Local Cuisine in Hanoi

Local Cuisine in Hanoi

Some of my friends said that after visiting Hanoi once, they never want to go back. I used to think of Hanoi as a boring city before I visited there…but I was wrong! After being there, I saw many differences that I couldn’t have understood before actually visiting the city. Now I realize that Hanoi is more traditional and graceful than Saigon. It is a city with old, classic places and interesting food, and it made me – a tourist who just visited Hanoi for the first time – want to come back again.
I totally love the food here (except for some weird dishes I can’t eat and don’t want to try). If you have an opportunity to visit Hanoi, don’t miss Hanoi’s local cuisine. Below are descriptions of some dishes that can be found only in Hanoi, or dishes of which the flavor is further enhanced if eaten in Hanoi:

  • Bún chả:

Pork ground are cut into small pieces, grilled and eaten along with noodles, fish sauce, garlic, chili and green papaya salad. Bun cha sellers are found in any street, but Bún chả Hàng Mành is the best! A large bowl is just 60.000 VND – and I think it’s too much for one girl. With 2 people, I recommend you order one Bún chả and two rolls of nem rán whichcosts 30.000VND/roll. Nem rán is a dish of ground meat mixed with bean sprouts, egg, mushroom, vermicelli, rolled in rice paper, and fried until it is light brown and crispy.

bún chả

“A big bowl with grilled meat pork and ribs”

nem

“Nem rám”

 

  • Lẩu ếch:

Frog hot pot is one of the top dishes on my ‘must-have’ list in Hanoi, and it is a terrific choice too warm up the body on a cold night! Along TrúcBạch Street, there are a series of restaurants serving frog hot pots, but I recommend the restaurant at 43 or 49 TrúcBạch Street – famous and delicious! A typical hot pot for 2-3 people costs around 400.000 – 500.000VND – quite expensive compared to other hot pots.

Frog skin and meat, pineapple, spring onion, green pepper and coriander are cooked together.­ A good frog hotpot has a rich, deep and spicy flavor, especially suitable for people who like spicy food. This hot pot is more complicated to cook than other types of hot pot, as the frog needs to be well marinated, deep fried and stir fried again with bamboo shoots before being added to the broth.

lau ech

 

  •  Bún bò trộn:

Another kind of noodle, in this dish, beef is fried with beansprouts and vinegar fish sauce, served with salad and fried onion. All are mixed together before you eat. A very delicious dish which is quite similar to “bùnthịtxào” in Saigon!

 bún bò trộn

 

  •  Phở:

Phở is associated with the city of Hanoi, where the first restaurant opened in the 1920s, and is a popular street food that has been named one of “the world’s 50 most delicious foods”, according to CNN. Phở Hanoi is often served with noodle, beef, onion and finger-shaped soufflé batte (cháoquẩy), and without raw vegetable. A local friend told me “o­nce you try this dish, you will never forget it” – and that must be true, as many Hanoians living away from Hanoi really want to try Hanoi phở to recall their past memories about the city –  but honestly, I don’t like Hanoi Phở! Saigon Phở has a better flavor!

There are many famous Phở restaurants in Hanoi, such as  Phở Lý Quốc Sư, Phở Thìn,etc.

pho

“Phở with beef”

quay 

“Quẩy”


  • Bò nầm nướng (baked beef)

A mixed of raw meat/ bowel/ breast/ cartilage of beef, and mushroom/ okra/ pineapple/cucumber…grilled by yourself…at the table. Eat with bread. Delicious!

 grilled beef

 

  • Bún đậu mắm tôm:

Shrimp paste (mắm tôm) is popular in VietNam. I know some of you don’t like it because of the smell but come on… When u travel, travel as a local!  You want to see the world, you have to  see, hear, smell, touch, taste and feel. Except dog/cat meat and some terrible dishes, this one is worth to try! First time, maybe you don’t like it (like me), but trust me, if you try it in second or third time, you will feel sorry for people who refuse to try this.

Bún đậu mắm tôm includes “bún” noodles, fried “đậu” (tofu cake) and “mắm tôm” shrimp paste. Hanoians love it! That’s why it is easy to find a street vendor offering you this delicious dish. Add a few drops of fresh lemon or Satsuma, some slide peppers in shrimp paste (it’s more delicious if spicy, in my opinion), and mix all till the bowl is full of soft tiny bubbles (the smell will be less strong). When you eat it, dip a piece of tofu-cake, plus some noodle into the shrimp paste sauce, and eat it all together. Eating it with boiled pork and fried meat rolls is also delicious, but in restaurants, I think vendors just have tofu.

