Exploring Hanoi Street Food

Hanoi Street FoodAfter a half dozen trips to Vietnam, and as many or more visits to Hanoi, I thought I had a good understanding of what to eat in the city.  We had spent countless days and evenings exploring Hanoi street food prior to this trip.

The problem was we found ourselves going back to the same places, the same street corners, and eating the same foods that top every top 10 list of foods to eat in Hanoi.  We’ve eaten our share of pho and bun cha, and I love them both dearly.  I just wanted to know a little more. 

I posed the challenge to Buffalo Tours in Vietnam when we signed up for their Hanoi street food tour in the Old Quarter. I figured the challenge would be exceedingly difficult for them as the Old Quarter is certainly one of the more touristy area of town.

Hanoi Street FoodOur guide, Tuan, took us to a small bia hoi, or fresh beer stand on the edge of the Old Quarter.  We have drank our share of bia hoi before, but did not mind sitting down to chat with Tuan.  It was just before Tet, the lunar new year, and the city was energetic.  We were able to ask Tuan all sorts of questions about Hanoi, and about celebrating Tet.  It was then and there that I decided the tour would be worth our time. 

Hanoi Street FoodTuan then ordered a plate of nem chua ran, or fried fermented pork.  It was our first dish of the night and one that we had never had before.  Eric wondered aloud, how have we never known about this simple dish of fried pork?  I had no response. It was a great accompaniment to the draft beers.  Already, we were off to a good start.

Hanoi Street FoodWe wandered the Old Quarter for a bit before stopping at our next street stall, this time for the popular Hanoi street food of papaya salad.  I love papaya salad, and have had it numerous times before, but this one was different.  We watched the plate of nom thit bo kho being made fresh, with a beef jerky on top. 

Hanoi Street Food

Hanoi Street FoodThis stall was also famous because it had stood in the same spot, selling papaya salad, for decades.  I could almost feel the history in the stall, as I was munching on deep fried garlic cloves, which were an instant hit with me.  And, we rounded off the stop with a plate of fresh spring rolls. 

Hanoi Street FoodOur Hanoi street food tour was off to a good start with the selection of unique foods we had not tried before.  But, one of the things I enjoyed the most was the interaction with Tuan. He spoke very good English, was very knowledgeable, and spoke liberally, teaching us a lot along the way.  Tuan took us to Hoan Kiem Lake to see the famous red bridge lit up at night, and shared the story behind the bridge.  We stopped for ice cream in a famous stall on the north side of the lake.

Hanoi Street FoodThe introduction of ice cream luckily was just a convenient stop.  I was nervous that dessert marked the end of our Hanoi street food tour, and I was far from full.  Tuan had one more thing up his sleeve, though, and it left me stunned.

I am not sure how we have walked through the streets of Hanoi as many times as we had, but had never seen street side bbq, almost like a Korean BBQ. Tuan deposited us on a couple of tiny plastic stools, with two beers, on a street corner on the western edge of the Old Quarter, and disappeared. 

Hanoi Street FoodHe came back later after having ordered up a ton of beef, pork, squid, and vegetables.  Although the food was cooked by the restaurant before depositing it on the grill, it continued to heat and stay warm as we chatted away, like old friends. 

Hanoi Street FoodBy the end of the night, I was indeed stuffed.  And, I was thrilled that Buffalo Tours had risen to the challenge of introducing some unique Hanoi street food to two people who consider themselves well versed in Vietnamese food.

We were supported by Buffalo Tours on their Hanoi Street Eats tour through the Old Quarter, but all yummy sounds are my own.  Tour packages start at around $29, excluding transfer.

For more tips about eating in Vietnam, check out our Southeast Asia Food Guide.

8 Comments

  1. Wow, that all looks absolutely delicious! I loved Hanoi and had some great meals (and a lot of bia hoi!) there – wish we had had enough time for a good tour though. Oh well, looks like we’ll have to go back!

    Reply
    • Definitely! I was so impressed that they offered us new foods, so you would be fine to book on a return trip.

      Reply
  2. God I love Vietnamese food. I think it might be time to go back!

    Reply
    • Definitely! I love Vietnam, although I am ready to leave after spending two months here. I need Europe!

      Reply
  3. Take a white well- kneaded and steaming hot bowl of gruel with “quẩy” (Chinese breadsticks) and “ruốc” (pork floss) above, customers only need to mix and enjoy at an old space and see people go back and forth. (source from http://hanoi-online.net/?p=2594)

    Reply
    • We’ve been out of SE Asia now for 5 months, but return in a few weeks. I’ve definitely been missing pho and quay!

      Reply
  4. Hey Amber, I was born and raised in Hanoi. And tbh, I haven’t even eaten everything the city has to offer. I don’t know what you haven’t eaten yet in Hanoi. but I would recommend the variations of Pho. Not the noodle bowl but you can eat the Pho noodles in various ways. Fried, roll (like fresh spring roll but with Pho coat), stir-fried. The area where you can try it is called Ngu Xa. The best thing about street food in Hanoi is that it continues to evolve. A couple new dishes have become popular in Hanoi so it is always good if you know a local. Good luck discovering the food of Hanoi!

    Reply
    • We’ve been on Ngu Xa several times, and I’ve been meaning to write about it. We didn’t find many of the pho variations until our third or fourth visit to Hanoi, but I love pho xao, and the others you mentioned. So yummy!

      Reply

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