Eating out in Hanoi, or more specifically finding the best food to eat in Hanoi, can be a daunting prospect. This is our ultimate guide to food in Hanoi Old Quarter, based on what we ate over two three-day visits to this amazing city.
Food in Hanoi Old Quarter – who tipped us off!
We were lucky to have some insider information and want to give credit to two specific sources:
1. Our blogger friends Rosemary and Claire over at Authentic Food Quest – they were kind enough to let us beta-test their Hanoi Food Trail, which is a veritable goldmine of tastebud-tempting tips for street foods in Hanoi. This is not yet out on general release (to our knowledge!) but their website is also a veritable goldmine of local info about what to eat.
2. Our local friend Lê Thảo, who we met via her beautifully curated Instagram feed which made us salivate daily when we were back in Europe. Due to Vietnamese being a tonal language that Westerners can easily struggle to get right, we agreed to call her by her nickname, Klaunie. She kindly arranged to meet us and introduced us to some of her her favourite foods in Hanoi Old Quarter. We met up with her and her friends next to Hoan Kiem lake in the centre of Hanoi on our second day in Vietnam. When they bounced over and greeted us with big friendly hugs and talk of fish noodles, we immediately felt at home. Check out her Insta feed here, and give her a follow.
Arriving in Hanoi
We arrived in Hanoi Old Quarter to an utterly mind-boggling cacophony of traffic, noise and scents. Quite quickly, we accustomed our ears to the ever-honking horns of motorcycles and taxis, reminding us in their uniquely Asian way that they are right behind us. We soon figured out that the only way to cross the street is to watch carefully what is coming, try and make eye contact and move with slow purpose from one kerb to the other.
But what really piqued our senses was the steam and aromas coming from the seemingly millions of cooking pots across the city. On every street corner, within every small alleyway, we found mouthwatering street foods all over Hanoi Old Quarter.
Street food in Hanoi Old Quarter – general tips
Here are a couple of basic tips that we have picked up from our experience of street food in Hanoi Old Quarter, and the rest of Vietnam:
1. Follow your nose, and eat where the locals eat, when they eat. You will not have any authentic experiences or even great food if you stick to westernised, tourist restaurants.
2. Linked to point 1 above, get used to eating at places that in your home country would not pass any food hygiene regulations. We had literally no bad food and no Delhi-belly or similar. EVERYONE from all classes and income levels eats street food in Hanoi. Leave any food snob tendencies at home.
3. Get used to using chopsticks. Practice at home before you leave if you can’t already use them. Check on YouTube or Google for tips on how to use them. But please, don’t ask for a knife and fork. Many places just don’t have them. Little kids in Vietnam know how to use chopsticks. Refuse to use them, and you will look like an idiot.
4. You can slurp down any kind of noodles or soups without concern about table manners. Just grab yourself a paper napkin or three to mop up any ensuing mess, and chow on down.
5. Vietnamese food is not very hot-spicy in general. Many places have bowls of chilli sauce on the table, or will serve chillis on the side. So you can adjust the spice levels to your own flavour preferences.
Ultimate guide to food in Hanoi Old Quarter – the list!
You can read the whole post, or use the list below to jump to the local food in Hanoi of your particular taste.
- Bún chả – grilled pork with noodles
- Bún Cả – grilled fish with noodles
- Bánh Mỳ – the best sandwich in the world
- Phở – noodle soup
- Chả cá – grilled fish
- Cháo sườn – rice porridge with pork spare ribs
- Bánh Trung Thu – Moon cakes
- Cà phê trứng – Egg coffee
- Bia Hoi – fresh local beer
- Furbrew – craft beer in Hanoi
Bún chả is a local Hanoi speciality and you should not miss this if you are in the city. It is made from grilled pork, and rice vermicelli noodles, served with fresh salad and herbs. This is the dish that Antony Bourdain ate with then-President Barack Obama on his visit to Hanoi – the place they ate is now referred to by locals as “Obama-restaurant”.
This was the first meal we ate in Vietnam. Jet lagged, a bit lost in the maze of the Old Quarter and still getting used to all the horn-honking. It is still pretty much my favourite of the local food of Hanoi Old Quarter. We ate our Bún chả based on recommendation from the Authentic Food Quest trail, at Bún Chả Đắc Kim – Hàng Mành. This is not the Obama-restaurant – we did not eat there. However, according to Klaunie and her friends, the Bún chả is good. Unfortunately, due to the Obama reputation, that restaurant is now frequently crowded.
If you order Bún chả, then make sure you try Nem Cua Be, which are crab spring rolls cut into bite-sized portions.