And a tip for you, you should bring a chewing-gum after eating this dish (lol)

 bún đậu mắm tôm

 

 

  • Kem Tràng Tiền:

Although the weather is pretty cold at night, lots of people eat ice cream in Hanoi. A local friend said that Hanoians love eating Tràng Tiền ice cream specially when it’s cold! When I travel, I want to be a local, so i tried and I realized why this place is so crowded and why people have to queue a long time in order to be served, even summer or winter. By the way, this is a take away shop!

kem trang tien 

 

Apart from these delicious dishes, there are a few weird famous dishes in Hanoi which I refuse to try. I get the creeps when I just think of these dishes:

  • Thịt chó (dog meat):I don’t know how delicious this can be, to make so many Vietnamese people (especial Hanoians) love it, but there you have it. However, they eat for various reasons aside from culinary pleasure, such as to increase male virility or bring about good luck (?!?!!!). By some estimates, Hanoi accounts for up to half of all the dogs eaten in Vietnam K I saw lots of dog meat restaurants provides seven ways to cook dog, known as “cầy tơ bảy món”:

– Steamed dog meat with shrimp paste, rice flour, and lemongrass

– Steamed dog in shrimp paste, galangal, and rice vinegar

– Steamed dog meat

– Grilled dog meat

– Dog sausage

– Fried dog in lemongrass and chili

– Bamboo and dog meat soup

I find it unacceptable to eat dog – it is inhumane and cruel. I will never try it for sure! How can u eat it if you see this.. lots of shops like this sell dog meat on street. Terrible!

selling dog meat

  • Blood pudding (Tiết canh): Blood pudding sounds like a dish for vampires. But Hanoians love it. When I first met my coworkers in Hanoi, they took me to have lunch…and I got shocked when I see all of them (men and women) ordering this blood pudding and eating it as a delicacy. This dish is made from raw duck blood and mince of duck meat or cooked duck innards. When you eat, you can put lemon, peanuts and chopped herbs (corianders, mints,houttuynia..)

tiet canh

The best time to travel!

The best time to travel is now! Like right now! Read my article on the international checklist and drive to the nearest airport and get on the next international flight. Be spontaneous! Well at least once you are done reading this article you can go on your merry way.

There are many reasons why people don’t get out of their comfort zone and see the world or even the next state. But the worse excuse is “I’m Busy.” The last time I checked, we only had one life to live, so why waste that time being busy and not taking the time to explore this beautiful world? Now, I’m not saying you use every bit of your time traveling the world (but if you have the money for it, do it) but for the rest of us who are working a 9am-5pm or longer, ask yourself this question? When was the last time you took the time to go visit an aunt, uncle, cousin, sister, or best friend in the next town or the next country? When was the last time you and your spouse went somewhere together and just enjoyed where you are? No work deadlines, no annoying family members, insert any distraction in that sentence. The point is, when was the last time you took a break?

Some of us go through life thinking that we have an abundance of time and tomorrow is promised. When in actuality, it’s not promised. From the time you were born, your time on Earth started ticking till the day you meet your maker. I am not trying to be dramatic. Just putting things in perspective.

As a society, we need to learn to take mini vacations. You don’t have to wait till you’re retired to enjoy the good life. Enjoy it as you go. You don’t need to go around the board once to collect $200. Traveling gives you a different perspective on life that you can’t get behind a cash register or working in a cubicle. I’ve made it a personal goal to visit at least one new country every year. So far I’ve traveled to many parts of South East Asia and China and that in it’s self is a life changing experience.

A Weekend in Ho Chi Minh City

When I first decided to head out to Vietnam. I didn’t know what to expect. Most of what I knew was from textbooks about the Vietnam War that we studied in grade school in the states, which did not depict Vietnam is the best way. My friend that I met earlier that month who was also from the states just came from a trip to Vietnam the week before and he had an amazing time.

How I planned it out

Before I go on any trips I do my research on the area. This means, I check out the crime rate, crime against tourists, local laws, popular backpacking locations, hostel locations, and tourists reviews. I print out a map of the area and I never wear my best clothing. Although you are on vacation, you have to be aware of where you are and not make yourself a target for thieves. Once, you arrive at your destination, take your time to recognize landmarks and nearby streets.

