Hanoi is both the political capital and culinary capital of Vietnam. Iconic Vietnamese dishes like Pho and Bun Cha both originated in Northern Vietnam. And while you can now find them all over the country (and the world), many people still believe that the best version of both dishes is still found in Hanoi.
We spent almost 2 months roaming the streets of Hanoi, asking locals for their favorite spots to eat and drink in the city. And we ate at all of them so we could bring you this list of all of our favorite Vietnamese foods to eat and where to eat them in Hanoi – enjoy!
Table of Contents
- Hanoi Food: The Best Dishes to Try
- 1. Chả Cá
- 2. Phở Bo
- 3. Bún Chả
- 4. Xôi Xéo (Sticky Rice with Mung Bean)
- 5. Bún Bò Nam Bộ
- 6. Phở Cuốn
- 7. Phở Chiên Phồng
- Where to eat Phở Chiên Phồng in Hanoi
- 8. Nộm Bò Khô (Green Papaya Salad with Dried Beef)
- 9. Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm (Noodle and Tofu with Shrimp Sauce)
- 10. Barbecue Chicken
- 11. Bánh Mì
- 12. Egg Coffee
- 13. Bánh Rán (Vietnamese Donuts)
- 14. Bia Hoi
- 15. Cobra
Hanoi Food: The Best Dishes to Try
1. Chả Cá
Many people consider Chả Cá to be the one dish everyone must try in Hanoi.
The dish consists of grilled fish with turmeric and dill and the best Cha Ca is traditionally made from Hemibagrus (a species of catfish). These days, however, due to the rareness of Hemibagrus, you’ll likely wind up eating Snakehead fish or Mudfish.
To make Cha Ca the fish is deboned, cut into pieces, and seasoned with turmeric and other spices. It is then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over a charcoal fire. When the fish is brought out to you it is cooked a second time at your table in a skillet full of green onions and dill.
You’ll also be brought plates of vermicelli rice noodles, chili peppers, cilantro, peanuts, and a bowl of fish sauce. Once the Cha Ca is ready you’ll fill your bowl with the grilled fish, green onions, noodles, and top it with everything else. The wide array of flavors compliment each other perfectly! If there is a single dish that is considered the food of Hanoi it is Cha Ca and you should absolutely try it while you’re in the capital of Vietnam.
The original Cha Ca restaurant is Chả Cá Lã Vọng and most people agree that the restaurant has become too popular for its own good. The result is higher prices, poor quality, and long wait times. Best to skip this Hanoi institution and get your Cha Ca fix elsewhere.
2. Phở Bo
Phở is a dish that you’ll consume frequently during your trip to Vietnam. Phở Bo is simply beef noodle soup and is the classic preparation of this ubiquitous dish. You can also get Phở Ga which is made with chicken instead of beef.
Pho Bo starts with steaming beef broth that has been simmering on the stove since early in the morning. The broth is poured over a bowl full of rice noodles, onions, and scallions. It’s then topped with various cuts of beef and a pinch of cilantro.
Your Pho comes served with a plate of fresh bean sprouts, basil, mint, jalapeno slices, and a lime wedge so you can season your bowl to your own personal taste. You’ll also find pickled garlic, fish sauce, black pepper, and Hoisin sauce on the table at most Pho restaurants if you want to experiment with flavors.
You may be asked to choose what cuts of meat you would like in your Pho. If you’re a newbie you might want to stick with well done brisket (chín) or rare round steak (tái) that is quickly cooked by the boiling broth. If you want to be more adventurous, try fatty brisket (gầu), tendon (gân) and tripe (sách).
3. Bún Chả
While Pho is the mostly widely recognized dish internationally, Bún Chả is maybe the most iconic dish in Vietnam, especially in the North.
Bun Cha is made of grilled fatty pork and pork meatballs served in a bowl of nước chấm – fish sauce mixed with garlic, chili, sugar, and lime juice. You’ll also typically find a few pickled vegetables floating in the bowl as well.
