Photo credit: Tho-ge
Hanoi is famous for its amazing food. As such, travelers should devote some time just dedicated to trying the best authentic dishes the city has to offer. Furthermore, such food-tours can make for an excellent excuse to explore the city’s back-alleys and hidden streets — this is our favourite way to get to know new neighbourhoods in Vietnam
There are plenty of stodgy food tours on TripAdvisor, but we recommend DIY’ing it instead. Below is our DIY food-tour map and recommended 10 must-try dishes in Hanoi. You can easily occupy 3 days worth of activities in Hanoi just going to each of the following recommendations, and using it as a nucleus for other activities — landmarks, shopping, stumbling upon interest temples.
Click on the markers to read more.
1) Best Spring Rolls & Noodles in Hanoi – Bún Chả/Bún Nem
A must-try for every tourist in Hanoi is the city’s signature dish: spring-rolls with “bún” noodles (rice vermicelli) with heaps of herbs. The bún is fresh, the spring-rolls are hand-made on site, the sauce is authentic and not what you’ll encounter in North America. Plus, the mix of herbs (cilantro, mint, basil, and more) are so perfectly complimentary to the spring-rolls that trying them was the first time I ever found “salad” compelling.
Where to try authentic Bún Nem (spring rolls and noodles) in Hanoi: Head to Hàng Mành and Hàng Than , to the east of Hoan Kiem lake and north of St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
One of the longest standing and most famous restaurants is Bún Chả Dac Kim. In typical Hanoi-style, the food is fried on the street and then brought-up to patrons in the three-story seating-area inside, with a delightful 70’s decor. Across the street, there is a “fake” competitor (Bún Chả Mai Anh) that also has good food: the two restaurants seem to have a long-standing feud about who came first and who is the imposter.
We’d love to hear how this restaurant survived so long, especially since it claims to pre-date the Subsidy Era, somehow maintaining a property and private business amidst the turmoil of collectivization. But, don’t expect to chat-up the extremely busy proprietors — the place is almost always at-capacity.
How to eat bún nem in Vietnam?
See our instructions about how to eat bún nem (including our own recipe). Basically, you have four components: spring-rolls, a sweet-and-sour sauce/soup, fresh noodles, and heaps of fresh herbs. Unlike the West, where one generally mixes everything together before eating, in Vietnam, each bite is mixed on a spoon, using the chopsticks to assemble each component together into a bite-size serving. Pay attention to how other Vietnamese patrons are doing it, and you’ll get the idea.
Note, if you think adding salad (cilantro, basil, mint, and more) to a soup is gross and unnecessary — please try it! The mint and cilantro, sauce, and spring-rolls all mix together in the stomach to elicit some sort of chemical reaction that is vaguely narcotic. Trust me — it feels good.
2) Phở Cuốn – the Puffy Crispy Noodle of Hanoi
Tied for our favourite dish in Hanoi, Phở Cuốn is both very tasty and a fun experience. The dish consists of deep-fried flat-noodles that expand into delicious crispy pillows, served with a savory sauce and heap of delicious sauteed veggies. Phở Cuốn dish is especially great for tourists who don’t like eating soupy noodles all the time – the crisp noodles are a welcome texture.
Don’t let the word phở in phở cuốn influence your judgment — this dish is unlike anything you’ve likely tried in a “Phở” restaurant in Canada or the USA.
The most famous Phở Cuốn can be found at Phở Cuốn 31 on the island Ngũ Xã. (Address: 31 P. Ng. Xã, Trúc Bạch). However, there are many neighbouring copy-cat businesses serving-up similarly delicious Phở Cuốn.
Exploring the island Ngũ Xã is another fun thing about dinning on phở cuốn. The island that is half-way between the Old Quarter and West Lake is a lovely, scenic, hidden gem that becomes an explosive pre-party destination for revelers getting their fill of beer and phở cuốn, before heading onto other clubs and pubs in the West Lake or Old Quarter. For us, we like to walk around the lovely lagoon, look at beautifully architected homes, and watch the city-lights over the water. You can happen-upon many nice foreign-catering pubs as well.
Warning about Ngũ Xã: watch for the vaguely-threatening pamphleteers trying to “persuade” you to come into their restaurant –they almost act as if they will pull you off your scooter and drag into their business.
3) Xôi – The Perfect Breakfest (Despite Sounding Awful)
For a hearty (and very unusual) breakfast, all tourists should try Xôi. Warning, it sounds like it should be awful, especially if you are expecting a Western bacon-and-eggs or pancakes-and-nutella meal in the morning.