When we met up with Klaunie and her friends, some of her first words to us were “fish noodles” – or Bún Cả in Vietnamese. They took us off on a short walk through the maze of side streets and alleyways of the Old Quarter. We arrived at a small restaurant and sat down on the tiny plastic stools. We were promptly presented with glasses of iced tea, and some small delicious deep-fried pork spring rolls. A few minutes later, great steaming bowls of fish noodles were planted in front of us, and we dug in.
And what noodles they were! Bún Cả is made with crispy grilled river fish, rice vermicelli, tomato broth, layers of greens and dill, and small chunks of pineapple. The bowl was huge and we knew there was no way we could finish the entire thing. We gave it our best shot anyway. The flavours of Bún Cả are a tantalising mix of sour and sweet, with the delicate flavour of the dill complementing the fish.
Klaunie and her friend told us that this is one of their favourite weekend brunch dishes. After this experience, we really felt like proper locals eating the food in Hanoi Old Quarter.
When we came to Vietnam, first on our list of street food in Hanoi Old Quarter was to try an authentic Bánh Mỳ (sometimes also called Bánh Mì). Although I suspect there are as many different opinions on this topic as there are banh mi stalls in Vietnam, we had nevertheless asked Klaunie for recommendations where we could get the best Bánh Mỳ in Hanoi. She had answered without hesitation – Bánh Mỳ P. So we took ourselves off to try these babies for ourselves.
Reader, I found that I wanted to marry a sandwich. Bánh Mỳ P is somewhere between street food and a restaurant – a little like a Vietnamese version of a fast-food outlet. They have a menu of different Bánh Mỳ sandwiches to choose from. Tom had paté and I had meatballs, both came with egg. We discovered exactly why Bánh Mỳ is the best sandwich in the world. The bread is crispy and light, the egg is dreamy-soft and the meatballs are juicy and well, meaty. I could literally eat Bánh Mỳ every day.
In fact, I think I pretty much did eat Bánh Mỳ every day. Another special mention must go to the lady who had a tiny set -up about twenty steps from our hostel. Serving hungry locals and hungry backpackers alike, she doesn’t have a menu but you can choose from pork or chicken or both, depending what is available. One of the other backpackers we chatted to said that he had managed to eat four of her Bánh Mỳ in a single sitting, which she had never seen before!
Phở soup is indisputably one of the most iconic Vietnamese foods on an international level. Although it is now sold all over Vietnam with each region having it’s own version, it has its origins in Northern Vietnam. Knowing this, it was one item of food in Hanoi Old Quarter that we felt we must eat.
We saw phở sold literally everywhere all over Hanoi. From the one lady crouched over her cooking pot surrounded by fresh ingredients, to the menus of the restaurants side by side in the backpacker streets. Phở normally comes as phở bò (beef) or phở gà (chicken). For an authentic phở experience in Hanoi, take a tip from the Authentic Food Quest trail and visit Phở 10 in the Old Quarter in the morning. You can slurp down your soup with the locals. I like mine best with a dollop of the chilli sauce from the pots on the table!
Thanks to https://zerocater.com for sharing this cool Phở infographic with us!
Chả cá is a dish of grilled fish, flavoured with dill and turmeric. It is a dish unique to Hanoi. As mentioned before, I am not the biggest lover of fish. However, Tom loves fish (and will eat literally anything).
THE place to eat Chả cá in Hanoi is the street named after it – Pho Chả cá (or Cha Ca Street). There, at restaurant Chả cá La Vong, they have been making this iconic dish for the last 100 years. The fish will be grilled in the kitchen, then fried and dressed with dill at your table.
Unfortunately, we left our Chả cá experience to our last day and we missed the opening hours of the Chả cá La Vong (insert crying face here!). We did however try Chả cá at a wonderful restaurant called Duongs. This is not a street food place. Hoang Duong is a Vietnamese chef who finished 4th in the Vietnams Top Chef contest in 2014. The food on the menu comprises many traditional Hanoi and Vietnamese dishes, all prepared to the very highest quality. The service was impeccable and the restaurant itself is beautifully laid out.
I ordered Bún chả and Tom ordered the Chả cá. The broth for the Bún chả was so good that I could have climbed into the bowl to swim around in it. Tom was equally blown away by the Chả cá. Prepared in the style of La Vong, the fish is brought to the table, still frying on a sizzling skillet. The delicate flavours of the turmeric and dill play together with the fish wonderfully. Although we didn’t experience one of the traditional Chả cá venues, we can seriously recommend Duongs for a more upmarket dining experience than traditional street food. Despite being far more upmarket, two main courses with two drinks will set you back no more than around $20. Otherwise, organise yourself better than we did and visit Chả cá La Vong during lunch or evening service.
Cháo sườn is a rice porridge with pork spare ribs. We came across this dish entirely by accident, being hungry and stumbling no further than the end of the street where we were staying. As well as the delicious banh mi, there was also a street food stall selling Cháo sườn.
