With its rich culinary heritage and an exciting street food scene, Hanoi is a wonderful city for many delicious dishes.
They say that the way to man’s heart is through his stomach; cook him a good meal and he’s putty in your hands. I’d argue that somewhat similarly, residents of Hanoi are happiest at mealtimes, and many visitors fall in love with the city because of its incredible food. It’s a place that gets to you through the stomach!
For foreign guests and residents, if you want to understand Hanoi and its people, I’d argue that you have to understand the cuisine and enjoy discovering new foods. If you love food, you will love Hanoi; understand how people eat, and you’ll understand their nature.
Vietnamese people love to share a meal. Solitude is equated to loneliness. Anyone dining alone will be told “an mot minh dau tuc”, literally, you’ll hurt yourself by eating alone. But for the solo diners amongst you, fear not, you can always slip into the busiest restaurant and enjoy the buzz of jostling with your fellow diners over a bowl of pho or a plate of sticky rice. You’re alone, yes, but alone in a crowd.
The first rule for discovering Vietnamese food in Hanoi, is make sure you follow the crowds; the busier the restaurant, the better it probably is. Certain family run establishments are considered the place to eat certain foods. At peak hours, it should be hard to find a space at Hanoi’s best restaurants.
The second rule is that the best restaurants serve one basic staple – it’s often a one-dish-joint serving a ‘gia truyen’-specialty, a recipe passed on from one generation to the next.
Many of these dishes were originally created elsewhere. As a thousand-year old capital, people from the provinces have always been drawn to Hanoi, so the city has absorbed recipes and cooking techniques from all over the country.
One can loosely define Hanoian cuisine – generally the capital’s residents don’t care for sweet or spicy savoury food; there is a preference for fresh ingredients and subtle, pure flavours, and the fish sauce is served less diluted.
Certain dishes are year-round staples, such as pho (the nation’s signature noodle dish served with chicken or beef), bun cha (noodles served with slivers and patties of charcoal-grilled pork) or banh cuon (rice crepes filled with pork and woodear mushrooms). Other dishes are seasonal, perhaps, tied in with a festival, for example, banh chung (glutinous rice cakes stuffed with mung bean paste and pork and wrapped in a green banana leaf) is mostly served at Lunar New Year. During Mid-Autumn Festival (Tet Trung Thu), you will see mooncakes, sweet and savoury cakes filled with various things, including bean paste, salted egg, or preserved fruits and meats.
Other foods are associated with the lunar calendar. Eating dog meat – served in seven different ways at dog restaurants – at the end of the lunar month is considered a good way to wash away any lingering bad luck that might have been affecting you. The dog restaurants on Au Co road are often heaving with customers, mostly men, as this protein-rich meat is also considered to be “good for a man”.
On the full moon of the first and the seventh lunar months, Hanoians often cook xoi vo (steamed sticky rice with split peas) and che duong (green bean and sugar compote). When worshipping ancestors, boiled chicken with lemon leaves is a must. For a wedding, you cannot be without banh com (Sticky rice cakes with green bean paste) or xu xe/ phu the (Husband and wife sticky rice cakes).
Hanoi people love seafood, too. The city’s favourite fish dish is probably cha ca, which is famously served by a gruff family at Cha ca La Vong restaurant on Cha ca street in the Old Quarter. It is featured in every guidebook ever written about Hanoi. However, cha ca is now available in other restaurants and locals in the know complain that the quality of food at Cha ca La Vong has waned.
Bun oc (noodles and snails), banh tom (prawn fritters), ca kho to (caramelised fish cooked and served in a claypot), and mien luon or mien cua (glass noodles served with eel or crab meat) are also much loved in Hanoi. You can find seafood restaurants serving all kinds of shellfish – crabs, lobsters, oysters, clams and scallops, which are often simply steamed or grilled and served with a mixture of lime, pepper, salt and an optional diced chili for dipping.
