Aside from two dishes, Vietnamese cuisine is largely unknown among Western culture. Ask any American what they think food in Hanoi is like, and they will undoubtedly respond with one of two answers: phở (noodle soup) and bánh mì (sandwiches).
But we know that Vietnamese cuisine is much more diverse than just these two dishes. In fact, it encompasses a lot more than just sandwiches and soups!
For the last three months, as the world grapples with responding to a global pandemic, we’ve been sheltering at home in our Airbnb in Hanoi. During that time, we’ve been able to sample a variety of dishes thanks to sharing economy services like Grab delivery. Now that Vietnam has opened up again (at least for domestic travelers), we’ve been able to visit restaurants around the city to sample the delicious food in Hanoi.
As we wind down our time here in Vietnam, I want to share with you all some of my favorite dishes that we enjoyed while we were in Hanoi. For those of you planning a trip to Hanoi in the future, when international travel is safe again, this guide will help you discover your own favorite food in Hanoi!
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Basic information about food in Hanoi
Vietnamese cuisine follows a philosophy of balance. Its focus is on yin and yang, and is heavily influenced by the Chinese, who occupied the country for more than 1,000 years. What this means in terms of food is that every dish has a sweet and sour element, a hot and a cold component, as well as something fresh mixed with something cooked.
Although not completely vegetable based, Vietnamese meat dishes are often balanced by a variety of fresh greens and herbs. Rice, and noodles made with rice, are a staple in Vietnamese dishes. And soups play a prominent role in how foods are presented and served as well.
While many of the flavors in Vietnamese cuisine may be quite different from the North American or European palate, there is something refreshing in the dishes available. During our time in Vietnam, we really made an effort to step out of our culinary comfort zones and try the different types of food in Hanoi. Whether at sit down restaurants, or street side stalls, we were quite impressed by the variety and freshness of food in the city.
A note about street food in Hanoi
In general, Hanoi street food is safe to eat. Many of the vendors practice good food safety, and serve the food piping hot. Most vendors also frequently clean utensils and dishes, and wipe down tables between customers.
Still, taking your own precautions when sampling Hanoi street food is always good practice. Bring along a bottle of hand sanitizer and wet wipes to keep your hands and utensils extra clean. Avoid drinking water from the restaurant. And bring along your own water filter and purifier, like the Grayl.
One final (and most important!) tip is to avoid places that don’t have other customers. Always visit a vendor that has at least one other customer. This ensures that the food is fresh and safe to eat.
Vietnamese food in Hanoi for families to try
The following fifteen dishes are by no means an exhaustive list of Vietnamese dishes to eat. Instead, they’re merely an introduction for your family’s exploration of food in Hanoi.
For vegetarians, finding completely meat-less dishes is challenging, but possible. I have seen vegetable phở on many menus. And you can always order stir-fried greens or vegetables.
If you’re Muslim like me and don’t eat pork, remember to ask whether the dish you’re about to eat has pork in it. Many dishes mix pork in with another type of meat.
Bún miến ngan (vermicelli noodle soup), a simple lunch time meal
Bún miến ngan is a type of noodle soup made with vermicelli noodles. Vietnamese people often eat this with boiled or grilled duck. Fresh leaves accompany the soup as a garnish. The duck broth is light and clear, and can contain bamboo shoots, scallions, garlic and chili.
You can find bún miến ngan at Bún Miến Ngan Lý Nam Đế located at 65 Lý Nam Đế, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm.
Bún chả (grilled pork with noodles), a staple food in Hanoi
Originating from Hanoi, bún chả is a grilled pork dish in a sweet and sour clear soup. Vermicelli noodles serve as the carb base for this dish, and fresh leaves serve as a garnish. All of these ingredients mingle in your soup, along with the bún chả.
Our favorite place to each bún chả is Bún Chả Đắc Kim located at 1 Hàng Mành, Hang Gai, Hoàn Kiếm.
