Hanoi Street food. What’s it like? Where can you find it? And what’s the best way to experience it?
I’m going to answer all of those questions and share a bit of what I learned about Vietnamese cuisine (or more specifically, Haonian cuisine) from my new friend, Ngoc Bich.
In total, you’ll get 13 different street food spots to add to your wish list by the end of this video.
And stick around until the end for a little recommended reading that includes a foreword from Vietnam-obsessive, Anthony Bourdain.
Alright! Let’s eat.
Eating in Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi. Like Rome or Tokyo, it’s the kind of place where any reasonable person dreams of eating.
When I hear someone mention pho or banh mi, it unlocks a flavor memory in my mind and I can practically taste the last one I had like a long-delayed aftershock. I know for me that there are some days when my body simply won’t go on without a bowl of steaming hot pho.
Lucky for me, northern Vietnam is the birthplace of pho. But there’s far more to Vietnamese cuisine than just pho.
So what we’ll do in this post is bite into some different Vietnamese dishes in Hanoi that we had both on our own and with our guide Ngoc Bich through the aptly named Hanoi Street Food Tour.
Hanoi Street Food Tour
The selection is overwhelming when we first arrive. Everywhere we look, there’s a restaurant or a street food stall. It’s impossible to know where to go, like running through a maze with a blindfold on.
So we ask someone at the hotel for help and end up around the corner. Although pho is traditionally a breakfast dish, we couldn’t resist starting the trip with a personal favorite.
This spot specializes in pho bo or beef pho, immediately snapping my vegetarian streak. That aside, it was actually pretty easy to keep vegetarian in Hanoi, if you’re so inclined.
The next day we meet up in the Old Quarter with Ngoc Bich from Hanoi Street Food Tour. We start with bánh cuốn or rice rolls stuffed with an egg, another northern Vietnamese specialty.
Next, we roll up for some bánh rán or Vietnamese sesame balls that are fried and sweetened with a filling made of mung bean paste. Then, we immerse ourselves into the wonderful world of bun cha.
This is a new one for me and it’s love at first slurp. I love this because you have a side dish of rice noodles that you dunk into the broth, and at the table, you’ve got chilis, garlic, sugar, and vinegar that you can add to your liking.
This is another Hanoi specialty. Usually, it comes with grilled pork patties, but I get mine with egg rolls.
Though there’s more bun cha to be had in town that might cause me to snap my latest vegetarian streak… To be continued.
After the bun cha, we spice things up with some papaya salad. Not quite as spicy as the Thai variety, but nonetheless refreshing and flavorful with a dressing made from a combo of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili.
Next, it’s time for another Vietnamese staple, at least in my Berlin diet––an eggy banh mi. And like the bun cha, not my last banh mi of the trip.
History of banh mi and Vietnamese egg coffee
Of course, banh mi is a legacy of French colonial rule. The story goes that the Vietnamese weren’t used to eating bread and found it pretty bland. So they started adapting French baguettes to their liking, adding their own ingredients, like pork, pate, herbs, and pickled vegetables. Over time, it became a popular street food, and those who fled the country in the ’70s brought it with them to places throughout Southeast Asia and overseas in the US, Australia, France, and Canada.
Before our last stop, we shuffle into a little shop and try the legendary Vietnamese egg coffee.
This drink has a pretty cool story as well. Most attribute the creation of it to Nguyen Van Giang, a bartender at a 1940s Hanoian hotel.
Milk was scarce at the time, so he experimented by whisking egg yolks with the sugar to create a creamy and sweet substitute for milk and combined it with strong Vietnamese coffee. The coffee sits at the bottom and shoots through the thick, eggy layer like a water cannon. Definitely worth a try.
Finding vegan and vegetarian food in Hanoi
We end the street food tour with a stop for some coconut ice cream that’s so delicious, we end up right back there for dessert at the end of the night.
But before dessert, we plop onto some plastic stools at Pho Ga 26 to quench Melanie’s taste for chicken pho and I tuck into a vegetarian bowl of noodles with bean sprouts and tofu.
The next day, while waiting for the Tran Quac Pagoda to open (check out my video on Hanoi for more on that), we luck out with this vegan spot just around the corner. I’ll give you one chance to guess what we have here. That’s right, it’s another round of pho––and one of the best of the trip.
After checking out more of the sights, we head to Banh Mi 25. It’s an oft-recommended spot, so you’re likely to find a line. And as someone deathly allergic to lines, even I can admit it wasn’t that bad of a wait. Not to mention, worth it with a crunchy bite more than worthy of your chompers.
For our last supper, it’s dinner at Katze Vegan & Vegetarian.
Okay, it’s debatable if this is street food or not. We walked up to the plastic stools out front next to some other Vietnamese customers when an older lady ushered us through the adjacent alley and upstairs to a room full of foreigners in something more like a restaurant.
But it’s going in the video because it was one of our favorite meals in all of Southeast Asia. You order like one thing and for some reason get five other things with it. It was glorious.
And when you pay, the owner hands you a laminated piece of paper with his life’s story on it, how he came from poverty and worked his way up through the food business to support his family and others who grew up like him.
Even my cold, rusty heart filtered that evening.
Obama (Bourdain) Bun Cha
If you’ve done any research on eating in Hanoi, you’ve probably heard of this bun cha joint in Hanoi. That’s right, we’re heading to where President Obama and Anthony Bourdain famously noshed on some bun cha together.
I told ya there was more bun cha coming.
I’ll admit, I was iffy about coming here. I thought it’d be touristy and borderline cliché to eat in the President and Bourdain’s collective footsteps.
But, and there goes that vegetarian streak again, that broth was the most powerful flavor bomb I’d tasted in a long time. Savory, tangy, and slightly sweet.
Now, as we were leaving, a bus did pull up and a bunch of tourists came piling in and went straight upstairs to where President Obama and Bourdain ate.
But our dining neighbors were all locals, one of whom playfully laughed at Melanie as he tried to help her with her chopsticks, so I left reasonably confident that this spot wasn’t about to drown from the exposure to television.
Recommended reading on eating in Hanoi
Now for that recommended reading. If you’re interested in reading an on-the-ground account of eating not just in Hanoi but across Vietnam, check out Graham Holliday’s Eating Viet Nam complete with a foreword with Vietnam-obsessive, Anthony Bourdain.
And as a bonus recommendation, Andrea Nguyen is one of the most well-known Vietnamese cookbook authors out there. On VICE’s Munchies channel, she shows you how to make a banh mi all the while diving into the history of the sandwich.
Make sure you check out Hanoi Street Food Tour if you’re interested in booking a tour. I highly recommend it. Because unless you speak Vietnamese, you’re just going to be pointing at pictures.
Having a guide really helps you get the culinary lay of the land.
That’s it from me! If this was even remotely helpful, let me know by liking the video above and subscribing so I know to make more. Then, go watch my other videos from Hanoi, Ninh Binh, and Luang Prabang, and we’ll see you next time.
Now if you’ll excuse me… I need some pho.