Food and Drink, Hanoi
It would be impossible to get starved in Hanoi - the centre of sensational cuisine. No matter where you come from, an array of restaurants providing foreign fares and Vietnamese cuisines are always ready to serve all your needs. Even vegans also find Vietnam an ideal destination for an appetizing vegan meal. It is not hard to find a high end Vietnamese and foreign restaurants that could offer you either local specialties or cuisines of your home country either. But perhaps, as part of the adventure, why don’t you enjoy authentic Vietnamese fares as the way the local does, trying squat stool places at street side and humble restaurants in narrow alleys? This is the best way to belly up to real local cuisine and enjoy your trip the most. Plus, nowhere in Vietnam could you easily savor delicious cuisine from three main regions of Vietnam as Hanoi and nowhere in Hanoi could you easily find a decent restaurant as the Old quarter.
Get lost and find your own local favourite, and do not forget to share with me too.
1. Bún Chả from Bún Chả 34 Hàng Than
Luckily, the address is right there in the name (fairly common in Hanoi, thankfully). The place is full of scooters at lunchtime, and they even valet-park your two-wheeler if needed! The tree in front studded with nails and hung with keys is a good way to check that you're in the right place.
Bún chả is perhaps the greatest of Hanoi's dishes. You'll get a bowl of beautifully grilled pork, some in patty form wrapped in a leaf and some as sliced grilled meat. This will be floating in a rich fish sauce that also contains some slices of either green mango or green papaya. You'll also get a large hank of rice noodles that will likely be at least partially stuck together, and an assortment of fresh herbs. (This dish wouldn't be very Vietnamese without the pile of herbs!)
An order of fried crab spring rolls (nem cua bể) are a traditional accompaniment that you can take or leave. We take.
To eat, grab some noodles and herbs and mix them into your fish sauce pork. Add pickled garlic or chiles, if you'd like. Eat. Add more herbs and noodles. Eat. Et cetera. Fun and interactive, with each bite being a different combination of crunchy, funky, herby, spicy, meaty, and crisp.
Bún Chả 34 Hàng Than, 34 Hàng Than, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi.
2. Phở Tái Nạm from Phở Gia Truyền
Hanoi Phở is very different from that of Saigon. It's lower on the veggies, and the broth isn't generally as heavy on the sweet spices. Basically, I didn't think I was going to like it very much. Phở Gia Truyền (which seems to mean "old-style Phở") proved me wrong.
Small menu, usually a great sign in places like this. Your choices: Beef soup. Rare flank steak (tai nam). Rare steak (tai). Or well-done steak (think brisket - chin). Add a chicken egg, trung ga, if you want. Yes, again, we want. Also, they had the pot of broth going over these coals when we walked in.
And the Phở? Delicious. Perfect ratio of broth to noodles to meat. I love a good stocky soup in the morning. Kick it up with some chilies to get a good healthy sweat going, perfect if you may have overimbibed the night before.
Phở Gia Truyền is on 49 Bat Dan St, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi. Careful, as this is an early in the day dish; they can sell out by noon.
3. Bánh cuốn from Bánh cuốn gia truyền
Bánh cuốn are one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes. They're free-form dumplings, or tiny rolls, made with fresh rice paper stuffed with a ground pork and mushroom mix. Each tapas-size sharing plate comes topped with dried shallots and fresh sprigs of cilantro, and you can (and should) order some meats on the side to add texture. We chose a small plate of Chinese sausage and shrimp cake.
Bánh cuốn gia truyền does these beautifully. The rice paper is perfectly formed and perfectly fresh, just strong enough to hold the fillings together while being soft enough to offer your teeth very little resistance. Their nước chấm, or fish sauce dip, is one of the best we tasted in our three weeks in Vietnam; perfumed with ca cuongextract (I'll go into that more later) and with just the right amount of citrus.
We went for dinner, but I'm pretty sure they're open for lunch as well.
Bánh cuốn gia truyền is at 14 Hàng Gà, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi.
4. Miến Lươn from Nhà Hàng Miến Lươn
Lươn means eel in Vietnamese, and that's what you'll get here - teeny fried eels served in a variety of ways, from soups to porridges to atop glass noodles. The menu is short and sweet, like many of the places we enjoyed in Hanoi.
Logan and I both ordered the Miến xào lươn, on Gastronomer's brilliant recommendation. This is glass noodles, topped with fried tiny eels, bean sprouts, and egg, garnished with those savory fried/dried shallots, fresh cucumber, and purple shiso. It also came with a side bowl of rich, thick broth.
Nice and eel-crunchy and fresh and herby and soft with noodles - and of course with lots of side sauces and fruits to customize your dish!
Nhà Hàng Miến Lươn is at 87 Hàng Điếu, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi.
5. Bun Rieu and Bun Oc
These slightly sour/sweet/spicy, crab or snail soups are very popular on the streets of Hanoi. They make a good breakfast, full of revitalizing liquid and just enough protein to start your day off right.