Bún ốc (snail noodle soup), adventurous eating at its best!
Another staple of food in Hanoi is bún ốc. It’s a snail noodle soup in a tomato-based broth. The snails are freshwater snails of varying sizes. Tomatoes, tofu, herbs, scallions, shallots, and sometimes fish cakes make up ingredients for the soup. Lime wedges add a hint of tanginess to the broth.
You can find bún ốc at Bún Ốc Thúy located at 11 Ngõ Đồng Xuân, Đồng Xuân near Đồng Xuân Market.
Bún riêu cua (crab noodle soup), subtle yet filling flavor
Similar to bún ốc, bún riêu cua is a noodle soup consisting of minced crab meat. The crab and tomato-based broth contains fresh vegetables like tomatoes, onions, water spinach stems, and banana flower. The soup can also have friend tofu in it as well.
You can find bún riêu cua all throughout the Old Quarter, but only in the day time. We ate ours at Bún Riêu Cua Hàng Bạc located at 11 Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm.
Bún bò nam bộ (noodles with beef), comfort food for beef lovers
Being Muslim, I can’t always eat the all the food in Hanoi. Fortunately, there’s one dish that I can eat and that I absolutely love: bún bò nam bộ. For this dish, stir-fried beef mixes with dry cooked noodles, sprouts, fresh vegetables, and a sweet and sour clear sauce. Fried shallots and peanuts serve as toppings.
Bún bò nam bộ can be found in many of the street food vendors, but my favorite place to order it is at La Place Cafe located at 6 Ấu Triệu, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, adjacent to St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
Phở (noodle soup), one of the most popular food in Hanoi
Before I came to Vietnam, one of the few things I knew about food in Hanoi was phở, Vietnam’s famous noodle soup. It’s a clear soup with various herbs served with flat rice noodles. You can either choose beef (bò) or chicken (gà) soup. In Vietnam, people usually eat phở for breakfast or earlier in the day. But you can still find vendors selling it throughout the day and well into the evening.
One of our favorite places to eat phở is at Phở Mậu located at 1 Ngõ Bảo Khánh, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm. We love the ambience and decor of the place!
Phở cuon (stuffed rolled noodles), a different way to roll
Vietnamese noodles aren’t always just eaten in soups. Phở cuon is a roll made from extra wide rice noodles that are rolled and stuffed with meat. The meat is usually beef. A thin and clear sweet and sour dipping sauce often accompanies this dish.
If you’re looking for some phở cuon, head to Food Street, near the famous Train Street. We like eating the phở cuon served at Quán Bánh Cuốn Kỳ Đồng located at 11 Tống Duy Tân, Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm.
Phở chiên phồng (inflated fried rice noodles), fried pillows of deliciousness
We discovered phở chiên phồng during our last week in Hanoi. These fried rice noodles remind us of the gnocco fritto served to us at an Italian osteria when we were doing our Parma, Italy itinerary in June 2019. Vietnamese people often eat phở chiên phồng with stir-fried meat and vegetables.
You can find phở chiên phồng at Cơm Phở located at 12 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm.
Nem cua bể (fried crab rolls), a different take on spring rolls
Fried spring rolls are a staple in many Asian cuisines. And Vietnamese cuisine is no exception. One of the types of spring rolls that we enjoyed eating was nem cua bể, fried crab rolls. It’s made with crab meat, pork, wood ear mushrooms, bean sprouts, and vermicelli noodle, wrapped in rice paper and deep fried. (I didn’t realize that it had pork until I was researching the ingredients for this post!)
You can find nem cua bể at Bún Chả Đắc Kim, the same place where you can find bún chả.
Bánh cuốn (steamed rice roll), is it a pancake or a roll?
Many of the food in Hanoi has pork in it, so if you’re a Muslim like me, you may have to be careful of what you eat. But if you don’t have any food restrictions, then you should definitely sample bánh cuốn, a steamed rice roll stuffed with pork.
