi. The best, the ultimate Com Rang, can be found in a small food stall near the south entrance of Bach Khoa university. If you leave the campus, cross the sewer and go on for some 150 metres. On the right side, you'll see an Aretha-Franklin-like looking woman who is enthroned on a chair, preparing food for the guests of this small food stall. Don't be too shocked by the hygienic conditions - the rice is fried in very hot fat, so all bacteria will be killed! By the way, the piece of paper on the wall, that is almost unreadable, is the health certificate.
Order "Mot Kerm Saang" and you'll get what you want. To prove that the rice is good: I've eaten there almost every day! Com Rang costs 5000 VND, other dishes are available, too and also quite good."
Favorite Dish: Com Rang, Pho Bo, Bun Bo, Nem Chua Ran, Pho Cuon...
Note: My sincere thanks to Globe_Trekker who recommended that I should try Banh Cuon while I was here.
Banh cuon is a popular breakfast dish for Vietnamese and it's not difficult to see why. The translucent silvers of rice flour rolled around grilled meat,shrimp, mushroom and lightly sauteed garlic and onion are delicious. Complement it with a special fish sauce flavoured with the perfume glands from a beetle and voila! You're looking at the best dish in Hanoi.
20,000D for two plates of Banh Cuon
Important Note : The price has since doubled/tripled/quadrupled since I put up this recommendation for God knows what reason. It shocked me to think there are actually idiots out there who printed my little recommendation and showed it to the stall owner for proof that the price should stay the same! For crying out, pls don't do that, it's a known fact that blogs are only accurate from the time of the entry.
Favorite Dish: This dish is a northern specialty so it's better to try it when you're in Hanoi. If you're thinking it's the Hanoian equivilent to the Chinese rice roll (Chee Chong Fun ) , you're sadly mistaken, this rice roll is softer, more fragrant and more delicious.
Where to find this: This shop is located on the same street as Cha Ca Va Long, the famous fish hotpot shop. Give the fish a miss and eat this instead.
If you are a big fan of Mr Extreme Cuisine aka Jerry Hopkins, you would eaten a lot of things you wouldn't dream of eating in Vietnam.
Now, take a good look at the bug, would you eat him? Probably not .
But I am quite sure you would eaten juice squeezed from this particular fella. And unknowingly too. Most Vietnamese are fond of nýớc_mắm cà_cuống which means fish sauce seasoned with belostomatid essence. Yes, they take this little fella, squeeze its perfume gland for the said essence to perfume the sauce to be served to you.
Favorite Dish: You're probably dying to know whether I have taken the sauce. I did and unknowingly too! But reader, it is the most fragrant sauce I've ever tasted in my life! When I first tasted it, I couldn't quite place it, it was a cross between saffron and cinammon but a hundred times more fragrant.
Sauce is commonly found in Bun Thang, a noodle dish and Banh Cuon (Rice Flour Steamed Rolls)
Welcome to the eerie floating worlds of Hanoi. Earlier, you saw a floating gecko. Now you'll see a bear's paw floating in a mixture of wolfberries. Reputedly, drinking this paw wine will enhance a man's sexual powess and make him as powerful as a bear in bed.
Do you believe that crap? Well, here's some news for you if you buy that bull ****.
Asian Sun Bears are endangered creatures and in my opinion, the person who did this to him should suffer the same fate. Same goes for those idiots who force a bear into a tiny cage, and use the bear as a ketchup-bile dispensar.
Favorite Dish: Anything else that does not belong to a bear or any endangered creature.
Iif you're thinking that might be a gecko staring at you from the bottle, you're right. This is an honest-to-God true photograph and not a Jerry Hopkins infused nightmare. That small ginny in the bottle has been bottled for being an Aphrodisiac.
And I'll repeat what I mentioned in my HCMC instalment. Vietnamese men drink this for a little ooh-la-la and no, this reptilian Viagra is not patented by Pfizer yet.
This is a classic case of curiosity killing the cat. Ok, so my curiousity got the better of me! Here I was, in a busy Hanoi eatery , staring at a suspicious dish and trying to snare a waiter. And when I did, i just had to ask,
" THIT CHO?"
