Confused by the multitude of offerings in Hanoi? Stressed out by the traffic and cant be bothered doing the research? We are here to save you! Below is a list of Rolling East Approved places that we enjoyed during our two weeks in Hanoi. Check the map at the bottom for locations.
Hanoi, for foodies this place is like heaven, but for the unprepared it can be a nightmare when searching for somewhere to eat. We spent the first couple of days wandering the streets, confused by the mass of options, trying to get a decent and authentic feed. We arrived just before Christmas, directly from the sleepy country villages of Laos, and the crowds were no doubt peaking.
Walking around the streets of Hanoi was a shock to us, dodging the constant flow of tooting scooters, avoiding being harrassed by touts and generally trying to survive. We must admit, we did resort to fried chicken and steamed buns from a convenience store to eat at home on our first night as the city became all too much. Quickly realising the need for research, we started trawling the net for recommendations, asking locals and our hosts and eying out potential places, to find out what Vietnamese, and specifically Hanoian food culture is all about.
Armed with our new knowledge, and a deathwish, we literately jumped into the busy streets keen to confidently sit down at the child-sized plastic stools that sprawled across the footpaths.
Most people will recognise Vietnamese food as being Pho (noodle soup), Banh Mi (baguette sandwiches), Goi Cuon (rice paper rolls) or maybe the Presidential choice of Bun Cha. But there is so much more, and we feel as though we have only skimmed the surface.
For less than 100,000VND ($4.40USD – January 2018) all of these places will get you a meal and a drink, and most likely some change left over. Some places even fed and watered both of us for under $4USD!
1. BANH XEO – Banh Xeo Sau Phuoc
Slightly out of the Old Town towards the river, this local place is busy and for good reason. Banh Xeo, litterally ‘sizzling cake’, is a crispy fried pancake made from rice flour, turmeric powder, bean sprouts, pork, shrimp and onion which, when rolled in rice paper loaded with fresh herbs and veggies, creates a surprising explosion of crispy and fresh goodness.
Dipping our rolls in the sweet vinegar sauce sure put a big grin on our face. The owner, a charming old man, personally came over to make sure we were eating them correctly. Make the effort to head here, it is truly worth it and amazing value for money!
2. BANH CUON – Than Van Banh Cuon
We had sampled these in Chiang Mai at a small vendor east of the city and absolutely loved them. Steamed and fermented rice batter, rolled with a ground pork, wood-ear mushroom and minced shallot filling, topped with fried shallots and coriander served with a dipping sauce of nuoc cham.
To watch the ladies on the street rolling and steaming them is enough to get any mouth watering. This dish is usually accompanied with cha lua, a cinnamon infused pork sausage and, together, proves to be a nice change from the noodles and soups monopolising the city’s food scene.
3. DEEP FRIED TREATS – Quan Goc Da
Everyone loves a good DFT (Deep Fried Treat), and that is all this place does. A varying range of 6-8 different bite-sized goodies all great with a cold beer. There was one lady there who spoke English and helped us, but if she isn’t around then simply point at what you want out the front and they will bring it to your table with some greens and a bowl of dipping sauce.
Very popular, and always full, our favourite was the banh ran – a Vietnamese version of the Chinese jian dui (a glutinous pastry made from rice flour, filled with chopped pork, vermicelli noodles, mushrooms and herbs). Other calorific treats include nem ran cua (pork and crab spring rolls), banh goi (‘pillow cake’ filled with glass noodle, minced pork, mushroom and quail egg), banh tom ho tay (fried shrimp pancake), and more including sticky rice cakes, fermented pork rolls and a sweet version of the banh ran to round it all off!
Tip: squeeze a little chilli into the dipping sauce, then drown your DFT inside for a few seconds!
4. BUN BO NAM BO – Bun Bo Nam Bo
Another Hanoi favourite, Bun Bo Nam Bo’s eponymous signature dish is fresh, light, sophisticated and great when you dont want a bowl of hot broth. ‘Stirred Noodles’ or ‘Beef Noodles in The South’ consist of rice vermicelli noodles, raw vegetables, fried onion, roasted peanuts and bean sprouts built with a dash of tangy sauce and beef soaked in sugar, fish sauce and pepper. Just make sure you give it a vigorous mix before eating.
The cleanliness of this place is impressive, along with the lightning-fast service and friendly staff. 60,000d is not the cheapest for a bowl of noodles in Hanoi, but it’s definitely worth it if you are all pho’d out.
5. BIA HOI AND FRIED TOFU – Bia Hoi Ngoc Linh
Want to drink some Bia Hoi and have a pre-dinner nibble? Don’t want to head to the overcrowded touristy bars? This is the place. Full of locals enjoying, possibly too much, Bia Hoi and washing it down with fried tofu.