Ho Chi Minh City is broken down by districts, if you plan on staying in a hostel on Pham Ngu Lao street which is located in district 1, you do not need a taxi to go to any of the tourist locations that I am about to mention. This means you can walk everywhere.

As a foreigner, you need to apply for a Visa before entering the country or else they will send you back. This can be done by going to the Vietnamese embassy’s website or any site similar to this http://www.vietnamvisacorp.com/faqs/how-visa-vietnam-works–117.html?gclid=CLHjnOq-9bMCFYN_QgodngcAUQ. Once you get approved for you Visa on arrival. The visa cost me about $50USD for a double entry. Please make sure you do both visits before the Visa expires. I believe you get 30days to use up the double entry. Once your visa expires, you have to reapply.

It is time to book your flight! If you use any of the budget airlines such as Tiger Airways, you can find a round trip flight from Singapore to Vietnam for $50 USD. (Remember I did all this while I was in Singapore, so prices will be cheaper).

After I got my flight, I searched the web for places where all the hostels and backpackers reside. That street is called Pham Ngu Lao. On that street and the crossing streets you find at least 20 hostels and lots of backpackers who are passing through. Since, this place was filled with backpackers and hostels I didn’t book my hostel for more than a night.  I wanted to go Hostel Hopping!!! I think I just created that term, I could be wrong. Please don’t sue me. You can get a list of hostels on that street by searching and of the popular hostel sites. Once, you book your hostel online, you do the official payment when you arrive. You should not pay more than $15USD for any of the hostels. A lot of them are as clean as hotels! Hence why I went Hostel Hopping, if I didn’t like a place, I moved on to the next. The first hostel I stayed in was not good, so I went to Saigon Hostel, which opened up that day so everything was brand new. How wonderful it is to be the first person there. The staff treated me like gold. Every room had king size beds and desktop computers. They ironed my shirt and pants and served me breakfast in the morning. They gave me advice on places to visit and things to do during the day. King James is HERE and FEELING GOOD!!!!

Once you arrive in Ho Chi Minh City (about 2hrs later) you have to go through customs and get your actual stamp.  Make sure you bring a passport size photo to speed up the process and some Vietnamese Dong (Vietnamese money). While waiting on the line to get my visa, I met an American who was working in Singapore and was taking a holiday (holiday also means vacation, the word holiday is used instead of vacation in most parts of Southeast Asia) to different parts Vietnam alone. So we decided to hang out.When you exit the airport, please get into an official taxi if it’s your first time visiting and have a print out of where your hotel is. The ride from the airport to Pham Ngu Lao is about 20-30minutes depending on the traffic. The taxi cost less than $10USD.

What you will notice

A lot of the signs will be in English and the people speak English. Remember, you are a guest, so try learning a few words in Vietnamese. There are Pho’ restaurants everywhere. Please read the article a taste of Saigon (which was written by my Vietnamese friend who lives in Vietnam) for more information on what to eat. There are wires everywhere on the light posts.

There are motorbikes everywhere. Out of all the countries I visited in Asia, Vietnam had the most motorbike motorists so be careful as you cross the streets. Vietnamese people are very skilled on the motorbikes and they can fit 3 or 5 people on one bike.

If you are good at negotiating, you can get one of the motorists to drive you around for a really low price. Make sure you ask one of the managers from the hotel to grab a motorist that they are familiar with to drive you around.

There are lots of cool restaurants and shopping centers. People will walk around asking you for money and in some instances they will make their kids do it.

Most of the museums are closed for lunch between 11:30am-1pm

Thursday

Upon arriving on Pham Ngu Lao. My friend and I went to our hostels to drop off our stuff and met up for dinner at one of the nearby restaurants whose name escapes me at the moment. Food and beer for the both of us cost around $15.

The night was young so we decided to check out what else was on the block. To our surprise we run into a bar filled with other Americans and Australians who are working in Vietnam as Dj’s and teaching abroad.

One of the guys offered to buy me a drink if I took a professional picture of him doing some break dancing moves and some shots of his band. So my friend and I hung out with that crowd for the night and they told us all about life in Vietnam and how they came to Ho Chi Minh City a few years ago and never went back home because they loved it. We all exchanged numbers and decided to meet up the next day.

