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Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat

Somewhere in Hanoi at this very moment, small plastic stools are filling up on overflowing sidewalks. Chopsticks clatter against clearing plates, marinated meats sizzle on a grill, and kaleidoscopes of exotic fruit fly through noisy intersections. Hungry spectators swarm the narrow streets, sniffing out the next stop on their gastronomic pilgrimage. This is Hanoi, where the sidewalks come to life at mealtimes.

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat
Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat
Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat

Vietnamese cuisine seduces the senses. Each ingredient harmonizes with its counterparts, creating a sublime symphony of flavors. And when done right, street food is the most authentic way to sightsee through your tastebuds.

Hanoi's unpretentious hideaways humbly host the city's best dishes. Forget Michelin stars; inside these hole-in-the-wall kitchens is where the real magic happens. When embarking on a quest for Vietnamese street food, here's what you need to know about what and where to eat in Hanoi.


Bún Cha

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat

What is it?

A staple dish of Hanoi, bún cha is a flavorful noodle soup with grilled pork. Almost exclusively served during lunch, bún cha is comprised of rice vermicelli noodles, charcoal-grilled pork belly or grilled grounded pork, room temperature broth, and a basket of herbs to adorn your bowl. The broth itself is a magnificent feat, subtly enhanced by fish sauce, the cornerstone of Vietnamese cuisine.

Though undoubtedly deserving of fame in its own right, bún cha was made infamous by Anthony Bourdain and President Obama's dinner together in Hanoi. The hype is real - if you only get to try one dish in Hanoi, let it be this.

My favorite places to get it in Hanoi:

Huong Lien (aka "Bún Cha Obama")
24 Le Van Huu

Bún Cha 34 
34 Hang Than

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat
Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat


Pho

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat

What is it?

Vietnam's breakfast of champions. By far the country's most famous dish, the term pho actually refers to the type of noodles specific to this bowl of heaven. It's made of tender rice noodles, herbs, meat (typically chicken or beef), and a savory broth that packs a punch. In Vietnam, the best pho is judged by the flavors of its broth.

My favorite place to get it in Hanoi:

Pho Gia Truyen
49 Bat Dan

You can also find it on pretty much any given street corner. Pull up a plastic stool and dive in!

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat


Com Bình Dân 

 Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat

What is it?

Literally translated to "commoner's rice", com bình dân is a heaping plate of rice generously topped with a colorful array of side dishes. The expats I met in Hanoi lovingly dubbed it as "pointy rice", because you can point to all of the mouthwatering toppings your hungry heart desires. As it was traditionally a workman's lunch, a hearty plate of com bình dân will likely keep you full until dinner.

My favorite place to get it in Hanoi:

Bo De Quan (Vegetarian friendly) 
164 Au Co, Tay Ho

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat


Bún Bò Nam Bo

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat

What is it?

Known simply as "beef noodles" in the south, bún bò nam bo makes magic out of vermicelli noodles, roasted peanuts, bean sprouts, and fresh vegetables. To unlock the dish's true flavors, drench eat bite in the delectably tangy blend of fish sauce, sugar, lemon, and chili.

My favorite place to get it in Hanoi:

Nha Hang Bach Phuong
67 Hang Dieu


Chè

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat

What is it?

While every chè dessert beverage or pudding is slightly different, each boasts a savory amalgam of textures. My favorite blend featured kidney beans, mung bean paste, jelly, and tapioca, stirred together and topped with coconut milk. While not overwhelmingly saccharine, a refreshing glass of chè will still satisfy one's sweet tooth.

My favorite place to get it in Hanoi:

Street Vendor

C2, Ngo 34A Tran Phu, Ba Dinh


Egg Coffee

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat

What is it?

Savoring a fluffy cup of Vietnamese egg coffee is like drinking crème brûlée. Pioneered at Hanoi's Giang Cafe, this delicate and frothy concoction is comprised of bold Vietnamese coffee, condensed milk, and egg yolks whipped to perfection. Not only does it satisfy the need for a morning jolt of caffeine, but it also makes for a sweet afternoon treat.

My favorite place to get it in Hanoi:

Ca Phe Giang
39 Nguyen Huu Huan

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat


Coconut Coffee

What is it?

Akin to a caffeinated slushie, sipping on coconut coffee takes me back to sunbathing on a white sand beach. While its tropical vibes feel seemingly out of place in Hanoi's urban chaos, its tastes and textures are substantially more refreshing than your average Frappuccino.

My favorite places to get it in Hanoi:

Cong Caphe
54 Hang Dieu

Tranquil Books & Coffee
5 Nguyen Quang Bich

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat


Street Food 101 with Hanoi Street Food Tour

Not quite knowing where to start on my first day in Hanoi, I took a crash course in street fare with Hanoi Street Food Tour. Their beginner's guide to street food introduced me to some of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, while also providing me tips on how to find the best spots on my own.

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat
Bún cha - noodles with grilled pork

Our tour guide Mango had an infectious love for Vietnamese cuisine, and her passion brought the tour to life. As we devoured a myriad of traditional dishes, Mango peppered our tour with restaurant recommendations, useful phrases, and historical anecdotes. She also offered personalized substitutions for those of us with food intolerances, and went to great lengths to ensure that everything I tried was gluten-free.

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat
Nom bò khô - dried beef salad with green papaya and fresh herbs
Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to EatDevouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat

Not only did we get to taste Hanoi's best dishes, but we also got to watch how some of them were made. After warming our bellies with our very first bowls of bún cha, we wandered over to a street vendor making bánh cuon thit, a steamed rice flour pancake stuffed with pork. Hypnotized by the methodical process of making this delicate treat, we were able to experience the dish's flavors more profoundly.