Xôi is essentially a bowl of sticky-rice served with a strangely synergistic combination of:
- spicy sauce
- poached egg
- deep-fried onion
- mung bean cake/pate
- fresh cucumber
- pickled radish
Each item adds to the deliciousness in an unexpected way. Before visiting Hanoi’s famous Xôi Yen restaurant, there is no way anyone could convince me that the bizarre mixture of ingredients could constitute a proper breakfast. Now, I crave the spicy-sweet carbo-protein-rich meal. It just somehow tastes and feels good.
Go to Xôi Yến at 35b Nguyễn Hữu Huân.
This is an interesting little street to explore. After eating Xôi, we’d recommend heading down to Cafe Lam to try some locally-beloved traditional Vietnamese coffee and checking-out their authentic local art — read more about Cafe Lam here.
4) Bánh Xèo – The Best Spicy Crepes in Hanoi
There isn’t just one good place to get bánh xèo in Hanoi — there are only okay places to get bánh xèo in Hanoi. That is how a Vietnamese person described the bánh xèo in Hanoi, a sentiment that harkens to its tastier origins in South Vietnam.
However, as a foreigner in Hanoi, the local bánh xèo is extremely satisfying and certainty worth your time and taste-buds. Bánh xèo is like a spicy Vietnamese crepe, filled with savory veggies or meat, and accompanied by a delicious dipping sauce and herbs. I could eat bánh xèo everyday and not get sick of it.
Where is the best bánh xèo in Hanoi? There is a cluster of three-to-six little bánh xèo restaurants along Đội Cấn street, such as at 125 Đội Cấn and 166 D Đội Cấn . You can combine the restaurant-visit with a trip to the nearby Mausoleum or Temple of Literature.
5) BBQ Đồ Nướng – Vietnamese Social Barbequing
Two of the major social-foods that Vietnamese love are Hotpot and BBQ Đồ Nướng. Both involve cooking raw food at your table with a group of friends: eat, cook, talk, eat some more.
Hotpot is super boring — avoid it unless you love boiled veggies and watery noodles. BBQ Đồ Nướng, on the other hand, involves grilling and is more aligned with North American culinary-culture: one grills meat and veggies like eggplant or mushrooms. For BBQ Đồ Nướng, the sauce is paramount: It is often a sweet, sour, and spicy tamarind-sauce that is unique to each restaurant. Some restaurant’s BBQ sauce is so delicious I could just drink it straight.
Part of the appeal of BBQ Đồ Nướng is eating things you normally wouldn’t in the West, like cow-utters, pig-utters and chicken-feet — these are beloved by Vietnamese, so give them a try even if you think they sound disgusting. Afterall, if you are going to kill an animal to eat it, why waste any of its parts?
To find Hanoi’s best BBQ Đồ Nướng, head to Mã Mây street or Gầm Cầu . At either place, many barbeque restaurants cluster-together closely, including some Korean BBQ.
6) Bánh Tráng Cuốn Sài Gòn – Vietnamese Hor D’Oeuvre
I love the strange little tooth-picked savory snacks called “Bánh Tráng Cuốn”, but I don’t know how to describe them: they are small, they are rolled, they are chewy, they are savory and sweet, they may contain little bacon-bites and other tasty ingredients, they are drizzled with a nice mayonnaise-esque sauce. They are a perfect snack before a main meal, or late in the evening after a night of drinking and revelry.
You can find them in many places across Hanoi such as here, or on the west side of Hoan Kiem Lake at 86 Hàng Trống Street . The latter spot is a peaceful little mom and pop business that has a cool local-feeling.
7) Nem Chua Nướng/Rán — Find Pork Skewers in Hanoi
A quick, tasty finger-food is Nem chua:
- Nem chua nướng – grilled pork skewers
- Nem chua rán – like homemade vegan chicken McNuggets
If you are getting tired of always eating soupy noodles, the grilled protein really hits the spot as a quick bite.
You can grab nem chua at the Tạm Thương alley or at the corner of Phố Hồ Hoàn Kiếm in the evenings at an impromptu street-vendors (i.e. the kind who operate during off-business hours on tiny plastic chairs and tables).
If you are not vegetarian, we’d nonetheless recommend foregoing the street-pork and instead eating the nem chua rán (you’d understand why if you’d seen the open-air meat-markets). Don’t feel like you’re missing-out by going vegan in Hanoi: the Vietnamese have developed extremely tasty faux-meats, due to their religious ritual of being vegan for two days a month.