New dishes are constantly surfacing, too. In recent years pho cuon, sheets of banh pho, wrapped around either beef or shrimp, has suddenly emerged as one of the city’s most popular meals. However, the ultimate communal dish is perhaps lau (hotpot), always popular in wintertime. Friends and families gather around a steaming pot filled with a vegetable or meaty broth and toss in fish, meat, eggs, vegetables, squid, or prawns – just about anything at all!
It’s hard to write about food in Hanoi without feeling like you’re only scratching the surface. As the city celebrates 1,000 years since its birth, you could probably name a 1,000 dishes to honour the capital’s millennium.
The city’s culinary heritage has been noticeably influenced by a few old foes over the years. Some people argue that pho is the product of both French and Chinese influences. From the former came the notion of using beef stock and beef in the style of pot-au-feu; from the latter perhaps the noodles and the use of star anise and ginger. Using beef would have been quite extravagant 100 years ago, so one theory is that the Vietnamese only started putting beef in their noodle soup to please the French colonists.
The French certainly left their fingerprints in the Vietnamese pantry and beverage department – you can find banh my (crusty baguette) served with pâté. The words for butter (bo, pronounced ‘buh’), coffee (ca phe), beer (bia) and cheese (pho mat) are clearly derived from the French language.
Today, many French chefs are inspired by Vietnam’s indigenous ingredients and recipes. Restaurants such as La Badiane, Green Tangerine and La Verticale are creating a vibrant amalgam of French haute cuisine infused with local flavours and ingredients. These restaurants are something of a sub-genre but they are also encouraging some high-end travelers to venture further and discover more about Vietnam’s culinary arts.
As Vietnam’s reputation grows, more and more people are discovering the country’s incredible cuisine, much of which is exceedingly healthy. Visitors to Hanoi are enthusiastically signing up for cookery classes, in the hope of learning how to create a local dish or two. Rather than buying a conical hat or a silk ao dai as a souvenir that will be stashed away and never worn back home, tourists can now pick up some noodles and fish sauce in the local Asian market and whip up a delicious bowl of bun cha, they learned to make on their holiday.
That way they’ll remember Hanoi as they first experienced it – right in the stomach.
Hoi An boasts some of the best food I’ve eaten on my trip thus far. For whatever reason, this little town claims a few delectable dishes as unique to their town alone. The first is White Rose, a simple but outstanding meat and shrimp dumpling steamed in a rice dough that somewhat resembles a white rose.
White Rose dumplings
Second is Cao Lau, a noodle and beef soup with bean sprouts and fresh herbs mixed in when it arrives at the table. The noodles are only available in Hoi An because they are made from a particular water source that gives them their unique texture. The noodles are a bit doughy but the dish is truly delectable because the meat is marinated and tastes a bit of cinnamon. And the fresh herbs are amazing…mint and basil, I believe.
Cao Lau served with rice crackers.
Finally, crispy rice pancakes, known as “Banh Xeo”, which consist of a fried pancake, kind of like a rice crepe, with bean sprouts and shrimp inside. The dish is served with all sorts of fresh herbs which you put inside the pancake and then wrap in a thin piece of rice paper. It’s topped off by dipping in an amazing spicy peanut sauce. To die for.
Crispy rice pancake with fresh herbs, ready to be rolled
A rolled pancake, ready for dipping!
Hoi An also makes a delightful fried won ton, showing the Chinese influence on this old port town. I for one am glad, because they are darn good.
Okay, they look a bit funky, but are basically fried yumminess wrapped around a meat center with veggies and sauce on top
During this trip I’ve also grown a slight obsession for squid, which I eat nearly every day. I’ve tried just about every type of squid you could imagine and my favorite thus far came from a food stand in Hoi An called “Mr. Hung.” I ordered squid grilled in a banana leaf with onions, garlic and lemongrass. It was so tender and delicious that I ate the entire thing. The ladies cooking the food made fun of me and said, mostly through sign language, that if I ate squid like that everyday I’d get fat!!
My squid is somewhere in that banana leaf, which is in a wire basket being grilled on an open flame….heaven.