Bánh cuốn is made of a thin rice batter that’s layered thin on a cloth (like a crepe) and placed over steam to cook. Minced pork, mushroom, and minced shallots create the filling for the pancake, which is served rolled. Travelers can also find chicken, beef, or shrimp bánh cuốn.
You can find bánh cuốn at Quán Bánh Cuốn Kỳ Đồng, where you can also find phở cuon. Or you can also head to Bánh Cuốn Gia Truyền Thanh Vân located at 12 Hàng Gà, Hàng Bồ, Hoàn Kiếm.
Bánh xèo (fried stuffed rice pancake), everything is better fried!
One of our favorite food in Hanoi to eat is bánh xèo. Friends of ours introduced this dish to us, and we are hooked! Bánh xèo is a fried rice pancake, stuffed with meat and sprouts. It reminds us of the martabak we ate on Sabang Street, when we were exploring Jakarta attractions back in November 2019.
Our favorite place to eat bánh xèo is at Mr. Bảy Miền Tây located at 79 Hàng Điếu, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm.
Bánh bèo (steamed rice and tapioca cake), eat it in one bite!
Another dish we like to eat when exploring food in Hanoi is bánh bèo. These are small steamed cakes made with rice and tapioca flour, and topped with either minced pork or minced shrimp. There is usually a garnish of fried pork skin as well. These cakes come in a small bowl. They’re eaten whole by scooping them out with a spoon.
You can find bánh bèo at the chain restaurant, Nét Huế. There are several locations throughout Hanoi. We like the one at Royal City Mall and the one at Ngã tư, Nguyễn Văn Huyên, Dịch Vọng, Cầu Giấy near Nghĩa Đô Park.
Bánh mì (sandwiches), a famous food in Hanoi
Vietnamese sandwiches, known as bánh mì, are by far one of my favorite food in Hanoi to eat. We enjoy eating bánh mì in the United States. But after trying bánh mì here in Hanoi, we realize it is so much better than the United States.
Bánh mì is a sandwich made with crusty french bread. Inside the sandwich is an assortment of meat, fresh vegetables, ketchup, mayo, and chile sauce. Every bánh mì establishment makes their sandwiches differently. But in my opinion, the best sandwiches are ones that have a good ratio of meat and vegetables, as well as a crispy outer crust.
Some of our favorite bánh mì places include Bánh Mỳ P located at 12 Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm; Bánh Mì 25 located at 25 Hàng Cá, P, Hoàn Kiếm; and Bánh Mì A located at 1 Hàng Mành, Hàng Gai, Hoàn Kiếm.
Lẩu (hot pot), cook your own soup!
We enjoy eating hot pot. And fortunately for us, there is no shortage of this type of food in Hanoi. Lẩu, Vietnamese hot pot, comes in a variety of styles. You can take your pick from seafood (primarily shrimp, prawns, and clam) to beef. Fresh greens and mushrooms usually accompany lẩu as additional ingredients to the soup.
We like eating lẩu at Lạ Quán located at 6A Hàng Lược, Hàng Mã, Hoàn Kiếm.
Barbecue food in Hanoi, grilling right at the table
Speaking of “cook-your-own-food” types of restaurants in Hanoi, there are a large number of barbecue restaurants in the city, where travelers can cook their meal right at the table. As with lẩu, you can choose between seafood, pork, chicken, or beef barbecue. Sliced carrots, onions, pineapples, and mushrooms will often accompany the meat.
You can find several barbecue places along the famous Beer Street in the Old Quarter. We like going to Bistro-Food and Drink located at 8B Tạ Hiện, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm.
Chả cá (grilled chopped fish), you’ve never tasted grilled fish quite like this
The other grilled type of food in Hanoi that families need to try is chả cá. This dish consists of grilled chopped fish, accompanied by green onions and herbs. The fish and vegetables are grilled right at your table. Noodles accompany the chả cá, and leafy herbs, sliced green onions, peanuts, chiles, and a sauce serve as garnishes.
