We’re no food experts, but we do love to eat. And since we went on a serious Vietnamese street food binge while we were in Hanoi (thanks are in order to the amazing authors of some of our fave blogs, Stickyrice and EatingAsia, for all the guidance), we decided to put together our top 10 street eats list as a way for us to remember our favourite meals and to share with anyone interested. Enjoy!
10. Pappa Roti
OK, a bit of an odd one to start with because yes obviously this is not technically a “Hanoi street food.” Really at first we were just intrigued by the cute little chef logo and the fascinating name. But then when we tried this delectable sweet bun with it’s coffee-crumble topping and surprise bite of melted butter inside, we were shocked and amazed and instantly hooked. Some quick internet searching revealed to us that this is just a franchise treat from Malaysia, and so I suspect true foodies would gawk at us including a fast food-like treat in a must-eat list! But we developed a small addiction to them and actually ate one almost every day we were in Hanoi so we had to put it in our top 10 :)
9. Banh Mi Sot Vang – beef stew with baguettes
Perfect for a brisk, cool Hanoi morning, this beef stew took us a few tries to find because we kept starting our days too late and the shop would be closed down by the time we arrived. Luckily we finally made it out early enough one our second last day in Hanoi and were not disappointed by the rich, red wine based broth infused with beef and daikon flavour and accompanying crusty banh mi baguettes to soak it all up.
8. Pho Ga – chicken pho soup
Usually we can’t imagine pho without beef, but one morning we figured we should try its lighter version made with chicken called pho ga. This little stall was conveniently located just around the corner from our hotel and was exactly what we needed on the cold rainy day we set out to find it. The broth in this pho is clear and clean, the meat in it was slices of poached chicken breasts and it was garnished very simply with spring onions and a squeeze of lime. So comforting.
7. Mien Xao Luon – deep fried crunchy eels atop glass noodles
This one really surprised us. The place was close by to the hotel and recommended by Lonely Planet’s street food section, so we figured we’d try it out one night when we didn’t feel like walking too far. The place has heaping piles of tiny deep fried battered eels piled high inside a big glass case which don’t look particularly appealing at first glance but placed atop a bowl filled with silky glass noodles, crunchy cucumber slices, heaps of herbs and fried garlic slices, it made for a really fantastic meal.
6. Tau Pho – fresh tofu pudding & soybean milk drink
So this was our first Hanoi street food taste and we encountered a few more versions in our time there. Sometimes we had the pudding (scoops of fresh, hot tofu in a sweet syrup) and sometimes opted for the drink version (same tofu, but mixed with fresh soybean milk). Both were fantastic, and we never grew tired of this warm, comforting treat. Once we even found a little shop serving it with a variety of weird and wonderful toppings so I tried mine with some sort of black grass jelly pieces and Jesse tried his with coffee poured on top! But I think we preferred the classic versions the best.
5. Bo Bittet – beef steak in a piping skillet with fried egg and baguette
We’d already had a memorable version of this on our Easy rider tour, so when we were walking down Hoe Nhai street in the Old Quarter lined with stalls selling the same dish we knew we had to try it. We chose the busiest looking spot at 20A Hoe Nhai. This one was a slightly different variation from our first, still with a delicious marinated steak and fried egg but this time with French fries and a stick of pan-seared melt-in-your-mouth pate (!!) on top, all served with a side plate of cucumber and tomato slices. The skillet was overflowing with greasy and heavenly meat juices, perfect to be soaked up with our fresh, crusty banh mi baguettes. Good to the last sopping bite.
4. Kem Caramen – creme caramel
As described earlier, this dessert was flawless for us. Jesse couldn’t stop reminiscing about how crème caramel was one his all-time favourite desserts that his mother used to make as a child. Why had it been so many years since he’d had it? Meanwhile I was never super fond of the dessert, but realized this was crazy and was determined to make up for lost time while in Hanoi. We still think about it all the time.
