Touch down in Vietnam’s capital city and you’ll have two main priorities. First, work out how to actually cross the road (pro tip: be bold, be aware, and follow the locals’ lead!) Second, immediately set to work hunting down the best street food Hanoi has to offer.
From sipping syrupy sweet Vietnamese egg coffee in post-it-note adorned corner coffee shops to slurping fragrant bowls of steaming phở on the roadside, or munching on rich, salty late-night bánh mì with sweet picklesafter a few bia hoi’s at the aptly named ‘beer corner’, it’s pretty much impossible to go hungry in Hanoi. In fact, you’re far more likely to struggle with fitting in time and room to taste it all.
We sent Jess, one of our Asia specialist travel consultants, on a quest to find the best of what makes Vietnam’s second most populous city quite so famous for incredible cuisine.
Whether you’re hopping on a street food tour or going solo, here’s our round up of the best street food in Hanoi.
We’ll start with a classic and Vietnam’s national dish: phở. Pronounced ‘ff-uh’, you’ll find this delicious bowl of noodley-goodness served in households, restaurants, and street stalls up and down the country. In fact, there’s a high chance your hotel will offer it up for breakfast.
On her street food tasting experience, Jess gave phở five stars: “This was absolutely my favourite dish – and I’ve already had serious cravings for it in the brief time I’ve been home. The traditional version, made with rice noodles, comes with beef, but it’s possible to get veggie versions, too. Either way, it’s the fragrant broth and all the herbs and spices you can add to build your own, perfectly crafted bowl, that really make it special.”
We’re big fans of egg coffee at InsideAsia – to the point we often send customers on egg coffee workshops with our favourite artisan coffee shops across Vietnam. It might sound odd to the Western ear but trust us on this one: egg coffee is an absolute must-try.
“Egg coffee is made with condensed milk, and, while it’s definitely not one for the coffee-purists out there, it really is a deliciously sweet, caffeinated treat that’s pretty unique and something of an institution.
“There are lots of coffee shops with balconies overhanging the Old Quarter’s winding streets – often with just a stool or two; the perfect perch above the chaos unfolding below. Sipping on an egg coffee is the natural accompaniment to watching the world go by.”
You’ll find bánh mì – Vietnam’s answer to an incredibly tasty French baguette stuffed with BBQ pork, pickles, spicy paste, and fresh herbs – on almost every corner throughout Hanoi. Incredibly popular with locals as an on-the-go snack, bánh mì stalls pop up at the entrance to bustling markets, as glass-fronted grills tucked down back streets, and at tourist hotspots across the city (Bánh Mì 25 is a real favourite, and for good reason).
“It’s hard to describe what makes this simple dishquite so tasty, but it’s just so much more than your average baguette. The bread’s soft and chewy, but with a satisfying crust, the pork is succulent and smoky, and the fresh herbs, crunchy pickles, and spicy paste all combine to create something utterly mouth-watering. Leaving without trying one would be almost criminal.”
Made famous in the Western world by both Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama’s proclaimed love of the dish, bún chả is a hot contender in our book for topping the list of Hanoi’s best street food.
Jess rated it very highly, coming a close second to her favourite phở (pictured earlier).
“Imagine this: you’ve spent a bemused afternoon wandering the mazelike Old Quarter, and your stomach’s growling from the smell of grilled meats as you pass open-fronted kitchens with tiny red stools cluttering the pavement outside.
“You pause – just for a second, but it’s long enough for an elderly Vietnamese lady to usher you to an almost-floor level seat, disappear for a moment, and whisk back with a steaming bowl of perfectly blackened pork meatballs, a plastic basket overflowing with noodles, and what seems like an entire garden’s worth of herbs.
“The only choice you’ll be given? Whether to drink Saigon or Hanoi beer from the can.
“As you set to work constructing your own bún chả – adding pickles and herbs as liberally as you like – you’re about to taste absolute perfection. I’m not surprised Obama loved it!”
If you fancy experiencing Hanoi’s street food for yourself, we can help build a trip around tasting the absolute best cuisine Vietnam has to offer. Find out why Vietnam was Anthony Bourdain’s favourite country as you explore its rich and varied cuisine by booking onto our Food-lover’s Vietnam tour, guided by our very own culinary connoisseurs.