Alongside your bowl of pork and nước chấm you’ll be served a side of vermicelli noodles, a small bowl of sliced chili peppers, and a heaping plate of fresh herbs and lettuce leaves.
There are different ways of eating bun cha depending on whether you’re in Northern or Southern Vietnam. But since you’re in the North just throw everything in your bowl of nước chấm and dig in!
4. Xôi Xéo (Sticky Rice with Mung Bean)
Xôi Xéo is the equivalent of comfort food for Hanoi natives. It starts with glutinous rice cooked with mung bean and turmeric powder. The result is a dense, bright yellow sticky rice which is then topped off with a drizzle of liquid fat and a hand full of deep fried shallots. This forms the base of this delicious dish.
From here it is infinitely customizable with a wide range of toppings ranging from grilled chicken to pork belly to fermented hard-boiled eggs. Our favorite combination is caramelized pork (thịt kho), Chinese sausage (lạp sườn), and pork floss (ruốc). Boom! Heart attack in a bowl!
5. Bún Bò Nam Bộ
Bún Bò Nam Bộ is a layered dish featuring vermicelli noodles topped with grilled marinated beef, bean sprouts, lettuce, pickled vegetables, fried onions, and chopped peanuts. The whole dish is soaking in a bowl of delicious nước chấm (fish sauce mixed with garlic, chili, sugar, and lime juice ).
The secret to great Bun Bo Nam Bo is, without a doubt, the marinating and grilling of the strips of beef that take center stage in this classic Vietnamese dish. The name Bun Bo Nam Bo literally translates to “beef noodles from the South” which might make it a bit of an odd choice to eat while in Northern Vietnam. But here in Hanoi they have taken the dish and made it their own!
6. Phở Cuốn
Phở Cuốn is basically all the ingredients of Pho, but without the broth. It consists of strips of grilled beef and lots of herbs like cilantro, basil, and mint, all rolled up in a wide rice noodle. So instead of using a spoon and chopsticks, you just dip them in a bowl of nước chấm (sweet fish sauce) and enjoy!
7. Phở Chiên Phồng
Phở Chiên Phồng are squares of noodle that have been deep fried so they puff up into little donuts. They are then covered in beef, gravy, and sauteed vegetables. It’s sort of like Vietnamese nachos but with no chips or cheese!
You’ll generally find Pho Chien Phong served alongside Pho Cuon.
8. Nộm Bò Khô (Green Papaya Salad with Dried Beef)
Nộm Bò Khô is simply green papaya salad topped with dried beef that is quite similar to the beef jerky you’ll find in the USA.
The long, thin strips of beef that form the centerpiece of this dish are first soaked in a mixture of salt, sugar, garlic, oil, ginger, and chili to give it a spicy but sweet flavor. It soaks overnight and then the beef strips are dried in an oven .
The papaya salad is soaked in fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, chili, and soy sauce then tossed with fresh herbs like mint, parsley, and coriander. Top with dried beef and a few peanuts and you’ve got
Nom Bo Kho!
9. Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm (Noodle and Tofu with Shrimp Sauce)
Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm consists of 3 main parts. First you have vermicelli rice noodles (“Bún”) that have been stuck together in a big flat pancake and then cut into bite-sized pieces (called “bun mieng”). Second are squares of tofu (“Đậu”) fired to a golden brown so it’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The final piece of this dish is the signature item – an extremely stinky bowl of fermented shrimp sauce (“Mắm Tôm”) to dip everything in.
While the shrimp paste doesn’t necessarily taste bad, the smell is pretty overpowering. Luckily, most restaurants will also bring you a bowl of fish sauce that you can use for dipping instead.
10. Barbecue Chicken
On “Chicken Street” you’ll have your pick of chicken breast, chicken wings, and various other less appetizing chicken parts including liver, and feet. You should also try the barbecue sweet potatoes and the “honey bread” (french baguettes brushed with honey and then toasted on the grill).
