For both foreign tourists and locals alike, Vietnam’s cornucopia of street food is a delicious and unique attraction. But sadly, efforts to beautify the city are ridding it of some of its magic.
“Like the central town of Hue or Ho Chi Minh City in the south, Hanoi has its own specialties that are typical of the north,” said Nguyen Tien Thanh, a Nguyen Luong Bang Street resident in Dong Da District.
“If I have a friend visiting from out of town who wants to try Hanoi’s best foods, I won’t take them to luxury restaurants but to small stalls where the best local specialties are served.”
For some of the most popular capital city favorites, Thanh suggested checking out barbecue chicken legs on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, boiled snails on Luong Dinh Cua Street and fried rice on Tong Duy Tan Street.
Even the most traditional Vietnamese dishes are done best in the capital.
There are also many good stalls along Tong Duy Tan Street and the old quarter’s Dinh Liet, Ta Hien and Hang Giay streets
“I think the most popular dish here is pho,” said Mai Thanh, a Cau Giay Street resident. “A lot of people travel to Vietnam gree that Hanoi pho is the most delicious in the country.”
But with almost every corner in the capital serving the mouthwatering beef noodle soup, it’s difficult to know where to get the best bowl.
Many local residents suggest Pho Nguyen Khuyen near the Temple of Literature, which attracts diners with its especially sweet broth.
There is also Pho Thin on Lo Duc Street and Pho Thinh on Ton Duc Thang Street. Pho is popular not only because of its classic, simple taste, but also thanks to its affordable price of roughly VND20,000 per bowl.
Some pho stalls serve other dishes like bun (thin rice noodles), chao ga (chicken and rice porridge), com rang (fried rice) and ga xao (simmered chicken), all as delicious as they are cheap.
Another dish that pulls in a lot of people at night is goi kho bo (dried beef salad) on Ho Hoan Kiem Street, the shortest street in the city. This spicy dish is especially good during the cold winters.
The salad brings together papaw, carrot, and dried beef all sliced very thin and mixed with vinegar, fish sauce and dried crushed peanuts. The perfect combination of sweet, sour, peppery and salty flavors pleases any curious diner.
Luong Dinh Cua Street is a haven for anyone looking for snails and oysters. The street is crowded with seafood lovers every night.
From all over
Hanoians have long been known as discerning diners. They don’t mind driving a long way to find that special stall serving their favorite food. That’s why famous stalls on Tong Duy Tan Street or the Old Quarters’ Dinh Liet and Ta Hien streets are always crowded with lines of diners from across the city.
Just as accents change throughout the country, so do individual palates. People in the central region like to add more peppery spices to their food while southerners prefer a sweeter taste. Hanoians like to make their dishes lighter, with less fat and spice.
“I’ve tried many local foods in each of the Vietnam’s three regions,” said Patrick, an English man living in Hanoi. “But I like pho and bun cha (noodles served with grilled pork) in Hanoi most. Eating out in Hanoi at night always feels great, because everyone is relaxed and friendlier.”
‘Cleaning up’ the city
Unfortunately, the city’s street vendors are banned from certain areas of Hanoi in a move to ‘clean up the streets’, some of the city’s particular charm is now at risk. Many locals feel like they’ve lost something.
“My friends and I used to eat fish noodles served by an old woman on the street near my house,” said Thanh Nga on Hang Bong Street. “We all knew she cooked the best noodles in town but she’s been forced to stop selling. I think that the vendors that have gotten pushed out of work have taken away with them some of the best Hanoi specialties.”
Luckily, there are still street-side stalls. On a cold winter night, nothing can be more comforting than the soft streetlights and sweet smells emitted from the old-fashioned home-based eateries.