3. Bun Cha – grilled smokey pork, fish sauce, noodles and herbs
It seems fairly unanimous that the quintessential Hanoi street food is bun cha. This is the dish we’d read and heard the most about before arriving and the one we were determined to seek out the best version of, which we found at 34 Hang Than. Essentially it’s a generous bowl of fatty pork and flattened meatballs that have been grilled over smoking, hot coals floating in a tasty, fish saucey broth, sided with a bottomless plate of thin rice noodles and a heaping pile of fresh herbs. Everyone around us seemed to have their own technique for eating it (dump all noodles into the bowl, only dip a little at a time), so we just followed along and tried a few different ways. No matter what way we ate it, it never disappointed. Though it was a huge portion of meat, somehow the dish still felt light and refreshing. It was as fantastic as we’d hoped it would be. Definitely a highlight.
2. Bun Rieu Cua – crab noodle soup
We never made it to the most renowned vendor of Bun Rieu Cua in Hanoi, but the one we did try at 11 Hang Bac street did not disappoint either. To us, this was the perfect breakfast / early lunch dish. The lady wielding the ladle in this shop really knows what she’s doing. What you get is a bowl of thin rice noodles swimming in a broth made from tiny rice paddy crabs, along with tomato chunks, chopped scallions, spongey fried tofu, and thin pieces of beef on top. Garnish yourself from the baskets filled with so many types of fresh herbs and water bottles filled with lime juice. Jesse of course would also top his bowl off with some of the shrimp paste and chili condiments on offer. I preferred mine less encumbered. Order a side basket of seemingly overly fried dough fritters that find new life when dipped into the delicious soup broth. We could find no faults in this dish. It was hearty, but not heavy and unlike some noodle soup dishes we ate, we always slurped up every last drop of the incredibly flavoured broth. It’s difficult to imagine a better noodle soup dish than this one.
1. Canh Ga on Chicken Street – chicken wings and so much more!
This one we happened upon a little by fluke. For some reason all of our food blog searches hadn’t pointed us in this direction but a random stop at a bookstore one day and some perusing through a Vietnamese food recipe book mentioned briefly that there was a street in Hanoi where the vendors sold barbecued chicken. We took a quick snapshot of the name and decided to check it out one night since it happened to be close to the Temple of Literature. Lo and behold this ended up being our absolute best dinner in Hanoi and the place we pretty much tell every other traveler to go to when they ask us what to eat in Hanoi. The set up is simple. Walk down Ly Van Phuc street, also dubbed Chicken Street, after the sun goes down and you’ll be surrounded by vendors all barbecuing various skewered foods on their long, smoking charcoal grills. The very last vendor on the street seemed to be by far the busiest, so we plopped ourselves down at one of the few empty plastic tables there under the hanging string of light bulbs that seemed to flicker off for a few seconds every 6 minutes like clockwork. Flag down someone to order your meat from (we preferred the chicken wings and pork ribs, but the young Vietnamese around us definitely ordered the chicken feet the most), place an early order for Banh Mi on a stick because it takes a while (a plain baguette skewered on a stick that is briefly grilled to warm it up and crisp up the crust, then flattened by hand and finally placed back on the grill where it is brushed with a sweet honey glaze?? – yum!) and order some cold drinks while you wait. Someone will soon drop by with a generous plate of pickled veggies, sliced cucumbers and crisp slices of jicama for you munch on. Skewered meat will be dropped off at your table by one person, and then another will come by shortly thereafter with a big pair of sharp scissors to de-skewer and cut the meat up into nice manageable pieces. Dive in and enjoy some perfectly grilled, incredibly juicy and wonderfully marinated pieces of meat. This place is continuously packed all night long for good reason. We honestly couldn’t have asked for a better meal experience.
So there you have it. The Chanman’s top 10 Hanoi street eats. Wish we could bring you all home a few dishes to try yourselves!!
PS: in addition to those posted above, we’ve also included some of our “honourable mention” foods in the photo gallery below.