The final dish…
Both Betsy and I agreed that Morning Glory was the best restaurant we visited in Hoi An. The food was simple, fresh and absolutely amazing. The proprietress of the restaurant cooks family food the way her mother taught her. I want to live at her house! She said that fresh herbs are such a strong cultural influence that many Vietnamese will start to feel homesick if they cannot have fresh herbs everyday. It’s true that most food comes with a plate of herbs which makes a huge difference in the quality of the dish.
Betsy ordered this interesting dish at Morning Glory…a shrimp coconut curry actually cooked in a young coconut. The sauce was slightly sweet and unbelievably flavorable.
The Vietnamese do not eat sweet breakfasts like we do in the states. One staple of their diet is “congee” which is a rice porridge with either fish, chicken or pork. It’s savory and quite good! The coffee here is also fantastic, albeit a little strong. It will seriously put hair on your chest so they dilute it with sweetened condensed milk! And it comes with a little coffee filter perched on the cup. Seriously delicious.
Congee for breakfast with a cup of coffee in the background. I love the little coffee filter so it can brew right at the table!
Another item that is everywhere in Vietnam is “pho,” pronounced “fer.” This is a simple noodle soup, traditionally with beef but you can get it with chicken or veggies, that is once again served with a pile of bean sprouts and fresh herbs you mix in at the table. Fantastic.
“Pho”, aka noodle soup, with a plate of fresh herbs and some fresh coconut water. You can’t get much healthier than that!
Finally, I tried a traditional Vietnamese dessert called “Che” which is basically a sweet green bean soup. It’s actually made with mung beans and is only slightly sweet but quite good! No wonder the Vietnamese are so slender! They even eat veggies for dessert!!
Eating my sweet green bean soup, served cold in a glass
I reluctantly leave the food of Vietnam behind…and will seek out Vietnamese restaurants in the states as soon as I return!
| Northwest Vietnam has some of the country’s most striking vistas. The rugged terrain is home to jagged mountains, rich tropical forests, ethnic minorities, and an abundance of wildlife.
|The region is also famous for the hearty, rustic cuisine of the people of the Northern Highlands. The unique, pungent flavors of the mountains are slowly finding their way to popular restaurants in cities. Today, the highlands’ take on roasted fish, com lam Tay Bac (Northwest rice cooked in bamboo tube) and ga den H’mong (H’mong black chicken) can be enjoyed in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi restaurants.
Roasted Highland carp
Carp abounds in the rivers and lakes of the northwestern highlands.
In the mountains, humongous bighead carp are often roasted in the traditional style. The fish is cleaned and rubbed with salt. The body is then stuffed with chopped garlic, onion, coriander and mac khen – the region’s trademark condiment.
Mac khen, also known as ‘jungle pepper,’ is a seed known for its naturally salty, piquant flavor. The seed has been used for centuries, particularly by Thai tribesmen as a natural alternative to salt.
Traditionally, the fish is speared with a skewer and roasted over hot coals to release its strong flavors combined with the herbs.
Com lam Tay Bac
Com lam Tay Bac is sticky rice cooked in a bamboo tube.
The dish originated in the forests, when tribesmen had to make long journeys through the woods.
Even today, locals soak rice with a little glutinous rice, and stuff the mix into a cloth bag to take with them on long walks through the forest.
In the woods, they fill a small segment of bamboo with the soaked rice mix and cap the ends tightly with leaves. The tube is placed above fire to steam and imbue the glutinous rice with the gentle flavors and fragrance of bamboo.
Ga den H’mong
Ga den H’mong or “black H’mong chicken” is derived from a special sort of bird. The chicken, known as a “silkie” in the West thanks to its wispy white tufts of feathers, has been celebrated as a remarkable dining experience in kitchens across the world.
According to a 2007 New York Times article, it has even become something of a delicacy in the Big Apple.
The small, lean bird is traditionally stewed whole in medicinal leaves and comes out entirely black, from claws to beak. The bird’s tender meat is known for its rich, gamy flavor.
