Vietnamese food has just been voted the healthiest cuisine in the world and it is also so tasty, diverse and seriously cheap. A general rule, as with any country is this. Eat only where locals are eating, of course if you are new into asia your stomach may not be too happy, try new things and don’t be afraid to point at a dish that looks good and go for it.
The way restaurants are pretty much set up in Vietnam is that each restaurant (when I say restaurant it probably resembles more like red plastic chairs, minimal decoration and possibly outside) each place generally serves just a couple of dishes that they specialise in. Tourist places normally have a menu with everything under the sun and most of the food is adapted to tourists and in my opinion, not as tasty as eating local style.
The Vietnamese eat at very particular times of the day and if you want street food that isn’t between 6am – 9am, 11.30 – 1pm or 5.30pm – 8pm you might have problems finding it. There is always 24 hour street food street which has local places open all night serving soups, noodles, rice etc and also a fantastic bar called Puku that serves western food and alcohol (YAY) throughout the night at reasonable prices. This is in Tong Duy Tan Street a short taxi drive away from Hoan Kiem Lake (too far too walk).
Food you have to try when in Hanoi (in no particular order, with my favourite spots to eat each dish, but there are plenty of others)
This is thin white round noodles served on a plate, served seperately in a bowl with grilled pork, lettuce, herbs and then normally they have a tub of raw garlic and chilli on the side. The bowl with pork etc has broth in it and you add the noodles and herbs/lettuce to it and eat. It’s delicious, possibly not the healthiest but is famous in Hanoi and definitely worth a try. Bun Cha is also served with deep fried crab spring rolls (Nem Rua), if you don’t want these just say ‘Khong Muon Nem’. My favourite Bun Cha is either on Nguyen Du in the French Quarter or Hang Manh in the Old Quarter. Prices are set and normally between 20,000 – 30,000 dong per bowl, have no idea how much the spring rolls are as am allergic to crab 😉
Pho Ga/Bo – prounounced ‘fur’
This is the staple diet of Vietnamese people and normally eaten for breakfast. It is a noodle soup with either Ga (chicken) or Bo (beef). In Hanoi I personally prefer the chicken and in the south of Vietnam I prefer the beer. Although the south is very different to the north pho, I prefer the southern but my northern friends would kill me for saying that. The Vietnamese take their pho very seriously. Eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner it doesn’t really matter. I normally pay between 15,000 – 25,000 depending on where I am. This is a great breakfast option, don’t be shy to sit down on the tiny stools with the locals, slurp it up and spit the bits you don’t like onto the floor! The best Pho in town (cleanest and no MSG), apart from Pho 24 which is a rip off, is the Pho place on 10 Ly Quoc Su (about 3 mins walk north of cathedral). The Pho Tai is my fave, half done beef and is 25,000 VND per bowl.
Bun Bo Nam Bo
Me and my house mate, Kerstin, live on this. Its healthy, cheap and fills you up. Its basically a big bowl with noodles, a tiny bit of broth, fried beef, shallots, herbs, peanuts, bean sprouts and other stuff. You add chilli sauce and soya sauce to it and it rocks. The best Bun Bo Nam Bo in town is near where Hang Da meets Yen Thai just north of Hang Bong in the Old Quarter. Next time I go I will get their actual address. Its 40,000 dong for a bowl.
Alright, so by now you are probably realising that I love a combintation of beer and noodles, and here is another one… These are wet spring rolls (they use pho sheets to wrap) with beef and herbs/salad in the middle. They are dipped in a chilli/fish sauce and are great as a snack. Pho Cuon is found by Truc Bach lake (between Old Quarter and West Lake), ask a taxi for Sofitel Plaza and walk back down along the lake. There are spaces by the lake where you can sit on mats and watch the world go by. These places also serve ‘Lau’ hot pots (like steam boats) and great clams with lemongrass and chilli. 10 pho cuon normally cost about 30,000 dong. I love to sit by the lake, eat pho cuon, drink beers on a nice weekend afternoon. Its a very local thing to do (as long as you don’t mind sitting crossed legged for hours at end).
Ca is fish in Vietnamese and Bun is noodle. This is basically fish noodle soup (sometimes they fry the fish, other times its boiled. The soup is a bit sour and has cooked tomatoes along with other spices/herbs. Its an aquired taste but I like it. My favourite place, although rather random just because its near my house, is on Dang Thai Mai near west lake.
Forget Nandos, KFC etc, Hanoi has a whole street devoted to selling delicious, cheap bbq chicken. Its def worth hanging out here and helping the chicken down with some beers. Get a taxi there, the address is Ly Van Phuc (get a taxi, about 15 mins drive from Old Quarter), just off Nguyen Thai Hoc before you reach the stadium, it’s a right turn where you see all the smoke and chicken pieces. YUMMY!
There is street food on every corner, and some of it is delicious and some not so but don’t be afraid to try. Be careful of any place with ‘cho’ advertised – it means dog, also ‘meo’ (less common) which means cat. You can get fried rice (com rang) or fried noodles with beer (my xao bo). Also very popular for a snack is Banh My which is a fluffy baguette, they normally sell with pate (delicious but it is normally out in the sun all day so be careful), fried egg, dairylea slices, tomato.
For veggies, I am told that Bun Do is good which is a tofu soup (I hate tofu so never tried it), and you can always say ‘an chay’ which means vegetarian food.
Just came across this which might help http://www.cnngo.com/explorations/eat/asia-street-food-cities-612721?page=0,5