Are you ready for the “local food challenge”? Visiting Hanoi will not be complete – or should I say worth-bragging – if you don’t taste their local cuisines. Although some local foods in Hanoi don’t look inviting, giving it a try might surprise your foreign taste buds.
Oriental food is flavorful and if you’d been to another Asian country, you’ll understand what I mean. But if you’re curious about how it tastes like, let’s get this food trip going!
1. Bun Cha (Noodle Soup with Pork)
Basically, it’s a combination of cold broth, rice noodles, grilled pork, and herbs. If you’re planning to taste this, make sure that you do your hunt at lunchtime because it’s so rare to find Bun Cha during late afternoon or morning.
Bun Cha literally means “grilled pork”, but you get more ingredients on your order. The pork is a combination of meat strips and chopped patties. But they don’t prepare it for you. They will give you a tray of vermicelli noodles, broth, meat, and spices that you’re going to mix yourself.
If you’re reluctant to have a serving, it would be encouraging to know that President Obama fell in love with this food during his visit.
There are many Bun Cha restaurants in Hanoi and the best are on the Durong Thanh. Prepare five dollars and you’re good to go.
2. Pho Ga (Chicken Noodle Soup)
Pho Ga looks like your typical noodle soup except that it has additional bean sprouts, herbs, and spices. Walk on the streets of Hanoi, when you spot a table full of people, chances are they’re devouring Pho Ga.
It has a clean and soothing flavor and if you love spicy food like me, you can sprinkle it with lots of red chili. If Japan has Ramen, Hanoi has Pho Ga. That’s how famous this food is and I’m suggesting that you try this at least once – that’s if you’ll not crave for it afterward.
When you happen to be in Hanoi for the rainy season, might as well warm yourself up with this soup. Many tourists love this that they actually make their own versions after the visit.
3. Bun Gia Cay (False Dog Dish)
It’s not made of dogs, actually. Locals say that it’s named as such because it’s prepared the same way dogs are cooked. That’s not an inviting story, but the soup dish is made of very tender pork. I think Vietnam has an intense love affair with vermicelli as it’s one of the main ingredients together with pork and lots of herbs and spices. But don’t mistake this one from Pho Ga, the taste of the two local foods in Hanoi are very different.
Whatever the story behind this, it still tastes good.
4. Cha Ca La Vong (Grilled Fish with Turmeric)
If you’re looking for something historical, Cha Ca La Vong is a recipe handed down to different generations for more than seven decades now. It’s made of grilled fish called “Ca Lang” in Hanoi and mixed with vermicelli, shrimp paste, and fresh greens. The smell is enough to churn gastric juices.
The turmeric removes the fishy tang and mixes well with the sweet and sour sauce. Just prepare five dollars and head to Cha Ca Street to have the best serving.
5. Hot Egg Coffee
Another tourist must-try here is the Hot Egg Coffee made of drip coffee and sweet milk plus whipped egg. Take note, the eggs are manually beaten and you can actually hear the furious whips of the beater for about three minutes.
The raw egg may sound disgusting for some, but this coffee tastes like Crème Brulee! It’s quite surprising because you can’t even taste the coffee at all although it looks like cappuccino with all the bubbles on it. Just be patient on looking for a café that serves this because this dessert/drink is a rarity.
6. Banh Mi (Bun)
If you want local foods in Hanoi that’s a bit familiar, you can get Hanoi-style buns. This has the Western influence but not short of Asian flavors. The bun is stuffed with sliced cucumber, pickled carrots, pate, daikon, meat and more. Request for a finish of mayo and you’ll enjoy it. But if you like spicy, I suggest that you have a drizzle of hot sauce on it for an added kick. It’s just a few cents worth of bite.
It sells like hotcakes in Hanoi since it’s an on-the-go snack and you can buy one to the nearest Banh Mi cart. Ambulant vendors also sell this in massive baskets so don’t be shocked when you pass by a heap of French bread.
7. Nem Cua Be (Spring Rolls)
If you’re used to tube-looking spring rolls, Nem Cua Be is actually a bit odd since it comes in squares. But its taste is more indulging because you get ground pork, crab meat, and mushrooms in one bite. The fattiness of the meat can be a bit tiring so eating it with a little serving of greens and herbs will be the balance.
It’s a bit flaky since it’s deep fried. And if you want to try local foods in Hanoi, you can look for Nem Cua Be stalls in the streets or ask restaurants if they’re serving this.
8. Xoi Xeo (Sticky Rice)
Xoi Xeo is sticky rice with tons of toppings. Aside from the plain ingredient, it also comes with mung bean paste and pork cuts. The paste may not taste as expected but the rest is all good stuff. It’s known to be a filling breakfast for Hanoi locals since it has eggs and sliced cucumber side dish.
Aside from pork, it can also be fish, roasted garlic, lotus root, or whatever mix that you like. Aside from restaurants serving this sticky breakfast, there are also ambulant vendors bringing large baskets full of sticky rice.
9. Ruou Nep Cam (Rice Wine)
These local foods in Hanoi are best eaten with a glass of Ruou Nep Cam on the side. It’s made of sticky rice that can hit you with 29% alcohol content. Aside from its modest alcohol level, Ruou Nep Cam also has a smooth and sweet taste. Just don’t swap it with Ruou Thuoc which is a “medicine wine”.
If you’re traveling with friends, why not have a small drinking spree with this wine?
10. Bia Hoi
Are we going to end this without gulping down a glass of booze, Hanoi-style? Of course, we’re not going Bia Hoi slip our food challenge. It’s the local beer of Hanoi and if you see local men gulping down large tumblers of yellow drink, that’s Bia Hoi they’re feasting over.
Bia is so cheap that it’s a street drink people are sipping like water. It’s made of rice and should be consumed within 24 hours after production because it spoils easily. I think that explains all the binge drinking of locals and tourists.
So join those people on the street-side iconic stools and get responsibly drunk!
Aside from their tourist destinations, one thing that sets the difference between places is their food. Only through the local kitchens that you can fully grasp the beauty of a culture and how a simple food can actually mean more.
Your Hanoi getaway isn’t one for the books without a taste of their local food. What local foods in Hanoi have you tried lately? Share it with us in the comment section!