5 Must Try Foods in Hanoi

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

1.Phở 

Pho Bo Hanoi
Pho Bo 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 served with nem, the spring rolls commonly eaten alongside it.

Bun Cha served with nem, the spring rolls commonly eaten alongside it.

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

A tray of banh cuon from one of my favorite banh cuon restaurants in the Old Quarter, Banh Cuon Ba Hanh.

A tray of banh cuon from one of my favorite banh cuon restaurants in the Old Quarter, Banh Cuon Ba Hanh.

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

It’s awesome having a delicious Banh Xeo restaurant right on my street.

It’s awesome having a delicious Banh Xeo restaurant right on my street.

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

Delicious banh mis from Banh Mi 25.

Delicious banh mis from Banh Mi 25.

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)

  • Cha Ca

So there you have it for my list of 5 must try foods in Hanoi. Have you been to Hanoi? If so, let me know what your favorite must try Hanoi foods are in the comments! xx

Where To Go From Hanoi

Wondering what the best day or multi-day trips are from Hanoi? There are a number of captivating destinations which are easily accessible from the Vietnamese capitol. From the rice paddies of Mai Chau and Sapa to the extreme motorbike loop that is Ha Giang to an epic sail along Ha Long Bay, no matter which places you decide to visit from Hanoi you will be blown away by the incredible scenery Northern Vietnam is famous for. There are many destinations to visit from Hanoi and each have its own unique beauty to discover.

So enjoy this quick guide to the top destinations to visit from Hanoi:


  1. Mai Chau & Pu Luong National Park

Travel Time From Hanoi: 3+ hours

A typical view whilst trekking and wandering around Mai Chau

A typical view whilst trekking and wandering around Mai Chau

Imagine observing Northern Vietnamese rice farmers dotted along a scenery which almost looks too beautiful to be real. If meandering along idyllic rice paddy views and the opportunity to enjoy quiet, authentic moments amongst the locals appeals to you, a trekking tour of Mai Chau and/or Pu Luong National Park is the perfect destination for you to visit from Hanoi. The region is about a 3.5 hour drive from Hanoi.

Since Mai Chau is a much less popular destination than the world-famous Sapa, tourists have the opportunity to indulge in a much more “authentic-feeling” experience, and depending on where you stay, you may even be one of the only tourists in the area.

which, for better or worse, is likely to change soon as the tourism infrastructure grows rapidly there. My advice? Book your trip to Mai Chau before it actually becomes the next Sapa.

mai chau

Whether you choose to book a multi-day tour (recommended if you’d like to do a guided trek) or book your own homestays and motorbike around the region yourself, you will likely be sleeping in stilted houses amongst the rice paddies, eating delicious family-style meals and even doing rice wine shots with the locals. And did I mention the views? Travelers can easily book a trip from various travel agencies or hotels/hostels in the Old Quarter. Don’t be afraid to shop around for the best deal or a tour that suits you best.


2. Ha Long Bay & Cat Ba Island

Travel Time From Hanoi: 3+ hours

ha long bay

As a UNESCO Heritage Site featuring thousands of limestone karsts jutting endlessly from the sea, it’s easy to see why Ha Long Bay is a top tourist destination from Hanoi. Travelers can book a number of different of cruise tours to fit their travel style and budget, from cruises geared towards the younger backpacker crowd (Castaways) to luxurious cruise liners with gourmet meals onboard. To get to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi, one takes a 2.5hr bus ride to the port.

ha long bay

Also accessible from the Ha Long Port is Cat Ba Island, which is often the final stop on a Ha Long Bay cruise tour but can easily be visited in its own right via a frequently running ferry. The island features a nature preserve where one can bike along or camp in. It also features some hostels and a small town area which in and of itself is not notable, but Cat Ba National Park is worth a visit. I recommend staying in a homestay and renting out bicycles to cycle around the national park.


3. The Ha Giang Loop

Travel Time From Hanoi: 5-6hrs

ha giang loop

The Ha Giang Loop is my absolute favorite trip to take from Hanoi, but it’s not for the weak of heart! I have already written an entire article on The Ha Giang Loop, which you can access here, but I’ll give a quick summary. Ha Giang is a province in the northernmost part of Vietnam, about a 5-6 hour bus ride from Hanoi. It’s famous amongst travelers for the Ha Giang Loop, a motorbike loop which starts in the city of Ha Giang and features stunning cliff views, rugged roads, ethnic minority villages and the incredibly scenic Ma Pi Leng Pass. Travelers spend their days motorbiking along the loop and their evenings in various homestays and hostels dotted throughout the route.

To learn more about the Ha Giang Loop, click here.


4. Ninh Binh

Travel Time From Hanoi: 2hrs

ninh binh

Ninh Binh is a province south of Hanoi featuring beautiful limestone cliffs amongst rice fields which has often driven compares to Ha Long Bay on land. A popular tourist destination for travelers and Vietnamese alike, Ninh Binh has a lot to offer. Popular attractions include catching a boat ride in Trang An, “hiking” up the hundreds of steps of Hang Mua to scout the stunning views below, visiting temples and visiting Cuc Phuong National Park nearby.

ninh binh goats

There are a plethora of accommodation options in Ninh Binh, from picturesque homestays to hostels primarily located in the town of Tam Coc. I found Tam Coc to be the most vibrant spot to stay if you’re looking for a bit of a social scene and more food options.

Speaking of food options, be prepared to see goat meat stalls everywhere. Trust me, they’re hard to miss.


5. Sa Pa

Travel Time From Hanoi: 5+hr

No list of places to visit from Hanoi would be complete without Sapa. While I must admit I haven’t been, it’s such a monumental destination that it’s almost shameful I haven’t made the journey yet! The region is famous for its trekking and of course, rice paddies. I’ve been told that it’s best to stay outside of Sapa town itself and in the surrounding areas as its quite overrun with tourists directly in town.

For more information, check out this Sapa Travel Guide which I found useful.


6. Ba Vi National Park

Travel Time From Hanoi: 1.5hr

ba vi national park
ba vi

For an easy day trip away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, Ba Vi National Park is another option. Ba Vi National Park is only a little over an hour west of Hanoi city and features fresher air, lush greenery and a variety of accommodation choice from camping to homestays to luxury resorts like Melia. While it isn’t the most notable or exciting of destinations from Hanoi, if you’re looking for a quick city escape that won’t keep you on a bus for hours at a time, Ba Vi is a worthy choice.





7. Duong Lam Ancient Village

Travel Time From Hanoi: 1hr

dung lam ancient village

A quick trip worthy of a half day from Hanoi is Duong Lam Ancient Village, a typical old village in Bac Bo area featuring Mong Phu Temple. It’s also a quick stop on the way to Ba Vi National Park, so the two trips could be made into one. There isn’t an incredible amount of see there, but if you really don’t have much time to explore outside of Hanoi it’s worth it to get out of the city and see a more simple lifestyle in an ancient village in northern Vietnam.