We love Vietnam, and we love its amazing array of food. The aromas that hit you wandering around any town or city there are enough to make you salivate on the spot. With so many scrumptious tastes and flavours, it’s hard to know where to go to get the best of the best.
Jules and Stephen first visited Vietnam 10 years ago, and fell in love with the food. They loved it so much, in fact, that they decided to come back to London and set about opening their own Vietnamese restaurant. They opened their first Pho restaurant in London in 2005, and the rest, as they say, is history.
So they’re pretty well placed to take you through the finest street food that Hanoi’s Old Quarter has to offer. Here, Jules provides a run down of her and Stephen’s favourite food and where to get it. Get ready to let your taste buds be tantalised.
Find out the best place to tuck into a steaming bowl of Pho Bo
Must-try street foods of Hanoi
This is one of Hanoi’s most spectacular street foods. Banh Cuon are heavenly thin rice pancakes which are steamed fresh to order on a piece of tight, muslin cloth over hot water, flicked up with a stick, then served filled with wonderful pork mince, wood-ear mushrooms, fried shallots, spring onion, herbs and nuoc cham dipping sauce. Check out the vendors around Hang Be near the intersection of Cau Go or along Hang Bo.
This is one we loved so much that we put it on our menu when we first opened. Bahn Xeo is a crispy yellow crepe made with rice flour and turmeric, usually filled with prawn, pork and beansprouts and served with a dipping sauce and lots herbs. We loved the crispy ones near the Dong Xuan Market on a stall near the intersection of Cau Dong and Nguyen Thien Thuat.
Discover why the Pho founders love Bahn Xeo so much
It’s the ultimate street food! Beef Pho (Pho Bo) stalls pop up all over from around 4am and now many Pho shops are permanent fixtures serving throughout the day.
Pho is a wonderful aromatic noodle soup made with a stock that simmers for hours if not days. Served with rice noodles and onion, options to expect are raw beef, cooked briskets, fatty cuts, or all three. You tailor your soup with condiments and fresh herbs.
The Pho in the north varies hugely from that in the south, where more herbs, chillies and lime juice are added to the food for colour, taste and texture. In the north, your pho comes dressed and you have a wonderful Sriracha chilli sauce and garlic vinegar to tailor your bowl.
We queued along with the locals and ordered at a counter surrounded by wonderful hanging briskets for Pho Bo at Pho Xep Hang 49 Bat Dan.
Cha Goi (spring rolls) and Goi Cuon (summer rolls)
You’ll find these on many a stall, and even more so in Ho Chi Minh City. The former is a super crispy fried spring roll that will have you ordering a second portion right away, and the summer roll is a cold fresh rice paper roll usually served with peanut sauce.
Devour a classic summer roll
The classic summer roll is quite a thing of beauty and contains prawn, pork, rice noodle, lettuce and herbs.
Pho Lai Tan
We added this to our menu following our last visit to Hanoi. Go to Pho Thin (13 Lo Duc)– it has its followers and never seems to empty out! They’re all flocking there for this flash fried beef with garlic, which makes the soup a bit murky but adds lots of favour.
This needs little explanation; it’s the chicken version of Pho Bo. Stalls specialise in one thing so you rarely find chicken and beef Pho on the same menu.
Sample some tasty Pho Ga on the streets of Hanoi
One to check out is Quan Pho Mai Anh near Pho Thin, where you can chose your cut of chicken meat and enjoy a yolk. It was here that we really discovered how wonderful garlic vinegar is in a bowl of Pho!
Just next door to the wonderful Pho Ga place lies another tasty treat to try – Bun Cha. In the north, Bun Cha is a much wetter dish, were a mix of barbecued pork patties and belly pork are served in a sweet warm broth alongside rice noodles, herbs. Whereas in the south, Bun noodle dishes tend to be dry without the broth.
A must-visit in Hanoi is the single dish specialist Cha Ca La Vong (14 Pho Cha Ca). Cha Ca La Vong specialises in a now famous fish dish with a distinctive flavour rarely well replicated outside of Hanoi that you cook yourself at the table.
Cook your own fish at Cha Ca La Vong
Once you tell the lady there how many the fish is for, she fills the table with little bowls, a pile of thin rice vermicelli, fermented shrimp paste, peanuts and piles of fresh dill and warm Nuoc Cham.
On our first visits we were given a charcoal bucket, but this has now been modernised to a little gas cooker. You cook your own fish on it, adding the dill to the wonderful aromatic buttery turmeric flavoured oil. To eat it, you add a bit of everything to the bowl and top with roasted peanuts. Heavenly.
There’s a street which you can literally eat your way along called Cau Go. At night, it’s full of street vendors all specialising in one thing or another. Here, we enjoyed some wonderful seafood, the highlight being steamed clams with lemongrass and chilli served with a salt and pepper mix, which we squeezed lime juice in to make a superb dip.
Last but not least, after a hard day eating your way around Hanoi, make sure you join the worn out Cyclo men to chat in the crossroads of the Old Quarter for a cold glass of Bia Hoi – that’s fresh beer, to you and me.
Relax with a glass (or 10) of Bia Hoi
In the late afternoon, kegs of the stuff are delivered, tapped up, and plastic stools put out to make little bars. You can enjoy 10 glasses of cold fresh beer for around a dollar.