I sure wish I’d thought of this earlier in the trip, but since getting to Hanoi, we’ve been making our way through a lovely list of street foods. Our hostel has a map marked with their favorite places for specific dishes, so we spend at least half the day trying to find those spots for our meals. On Friday, we ate 5 times, for a total of $6.50. And that was AFTER the hostel-included breakfast.
These items are in somewhat of an order of our favorites, as both Zac and I enjoyed the same dishes the most (unheard of!). On principle, I despise the trend of food pictures, especially at restaurants, but I made a hypocritical exception for the sake of this blog. Yeah, now I’m one of those people.
There will be more to come about Hanoi itself, but without further ado, the Food Binge!
Doner Kebab: Panini sandwich with roasted pork, tomato, cucumber, and some other stuff.
This is our new favorite menu item on the trip. These kebab stands are few and far between, but we were lucky enough to have one just around the corner from our hostel. It’s essentially a panini. A pita-like bread is filled with roasted pork, cabbage, cucumber, tomato, and a couple of unknown sauces, and then put under the panini press for a few minutes. It’s best when it’s fairly well toasted. We’ve eaten about 6 of them in 4 days.
Banh Mi Pate: Baguette sandwich with egg, tomatoes, cucumber, and a variety of mystery “meats.”
You were all introduced to this sandwich in Hoi An, and I’ve raved uncontrollably about it ever since. The spots we’ve tried here are not quite as good as that first one, but still pretty delicious. Homemade hot sauce, sweet chili sauce, ‘pate,’ egg, cilantro, and more.
Bun Bo Nam Bo: Bun noodles with greens, stir-fried beef and peanuts.
This was our first meal on the list, and we didn’t get a chance to go back and try it again, but it was definitely one of our favorites. We did get it around the corner from our hostel as our last meal, but it wasn’t quite as good there. Bun noodles are also called rice vermicelli, and they’re basically a rice starch version of angel hair pasta. Really, really good! This dish was just exactly what was described, but the light peanut-y sauce was perfect. It wasn’t too heavy in salt or MSG (rare) and it was mixed with lettuce. Kind of strange, but I guess that’s how they get their greens here. I don’t care, it was awesome.
Bun Cha: Cold bun noodles with sliced pork and pork patties.
This dish is one of the most commonly recommended dishes in Hanoi, so I was determined to try it. You get a dish of ‘fresh’ herbs and greens, a bowl of bun noodles, and a bowl with really fatty pork pieces, and grilled pork patties. Of the two places on the list with Bun Cha, one didn’t exist, and the other was out of it when we got there. We’d trekked quite a while to find it, then got considerably lost, to the point where we were off the map. Defeated, we discovered the previously mentioned Doner Kebab, and the world was right again. As we turned the corner onto our street, we saw a place proudly boasting the Bun Cha. DANGIT! We tried it there and though it was quite good, it was obviously a little old. On our last day, we tried it again for lunch, at a random spot that was cracking with locals and it was absolutely delicious! The woman was really friendly, and the pork patties were OFF THE HOOK!
Nom Du Du: Green papaya salad topped with beef.
I liked this dish a little more than Zac did, and it’s pretty straightforward. Shredded green papaya with bits of meat. They also had some sort of dried meat or something on it, which was not that good. The whole dish was served in some sort of soupy sauce, and apparently it can be really really spicy. Ours was light and fresh, and good.
Banh Cuan: Rice flour rolls stuffed with ground pork, prawns, and wood ear mushrooms.
This was a bit strange, but again, delicious. We arrived apparently far too early for dinnertime (for the second day in a row), and waited around while they got set up, and random people came silently in and out delivering items for the evening. The whole time we saw some sort of bubbling, starchy mess on the stove, which turned out to be the batter for the rice flour rolls. The cooking lady spread a small amount of this batter on a crepe-making-like apparatus, then gracefully slid it off with a bamboo stick. She then added a minced mixture, presumably with pork and mushrooms, and wrapped it all up. The serving came with three, and they looked like gooey spring rolls, topped with crunchy onions, and served with a very flavorful dipping sauce.
Pho Xao: Stir fried noodles with beef and greens.
Probably the worst item of the lot, but still really good. It was a simple, stir-fried noodle dish, with nothing too extraordinary. The sauce was pretty thick, which made me wonder if it was loaded with MSG, but it wasn’t too salty or overpowering, so it was still good. At $2 each, one was enough to feed both Zac and me for dinner.
We had a ton of fruit shakes in Cambodia, and several in Saigon and Bali, but they seemed nonexistent here in Hanoi. We saw a spot on the map titled, “Fruit Shake Street,” and set out to get our fix. This was the only real food disappointment in Hanoi. Instead of a typical blended beverage, you got a pint glass of fruit covered with sweet milk (condensed milk), served with a bowl of crushed ice, a spoon, and a straw. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a shake. You were meant to put the ice in the pint glass and mix it together and eat it using the combination of the spoon and straw. Zac liked it more than I did, and I wondered why they didn’t just put the whole thing in the blender and call it a day. Ah well, gotta be disappointed sometime.
And that concludes the epic journey of street food in Hanoi. I think that our experiences with the street food, and even with some of the locals serving it to us, really made us enjoy the city more than we otherwise would have. I’m definitely going to miss Vietnamese cuisine after this.