Cháo sườn is made by stewing the spare ribs in a broth, then adding the rice into the broth until it turns into porridge. Other ingredients such as ginger and green onions are added to the porridge as it cooks. The version we had was topped off with quẩy, which are a kind of fried breadstick.
Don’t be put off by the term porridge as it is taken in the western sense (which to us, is sweet, stewed oatmeal eaten for breakfast). This is a deeper and more rounded flavour, savoury from the meat broth but subtle as there are no strongly flavoured ingredients used in the preparation. This stall was one of the most popular we saw and there was always a queue of hungry locals waiting for their fix when we were there. If you are looking for a tasty lunch in Hanoi Old Quarter, then Cháo sườn is a great choice.
Bánh Trung Thu or Mooncakes were something of a special treat. Please don’t jump to any conclusions based on knowledge (or experience!) of “space cakes” in Amsterdam! The name literally translates as mid-Autumn cake, because these cakes are traditionally gifted between friends and family during the Chinese mid-autumn festival. We only came across these local delights because Klaunie has a special talent for baking them.
They are made with wheat flour and bean paste, and are very much like a traditional European tart. The intricate designs look beautiful. We were very privileged to be given three that were hand-made by Klaunie herself. So if you want to experience this special treat, visit Hanoi in autumn time and make friends with a local!
Although we are now firmly off the territory of food in Hanoi Old Quarter, it is worthwhile taking a foray into the drinks. Cà phê trứng or egg coffee is a source of fascination, due to the fact that many westerners are put off by the prospect of egg and coffee in the same cup. Don’t be one of them – having tried a couple of egg coffees now, I can say it is like a cross between an Irish coffee without the booze, and a melted marshmallow.
It is made of a mixture of sweetened condensed milk, coffee and an egg yolk. Klaunie took us to her favourite place which is another local haunt – Nguyễn Hữu on Huân Street. This is a must-try if you are in Vietnam – I cannot imagine it tastes the same anywhere else.
We are massive fans of local beer when we are travelling. It is usually the cheapest drink, and often the best and most refreshing. Unlike wine, which can be a delightful tipple but somewhat capricious due to requirements for growing vines and the overall production process, beer is relatively simple to produce everywhere. And the Vietnamese have this down to a perfect art.
Bia hoi is a fresh beer, brewed, matured and delivered daily throughout the country. It is very light in colour and alcohol content, usually no more than around 3% alcohol. Cheap as chips would be an overstatement – chips are more expensive than bia hoi in Vietnam. We found bia hoi for as little as 3000 VND per glass (USD 0.13) although in Hanoi, it was more like 10,000 VND (USD 0.43 per glass). Drink it to wash down your favourite street eats, or just to cool off in the blistering city heat. Perfect accompaniment to your food in Hanoi Old Quarter adventure.
We are now even actually out of the Old Quarter (if you feel misled by now then I apologise – but stay with us now for the last one!). But we wanted to give a special mention to Furbrew. We had booked our first couple of nights in Hanoi up at Tây Ho (West Lake). This is the expat area of Hanoi, about 5km from the Old Quarter. We had some air miles to use and wanted a quiet place (with a pool!) to recover from our jet lag and ease us in to the first few nights of full-time travel.
Our first evening meal was out in this area and there are some GREAT restaurants around here. Not good for the tighter budgets, but if you want a break from street food and would like to taste decent Western or Japanese cuisine in Hanoi, then head over to West Lake. It was during our attempt to find an evening meal here that we stumbled across Furbrew.
Furbrew sell their own craft beers in two locations around the West Lake area of Hanoi. They have a couple of very interesting craft beers. My favourite was the Mulberry Sour, a cider-like brew they discovered by accident that this strong notes of summer berries. Tom enjoyed the Bia Phở, which is literally made with the same ingredients as Phở itself. One for the hardcore craft beer enthusiasts is Aquatic Predator – an almost-black beer exactly as scary as it sounds. Darkened with squid ink, salted with fish sauce and made magical by dried seahorses, this is not a beer for those of a delicate constitution.
Furbrew also sells to numerous other restaurants, including Duongs where we ate in the Old Quarter. So even if you don’t make it over to the West Lake, keep an eye out for it where you can in Hanoi!
This has been yet another epic long post about our Vietnam experiences! Our gastronomic experiences in the capital gave us so much to write about the food in Hanoi Old Quarter, and beyond. If you have stayed and read all the way through, then the chances are you love this place (or will love it) as much as we do. If you are an adventurous food lover, then Hanoi and its old Quarter should be high on your list!
Looking for other things to do in Hanoi? Read our post about our experience of Hanoi Train Street – an urban phenomenon in the heart of the city. Or if you are planning a trip out of Hanoi, read our comprehensive Halong Bay Cruise Review or our post about Hoi An Lantern Festival for tips on how to enjoy some of Vietnams UNESCO World Heritage treats.