Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve done a food post, huh. Which is really weird considering that our travels are so food-centric. Looking back through my archives, I’ve only written three food posts the entire time we’ve been in Asia. Three! And we’re getting into our seventh month in Asia now!
We’ve definitely been eating (and even cooking!) a lot of local foods, so let this be a warning that there may be a barrage of backlogged food-related posts coming up in the next couple of months, but I’ll do my best to intersperse them with current updates!
That said, let’s kick off on a high note – with my absolute favorite thus far: food from Northern Vietnam.
I’m not sure when I fell in love with Vietnam cuisine. The first time I had pho, I thought it was truly unspectacular. A few more tries later, after I learned to dress it up with lime, fresh herbs, and sauces, I was hooked! There was a pho restaurant very close to D’s place, and it became our default go-to place. We ate there at least a couple of times a week.
I proudly claimed Vietnamese cuisine as one of my favorites. But oh how little I actually knew about it!
In Vietnam, I discovered a whole new world of food that goes beyond just pho. I also learned that the food varies greatly from one region to another. We only visited the north (Hanoi) and the south (Saigon), but I feel like that between the two, we got a pretty good cross section of the country’s cuisine. And of the two regions, I definitely preferred the northern cuisine, while D preferred Saigon’s (but that will be a separate post!).
Here is what we ate, along with cost and my suggestions of where to get it (if I have one I’d recommend). And just for fun, let’s do this in a countdown style, so read through all the way to the bottom to see which dish won the top spot!
*Note: all of these foods were eaten in the Old Quarter, Hanoi. The Old Quarter is absolutely a foodie’s heaven!
**Second note: If this article was useful to you, download this article on GPSMyCity here, for a GPS-guided map that you can use offline.
No. 10: False dog dish (bun gia cay)
To this day, I’m still not quite sure what this is exactly. Everyone around us seemed to be getting this, so we got it as well and prayed that it really is false dog. It turned out to be pork, thank goodness! After poking around google for a bit, I understand that this dish is named so because it is prepared in the same manner as dog…. Whaaa? Seeing how I’ve never eaten dog, I wouldn’t know. But the meat was tender and the soup was very herby and salty, so it was all good.
Even though this took my last place, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like it! Honestly I liked EVERYTHING we had in Vietnam.
No. 9: Crab noodle soup (bun rieu)
Bun rieu is a northern crab and tomato noodle soup made with thin round rice noodles (instead of wide & flat like pho). There are no real crab meat pieces in there, but rather small clusters of crab egg. The soup has a light, tangy tomato flavor with a hint of the sea. A bowl costs just under US $2 in a restaurant, but out on the street? A mere 70 cents.
No. 8: Stir fried noodles (pho xao)
This is like Vietnam’s version of chow mien, using pho noodles! The rice noodles are wok fried with greens and meat (most likely, beef). This was interesting because I’ve never seen pho noodles cooked in this way before, but why not?! Everyone loves fried noodles! This is a good alternative for if you get bored with noodle soup (though I don’t see how that’s possible).
No. 7: Vermicelli & tofu with shrimp paste (bun dau mam tom)
This was one of the stranger things we’ve tried, but it pleasantly surprised us! This dish consists of fried tofu, fishcakes, pork, and tightly compressed vermicelli noodle “patties” cut into cubes. These are then eaten dipped into a shrimp paste and accompanied with fresh herbs (as everything in Hanoi is). Yum! But beware, the shrimp paste is super pungent so only a tiny dab will do!
Where to eat: There is a restaurant at the corner of main street Nguyễn Hữu Huân and Cau Go, only open during the morning and early afternoon hours. In the evening, the place changes to a seafood restaurant!
We even tried a street version of this! We saw a tiny lady making this on the sidewalk and just had to stop by and try, even though the sanitary conditions looked suspicious. Eating on tiny stools on the sidewalk is the ultimate Vietnamese dining experience, so don’t be afraid to try it!
No. 6: Spring rolls (bun nem)
Now who doesn’t love spring rolls?! Spring rolls in Hanoi are made with thin rice paper wrapping, which crisps up really flakey and crunchy. You can find vendors selling them almost anywhere on the streets. A popular specialty is the crab rolls. Try it if you see it!
No. 5: Steamed pork wraps (banh cuon)
Banh cuon is made with a pork and mushroom filling wrapped in freshly steamed rice paper, then topped with crunchy fried shallots. Fish sauce, chilis, and fresh herbs are served alongside. Eat it all in one bite for maximum deliciousness! Often, cinnamon pork will be offered as an accompaniment too. You won’t miss banh cuon vendors! They’re the ones sitting next to a big steamer with buckets of rice flour mix.