 

Friday

Grab a map from your hostel or hotel and it will tell you where all the historical sites and shopping centers are located. Make sure you grab a card that says the address of your hostel or hotel. If you get lost, just give the cab driver the hotel card and they will find it. Mid morning my friend I decided to meet up and grab some Pho (read A Taste of Saigon for more information about Pho) and check out the shopping centers of the historical sites.

Before we bought anything we wanted to get an idea of the price of some of the items. So we made sure to walk around and talk to the vendors.  The indoor markets are huge and contain a lot of products so make sure you set aside a good amount of time to check out each one. This could take all day. I did notice that a lot of the outdoor vendors had the same items, so after awhile you noticed that everyone was selling the same products but at different prices.

 

Historical Sites/Museums

Around 1pm we decided to check out some of the historical museums. I specially said 1pm because if you try to visit any of the sites during lunchtime, they will be closed.

The Reunification Palace

During the Vietnam War it was the home of the South Vietnamese President. The palace is beautiful and kept in pristine condition. They have a lot of tours through the palace, if you like you could pay for one or just walk around yourself and take beautiful pictures. Please don’t touch anything! Depending on your schedule, it can take up to 1-3hrs to see the entire palace. I suggest you take your time and get to know the history behind the place. The place has old tanks, helicopters, president’s desk, a ballroom, and other great features.

War Remnants Museum

If you have a weak stomach I suggest you don’t visit this museum. The museum shows the affects that the American War (Vietnamese War) took on the Vietnamese people.  They have old artillery, helicopters, and tanks, fighter jets that were used during the war. The worse of the images were results of Agent Orange.  Images on the wall showed babies born with 2 heads and body parts in places that they shouldn’t have been. The museum was an eye owner to the affects of war.

People’s Committee (City Hall)

PC is not open to the public. It’s old French style building. A lot of tourists and locals like to take pictures in front of the Ho Chi Minh statue. At the night they have special lights around the building to make it look real beautiful. It is a big tourist attraction.

Street food

The streets are filled with street vendors. Just be bold enough to try it. Some of the best food that you will taste in Vietnam or any Asian country are from the street vendors. A lot of the locals will stop and eat on the street corner. It’s a way of life so join it.  Remember that when you visit a country, you should be one with the culture and leave your old ways behind, unless you are allergic.

 

Ben Thanh Market

This is probably the main market. It’s best to see it at night because it is beautiful. People are walking everywhere. You can buy clothes, coffee, shoes, etc. If, you are big into shopping, this is the place for you. A lot of the markets are open at night. It’s a different atmosphere when you see some of these markets at nighttime. Just be careful of thieves.

Bars and Clubs

Bootleg DJ Cafe(9 Lê Thánh Tôn, Bến Nghé, Quận 1)

After a day of walking around and seeing the sites my friend and I met with the Expatriates (expats) at this bar called Bootleg DJ Café. The owner is a DJ hence the name.  It’s a small bar with and a good place for locals and tourists to hang out and relax and have a few drinks. The music is really good and the staff is friendly. Through our Expat friend we met a few people from Russia, France, North Vietnam, and the states.


Club Lush  or Lush bar as some may call it(located on Ly Tu Trong, Bến Nghé, Quận 1)

is a great club for foreigners and locals to have a great time. The night that we went was the anniversary of the club and the owner brought out a 5-layer cake, dancers coming down from the ceiling on ribbons, champagne was given out to everyone. You can get bottle service for $50USD. Mixed drinks were anywhere between $1-5USD. The waitresses are nice and beautiful. The club has different nights like thirsty Thursday, ladies night, and hip-hop night. If you want to listen to great music and dance all night, club lush is the place to be.

 

Saturday

Mekong Delta tour

For a reasonable price, ($4-$15USD depending on your negotiating skills) you can book a tour to Mekong Delta through your hotel. The bus will pick you up around 8am. Please note that it’s a full day drip. The day that I went, it was raining, so the delta was really brown and murky. It was not an exciting trip. However, I did get to meet some cool travelers from Canada and Singapore. The tour takes you around small villages along the delta. You get to stop and eat lunch and see how life is like outside the city. A lot of the places don’t have power and they use boats to get from one place to another. It’s a different world between the city and the villages. The delta itself is massive, and the tour guides does a good job of explaining what you are seeing. If you get motion sickness, I suggest you don’t take the tour. If you know it’s going to rain, I suggest you don’t do the tour.

