Vietnam has a world-class reputation when it comes to food. The renowned street food plus the unique spices and herbs mean that foodies have very much put Vietnam on their travel bucket list. Here’s a quote that many will be familiar with from Anthony Bourdain:
“Going to Vietnam the first time was life-changing for sure. Maybe because it was all so new and different to my life before and the world I grew up in. The food, culture, landscape, and smell; they’re all inseparable. It just seemed like another planet; a delicious one that sort of sucked me in and never let go.”
From sour to sweet, Vietnamese food is unforgettable. We loved the city of Hanoi and our food experiences there. If you’re spending some time in Hanoi check out this great guide to the city from Nomad on the Loose. Here are ten meals you should try when visiting Hanoi (and some great coffee to enjoy after).
Goi Cuon is the most famous dish in Vietnam and is a great pick if you’re visiting for the first time. The dish consists of spring rolls made of rice paper that are packed with coriander, minced pork, shrimps and leaves.
Depending on the restaurant serving the dish, it often comes with a bowl of lettuce or mint. Others just serve the ingredients in bowls, so you can create your own spring roll. While it’s similar to a spring roll, it’s not fried and so much healthier.
You’ll find this in most Vietnamese restaurants so you’ll not have to go out of your way to find them but a great choice is Quan An Ngon Restaurant. You’ll find a full menu of delicious Vietnamese food here and their Goi Cuon are fantastic.
Quan An Ngon Resturant, 18 Phan Bội Châu, Cửa Nam, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Banh xeo are the Vietnamese version of pancakes. They make a cheap lunch option, but instead of being served with sugar, they come with fried shrimp, pork, egg and bean sprouts.
Ideally, these pancakes are dipped in a spicy sauce before eating them. Banh xeo are easily recognised by the yellow colour of the crispy pancake and the irresistible smell when the dough touches the hot frypan. The sizzling sound is referred to as xeo, hence the name. While most Vietnamese restaurants use bacon as meat, the coastal region around Nha Trang replaces the bacon or pork with squid.
They can also be served with traditional rice paper and the trick here is to wrap the ingredients into the rice paper like a pancake. Absolutely fantastic, I honestly can’t decide which style I prefer so it’s best if you try both. Quan An Ngon restaurant serves the pancake in the first style, crispy yellow and doughy. Banh Xeo Ton duc Thang are a more traditional style restaurant and serve the rice paper style.
They’re both great choices. You’ll find both of these restaurants in the old town area.
Quan An Ngon Restaurant, 18 Phan Bội Châu, Cửa Nam, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Banh Xeo Ton duc Thang, 29, Tôn Đức Thắng, Quốc Tử Giám, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Banh Mi is another delicious option for a quick meal when in Hanoi. Literally, it can be translated as a sandwich, so it can contain pretty much everything. This baguette sandwich is so delicious, it is often imitated in different countries.
They are filled with vegetables and various fillings that are difficult to choose from. The traditional Banh Mi baguette is often filled with omelette, paté, or other types of meat. To top it off, it is spiced with coriander, fresh peppers, or umami.
To this day, they are some of the best sandwiches I‘ve ever eaten. They’re also extraordinarily cheap and can be wrapped up for later meaning they’re great for travelling on a budget. There are no shortage of Banh Mi places but one of our favourites was Banh My P. Situated in the heart of the old town, the chicken Banh Mi here are to die for.
Banh My P, 12 Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
When you think of Vietnamese cuisine, noodles and pork come to mind, two key ingredients in this must-try dish. Cao Lau is a bowl of rice noodles with pork-rind croutons soaking in a light mint-flavoured soup. In addition, they are often served with grilled crackers or crispy rice paper.
Despite being a regional dish, originated in the town of Hoi An, you can find it everywhere in Vietnam. From the side streets to the more expensive Hanoi restaurants. Nowadays it considered as one of Vietnam’s greatest culinary treasures.
Pho is Vietnam’s national dish and is a meal that can be eaten at any time of the day. Local people often eat this noodle soup as breakfast. It’s certainly risen in popularity in the West with some great restaurants popping up but there’s nothing quite like eating a bowl of Pho outside a little hole in the wall in Hanoi.
Depending on where you are travelling in Vietnam, Pho is served in different variations. A basic bowl of noodle soup, however, consists of beef or chicken flavoured with ginger and coriander. Afterward, the noodles are added together with onions and minced meat.
A great choice for when you’re in Hanoi is Pho Gia Truyen, a lovely little restaurant that may look run down with its plastic stools and tables but serves some of the best Pho in Hanoi. It’s in the bustling old quarter and has been there delighting people since the 60s.
