As one of world’s ten best street food cities, Hanoi boosts an array of best food of Vietnam.
Streetside dining has been so embedded in the culture that it is such a big part of locals’ daily life. The image of the crowd spilling out into the street, everyone sitting on a tiny stool and being deeply immersed in their bowl of soup is a common sight in the densely populated city with nearly 8 million residents.
There is a number of food stalls with a wide range of choices. The tip for finding the best street food in Hanoi is observing where the locals are eating and finding a vendor with a good crowd. Ngõ Chợ Đồng Xuân (an alley near Đồng Xuân Market) in downtown Hanoi is the place to go.
The alley locates nearby the bustling and hustling wholesale market of Đồng Xuân, one of the busiest markets in the city. The alley, which stretches over around 30 meters and is only about three meters wide, is always busy and lively.
The area is the busiest at noon as a wide variety of mouthwatering food is on offer for diners. Coming to the area, one will be immersed in the feast of vibrant colors and seductive smell of food and get excited with the street food scene and lively vibe in Hanoi.
One can enjoy the ubiquitous bún chả (noodle dish with grilled pork), bún ốc (noodle soup with snail) which is served hot, home-made phở tíu (rice noodle with barbecue pork marinated with special sauce) or greasy yet tasty snacks like bánh tôm (deep fried shrimp pancake) or the delicacies of the central region of Vietnam including bánh bột lọc (steamed tapioca dumpling stuffed with ground pork and sautéed shrimp), which was listed among the world’s 30 most delicious steamed cakes by CNN.
Among the delicacies, noodle soup with snail is one of the top must-try food when one comes to this area. The eatery may not look attractive – the space is small with a few tables but the food they offer is undoubtedly the best. The eatery doesn’t change since I first ate here in 2013. The middle aged lady, also the owner, would sit in front of the shop nearby piles of big empty bowls waiting to be served. When there’s an order, she will take the bowl, adding the mix of noodle, snail, fried tofu, boiled green banana, some chopped herbs and then filling it up with the boiling broth in a quick and precise manner.
The broth has the sweet flavour as well as light sourness and spiciness while the snail is chewy and tasty. The 25-year-old Đặng Thị Hoàng Ngân, a fan of noodle soup with snail, said “It’s not exaggerating but I would say this place has the best bún ốc in town.”
Bún chả (noodle with grilled pork) is also a delicacy of this area. It is one of the signature dishes of Hanoi, which former president Barack Obama and chef Anthony Bourdain ate in Obama’s visit to Vietnam in 2016.
Chef in this area still maintains the traditional way of grilling pork – they clamp pork into bamboo sticks instead of wire racks before grilling it over a charcoal fire.
One can hardly resist the seductive scent of grilled pork when passing by this modest eatery. Bún chả is a harmonious and healthy combination of rice noodle, grilled pork, and fresh herbs. This Hanoi staple is also a tactful blend of different tastes. Dipping noodle in the sauce, and eating bites of pork and fresh herbs – including lettuce, coriander, basil and perilla – awakens all your taste buds as the accompanying dipping sauce features well-balanced saltiness (fish sauce), sourness (vinegar), spiciness (chili) and sweetness (sugar).
The late renowned writer Thạch Lam, who is famous for his nostalgic prose about ancient Hanoi, once hailed bún chả as ‘the most important and signature dish of Hanoi’. He wrote in his Hà Nội: 36 Phố Phường (Hà Nội: 36 Streets & Guilds) that “No place offers better bún chả than Hanoi.” Bún chả in Ngõ Chợ Đồng Xuân is one of the best in Hanoi and will delight even the most pickiest food connoisseur.
The pilgrimage to Hanoi street food can’t be complete without trying some snacks.
One can try bánh gối (Vietnamese pillow pancake), bánh rán (deep fried sticky rice dumpling with mung bean filling), bánh chưng rán (fried sticky rice square cake) or bánh tôm (deep fried shrimp pancake).
Bánh tôm is believed to be originated in 1940s in West Lake, the region which had an abundance of fresh shrimp source. A local made use of this availability of shrimp and created shrimp pancake, which later became a signature dish of West Lake area. A bite of the yellow crispy pancake with a little shrimp inside dipped with the ubiquitous sauce will give diners an interesting gustatory experience.
“When I don’t know where and what to eat, I just go straight to Ngõ Chợ Đồng Xuân and randomly pick a dish. They are all very good,” said Ngân.
Vietnamese writer Trương Quý, author of several books about Hanoi, also likes this place a lot. “The merchants that have worked in Đồng Xuân market for long, have still maintained their habit of eating there. Food here is very nice and hasn’t changed for years,” Quý was quoted by a Vietnamese newspaper as saying.
He said the flavour of many delicacies has been kept intact here, which include deep fried shrimp pancake. It is ‘intact’ as if ‘time seems to stop’.
By Van Nguyen, ASEAN Correspondent from Vietnam