Sunday

I took the time to walk around the city and meet up with the people that I met at the DJ Bootleg Café and some of the other bars to say good bye. Visiting Ho Chi Minh City was/is a rewarding experience. I still stay in contact with the people that I met during my time there. I hope to visit the city again in the near future.

 

A Taste of Saigon

A Taste of Saigon

Saigon is called ‘Far East Pearl’ because it influences culinary cultures from throughout the world.  Food here is like a ‘hot pot’ which is gathered and mixed between many different culinary cultures, traditional and modern. This city is the center of culinary culture in Vietnam. We can find different types of food from Northern to Southern Vietnamese dishes to many famous French and Italian dishes,  American burgers, German sausages, Indian curry, Japanese sushi, etc. Food from street vendors or big restaurants can bring great satisfaction.

PH 

Particularly, when we talk about Vietnamese food, no one can forget Phở, which is an interesting traditional food, usually served with beef (or with chicken). We can find Phở easily in any city/province from South to North with many different flavors depending on the style of each region.

What makes a good Phở is the broth made from beef bones, yellow rock sugar, fresh onion, grilled ginger, cinnamon and anise (some use dried cuttlefish to make the broth sweeter). You can also add to Phở, Asian basil, cilantro, coriander leaves, sawtooth herb, rice paddy herb and a little lime juice to make the taste more delicious. Depending on your taste, bean sauce and hot chili garlic sauce may be added. You can choose the meat depending on your taste as well, choosing from rib-eye steak, brisket, flank, fatty brisket, soft tendon, tripe etc.

 

Saigon Phở has its own style – I love the taste of ‘Phở bò’ in Saigon

Phở originated in the north of Vietnam where people usually call it “Phở Bắc”, but really started to spread when a million refugees fled south when the country was divided in 1954. What’s different between Phở Saigon and Phở Bắc? Well, the taste is very different – phở Saigon is a bit sweeter, and the broth looks sort of opaque, and a bit greaser than Phở Bắc. Try both variations and see which you prefer, as each kind of Phở has its unique flavor and both kinds have it’s own signature marks that would make it an unforgettable experience trying it for the first time.

“Phở originated in North Vietnam”

Besides the traditional Phở, there are many ways to break the old order and cook a variety of different versions of Phở, such as sautéed Phở (Phở áp chảo), Steamed rice crêpe rolls with Phở (Phở cuốn), dried Phở (Phở Gia Lai), Phở with sour sauce (Phở chua), and instant Phở (Phở ăn liền).

Out of these, stir fried Phở is tasty – it is basically pan-fried rice noodles sautéed with beef. The noodles are pan-fried first, then sautéed with the sauce, for a crispy and chewy noodle that soaks up all the juices of the meat. The sauce is made in high heat – a bit of oil and sautéd  onion slices and beef, reserving the marinade. The important corn starch is the last step to start thickening the beef mixture into a gravy. Add the mushrooms, carrot, and bell pepper and sauté to make the dish colorful.

 

“stir fried Phở”

Gia Lai dry noodles (Phở khô Gia Lai): this is a very special dish from the Gia Lai province. It is served in 2 separate bowls – one with dry noodles, with a mixture of fried ground pork, fried onion, and a raw vegetable like lettuce, bean sprout, and hot chili garlic sauce. The other bowl contains a sweet broth with sliced beef or meat balls.

“Gia Lai dry noodles (Phở khô Gia Lai)”

Phở with sour sauce (Phở chua): a unique type of Phở from Lạng Sơn Province, when it came to Ho chi Minh City (HCMC), it was cooked a lit bit different to be suitable for the ‘Saigon-ese’ people. What makes this Phở so delicious is the tamarind sauce. The sauce is very thick, sweet and sour, blending with the noodle, chicken, chicken giblets,cracklings, peanuts, and raw vegetables, together with a little bit chili oil and cracklings. This combination is a very unique. Besides the bowl of noodles, there is another bowl of broth with chicken and small spring onions.

“Phở with sour sauce and cracklings op top (Phở chua)”

Each kind of Phở has a unique flavor, and are made differently by Vietnamese cuisine. However, the traditional Phở is the best, and the most popular not only in Vietnam but also in many countries all over the world. So please try it if you have a chance to visit Vietnam – Highly recommended.

 Article written by Trang Mita, a Vietnamese Citizen and images are not property of okvaca