Where to eat: The most popular one is at Ban Cuon Gia Truyen (Tripadvisor page here), located at 14 Pho Hang Ga. One order costs 45,000 VND or just over US $2. However, you can find banh cuon vendors everywhere and they are all just as good.
No. 4: Vietnamese sandwich (banh mi)
I think the Vietnamese sandwich is one of the most ingenious France-meets-Asia creations ever! A fluffy baguette is stuffed with pate, cold cuts, cucumber, and pickled carrots & daikon. In Hanoi, this sandwich will be finished off with hot sauce and mayo drizzled on top. At 20,000 VND, or less than US $1, this was one of my favorite meals on the quick.
Where to find: Banh mi carts can be found absolutely everywhere in Old Quarter.
No. 3: Sticky rice (xoi xeo)
The concept is simple: sticky rice with various toppings. But the sticky rice doesn’t just come plain. A very popular option is sticky rice with a layer of mung bean paste and lard. It’s clearly a favorite for the Hanoi locals. We tried it once, and sadly, we didn’t like the paste too much, but we do LOVE just the plain sticky rice! Our favorite toppings are pate and boiled chicken. This was one of our go-to breakfasts!
Where to find: The absolute best place to go is Xoi Yen, an institution in Hanoi. Located at the corner of main street Nguyễn Hữu Huân & Hàng Mam. A bowl of sticky rice is under US $1, and various meat toppings run from 35 cents to a dollar.
No. 2: Chicken noodle soup (pho ga)
No matter how many new and interesting Vietnamese dishes I try, I will always love pho! Back at home, the pho in Vietnamese restaurants are served with bean sprouts and herbs on the side, and also bottles of sriracha and Hoisin sauce. But in the north, a bowl of pho comes unadorned, with only white vinegar, lime, pickled garlic, and chilis to adjust the taste to your liking. Chicken pho also seems to be more popular in the north, and I loved the clean flavor. Pho will always make a great meal!
Where to eat: at the corner of Hang Bo and Hang Ga are two pho stalls across the street from each other. Both are delicious and always crowded. One opens in the morning (costs 30,000 VND, or US $1.50) and one opens in the evening (costs 45,000 VND, or US $2).
No. 1: Grilled pork & vermicelli (bun cha)
This is my FAVORITE! Bun cha just means “grilled pork”, but as you can see, you get so much more! First, you get two different kinds of pork: strips of meat and minced pork patties. These are soaked in a light fish sauce soup. Then, I like to dress up the soup by dumping in a lot of red chilis and minced garlic. You also get a plate of vermicelli noodles and a mountain of fresh herbs. Everything is dipped into the soup before delivering to mouth. I think of this as a deconstructed vermicelli bowl. We also add a couple of crab spring rolls to round out the meal. This is SO GOOD!
Where to eat: The restaurant Dac Kim – Bun Cha Nem Cua Be (website) is the absolute BEST, located at 67 Đường Thành. This meal you see here is for ONE PERSON. We can easily share it. Once, we each got our own and I was so full I could throw up. Total cost: 90,000 VND, or US $4.19.
Bonus: Egg coffee!
Egg coffee is a Hanoi specialty! A raw egg yolk is whipped furiously (seriously, we heard the beater on for like 5 minutes non-stop) with the famous drip coffee and sweetened condensed milk. This creates a concoction that is so thick and creamy, almost like a custard. And the most amazing thing: it tastes like creme brulee! Somehow, the egg takes away almost all the coffee flavor. So delicious! It’s like a dessert and caffeine fix in one. This is a MUST TRY when visiting Hanoi!
Where to get: Egg coffee is not available at every café! Don’t be one of those tourists who walk into every cafe asking if it serves egg coffee!We get this at a little café at the corner of Nguyễn Hữu Huân and Cau Go (the one without walls).
Hanoi has been my favorite Asian city so far to eat in. I think it’s also the best value, when taken into account the price, quality, and freshness of ingredients. I’m dreaming of when we can go back to Hanoi just to eat all of this food again.
I’m not done sharing about Vietnamese food yet! Stayed tuned for a look at what we ate in Saigon! It’s completely different!
What is your favorite Vietnamese dish? Which of these would you try and which would you skip? Let me know!
If you loved this article and want to eat what I ate, remember to download this article on GPSMyCity here. You can get a GPS-guided map that you can use offline. This means you spend less time plotting these locations and more time just enjoying the food!