Ask anyone who’s been to Vietnam what the best things about it were and I’ll bet that somewhere in their list is the food. Vietnam is renowned for it’s distinguished range of tasty delights: pho noodles, banh mi, bun cha, vietnamese spring rolls, banh xeo and oh so much more, all hail from Vietnam. With its unique combination of French combined with South East Asian influences, it’s no wonder Vietnam serves up some of the world’s most delicious dishes. Whilst the whole nation consistently delivers delectable fare, you’ll find that the interpretation of dishes does vary from north to south when local flavours start getting involved.
Hanoi is particularly renowned for its local foodie scene. Turn any corner in the city and you’ll find locals hunkered over a steaming bowl of pho, perched on the miniature plastic stools that are so iconic in Vietnam. Sure, you can turn up at most venues selling food and chances are, you’re in for a tasty meal. But to source the city’s best offerings, enlist the help of a local. We met our guide at the lobby of the Silk Path Hotel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter right on time at 5:30pm, just as the day’s light was beginning to fade, to begin the Hanoi Evening Street Eats guided food tour. We were joined by a family of four from Australia, bringing the group number up to nine, plus our local foodie tour guide.
Departing from the hotel, we navigated the streets, narrowly avoiding the speeding motorbikes and cars as is always the case in Hanoi (and which our guide was diligently trying to keep us safe from) to the first of seven Vietnamese food stops on our tour of Hanoi.
First up, a traditional Vietnamese rice cake eaten around the time of Tet (Vietnamese New Year) which was nearing when we visited. A great thing about the food tour is that the dishes you try will vary depending on the freshest ingredients of the month and specialties of the season. We munched on the sticky rice cake before moving on to a side street restaurant selling steaming meat filled buns.
You can’t leave Hanoi without trying an authentic Vietnamese Banh Mi, the fusion of crispy French baguette and paté fused with fresh Vietnamese meat and herbs will leave you coming back for more and more. Lots of places serve them, but this spot was particularly special.
Onto the next restaurant and it is, of course, pho! Everyone’s favorite Vietnamese noodle soup, sporting the perfect garnishings of crispy fried onions, fresh coriander, peanuts, beansprouts and tender chicken atop perfectly cooked rice noodles and that delectable sauce. The soup broth was served in a separate bowl so you could add the liquid to your own preference. It was easily the best bowl of pho I had in Hanoi.
As we slurped our soups, our guide headed off on the hunt for some traditional Vietnamese ‘wedding cake’. Not the ornate, butter cream decorated extravaganza you might be imagining, instead a rather simple green rice flake cake (Banh Com) stuffed with the sweet and nutty flavors of green beans and coconut and the scent of grapefruit flower essential oil. Hanoi’s old district is divided into 36 streets named for the items which every vendor originally sold, most are indicated by the word ‘Hang’ meaning ‘shop’ or ‘merchandise’. Today, some of these industries have moved on but some still sell their original goods, for example Hang Bac (selling silver), Hang Gai (selling silk goods), Hang Thiec (tinsmiths street, today selling different metals and mirrors) and of course Hang Than, the go-to spot for wedding offerings like Banh Com.
Despite being served half portions of everything, we were now pretty stuffed and were quite grateful for the 15-20 minute walk to the next stop which was…
…ice cream! The coconut flavored treat is famed in these parts and makes for a refreshing dessert after a big meal.
At this point, as our guide started to describe the next stop, a popular restaurant for local barbecue and beer, we all began clutching our stomachs just at the thought of it. Instead, we settled for a second dessert of fruits and condensed milk, with the name of the BBQ place written down and promises to return on another night. As we tucked in to dragon fruit, mango, jack fruit and jelly, we reflected on the feast we’d just consumed, and the guide kindly wrote down the names of our favorites if we wanted to order the same again in future.
All in all, it was a fantastic experience and a great insight into the local food scene. We tried a number of dishes I otherwise wouldn’t have known about and despite feeling full to the brim afterwards, we were all pleased to have tried so many different delights. A big thumbs up for this one!
Why you should join a Hanoi Evening Street Eats food tour:
- You’ll learn a lot about the history of the area, origins and authentic dishes from your very informed guide
- Taste the best of Hanoi’s famed foods at reputable and hygienic locations
- Don’t get ripped off with tourist prices
- Have no difficultly ordering and be able to ask questions and interact with the locals in Vietnamese with the help of your guide
- You’ll be covering a fair distance of the city by foot so comfy shoes are a must
- Most drinks aren’t included (except a beer at the BBQ spot) so bring a bottle of water with you
- Come with an empty stomach – you are about to consume a lot of food
- If you want to edit the route a little to accommodate your growing stomachs, the guide is happy to suggest alternatives