At this intersection, there are two bars/restaurants on opposite corners obviously competing against each other. We sampled both but found the one on the south-west corner had the better tofu.
I’ve never enjoyed tofu so much! It’s cut into cubes then deep-fried, garnished with fresh mint, and served with a small bowl of salt, pepper, chilli and limes. Squeeze the lime juice into the seasonings, mix it around and dunk your tofu inside. Glorious!
Granted, the price of the beer over this side of the Old Town is twice the price of that in the middle, but at 10,000VND (44 cents!) its really not going to break the bank at all. The measures are slightly bigger here, and they are served in actual glasses as opposed to the plastic ones. Oh, and you might struggle to find a westerner here too.
If you’ve sampled a few of the beers and can’t be bothered walking too far for a meal then check the Pho recommendation below which is about 50m up the road!
6. PHO – Quan Pho Goa Truyen
”The Best Fucking Pho in Hanoi” was added to the open-source, offline maps.me app by some unknown traveller, and with this recommendation we headed off to find it. Very close to the fried tofu/Bia Hoi place listed above, this bursting shop has got the Pho game down pat. There was a queue of locals stretching out into the street when we arrived, but thanks to the production line-style system they have, we were slurping away within minutes of arriving.
There’s no table service, so queue up, order and pay, then wait for less than a minute for your bowl. Watching the staff dish up the bowls was impressive, as was the hanging hunks of brisket and chuck beef that has been boiled until super tender that it melts in your mouth.
The broth is the highlight here. A perfectly balanced multitude of flavours from spices, ginger, fish sauce and sugar. It’s light, but not watery, pungent but not overpowering. All the classic accompaniments are available to perfect for your own taste.
Was it the best? It’s pretty bloody good!
7. BUN CHA – (unnamed)
Ahh… bun cha. The staple and signature dish of northern Vietnam. With every second restaurant serving the stuff, its hard to commit to one place. When we first arrived, we didn’t know much about bun cha, apart from the fact that Obama had a heavily publicised meal with Anthony Bourdain back in 2016 which sent the locals crazy with delight (scroll down to find our experience of the famed restaurant).
One place that we felt served a great bowl was on the intersection in the link above – it’s not listed on google maps (yet) but had great portions, fresh spring rolls, fast service, a good mix of tasty pork and cold beer. The tables occupy one space, the kitchen is across the road and they don’t have a toilet, but we returned because it was such a memorable meal!
Our experience with Obama’s restaurant was a disappointment. We decided to head there assuming that if the last great President ate there then it must be good! Unfortunately, fame had got the better of this establishment and we had a bad experience – our meal never fully arrived, and the fact that they drop refreshing towels proudly proclaiming ‘President Obama ate here’ on your table, then charge you for them was irritating. You’re guaranteed to be surrounded by tour groups or ignorant tourists – much like we were!
8. BANH DUC NONG – Street Vendor
Once found all over Vietnam, but now not so common. It’s an old-school dish and potentially an acquired taste (or should I say texture). A warming and hearty soup that is based around glutinous rice flour, minced pork with black mushrooms, finished with fresh coriander and crispy onions. Reminiscent of a rich stew with mashed potatoes, it has a rustic, homely feel about it that gives you warm and fuzzies inside.
9. BANH MI – Street Vendor
We have already had quite a few Banh Mi whilst in Hanoi, and no doubt will have many more over the course of our journey south to the delta, but this was the one place that we returned to when we wanted a familiar fix.
Just north of St Josephs Cathedral in the Old Town, this street vendor pumps out hundreds of these jam-packed sandwiches for both tourists and locals. But what bought us back? The generous portions, the freshness and the price! Pate, cold cuts, fresh herbs and the addition of omelette for a bargain price of 20,000VND ($0.88) made it a winner for us. The other places we tried skimped on the toppings or charged a higher rate.
10. SPACE FOR SOMETHING SWEET?
If the above food hasn’t filled you up, or you have a sweet tooth, then these two places are a must! Sweets in Vietnam are known as Che and once you start looking, you will find they are almost more common that Pho! There are so many different options to choose from, but these are our favourites:
CHE CHUOI NEP NUONG – Quan Che Loc Tai
Banana, wrapped in glutinous rice, grilled until crispy and topped with a mixture of hot compote and sauce, finished with coconut milk, shaved coconut and roasted peanuts. This is seriously luxurious and will fill any void. Eat-in, or take-away to munch on the go.
BANH TROI TAU – Street Vendor
Another dish to warm you up, these ‘floating cakes’ are made from glutinous rice flour and filled with a mixture of green bean, lotus seeds, coconut and black sesame. They are then poached in hot ginger syrup and finished with roasted peanuts and coconut cream. A delicacy with a ginger warmth!