It all comes with chili sauce and cucumber slices pickled in sweet vinegar that are light and refreshing.
11. Bánh Mì
Ah the Bánh Mì… everyone’s favorite snack! The term Banh Mi literally just means “bread” in Vietnamese. So any type of sandwich prepared in the country is referred to by the same name.
You will find, however, that most Banh Mi’s share a few common ingredients. These include a toasted French baguette, pate, mayonnaise, pickled vegetables, and coriander (cilantro). For your main ingredient you’ll generally have the choice of fried egg, barbeque pork, pork floss, and a variety of mystery meats lined up in their cart.
If you’re feeling adventurous just tell them you want a Banh Mi and you’ll get a mix of everything they have on hand.
If you want to order it without coriander make sure you memorize the phrase “không có rau mùi“!
12. Egg Coffee
Egg coffee (called Cà Phê Trứng in Vietnamese) was first invented by Nguyen Giang in 1946. There was a shortage of milk in Hanoi due to the French War. Mr. Giang got creative and began adding whisked eggs to his coffee instead.
The original version was a bit, well, eggy. But over time the recipe was modified with the addition of sugar, condensed milk, and even Laughing Cow cheese (no one knows for sure, it’s a secret recipe). These days Egg Coffee is a staple of Hanoi coffee culture and a must-try while in Hanoi!
What does it taste like? Well it’s incredibly thick and rich and creamy. Closer to a dessert than a beverage. Liquid tiramisu is the most accurate description we’ve heard.
Nguyen Giang still has a cafe where you can try his famous recipe, or you can grab a cup of Egg Coffee at dozens of coffee shops all over Hanoi.
13. Bánh Rán (Vietnamese Donuts)
Bánh Rán are scrumptious little balls of fried glutinous rice flour. They are traditionally filled with mung bean paste and covered with sesame seeds. You’ll find a wide variety of these little donuts for sale by women wandering around the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Banh Ran roughly translates to “fried pastry” so it encompasses a lot of different versions of this treat including some savory options.
14. Bia Hoi
Bia Hoi is beer that is brewed fresh each day and allowed to ferment for only a short period of time. This results in a light, crisp beer than typically is just around 3% alcohol. It is then delivered daily to local Bia Hoi joints in metal kegs that are ready to be tapped and served.
You’ll find Bia Hoi down some of Hanoi’s alleyways and backstreets for as little as 6,000 VND for a glass. Expect to pay closer to 11,000 VND at more popular Bia Hoi joints around town.
Drinking Bia Hoi on a tiny plastic stool is a right-of-passage for anyone visiting Vietnam. And while the craft beer scene has been taking hold in Vietnam, most locals still prefer a cheap glass of cold Bia Hoi.
A lot of people will tell you to head straight to Beer Corner (sometimes also called Bia Hoi Junction) in the Old Quarter to get your Bia Hoi fix – makes sense, right? But sadly, none of the bars on Beer Corner actually serve Bia Hoi any longer due to narrow profit margins. Instead they all serve plain old cans or bottles of Bia Ha Noi, Heineken, and Tiger. Regardless, you should spend an evening hanging out on Beer Corner, even if you can’t get Bia Hoi as it’s always a good time!
Once you have sampled everything else on this list it’s time for the true test – Cobra!
Dining on snake is one of the most interesting things you can do in Hanoi. It’s really so much more than a meal – it’s a wildly bizarre dining adventure. First you’ll be invited to choose your main course from a case of living cobras. Then, you watch as the cobra is beheaded and you’ll have the opportunity to suck down it’s heart in a shot glass of rice wine.
Next the entire snake will be prepared into a huge feast of different dishes including grilled cobra ribs, crispy fried snake skin, and sauteed cobra stomach. Wash it all down with shots of rice wine, snake blood, snake bile, and ample Beer Hanoi – it’s an experience you won’t soon forget!
Planning a trip to Vietnam? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!
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