Its traditional preparation is known to imbue the bird with invigorating health properties.
An urban take on northwest flavors
With the rustic cuisine of the highlands coming to restaurants in HCMC and Hanoi, urban diners can enjoy the heartiest flavors of the mountains, and be transported to a different place altogether. The following restaurants feature authentic decorations and staff costumes, which give diners the feeling of being in an exotic locale.
For a genuine highlands experience, have your meals with ruou can (traditional mountain wine). The beverage is prepared by fermenting sticky rice or corn and a combination of medicinal herbs and roots in earthen jars. Ruou can is sipped through long slender straws of bamboo tubes.
** Discover the new mountainous flavors and culture at the following restaurants:
101/45 Nguyen Huu Tho Street, Nha Be District, HCMC
Tel: (08) 6 299 1068
17B Mai Thi Luu Street, District 1, HCMC
Tel: (08) 3 824 2432
104/74 Nguyen Chi Thanh Street, Hanoi
Tel: (04) 2 240 9839
Sa Huynh is an area dotted with quaint fishing villages and sandy beaches in the central region’s Quang Ngai Province.Located off National Highway 1A, along milestones 983-987 on the coast of Duc Pho District and parallel to the national railway line, Sa Huynh abounds with golden sand.
The color of the sand changes during the day from an earthy brown early in the morning, to a shimmering gold around noon, followed by a pale blue hue on moonlit nights.
Sa Huynh is rich in local seafood and there are several restaurants offering up fresh meals from the sea.
The area is also steeped in ancient culture dating back to 1,000 BC. The Sa Huynh people are thought to be predecessors of the Cham, the founders of the Champa Kingdom.
Along with the Dong Son Culture in the north and the Oc Eo Culture in the Mekong Delta, Sa Huynh is considered one of the most famous ancient Vietnamese cultures of the Iron Age era.
Along the beach, stretching around 6km, and near the Sa Huynh Tourist Resort is an abundance of scenic highlights.
Visitors can rent motorbikes and travel around Ma Vuong Mound to see historic archeological sites.
In the culture of the ancient Sa Huynh people, the dead were cremated and buried in jars. In the early 20th century, French archeologists excavated these ‘tomb jars’ and found many were also buried with stone adornments and tools.
At Sa Huynh Hotel, about one kilometer south of the Sa Huynh Railway Station, visitors can enjoy the view of the vast blue sea, rest in the shade of green casuarinas, feel the cool breeze on their skin, swim in the sea by a sloping beach, and enjoy food specialties such as boiled crabs with salt and chili, rice porridge with sea urchins, and sour soup with groupers.
When visiting Sa Huynh, be sure to purchase a few kilos of nep ngu (a type of glutinous rice once offered to kings) and fermented urchin paste, which is only available in the summer.
“Com hen Song Huong” is a dish served at room temperature, made with mussels and leftover rice. It is a complicated recipe that includes sweet, buttery, salty, sour, bitter and spicy flavors.
Com hen Song Huong (or Com hen in short) is the very simple and low-priced specialty of Hue, the ancient citadel of Vietnam. Accordingly, the way of serving this special kind of food is of great ancience, simplicity and deliciousness.
Com hen has a sweet-smelling flavor of rice, onion, and grease, as well as strange tastes of sweet, buttery, salty, sour, bitter, and peppery-hot. You have to arrive to Hen river-islet in the Perfume River to have the original Com hen. However, you can find out the dish on some streets in Hue City. It requires 15 different raw materials to prepare for the dish, including mussel, fried grease, watery grease, peanuts, white sesames, dry pancake, salted shredded meat, chilly sauce, banana flower, banana trunk, sour carambola, spice vegetables, peppermint, salad, etc.
Com hen is always attractive to many customers since it is tasty and, at the same time, economical to anybody.
What makes this simple kind of food popular is revealed in the great endeavor to adopt and process its main ingredient – mussel. Mussels are sea species, which must be dipped in water for a long while before being processed. Accordingly, people often say that com hen somehow expresses the strenuous work of the maker.