Pho Gia Truyen: 49 Bat Dan, Cua Dong, Hanoi, Vietnam
Pho may well be considered as the national dish, but if you ask locals in Hanoi they will often recommend another dish. Bun Cha is a local specialty in Hanoi and one you will find on every street corner or food stall all across the city. Bun Cha are the barbecued pork patties that are grilled on open charcoal and come with cold rice noodles. To finish the dish, alight and sweet sauce is added.
You’ll find Bun Cha shops everywhere but a particularly good place to try them is Bun Cha Ta, they have a long history of serving Bun Cha and are just around the corner from Hoan Kiem Lake making them super convenient.
Bun Cha: 21 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm Hà Nội, Vietnam
Another Hanoi specialty and an affordable option to eat is Mi Quang. Ingredients of this noodle dish vary by the location where you eat it, but most often you may expect a simple bowl of noodles with some meat, oils, shrimps, peanuts and quail eggs.
The name is a combination of Mi (noodles) and Quang (derived from the province Quang Nam where it originated). Most of the time the bottom of your bowl is layered with vegetables, only to be followed by noodles and a fair amount of broth on top.
Vị Quảng Restaurant: 35 Trần Hưng Đạo, Phan Chu Trinh, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Seafood dishes are amongst the most popular dishes in the Vietnamese cuisine, rarely missed off restaurant menus. Cha ca is reportedly devised in Hanoi and is the best-known dish in this part of the country.
Translated from Vietnamese it means ‘marinated grilled fish’. Cha ca is a traditional dish of white fish (carp or catfish) that is sautéed in butter, onions, and dill. The fish comes with rice noodles and peanuts. Without a doubt, this meal is a Hanoi first-timer’s rite of passage.
One of the best places to try this is in Chả Cá Thăng Long. People have been raving about this restaurant for years and with good reason. They offer few items on the menu but what they do make is perfect. With traditional surroundings, this is the perfect place to try Cha Ca for the first time.
Chả Cá Thăng Long: 19 – 21 – 31 Đường Thành, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm Hà Nội, Vietnam
Nộm hoa chuố
If you are a vegetarian, Vietnamese cuisine doesn’t always give you many options. However, Nom hoa chuoi is an exception. This banana-flower salad is a meat-free dish that succeeds in giving vegetarians a real taste of Vietnamese cuisine. Lime and chili are key flavours in this meal.
Non-vegetarians often add chicken or boiled pig ears to it. The explosion of different flavours and the contrasts in texture make it a real Vietnamese specialty. Thành Phố is a great place to try this wonderfully vibrant dish. Situated in the old quarter, it provides a real feel of traditional Hanoi.
Thành Phố: 88 Hòa Mã, Hanoi, Thành Phố Hà Nội, Vietnam
Com tam is a dish often found in street food stalls. Known as ‘broken rice’, it comes served in several ways. It’s often presented with barbecued pork and a fried egg. The rice used are imperfect rice grains that were discarded after the drying and milling process.
Instead of throwing it away, these grains have now been elevated into a delicious signature street food meal. The taste is basically the same as regular rice, though in the past this imperfect ‘animal feed’ was hard to sell. Check out the street vendors for this one.
Don’t forget to try the coffee when in Hanoi. Although this deserves an article of its own, Vietnamese coffee is a real delicacy. From their delicious coconut ice coffees to weasel coffee, to the infamous egg coffee. There’s a coffee for everyone.
Cà Phê đá
This is a cold coffee made from the locally-sourced Robusta beans which are then mixed with water and served with sweetened condensed milk. You can find this wonderful drink on every street in Vietnam. It is the perfect mix of bitter and sweet flavours. I look for cafes that serve this coffee everywhere I go (even try and make it at home) and it’s never quite the same.
Cà phê trứng
It starts with bitter coffee that is brewed with a phin, a single-serving coffee filter specifically used for Vietnamese coffee. Then the egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk and sugar are added. It’s more of an acquired taste than most but it’s a must-try at least once and may become a new favourite!
Some of the best cafes in Hanoi are the Cong Caphe chain, all of them are slightly different but they have a unique old aesthetic going on. Their menu is large and great quality. There’s a Congs on every corner in Hanoi. Try our favourite coconut coffee!
For a more standard coffee shop but with an equally excellent menu, try Tranquil Books and Coffee in the Old Quarter. They have great wifi and a lovely ambiance.
5 Nguyễn Quang Bích, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam