Best Food to Eat in Hanoi
Hanoi is a vibrant and bustling city bursting with history and culture. From Buddhist temples to impressive mausoleums, the Vietnamese capital is full of incredible attractions. But Hanoi street food and restaurants are a wonder in themselves. Vietnamese cuisine is packed with flavor and nothing like anything you’d find in the West. So you should definitely check out my list of the best food to eat in Hanoi.
A Note About Food in Hanoi
Before we take a deep dive into the amazing culinary world of Hanoi, I should mention something. Hanoi isn’t like America or Europe, where the cleanest, swankiest, and most refined restaurants serve the best food. In fact, if you see a Western-style restaurant in Hanoi, it might just be a tourist trap.
For a truly authentic experience, go for the street food. A good tip is to ask the locals. But you can also book a street food tour to explore the city’s best eateries in the company of a small group and a local foodie. Now then, without further ado, let’s look at the best food to eat in Hanoi.
Bun Cha is a traditional pork dish and a specialty of Hanoi. Seasoned pork patties and caramelized strips of pork belly are served in a flavorful sauce and eaten with vermicelli noodles and fresh herbs. Fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, lime, garlic, sugar, salt, and chili make up the key ingredients of the sauce. When you get a mouthful of noodles, meat, and herbs in one bite, it’s magic.
Famously, Obama ate bun cha with Anthony Bourdain while in Hanoi. The restaurant they visited (Bun Cha Houng Lien) is now colloquially called Bun Cha Obama. There are photos all over the restaurant commemorating the famous meeting. As a result, the restaurant has become a bit touristy. Even so, you’re still guaranteed to enjoy some flavorful food here.
Pho is the national dish of Vietnam, and it is most classically prepared with beef (pho bo). At its core, pho bo is a beef noodle soup made with rice noodles, bone broth, and thinly sliced meat. But scallions, bean sprouts, and chilis are other common additions, and generally fried dough is served with the pho. You’ll also find an assortment of other ingredients on the table, which you can use to boost the flavor of the soup (e.g. pickled garlic, fish sauce, and hoisin sauce).
Pho bo is actually a common breakfast item since it is rich and fortifying without being super heavy. But you can eat it at anytime of the day. Some say Pho Gia Truyen Bat Dan is the best pho spot in Hanoi. But I can’t decide for myself. I’ve eaten pho bo numerous times at numerous places, and it was always delicious.
Ca Phe Trung
Vietnam has a robust coffee culture with cafes popping up all over the place. Traditional Vietnamese coffee is strong and bold. In fact, Vietnamese robusta beans contain roughly twice the amount of caffeine as your typical arabica coffee. To make it more palatable, coffee is often served with sweetened condensed milk. But ca phe trung ups the ante by throwing an egg into the mix.
Ca phe trung (egg coffee) was created in 1946 by Nguyen Giang during a milk shortage from the French War. The original egg coffee was a little egg heavy. Now it’s like a dessert. Egg yolks are whipped together with condensed milk and sugar to make a sweet, custardy topping.
You can find egg coffee in several locations. But I recommend visiting Giang Cafe, which was owned by the egg coffee inventor himself. Despite its tucked away location, Giang Cafe is super popular. So just follow the crowd.
Banh cuon literally means “rolled cakes.” It’s named that way thanks to the impossibly thin, rice flour wrapper used to contain a filling of pork, onion, jicama, and mushrooms. Vietnamese pork sausage and fish sauce-based dipping sauce are served with the rolls.
My first encounter with banh cuon was at Banh Cuon Gia Truyen Thanh Van. That’s where the locals took me, and I will dream of that food for the rest of my days. I’m sure you will enjoy it too.
One of my favorite meals is cha gio, a fried spring roll. There are a few variations on the filling for Vietnamese spring rolls. Most commonly, the filling consists of ground pork, vegetables, wood ear mushrooms, and glass noodles. But everything is better fried, which is why cha gio is one of the best foods in Hanoi.
Cha gio is likely to have originated in central Vietnam, but it’s too delicious to ignore anytime you’re in Vietnam. Honestly, the best cha gio I had in Vietnam was part of a home-cooked meal by my sister-in-law. But I did have some tasty spring rolls (along with several other delicious dishes) served at Cau Go. Cau Go also happens to have an incredible view of Hoan Kiem Lake, so it’s worth a visit.
Xoi xeo is a Vietnamese comfort food and a classic breakfast food. The two main ingredients are sticky rice and mung beans. However, to jazz up the meal, you can throw in toppings like pork floss, fried shallots, or sausage.
As simple and satisfying as it is, xoi xeo can be found in a variety of locations. You don’t need to find anything super fancy. If you want, you can even purchase xoi xeo from independent vendors on the sidewalk.
A common Hanoi street food is water snails. The snails are cooked with lemongrass or lemon leaves to give a delightful herb and citrus flavor. Once you get the snails out of their shells, you can dip them in a chili salt for a bit of spice.
I will come right out and tell you that this dish isn’t for everyone. The snails are either boiled or steamed, which makes them chewier than French escargot. But if you want a fuller picture of street food in Hanoi, you should give them a try.
Vietnam doesn’t have much in the way of dessert, but it does have che. Che is a sweet soup that can come with an array of ingredients, such as mung beans, taro, tapioca, and more. For travelers used to super sweet and buttery desserts from France or Italy, che will seem a bit strange. It is a light dish with more subtle flavors. Even so, it makes for a satisfying end to a meal.
If che isn’t enough for you, Vietnamese also often eat fruit after meals. Whether you eat fruit for dessert or any other time, that’s fine. But you definitely should try them. From jackfruit to pomelo, there are so many delicious options in Vietnam.
Although a specialty in the south of Vietnam, no trip to the country is complete without first trying a banh mi. Banh mi is a catch-all Vietnamese phrase for sandwiches, so you’ll find plenty of varieties. But the most traditional banh mi includes pate, pickled vegetables, mayonnaise, and cilantro in a French baguette.
For recommendations, consider Banh Mi Minh Nhat. The shop gained some popularity after owner Minh Nhat won Vietnamese MasterChef in 2014. Banh Mi Minh Nhat also features a wonderful location opposite of Hoan Kiem Lake. Wherever you go, I suggest getting your banh mi early since bread is usually baked fresh in the morning.
For More Adventurous Eaters
Now that I’ve mentioned all the best food to eat in Hanoi, let’s step off the beaten path. What is a dish for the bold and curious travelers among you?
Try balut. Popular in most of southeast Asia, balut is a fertilized egg that is allowed to grow for 17-21 days before being boiled and eaten (usually with a mix of herbs, salt, pepper, and lime juice). Duck eggs are the most popular in Vietnam, but quail eggs are an easier, bite-size option.
As you might expect, balut tastes like a boiled egg and a duck. With herbs and salt, it’s actually a really delicious treat. But the appearance is definitely intimidating. At this stage of growth, you will see some noticeable features like feathers or a beak.
More of Hanoi
Now that you know all of the best food to eat in Hanoi, you should explore what else the city has to offer. Hanoi is an exciting, fast-paced city with tons of things to do. After getting a bite to eat, you can choose from numerous historical and cultural attractions. Or maybe you can enjoy Vietnam’s breathtaking nature and take a day trip to Ha Long Bay.