Where to find it? Very easy as it is popular everywhere in Hue and these days, elsewhere in Hue restaurants in Vietnam. More favorably, it is a low-priced specialy, thus you could eat it in luxurious restaurants in Hue or even in vendoring mobile shops on the streets.
“Visiting Hue could not miss Com hen, or else you have not come to Hue ever!” is the most common remark of visitors elsewhere to Hue. So, please come and enjoy it yourself!
Source: Vietnam Food
Pho, a typical dish of Hanoi people, has been existing for a long time. Pho is prepered not only in a sophisticated manner but also in the technique which is required to have sweet but pure bouillon, soft but not crasded noodle, soft and sweet smelling meat. Only in cold days, having a hot and sweet smelling bowl of Pho to enjoy would make you experience the complete flavor of the special dish of Hanoi.
Boil 10 cups water. Burn the whole fresh onions over high heat until golden brown. Add beef spareribs or ox tail into the boiling water. Skim while cooking to make a clear broth. Add browned onion and carrots after 1 hour of boiling. Cook another hour. Then remove meat and vegetable. Strain the bouillon, season it with spices, salt, fish sause as indicated and keep boiling to server very hot soup. Add boiled water, if necessary, to have 6-8 cups of bouillon. This broth is very spicy and a little salty.
Slice tender beef finely and cooked beef coarsely. Soak dry rice noodles in hot water 10 minutes before cooking. Coolk rice noodles sparately until done (about 10-15 minutes), drain in hot water to remove the starch.
Server at once into bowl.
Beef soup, rare: cooked rice noodles 1/3 bowl, raw beef minced on top. Pour over them one cup boiling bouillon. Add bib lettuce, green onion and onion rings.
Beef soup, done: cooked rice noodles, cooked beef, bib lettuce, onion rings, green onion in top. Pour over all ingredients 1 cup boiling bouillon.
Provide the guests with spoons and chopstichs to take the soup.
Source: Vietnam Food
Cha ca La Vong is one of the most delicious spcialities of Hanoi Food. Hanoi now has several stores selling Cha ca La Vong, but none of them can be equal to the Cha Ca Road’s in terms of quality and flavor. As a popular dish, La Vong grilled fish pie is indeed a remarkable culinary invention.
The long history…
In ancient days, there was a street selling paints, called the Paints Street. The Doan family, located at house No, 14 of this street, hit upon a new idea that sold fried fish pie served with soft noodles and seasoning. Encouraged by the appreciation of customers, the family specialized in this trade and the shop was called as “Cha ca La Vong store” as a wooden statue of an old fisherman (La Vong) holding a fishing rod and a string of fish stands at the door. As the specialty grew famous with every passing day, the street was renamed by the people as Cha Ca Street (fried fish pie street).
Imagine that you are one of the guests…
While you sit down at the table, the waiter starts laying there some seasonings includes a bowl of well – stirred shrimp paste sauce mixed up with lemon. After dropping the liquor, he will decorate the bowl with a few slices of red fresh pimento, a plate of grilled ground nuts of gold yellow color, various species of mint vegetables onions in small white slices.
To many customers, the sight of such seasoning already greatly stimulates their appetite. A few minutes later, fried fish, yellow in color and flagrant in smell put on a plate of anethum vegetable, is brought in. But that is not all. A few seconds more, as soon as a cauldron of boiling fat is brought in, the waiter starts pouring it on each bowl of grilled fish, thus producing a white smoke and sputtering noise.
Now, this is the time for picking and choosing what you like from the dishes on the table; sticking them into your bowl. Everything in all dishes should be eaten together. Let’s taste…
In the whole of Vietnam, there are 3 suggested Cha ca La Vong restaurants:
- N014, Cha Ca street- Old Quarter in Hanoi
- N087 Nguyen Truong To street, Hanoi
- N03 Ho Xuan Huong street, Ward 6, District 3, HCMC
Source: Vietnam Beauty