The answer threw me off balance.
Doggoneit, this was real thing! Fido roasted to a well-done crisp!
I can't explain it dear reader but I could feel my bile rising to my throat. Perhaps, it was because I had pet dogs all my life and the thought of roasting them was akin to bloody murder. I smiled weakly, told the waiter that I didn't want any a la carte doggie and left hurriedly . Somehow, the curious cat within me was feeling queasy and I went to the nearest drain to puke.
Note: I used to own 3 Pekingnese dogs at one time and trained them for competitions when I was younger.
Favorite Dish: How does one even start to eat this dish, i wonder, from the spiky tail end or the drumstick?
Where to eat this revolting thing:
I don't advocate eating this dish but if you have stronger stomach than me, you can look for this food court is at the side of the Museum of Vietnamese Revolution. It's not too far from Hilton Hanoi where I was staying.
Dried squid comes in different sizes.When order is made, auntie will smoke the dried squid (actually heat it) for a while over a metal wok containing flaming charcoal, the squid will shrink when heated, then she'll hit it with an empty glass bottle (eg beer bottle), and smoke it again, until its fiber split apart. Finally she tears the squid into small slices and pack in old newspaper. The taste's not bad really, worth a try
For a size of 1/2 feet squid, it costs VND20,000
Try this local barbeque stick, or what malaysian call it 'satay'. It's soft and juicy inside, sweet and a little crunchy outside. It's perfect snack to chew while walking down Dong Xuan street at hanoi old quarters. Do ask what kind of meat on the stove before you buy.
It costs VND5,000 per stick
During the hot weather in Hanoi, it is very nice to sit down and eat ice cream. There is a nice ice cream kiosk called Mondo Gelato which sells nice ice cream located at the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake at the Old Quarter area (somewhere near the intersection between Cau Go Street, Hang Gai Street and Luong Van Can Streets). You can sit here, eat your ice cream and enjoy watching the daily life of the locals as well as Hoan Kiem Lake which is just across the road on the other side.
There is a road-side store selling delicious and cheap fried fritters (see photos) along Cau Go Street at the Old Quarter area. Do give them a try and remember to drink lots of water because it is very heaty (also let it cool down a bit before eating as they are fresh from the frying wok).
While you are exploring Hanoi, you will come across may locals selling various types of fruits in the streets, and the fruits are also sold in the markets. Do try some of the local fruits, especially the dragon fruit (see photo) which is native only in Vietnam. This fruit has an interesting colour and shape, and when it is cut open, the flesh is white in colour with lots of black dots (you can eat them together with the white flesh). Remember to bargain because the locals will increase the price of the fruits by a lot once they see that you are a tourist.
While exploring Hanoi, especially the Old Quarter area (and the weekend night bazaar at the Old Quarter area), you will come across many road-side stores selling all kinds of local desserts and drinks. During my trip in December 2006, I managed to try the soya bean drink, bean curd, sugar cane drink, sweet potato dessert, fried fritters, red bean soup with nuts etc. Be bold and try the local desserts and drinks (they are very very cheap anyway).
Cau Go Street is located at the Old Quarter area north of Hoan Kiem Lake, and this street has lots of roadside stores selling local food. There is one store called Binh (see photos, at least this is what the big signboard says) which sell very delicious Vietnamese soup noodles with grilled pork which you can see them actually grilling on the street (see photos). The grilled pork is inside the soup, and you are supposed to put the noodles (which are on a seperate plate) into the soup with the pork.
You should give them a try as it is very cheap and delicious, the only problem is that this dish is rather heaty with the grilled pork and you may get sore throat after that (drink lots of water).
My Van Than is a food store located somewhere at Ngo Cau Go Street and Hang Be Street at the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake (Old Quarter area). It sells local dishes Sui Cao and My Kho, which are essentially Vietnamese soup noodles which are delicious and this store is apparently popular among the locals. If you are not sure where, please look at the photos which I took. Very cheap and delicious local food here (10,000 to 15,000 Vietnamese dongs per bowl).