My first glimpse into Vietnam was quite a shock after Bangkok. We landed in the dark into Hanoi and transferred to our SPG hotel the Sheraton on the West Lake. Another chance to use some points and a little bit of luxury for a few days!
Above is the view over West Lake from the Sheraton in Hanoi
We were just a short cab ride away from the happening city of Hanoi! And when I say happening, I mean happening in the sense of chaotic!
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, Hanoi
Hanoi Opera House
My first taxi ride into this city was an eye-opener. I’ve never seen so many mopeds and motorbikes ever! And all carrying the most incredible things. They were overloaded with either people or goods. I saw a huge orange tree strapped onto a moped – in fact the moving tree was all you could see! I couldn’t work out which side of the road was the correct for driving on as it seemed it didn’t matter – spot a gap and fill it! It is a fascinating place.
Street Vendor Bike in Old Hanoi
Street Vendor in the Old town of Hanoi
Hanoi Street Food Tour
The first thing we did was take a food tour – one of my favourite things to do and a great way to discover the culture and vibe of a new place. I booked a private morning tour with Hanoi Street Food Tours. We took a taxi and met at their offices downtown. What a great street food tour! we met our lovely friendly guide Loan who then spent the next few hours proudly guiding us through our introduction to Vietnamese food.
I knew very little about Vietnamese food but I had researched the top dishes to try and on our journey, we covered them!
First stop was in a restaurant called Bun Cha Ta and was one of the real classic dishes which comes from Hanoi – The Bun Cha and there are many restaurants and street food vendors that only make this dish, this place was one of those. Bun means noodles and cha means pork.
The dish Bun Cha – There are two cuts of pork one that has been marinated in fish sauce, honey, lemongrass and black pepper and the other a minced pork meatball. The pork is barbecued over hot charcoals. The dish is presented in the broth with the accompaniments of herbs including basil, shiso and mint, noodles and freshly chopped garlic and chillies on the side so you can add what you wish to your tastes. This was one of my favourite dishes of the day.
The Nom O Kho Salad
Our second stop was more of a street vendor with an inside seating area on tiny little plastic chairs. It was full and at only 11am! This place, however casual it may have looked has a considerable reputation and was 2nd generation. They even hold a certificate from the city for the traditional recipe of this dried beef salad. Nom o Kho is a delicious salad using dried beef and a beef jerky with green papaya and lemon and minty herbs. Topped with peanuts and a dressing of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and herbs. Everything at this vendor is made by hand at home.
Our next stop was to try a traditional Vietnamese breakfast dish at a little street place that has been there for 30 years with a small interior seating area behind. Out front you can watch the fine rice pancakes being made and then we sat inside to enjoy the Banh Cuon – a fine rice pancake filled with minced pork, onion and wood ear mushroom with shrimp powder and dried onion sprinkled on top. Dip into the fish sauce and enjoy!
The sights and sounds of the old town of Hanoi filled all of our senses as we wandered the busy trading streets. The contrasts of the old buildings, temples, a church and the shops made for a very interesting sightseeing tour.
A kitchen store in Hanoi Old Quarter
19th Century Neo Gothic - St. Josephs Cathedral in Hanoi Old Quarter
A first floor Temple in the Old Quarter of Hanoi
Next Stop - Deep Fried Vietnamese Specialities
There was no break on this street food eating extravaganza – so straight onto our forth stop of the day to taste a selection of different deep-fried dishes. Out on the street front several people were frying various shaped parcels in soy oil. We were guided around the back and up a small alley into a hidden seating area. At Quan Goc Da we were served three savoury and one sweet parcel. The four parcels were - Nem Cua Be which is a spring roll with pork, mushroom glass noodles crab and carrot, Banh Goi, a pillow cake with minced pork, mushroom, Chinese sausage and glass noodles inside. Nem Chua Ran with fried fermented pork in. The sweet parcel was Banh Ran Ngot which is a sweet donut with green bean, sticky rice and sesame seeds. We washed these down with a Vietnamese beer – Bia Ha Noi!
Quan Goc Da, Hanoi where we tasted 4 different tasty deep fried parcels - Savoury - Nem Cua Be, Banh Goi, Nem Chua Ran and a sweet parcel Banh Ran Ngot
Apron Up Restaurant - Mein Tron
After a quick look into an old temple on the street, we visited a restaurant called Apron Up who served their speciality beef and noodle dish called Mein Tron. This was a really good dish made up of noodles with beef, morning glory, fish cake, bean sprouts, soy sauce and peanuts
Next, we went to try a dessert called Kem Xoi a sticky rice ice cream with grated and toasted coconut on top – another winner with me, I love anything with coconut!
The Famous Banh Mi
And then onto try something I have heard so much about and been wanting to try – the famous Banh Mi which is the Vietnamese baguette – a French inspired filled bread baguette. The baguette is crispier than its French relation as they make their dough partly with rice flour. The result is a lighter roll. Inside is pork, egg, carrot, a pork pate and coriander. They come with a variety of fillings, but the traditional Banh Mi always contains the pork pate. (This was my first Banh Mi and was good – but I later on my Vietnamese adventure tried one in Hoi An at a well know Banh Mi place and I must say it was really, really good!) At this little coffee shop, we also tried the coffee I’d heard about. An egg coffee – I’d been wondering if I’d like this and I did, it was not what I was expecting. A raw egg yolk is mixed with the coffee and condensed milk and sugar, resulting in a good tasting coffee that isn’t creamy.
We were told by Loan that in the 20th Century Mr Giang invented this coffee because milk was rare and expensive so he put egg yolk instead of the milk.
A bonus Dish!
After this amazing foodie feast along the streets of Hanoi, Loan asked us if we were still hungry…not knowing the correct answer to this question but actually not being hungry at all, we made the mistake of saying yes, we could eat more!! So, she suggested another classic and a favourite of hers – sticky rice! Having just arrived from Bangkok we expected this to be a sweet dish…wrong! In Vietnam sticky rice is a savoury dish. Made with a braised pork belly on top of the sticky rice and served with mashed green beans, fried onions and pickled cucumber. This was a filling and very tasty dish but after our morning of over-eating we sadly didn’t do it justice. Although I’d happily seek out the street vendor and eat this again!
Delicious Pork and Sticky Rice
Left: Loan our wonderful guide from Hanoi Street Food Tours
This was a really great food tour by Loan our guide from Hanoi Street Food Tours and a wonderful introduction to the streets of old Hanoi. We didn’t eat for the rest of the day…
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I booked and paid for this tour with Hanoi Street Food Tours myself and received no incentive to write this piece. At the time of writing: a group tour costs $20 US dollars per person and a private tour $30 each - the tour was around 4 hours and I would highly recommend this as a great introduction to the old quarter of Hanoi and Vietnamese food.
all photos are copyright ©Caro Blackwell