The best place to sample chả cá in Hanoi is Chả Cá Thăng Long located at 21 – 31 Đường Thành, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm.
Coffee and treats to supplement your food in Hanoi experience
One thing travelers will notice while exploring food in Hanoi is how much leisure time Vietnamese people have. At any given time of day, you will see Vietnamese men and women sitting at cafes, drinking coffee and snacking on sunflower seeds. Or you’ll see groups of men sitting on plastic stools on the sidewalk drinking trà đá (iced tea) and smoking tobacco out of long pipes.
According to research conducted by Kantar TNS, a market research firm, Vietnam’s rise in leisure time is due to increases in disposable income, increases in living standards, and urbanization. Not only are Vietnamese making more money, but the cost of living is low enough that they don’t have to work too hard to have a good life. They really seem to have the work-life balance figured out.
What this means in terms of the food industry is that cafes and dessert places are popular. And for tourists, this also means plenty of places to hang out and people watch!
Cà phê trứng (egg coffee), unique food in Hanoi
Vietnam’s most unique coffee drink is cà phê trứng, also known as egg coffee. Coffee first came to Vietnam by way of the French, who occupied the country for one hundred years. Historically tea drinkers, Vietnamese fell in love with the caffeinated drink.
But in the 1940’s, Vietnam suffered a milk shortage during the French war, and cappuccinos were hard to come by. So a man named Nguyen Van Giang decided to create a foam made with egg, and, well, the rest is history.
You can find cà phê trứng in pretty much every coffee shop in Hanoi, but our favorite place to drink it is Café Đinh located at 13 Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, right across from the lake. You can also drink it at Café Phố Cổ (Old Town Garden Cafe) located at 11 Hàng Gai, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm.
Cà phê nâu/sữa (milk coffee), simple yet satisfying
Besides egg coffee, Vietnamese enjoy drinking cà phê nâu (referred to as cà phê sữa in the South). This is black coffee with sweetened condensed milk. The coffee is brewed in a special filter that sits on top of the coffee cup, and drips coffee slowly into the cup.
Like cà phê trứng, you can find cà phê nâu at any coffee shop. I like the ambiance at Hanoi Social Club located at 6 Ngõ Hội Vũ, Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm.
Kem (ice cream), a sweet treat any time of day
There are a handful of places to get ice cream in Hanoi, known as kem in Vietnamese. It’s surprising how popular kem is here in Hanoi. But I suppose with the tropical climate, any excuse for a cool sweet treat is a good thing.
Besides ice cream cones, Vietnamese also like their kem in the form of creamsicles. You can find flavors like coconut milk, green bean, and taro.
The best place to find kem is at Kem Tràng Tiền. There are many locations throughout the city. The most popular is 35 Tràng Tiền, Hoàn Kiếm.
French food in Hanoi, colonial influences
Travelers can see the French influence on food in Hanoi in the number of pastries and baked goods available throughout the city. Vietnam’s famous sandwiches, bánh mì, are made with french bread, after all! While not traditionally Vietnamese, we did enjoy sampling pastries like croissants and profiteroles while we were in Hanoi.
One place we enjoyed sampling French pastries was at Gấu Coffee and Bakery. This bakery is located at 33 Hàng Bè, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm.
Falling in love with food in Hanoi
We really enjoyed our three months in Hanoi. Although a large chunk of our time in Hanoi was spent sheltering at home in our Airbnb, we did manage to explore a lot of food in Hanoi before, during, and after the social distancing mandates.
We hope to someday return to Vietnam. The diversity of dishes, and the abundance of fresh ingredients makes Vietnamese cuisine one of my favorite types of cuisines in the world. When Vietnam opens up it borders again to foreigners, and international travel is once again safe to do, I hope you all will have a chance to discover it too!
Have you visited Vietnam with your kids and had a chance to experience food in Hanoi? Share with me your favorite Vietnamese dish in the comments!
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