Not all Nem chua places have vegan/vegetarian options — so learn how to ask for Vegetarian food here.
8) Best Phở in Hanoi
Last but not least, you must try Hanoi’s Phở (pronounced like the French feu, see our pronunciation post). Phở is a special slow-cooked broth and noodles, typically served with either beef or chicken. Each Phở-chief has their own secret family-recipe, so it is difficult to make generalizations about phở.
We’re not huge fans of the soupy noodle-dish (afterall, we can get good phở in Toronto, but not other Vietnamese dishes). However, if you are a first-time tourist in Hanoi, it would be a shame for you to travel all the way to Hanoi and not try the city’s signature dish — Hanoi simply has the best and most famous phở in Vietnam.
Read more about the history of phở.
9) Chè – Where to get dessert in Hanoi?
What is Vietnamese Chè? Chè is a cup of random sweet stuff, possibly including:
- condensed milk
- lotus seed
- dried fruit
- gummies / gelatinous sweets
… that are all mixed together, served ice-cold, and eaten with a spoon. Each restaurant and each province has its own version of Chè, so expect the unexpected when it comes to tasting Chè.
The Vietnamese love chè in the same way that a Canadian child craves ice cream. However, it is more than just a dessert: it is also a main-stay of Vietnamese evening entertainment. Some of the more popular Chè places are so packed and filled with happy young people that you’d think Chè was alcoholic.
To witness a fun social scene, go to the Techcombank at Đào Duy Từ (close to Mã Mây): at night, the steps are taken over by tiny plastic chairs and tables and converted into a popular Chè hang-out. The scene is also a great example of the audacity of Vietnamese street-hustle — can you imagine a Canadian bank being commandeered by evening street-vendors serving ice-cream and blaring music?
10) Bò Bía – The Mobile Wafer Snack
Bò bía is like a handmade cinnamon and coconut wafer-dessert that is sold exclusively by cyclist snack-makers. I much prefer Bò bía to Chè — they remind me of the cinnamon-toast crunch breakfast-cereal, in dessert-roll form. You can’t eat more than one, but one is enough to satiate your sweet-tooth.
Bò bía is certainly nothing to write home about compared to the world’s finest desserts that are available in Hanoi (like European chocolates or Japanese Mochi), but the simple Vietnamese dessert is a fun kernel of a visit to the cool little hang-out spot for locals along the narrow isthmus that separates West Lake from Trúc Bạch Lake.
In the evenings, locals congregate along the isthmus’ concrete shoreline to sit and eat snacks, drink beer, watch the city lights shimmer on the lake surface. Most importantly, along the highway, there will be a half-dozen bò bía vendors standing idle next to their distinctive bò bía bicycles. So, do as the Vietnamese do and grab a bò bía and a tiny plastic chair and relax.
Honourable Mentions – More Great Food in Hanoi
The following don’t top the list for one reason or another, but should be tried if you are in Hanoi:
- Street-Food Street – If you don’t like our top dishes in Hanoi, you can head to Tống Duy Tân where there are ~15 street-food vendors in close proximity, serving all manner of meals.
- Bánh Bèo – These tasty cups are not a Hanoi street-food specialty, so they didn’t make our list (they are from Huế). Nonetheless, every tourist should try them. They are rice & tapioca-flour steamed cakes that remind me of an un-rolled pierogi with an amazing dipping sauce. They are topped with a variety of savory toppings, such as egg, peanuts, fried onion, fried pork skin, sometimes shrimp. You can ask for vegetarian options as well. Try them at the Mon Hue restaurant franchise.
- Cháo – In the West there is chicken-noodle soup for sick people; in Vietnam there is cháo: a light salty inoffensive rice-porridge that is great when your stomach and appetite are weak. Get some at Quán Cháo Gia Truyền Số 1 .
- Vegetarian Buffet – Fill your stomach with amazing faux-meat at the many wonderful Vegatarian Buffets. They are everywhere throughout Hanoi, in the downtown and suburbs; Chay An Lạc is among the best.
- Banh Mi – There is Banh Mi everywhere in Hanoi, and new places are constantly popping-up, and established-places are constantly going bankrupt, so we can’t identity one best place in Hanoi to get Banh Mi (see our own recipe)
Explore Hanoi via its funky cafes…
Hanoi has very strange (and tasty) coffees, like coconut coffee, yogurt coffee and egg coffee. Check out our DIY Walking Tour of Hanoi’s Funky Coffees and Cafes