I’m a little embarrassed about how little of Hanoi I saw outside of restaurants, but hey Hanoi is known for its excellent street food. To clarify, as I’ve stated before I actually don’t think that literal street food (i.e. food cooked in a food stall on the street) is the best. The reasons for this are simple: 1) cooking out on the street is pain in the ass so no one would subject themselves to that if they had better options, and 2) cooking on the street is really hard, so it ends up limiting the end result. As such, the best “street food” is found in places that cook what would traditionally be found on the street, but in a simple fixed location. These places typically only cook one or two dishes, and the owners may very well have started off cooking in a street food stall but experienced enough success to open up a permanent location.
My first meal in Hanoi was prior to taking an overnight train to Halong Bay at a sandwich shop called Smile Mee. Their sandwiches aren’t exactly traditional but were quite good and at a reasonable price. If you stop by be sure to try their excellent home made drinks, I had a delicious rice milk:
Hanoi was my last stop in Vietnam for three nights, and I made the most of the local food scene. The eating recommendations in the Lonely Planet books can sometimes be out of date, but in this case their recommendations for street food were spot on. All of the restaurants are on the top lists of local favourites for the particular dishes they serve.
On my first night in Hanoi I gorged myself with three separate dinners. I started with Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim that is pictured below. Their specialty is succulent barbeque pork and their exquisite spring rolls:
My next stop was Quan Goc Da, known for their delicious banh goi which are pastries stuffed with pork, mushrooms and vermicelli. I didn’t even sit down here, I just took one to go and kept walking towards my third dining location of the evening. This place is a block away from where Obama and Anthony Bourdain sat back for some noodles a few months ago:
There is nothing particularly sophisticated about the food that is served up at Xoi Yen. They serve dishes of sticky rice topped with Asian sausage which you can wash down with a glass of cold unsweetened iced tea. Three meals down and I don’t think I broke the $10 CAD mark.
The food wasn’t spicy, I’m all sweaty because it was insanely humid:
After the many meals I needed a bit of time to let the food settle so I went to the Cong Caphe for a drink and some people watching. I finished up my night editing pictures at King Pirates Club, a laid-back pub with proud regulars. If you’re feeling social, the owners will sit you down with complete strangers so that you can meet people:
I resumed my eating tour the following day. I would have to say that my favourite meal was at Thanh Van pictured below. Their specialties are the banh cuon, steamed crepes stuffed with mushrooms and a choice of shrimp or pork—both were excellent. The crepes are then topped with crispy fried shallots:
On the sweeter side of things is Thach Che Loc Tai. Che is kind of similar to bubble tea but far more intricate. The sweet beverages come in a variety of flavours but most include sweet mung beans, coconut milk, and a choice of sweet filler, added to crushed ice. The menu was not in English so I have no idea what I ordered:
My third lunch dish of the day was at Bun Bo Nam Bo, which exclusively serves well, Bun Bo Nam Bo (dry noodles with beef, bean sprouts, garlic, lemongrass, green mango and crispy fried shallots):
I was planning for a similarly ambitious dinner but my stomach just couldn’t take a repeat on the same day. I only had one dinner at Mien Xao Luon. They specialize in noddle soup with fried eels, again topped with fried shallots and bean sprouts. I generally like eel but this was my least favourite meal because the eels were deep fried to the point that they were very tough:
I woke up bright and early the next morning to go to Bun Rieu Cua. They are only open for three hours every day between 7:00 am and 10:00 am. Their sole dish is an awesome crab noodle soup with deep fried tofu and tomato:
I finished my food tour of Hanoi at the excellent Pho Thin in southern Hanoi. They specialize in pho bo which is the beef noodle soup we just call pho back home. Hanoi is said to have the best pho bo in the country and this is known as one of the best in the city. However, their dish isn’t strictly speaking traditional because they cook their beef in garlic before adding it to the broth, which I liked. I usually find pho to be a bit bland (hence all the sauces you add), but this one was flavourful on its own:
I did manage to do some sightseeing, but it was so sparse that I’ve lumped all my shots from the three days together.
The biggest lake in Hanoi, Ho Tay:
The bridge to Ngoc Son, a Confucian temple in Ho Tay:
I did the one day walking tour of the old city that is laid out in the Lonely Planet book, here are my shots from the walk:
A local tombstone store, one of many on that street:
This place was my favourite hidden gem of the city. It’s actually a hidden little temple. You access it through the modest doorway, and then you walk through a long corridor until you get to a stairwell. Once you go up the stairs you see a densely packed temple full of people praying. The photos do not do the place justice:
Hanoi used to be a walled city. This gate is one of the last remnants of the wall:
Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, known as the Hanoi Hilton, infamous for being the place where American POWs, including John McCain were kept and tortured. They’ve got McCain’s flight suit on display:
I’ll leave you with a few night shots from Hanoi: