One of Hanoi’s most endearing features is that everything and I literally mean everything occurs on its streets. Whole families and friends gather on tiny coloured stools around what is referred to as ‘street kitchens’.
They may look a little disconcerting in appearance and the way they prepare their food – not too inviting – but if you can look past all of that, you are in for a truly superb insight into Vietnam’s soul. This is basic cooking at its best.
The food is cheap, vibrant in colour, delicious and authentic. In essence, a food lover’s fantasy.
Many steer away from this eclectic experience out of fear of food poisoning but as long as you use a little common sense and head where the locals are you are in for a treat.
So without further ado I present to you the flavourful food of Hanoi…
This classic Vietnamese dish is probably the most recognisable to the western eye. Often made with beef stock, onion, ginger, star anise, coriander, freshly made rice noodles and mild chillies, it is then topped with slices of beef, chicken, tendon or meatballs, dried shallots and a squeeze of lime. Most often eaten for breakfast, pho is the best way to start the day before exploring this bustling city.
30 000 dong or A$1.38 (and no I am not kidding)
Many don’t know that Vietnam is actually one of the world’s biggest exporters of coffee beans. So naturally, the coffee you find on the streets here is ridiculously good. It is intensely rich in taste, served hot or cold, and involves condensed milk. Need I say more?
25 000 dong or A$1.15
This country has beautiful, natural fruit that many are too scared to touch. As above, as long as you use common sense and only eat what looks healthy, you will be fine. Try something different from what you would get at home such as the jackfruit or dragon fruit which are packed full of exotic flavours.
Rice paper rolls:
No, these aren’t the same as you get at home in Australia. They are so much better. Essentially prawns and pork with vermicelli noodles and herbs wrapped in rice paper with a little peanut sauce on the side. These rice paper rolls make for an excellent snack to break up all that sight seeing.
20 000 dong or A$0.90
A few nights into our trip, the VRP crew made their way to a recommended restaurant around the corner from the hotel. We were ushered in, and in the blink of an eye, pans were put on burners and a medley of colourful ingredients was added. Without uttering a word, menus were placed in front of us, and we figured we were having cha ca for dinner that night. Made from de-boned mudfish and snakehead fish that are covered by banana leaves and grilled by coal heat, then served with roasted peanuts, rice noodles, herbs such as dill, spring onion, coriander, shrimp paste and fish sauce. Oh and don’t forget the chilli.
129 709 dong or A $6.00
Banh Cuon gia truyen:
In search for another unusual start to the day we came across a little restaurant renowned within the city for its tasty banh cuon gia truyen. Otherwise known as silky steamed rice crepes filled with minced pork, mushrooms and ground shrimp, they are served hot of the screen with fish sauce. Although this meal had unusual textures and unexpected flavour it was a morning delight. Adding to the experience, most of the Vietnamese within the restaurant laughed at us as we ate. Maybe we were doing it wrong?
30 000 dong or A$1.38
This is the cousin of Hanoi’s famous bun cha, and a dish I have now eaten on the stools outside our hotel with the locals many a time. Involving deep fried tofu, a forest of herbs, rice noodles and pork spring rolls this is a real feast for any time of the day. Also served with fish sauce and enough chilli
20 000 dong or A$0.92
We are sad to leave Hanoi and its wonderful street kitchens behind. However there is much more food in this incredible country to be eaten. Look out for ‘Foodie Features’ on Halong Bay and Ninh Binh over the next week!