When you think of Vietnamese food, what comes to mind first?
Pho? Banh Mi?
I thought so.
And yeah, those are in fact quintessential Vietnamese foods, but there’s so many more Vietnamese delicacies that you simply have to try from all over the country.
But since I’m currently living in Hanoi, I figure it’s best if I start with a list of my 5 must try foods in Hanoi, in the capital city of Vietnam.
This isn’t an exhaustive list (I mean, I only picked 5 dishes) and it’s my own personal favorites, so please don’t be surprised if there’s a ton of awesome foods I didn’t mention. If there’s a Hanoian dish you’re obsessed with that I didn’t include, let me know - maybe I haven’t tried it yet!
My Favorite Foods in Hanoi
You didn’t think I was going to make this list and not put the most raved about Vietnamese dish in the world on it, did you?
Phở - Vietnamese beef noodle soup - originated in Hanoi, but variations of it exist all around the country. But if you’re looking for the closest thing to the original, you better try Phở at one of the bazillion street stalls around Hanoi!
The popular soup consists of a specific type of flat rice noodles, a broth seasoned with a variety of Vietnamese spices, and typically either bo (beef) or ga (chicken). It is served with a heaping pile of herbs and greens for garnish and chili paste, garlic, and black pepper to taste.
Phở is an extremely common meal for any time of the day, but is often eaten as a breakfast food.
2. Bun Cha
Bun Cha is another extremely popular Northern Vietnamese food and an absolute must try food while you’re visiting Hanoi.
In fact, President Barack Obama enjoyed a delicious bun cha while visiting Hanoi, and the restaurant he ate at - Bún Chả Hương Liên - is now fondly known as Obama Bun Cha. How’s that for sweet restaurant marketing?
Bun cha consists of grilled pork in a sweet and savory broth with a heaping pile of vermicelli noodles and fresh herbs and greens on the side.
To eat bun cha, you slowly add in vermicelli noodles and greens into the pork and broth. Much like most other Vietnamese dishes, bun cha can be topped with chili paste, garlic, black pepper and more to taste.
Bun Cha is a Vietnamese foodtraditionally eaten for lunch, but can be enjoyed at any time of the day.
If you’re going to Hanoi, you’d be crazy not to give bun cha a try.
3. Bánh cuốn
Bánh cuốn is a fantastically unique melt-in-your-mouth recipe originating from Northern Vietnam.
Bánh cuốn are homemade rice noodle rolls stuffed with ground pork, wood ear mushrooms, and topped with crispy fried shallots. It’s typically served with a light fish sauce for dipping.
The dish is typically consumed by Vietnamese for breakfast, but it’s offered throughout the day at most establishments.
My favorite part about Bánh cuốn - aside from eating it of course - is watching the women in the food stalls cooking the delicate rice rolls on a circular griddle.
The first place I ever had the pleasure of devouring Banh Cuon is Banh Cuon Ba Hanh in the Old Quarter - and it’s still my go-to spot.
4. Bánh xèo
If friends were to ask me the one unique Vietnamese food to try during this visit to Hanoi, I’d probably say Bánh xèo.
So what is it?
Bánh xèo literally translates to sizzling pancake due to the noise the batter makes as it hits the skillet.
It’s a crispy pancake filled with little shrimp and beansprouts and served with the standard heaping pile of herbs and lettuce and long thin strips of cucumber and something resembling unripe mango and eggplant (would someone please verify this is what I’m eating?!).
But what makes banh xeo fun, at least to me, is that it’s sort of a build-your-own-roll. The Vietnamese pancake is cut into strips and wrapped in a thin rice wrap with your choice of greens and veggies then dip it in the provided light dipping sauce.
Banh Xeo is often eaten alongside Nem nướng, or lemongrass barbecue pork skewers, which can be eaten off the stick or cut up and rolled into the banh xeo wraps.
5. Bánh mì
Okay, fine, Bánh mì actually originated from Southern Vietnam, not the North, but it’s still become a staple dish and must-try food while in Hanoi as well.
Banh mi, which literally means bread in Vietnamese, can refer to any baguette sandwich with a variety of fillings, or even just the crispy baguette itself.
But the most typical Bánh mì usually contains pork or egg, coriander, cucumber, pickled carrot and mayonnaise and chili sauce. What really makes a banh mi delicious, in my opinion, is the addition of high-quality pate. Yum!
The most famous banh mi spot in Hanoi is Banh Mi 25 located in the Old Quarter, and I’m not ashamed of being cliche in recommending it because even after living here a while, it’s still the best banh mi I’ve ever had in Hanoi due to the generous portion of fillings and consistently crispy baguettes.
Hanoi Foods Honorable Mention
Xoi (glutenous rice served with a variety of savory or sweet ingredients)
Pho Xao (Stir-fried pho noodles)
Pho Chien Phong (Fluffy Fried Noodle Pillows served with beef and veggies in gravy)
Bun Oc (Snail Noodle Soup)
So there you have it for my list of 5 must try foods in Hanoi. Of course there is plenty of other delicious Vietnamese food around the country, and the metropolis that is Saigon has tons of unique and yummy dishes for you to try.
Have you been to Hanoi? If so, let me know what your favorite must try Hanoi foods are in the comments! xx