Spending large amounts of time in Hanoi requires constant patience and certain ignorance of chaos and bustle. And yet the Vietnamese capital wouldn’t allow you to linger too long over its annoying side. Hanoi is an urbanscape in a constant state of change, blending French colonial architecture, vestiges of the American war, multiple cultures and new creations – bars, restaurants, shopping malls that are continuously altering the face of the city.
Together with a new multicultural dimension, more American fast-food chains are entering Hanoi. And if you’re wondering whether Vietnamese cuisine is departing from its origin by the ubiquitousness of Western styles, here is the list to prove Hanoi food and its quintessence can still be accessible at the same time.
You can generate enough heat to melt metal with the argument over which place serves the best pho. I found my answer once I ate Pho Thin a few years ago. Mr. Nguyen Trong Thin made his way to success by completely transforming pho to a different savour.
Beef is stir-fried with garlic before being added to the soup. Easy as it may seem, this minor change requires exacting skills to turn shreds of meat aromatic but not too chewy. The broth may end up being a little greasier than the standard pho but a topping of dedicate green onion creates a subtle dialogue between these ingredients.
At any time, there is a bunch of people squeezing on the wooden benches in the narrow room. You stop at the kitchen right in front of the entrance, pay the money and get your bowl. People don’t come here to chill or take times staring at their phones because they know many other people are awaiting their turn. And even if you dine at a counter barely wide enough to hold your bowl, you’ll feel implausibly happy.
No. 13 Lo Duc Street, Hai Ba Trung District
Banh cuon Thanh Tri:
Banh cuon (streamed rice pancakes) is a definitive Hanoi food which is now available all over the country. However, Banh cuon Thanh Tri (which was originated from the northern village Thanh Tri) offers you an unusual flavor that is impossible to be found anywhere else.
Rather than being stuffed with minced pork and black mushrooms, the Thanh Tri-style pancakes are kept in sheets without any filling. Although it’s not as soft and light as the normal one, you will soon find out that difference doesn’t matter too much.
Banh cuon Thanh Tri is famous for its dipping sauce and Vietnamese ham which is a bit more fleshy but tasty. Both are topped with tiny crunchy fried onions and a handful of herbs.
Banh cuon Ba Hoanh
66 To Hien Thanh Street, Hai Ba Trung District
Banh mi chao:
Banh mi chao is another variation of Vietnamese bread which is served on a frying pan. The title of the dish may be simple (“chao” means a frying pan) but it’s a blend of seven: pate, omelette, sausage, beef, mashed potato, pickled vegetables and bread.
I have to admit that the very savoury, condense presence of the tomato-based sauce adds a gentle touch of caramelisation. It’s immediately recognisable food that pushes the boundaries of banh mi.
No. 44 Phan Boi Chau Street, Hoan Kiem District
Banh duc is made from a blend of sticky rice flour and water. It’s then stirred until the mixture forms a thick glutinous mass, which is eaten with minced pork, wood ear mushrooms, fried tofu, herbs and a topping of fried shallots. However, the key to make a tender taste of banh duc lies on the fish sauce which has to be a balance of sweetness and saltiness to harmonise other toppings.
Normally, I like to enjoy banh duc in the late afternoon, leave my work stress behind and let my head spinning again: how can you get so much flavour in this bowl?
No. 8 Le Ngoc Han Street, Hai Ba Trung District
Xoi xeo is a dish of sticky rice, a few bits to sprinkle on top – buttery crumbled mung bean, crunchy shallots and whatever toppings you want (pate, fried eggs, chicken or pork…) – with cooking oil poured over it. Personally, I would like to enjoy xoi xeo as a simple street food without any fleshy topping. The fresh rice and the street atmosphere is truly a revelation of Vietnamese cuisine.
No. 44 Hang Hom Street, Hoan Kiem District