I had been to Ho Chi Minh about 6 years ago but this was my first visit to Hanoi. Even though it was the rainy season, we had great weather for the 5 days we were there. It was a very short trip but we managed to do a lot and of course, eat a lot! I really enjoyed the food overall, and I had quite a lot of Vietnamese food that I had never tried before.
As soon as we arrived in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and checked in at our hotel, we walked around to find a place to eat lunch. I wanted to eat pho because I had read that Hanoi is the birth place of pho, and I was eager to taste how good (and perhaps different?) it was in Hanoi. There were so many noodle shops and it was hard to tell which one would be good, so we just randomly chose one that was quite crowded with locals, and sat down on the low stools at the low tables.
This noodle shop was at a corner along Hang Bong Street, and they seemed to only have one dish so we gestured that we wanted two of whatever they serve. Unfortunately, it wasn’t pho, but the bowl of bun was good (nice and light). We couldn’t identify the meats but we stopped questioning what we were eating because it was delicious.
Banh Goi (52 Ly Quoc Su- near the Nha Tho Lon Great Cathedral)
On our way to dinner, we walked by this stall selling deep fried dumplings (with pork, vegetables and vermicelli) and couldn’t resist. They were like samosas on the outside. I would’ve eaten more but I resisted so I could eat more for dinner…
Quan Com Pho (29 Le Van Huu), 04-9432356
Deep fried spring rolls
Bean curd fritters with black pepper
Deep fried chicken with deep fried glutinous rice cakes (like mochi)- my favorite dish!
We also ordered black pepper beef with red/green peppers, stir fried sweet potato stalk (very interesting texture), and rice. We finished most of the food but we definitely ordered too much (shared it between the two of us). The service was quick and the food was great. I was quite surprised to see that their menu was in English and Japanese. We paid less than VND 200,000 (US$12) in total.
Breakfast to go
On our way to Handspan Travel Agency (to do our trip to Mai Chau), we saw a bunch of people getting breakfast to go and we were curious to try what they were all buying. It was glutinous rice with some sort of beans and dried shredded pork, wrapped in huge leaves. Apparently you can get something similar in China. I also saw a lady selling sweet snacks made of glutinous rice so I bought a small rice cake that was very similar to Japanese daifuku, except there was lotus bean paste in this one. They were both great breakfasts to start our day.
Mai Chau (three hours north of Hanoi)
We took a trip to Mai Chau with Handspan, for one night. It was meant to be a homestay trip but it wasn’t as intimate as I had imagined. We didn’t eat with our host or her family but she did cook us a lot of delicious food. We went trekking and cycling (did a lot of active stuff), which made our meals even more enjoyable. We also had a really good guide (his name was Ngoc) and he taught us a lot about Vietnam and its culture.
(Right) Deep fried breaded fish (very crispy!)
We asked Ngoc where his favourite pho places were and this was one of the places he said we should try. The soup was very light but flavourful. The noodles were also very light. It was right by the Quoc Hoa Hotel at the corner of Bat Su and another street…
Hang Manh Bun Cha (1 Hang Manh)
Another place recommended by Ngoc. We had passed a couple of bun cha places before and were attracted to the smell of the grilled pork. They only serve one thing here- bun cha. The pork is marinated in a sweet marinade (very similar to Korean BBQ) and charcoal grilled. The pork sits in the dipping soup, which is flavoured with nguoc mam. They give you a plate of bun to dip into the sauce/soup, and plenty of vegetables and deep fried spring rolls. If I remember correctly, it was about VND40,000-50,000 per person (less than US$3). I really liked these noodles but was a little full from the chicken pho we had right before! But we wanted to eat as much as possible.
We took a day trip to this UNESCO World Heritage site with Handspan (again). Our guide wasn’t as good as Ngoc but the weather was amazing and we had a great time. We pretty much had the junk boat to ourselves (there was a nice couple from Texas on the tour as well), and I was surprised that the seafood lunch included in the tour was actually good! We had drunken prawns, stir fried squid, assorted stir fried vegetables, stuffed crab cake, garoupa with a tomato based sauce, fries and rice.
Dong Thien Chung Cave
Cha Ca La Vong (14 Cha Ca), 8-253929
For our last dinner in Hanoi, we decided to go to this well known (and apparently oldest surviving- since 1871) restaurant that only serves one dish: snakehead fish deep fried in tumeric oil. It’s served with a lot of dill and spring onions (which you put into the hot sizzling pan of oil when they bring it to you), bun, and nguoc mam. The place was packed and there was a mix of locals and tourists. I really liked the fish and I especially liked eating it with all the dill. I don’t think I had ever eaten cooked dill until I went to Hanoi, but I think cooking it makes it more fragrant and nice. Despite the fact that the fish was drenched in oil, it actually wasn’t oily or heavy. Looking at the interior (and the old fashioned lady who happened to be sitting at the table next to our’s) made me feel like I had slipped back in time…