I just didn't care too much for the version we had. Too much fishy crab pastey, not enough sour spicy - the balance seemed a bit off to me. But it's worth a try at one of the many places that line the streets. Please let us know if you find a version you really like!
We had our bun oc and bun rieu at 34 Cầu Gỗ, Hoàn Kiếm District.
6. Xôi from Xôi Yến
Xôi is a super simple dish - it's meats of your choice on a bed of sticky rice. I liked the Xoi Xeo, which is topped with mung bean paste and dried shallots as well as meat.
Simple, cheap, and filling, and while we were there a mobile karaoke dude set up in front, adding just that little extra touch of special.
Xôi Yến is at 35B Nguyen Huu Huan, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi.
What to buy: Some unique food in Hanoi
I found a good place to buy food & beverage, they are near Embassy of Sweden, they also have a website: http://thucphamplaza.com with free delivery service.
What to buy: Belgium Beers, Canned Fruits, Mineral Waters, Siro, Biscuits, Chocolates, ....
To many, the image of Vietnam is one of its women wearing those native conical hats (called non la in local language) - and this remains true even today, with the ubiquitous street vendors being the most visible models of these iconic hats.
But this is not a tip about the hat, but of the vendors, who sell mostly fresh fruits and yummy street food. But it is not unusual to see vendors selling other goods such as plastic ware (picture 4).
There are no specialty "bottlo's" in Vietnam. Grog is available in the many little 7-11 style supermarkets all over the country. In Hanoi, we found a little supermarket near our hotel in P Hang Bong, north-west of Hoan Kiem Lake.
Many different colours of Johnny Walker, ranging in price, the red label went for around US$17, up to the blue label, around US$160 (prices current March'08)
I was happy to stick to the beer, much cheaper.
(last date visited: April 26, 2007)
a) Apple Chips (25grams) - 3,000 dong
b) water (1.5 L) - 8,000 dong
c) oreo - 10,000 dong
d) rice crackers - 9,000 dong
e) strepsils - 7,000 dong
f) battery - 96,500 dong
g) tiger balm - 7,000 dong
What to buy: (last date visited - July 14, 2006)
a) coffee - 5 boxes @ 13,000 dong = 65,000 dong
b) tray cay say - 5 pcs @ 18,000 dong = 90,000 dong
c) water - 5,500 dong
total - 160,500 dong
This Intimex is quite easy to find. Just head across to the other side of the road from Hoan Kiem Lake on Le Thai To, go down the alley.
Just before you enter there is a desk where you must leave any bag with the attendant. You will be given a ticket with a number on it. Your bag is then put in one of the lockers. It is completely safe to do this. Don't lose your ticket for you will need it to get your bag back!
What to buy: Bottled water, soft drinks, crisps, chocolate. Other general foodstuff.
What to pay: Water 2L; (depending on brand) about 7,000 VND.
Pepsi can; 4,500 VND. Pepsi 2L; 10,000 VND.
Many fruit vendors work hard plying the streets on foot, balancing a long pole with baskets at each end on their shoulders.
I stopped one & bought 2 kg of Mangoes (10 Mangoes) . Then I noticed a fruit I had not seen before. It was green in colour, like an apple but rounder. I was curious to taste them and the vendor was obliging enough to let me swap two of my mangos for two of these fruits. They had a bitter & sour taste which didn't appeal to me or my children and looked pretty bad (off white) after I cut them open them a few days later.
The mangoes however, were delicious. Unfortunately, they didn't travel well and a few were bruised by the time I got them back to Malaysia. Next time I'll just buy my mangoes at the local pasar malam!
I've since found out the name of the mysterious fruit-it is called the star apple. Please see the picture of what it looks like. The pulp of the fruit was off-white, similar in texture to a custard apple and came with large black seeds. My take on it is that I much prefer the taste of custard apples or sour-sop anytime.
What to pay: After some gentle bargaining, I got my mangos at 21,000 dong/kg.
(15,000 dong = USD 1.00)
Fancy what Chinese cuisine is made up of, albeit Vietnamese style? Check out Pho Lan Ong in the Old Quarter. You will find dried seafood, mushrooms and other local foodstuff.
What to pay: Wouldn't know, would have helped if Mum's around
Although most hotels offer bottled water in the rooms, it is usually twice (or more) as expensive as it is in a supermarket.
What to pay: A large bottle of water will cost around 5-6000VND in a supermarket as opposed to 15000VND+ in a hotel of tourist shop.
It's market ,not a private shop or supper maket as US and Europe ,so no name ,sorry.
What to buy: If u r fan of sea food .Here is place ,u can find a hundred kinds of sea food in Ha Long market ,fresh ,still alive ,some kind of crab,shimp and fish ...that I never see in my life .Many Euopean news come here to take a short film .It's interested to see how wonderful sea product here .
What to pay: Need negociation half of price ,some places agree to cook right the way 4 u ( steam )if u agree to wait .