Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the second most populated city. It also serves as a great base for visiting other parts of the country such as Ha Long Bay where you can take an excellent overnight cruise (see my post about this here). The best time to visit Hanoi is between October and April, when the rainfall is the lowest and you can avoid the heat.
Atop its many merits, Hanoi is also the food capital of Vietnam, with unique dishes you can only find in Northern Vietnam. Here I list out the top 5 must-eat foods in Hanoi that are the most unique and authentic.
#1 – Bún Chả
Bún chả Hương Liên – 24 Lê Văn Hưu, Phan Chu Trinh – South of Old Quarter
I’m sure if you consider yourself a traveler / foodie, you already know the legend, Anthony Bourdain (R.I.P.). This restaurant is now infamous, after President Obama joined Bourdain to share a beer at the establishment while enjoying Bun Cha. Bun Cha is a unique dish that originated in Hanoi, that some may view as a “deconstructed Pho”, but it’s so much more than that.
You are given vermicelli noodles, grilled pork chop or spring roll (depending on which you choose), a special dipping broth, and a mountain of herbs and fresh greens. If you’ve ever had tsukemen ramen, you’ll know what to do next, but if not, you basically dip each ingredient lightly into the broth and enjoy them together in one bite (my mouth is watering just describing this experience). If you’re in Hanoi, trust me, you won’t want to miss trying this dish. If you don’t want to trek down south of Old Quarter, there is another famous place closer: Bun Cha Ta Hanoi (21 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm – East of Old Quarter) that serves up great Bun Cha.
#2 – Phở Cuốn
Option A) Phở Cuốn 31 – 31 Ngũ Xã, Trúc Bạch, Ba Đình
Option B) Phở Cuốn Hương Mai – 25 Ngũ Xã, Trúc Bạch, Ba Đình
This is a must-have dish in Hanoi, as you literally cannot get this anywhere outside of Hanoi (no, not even variations). Located in the northern part of town on a mini island, both options A and B are great choices with slight differences in how the Pho Cuon is prepared. In my last two visits, I stopped by both and ordered a plate in each.
Pho Cuon is a very simple dish, consisting of lightly marinated beef with crisp herbs and greens all wrapped in a freshly-made rice paper roll. There is also a fish-sauce / vinegar dipping broth you will get, into which you can mix in a few chili flakes for a kick. The resulting combination is a delicious, light but substantive dish that is perfect for an appetizer or a snack. *As a side note, at both locations you can also order Phở Chiên Phồng, which is stir fried beef and vegetables served on top of deep fried rice noodles. Also a unique dish to try out if you have room in your stomach*
#3 – Chè
Chè 4 (Bốn) Mùa – 4 Hàng Cân, Hàng Bồ
To break up this bombardment of savory foods, I introduce you to Che, which is a traditional Vietnamese sweet beverage / dessert soup / pudding. There’s a number of places in the city that serves this, but my favorite is Che 4 Mua, which is in the heart of Old Quarters and thus very convenient to stop by as you roam about.
Often served with a mix of mung beans, black peas, tapioca, and other ingredients, two of the most popular options are the mung bean and grass jelly option (chè đỗ xanh – pictured on the right), and the whole longan option (sên nhân dừa – pictured on the left). As weird as mung bean may sound as a dessert item, the texture is surprisingly creamy and offers a balanced sweetness to contrast the slight bitterness from the grass jelly. And after a long day of walking around, the longan drink is a refreshing thirst quencher.
#4 – Bánh Cuốn
Bánh Cuốn Nóng – 73 Hàng Bồ, Hàng Gai
Banh Cuon is a common appetizer dish that can be found in many establishments around Hanoi, although strangely harder to find in the western world. My suggested option is just one of many places offering this dish, and from my visits, I’ve found that restaurants generally will deliver solid renditions of banh cuon.
The premise is simple, and begins with a large hot plate onto which liquid rice is poured on to create the rice paper “pancake.” As the rice sheet cooks, a variety of meat and vegetables / herbs are placed inside and rolled up together. With fried garlic pieces and lime to finish off as garnish, you can eat it with or without the fish dipping sauce provided.
#5 – Miến Lươn
Nhà Hàng Miến Lươn – 87 Hàng Điếu, Cửa Đông
For all eel-lovers, Mien Luon is a must-try dish in Hanoi. We were told this is like “eel pho”, but in our opinion it was more similar to egg drop soup with savory chunks of grilled eel. Slightly thick in consistency, the noodle soup was very hearty and was a nice change of pace from the endless bowls of pho we were consuming on the trip.
You really can’t go wrong with the food offering in Hanoi, and you’ll certainly get your fill of new and interesting experiences. But before you leave this great city, do try to fit in a few of the items mentioned here (you can always diet later!). Tốt Appetite!