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat
Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat
Bánh cuon thit

Street food is not only the backbone of Vietnamese cuisine, it's a defining element of their culture. Getting a comprehensive lesson in Hanoi's history and gastronomy helped build the foundation of a successful trip. Stuffed and satisfied, I walked away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of this vibrant community.

Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat
Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat

Never have I fell victim to such an overpowering culinary love affair. Despite my euphoric tastebuds, Hanoi still left me with an insatiable hunger for more. Until I get the chance to visit again, I'll surely be daydreaming about my next bowl of bún cha.


What are your favorite cuisines you've tried abroad?
Is there a country whose gastronomy stands out as the best?



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Devouring Street Food in Hanoi: What & Where to Eat


Disclaimer: Hanoi Street Food Tour graciously invited me on this tour, however, all opinions expressed are my own.

As a Celiac, I took this tour at my own risk. While Hanoi Street Food Tour can make substitutions to accommodate a gluten-free diet, they cannot completely guarantee avoiding cross contamination. 

The Motorcycle Diaries: Vietnam

Monday, October 23, 2017
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike

"Just hop on and hold onto me", Tara nonchalantly assures as she tosses me a helmet. "It'll be fine!" The motor rumbles, and I'm quickly awakened from my jet lagged daze. I'm greeted with my first daylight views of Hanoi from the back of her motorbike, bolting through Old Quarter's tangle of traffic.

As we dart through town, whizzing past lanky French colonial mansions and opulent decay, adrenaline is pulsing through my veins. I'm intoxicated by the city's dilapidated beauty, set to a soundtrack of blaring horns and roaring motorbikes.

There doesn't seem to be a method to the madness on the streets of Hanoi. Hurtling through intersections feels like an an all-or-nothing gamble. Yet somehow, bikers navigate the chaos with an unexpected grace that miraculously keeps everyone alive.

Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike

Mincing through the mob, we cross town and park at Cong Caphe. Exhausted yet exhilarated, I feel as if the most thrilling part of my day has passed. However, I quickly come to realize that crossing the street in Hanoi is an even more unnerving task.

"Inch your way across the street, assuming drivers will part around you. Keep your eyes forward, and don't make any sudden, unpredictable movements."

I hesitantly step off the sidewalk, lingering for several seconds too long. I anxiously hop back up, eager not to become Vietnamese roadkill. I take another deep breath and charge forward.

A sea of bikes tear past me, swerving around me and honking wildly. An elderly Vietnamese man saunters beside me, completely unfazed. Bounding through the cacophony of tenacious bikers, I cross the road unscathed. 

This enigmatic city has given me the most authentic of welcomes, and thus commences my week in Hanoi.

Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike


Exploring Cat Ba Island

After several days of soaking up Hanoi's energy and charisma, Tara and I hop a train to Hai Phong and catch a small boat to Cat Ba Island, where we spend a day exploring the terrain before sailing off to Ha Long Bay.

Eager to discover this idyllic retreat, we rent a cheap motorbike outside our hotel and take off. Island driving is a refreshing escape from the anarchic streets of Hanoi. We comfortably cruise across Cat Ba, marveling at the verdant rolling hills and jagged silhouettes of Lan Ha Bay in the distance.

Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Hospital Cave
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike

We weave through misty jungle roads and stumble upon the Hospital Cave, which was used by the Viet Cong as a secret hospital and safe house during the war. We pass bucolic villages and rice paddies, stopping frequently to admire the lush scenery around us.

We pull into an empty parking lot. "Your turn to drive!" Panic ensues. Driving a car has always terrified me. Driving a motorbike?! Out of the question.

I'm finally persuaded to take the driver's seat and hit the gas. I swerve a few times before I get the hang of it, and the next thing I know, I'm speeding across the lot.

"Ready to hit the road?" Not quite.

With the wind whipping through my hair and a smile plastered to my face, we continue our journey across the island. We wrap up our bike tour at the dreamy, deserted paradise of Cat Co 2. The jutting shadows of Lan Ha Bay command the horizon, while enchanted emerald waters beckon us to the bay. 

Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike


Day Trip to Chua Thay

After settling back into Hanoi, Tara and I motorbike through bustling villages and farmlands to explore the ancient temples of Chua Thay. With mountaintop shrines, a gargantuan cave, and a pagoda over 900 years old, this town off the beaten track is a refreshing escape from Hanoi's colorful chaos.

Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike

Just 40 minutes from Hanoi's Old Quarter, this hidden gem has all the makings of a perfect day trip. We explore the village and pagoda below, then hike our way up to Chua Thay's breathtaking mountaintop temples. Making the climb is surely the best way to burn off all those Vietnamese spring rolls and bowls of pho.

Chua Thay also boasts an otherworldly limestone cave, which is rumored to contain the bones of soldiers from the Vietnam War. The steps to the cave are steep and nearly treacherous; don't try to rock climb in sandals (lesson learned).

Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike

Getting to know Vietnam by motorbike is one of the most enchanting ways to discover its soul. It's not just a means of transportation, it's a way of life. Exploring like a local can be slightly terrifying, but it's easily the most memorable way to discover this enigmatic country.

Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike
Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike

Enamored by Vietnam's energy and feeling like pictures couldn't quite do it justice, I tried my hand at making my first travel video. Check it out, and witness me fumbling with chopsticks, zipping through the Vietnamese countryside, cruising Ha Long Bay, and devouring all the street food.



Have you ever ridden a motorbike in a foreign country?
If not, would you try it?


Exploring Vietnam by Motorbike


Disclaimer: Ride at your own risk. All the information provided on adelanteblog.com is for general information and entertainment purposes only, and is the expressed opinion of myself. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk. Under no circumstances will I be liable for any loss or damage (including without limitation indirect or consequential loss or damage) arising out of or in connection to the use of this website.