What to eat in Hanoi?
Honestly before visited Vietnam for the first time, I had very limited knowledge about Vietnamese cuisine. I had only tasted Pho, Cha Gio and Bahn Mi which I adore. So in order to learn more, I decided to book a private food tour for my family (USD 25 per person). It's always nice to be accompanied by local people and get to know their daily life also the stories behind their food.
Here's some of the best Vietnamese food I tasted during my 8 days trip in Hanoi - Ninh Binh - Halong Bay...
First stop was fried goodies. Cat, our Hanoi street food tour guide brought us to a small food stall next to St. Joseph's Cathedral. Almost immediately, we were served a mixed platter of Bahn Tom, Cha Gio and Bahn Goi accompanied with a bowl of dipping sauce and a big plate of fresh herb leaves. Bahn Tom is basically a fried shrimp fritters. We have a quite similar dish too in Indonesia which we call Bala-Bala / Heci / Bakwan.
The Vietnamese spring rolls is loved not only by local people but also westerners since it's a popular appetiser at most Asian restaurants in Europe and USA. Cha Gio is literally mince pork sausages. The skin is thinner than the typical spring rolls we have here in Indonesia. What I really love was the dipping sauce made from fish sauce and lime juice then added garlic, slices of chili padi and green papaya. It is widely believed that the sauce will eliminate and dissolve the oil. Uhmm....no wonder Vietnamese are generally have slender figure even though they love to eat :)
I've never heard or tasted Bun Cha before thus I didn't expect much when Cat took me here. I almost skipped it because the eatery was tiny and very packed with people. You know, as a claustrophobic I easily feel overwhelmed in such situation. To make it worse I had to climb very narrow spiral staircase up to the 4th floor attempting to get an empty table. It must be delicious because so many people are willing to queue. Don't you dare to faint before you taste this, Debz! And so I told myself not to give up one of Hanoi's specialities.
Thankfully I didn't have to wait long for my food to be served. Bun Cha is grilled pork that is served with white rice noodle, fresh herbs and dipping sauce. The appearance reminds me of kebab that I ate in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. But Bun Cha has a more delightful and sweet aroma of the charcoal grilled meat. I took a bite of those fat golden colour chunk of patty and tasted a sudden glorious sensation on my taste buds. The meat is so moist that its juice dipping down my lips. I closed my eyes and moan unconsciously. D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S! It was definitely love at first bite.
Bun Bo Nam Bo
Known as Vietnamese beef noodle salad, Bun Bo Nam Bo was given a title 'One of the best street food in Hanoi Old Quarter'. Surely it's a mouthwatering combination of steamed vermicelli, stripped of well marinated - grilled beef, fresh cilantro, bean sprout, fried shallot, lettuce, sliced cucumber, carrot pickle and a spoonful of crushed peanut. I know it's so tempting to digging it right away but it's essential to mix all the item in the bowl first before eating it. I can't agree more with Bobby Chinn's statement: "Textures of contrasting temperatures and flavours with each passing bite makes for a wonderful simple dining experience that is worth the wait as well 20 minute sitting on low uncomfortable bench and or stools."
I had fun watching the seller cooking this rolled cake on a special pot with a cotton cloth place on top of it. A very thin layer of batter was poured onto the cloth and evenly spread. It took less than a minute before she lifted the delicate sheet using a bamboo stick. Then she added some seasoned ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom and minced shallot. Not my favourite food but my sister love it.
|just a normal omelet? NOPE|
|the ingredient including this live sand worm|
"Would you like to taste this sand worm?" Cat teased me.
"Sure, let's go!" I answered, full of excitement. I could tell that Cat was a bit surprised and was expecting to see my facial expression of disgust with a firm "no!" or "ewww" as my reaction. LOL. There's no way I would miss the chance to taste this sand worm since it's pretty rare to find. It can only find in a such short season from end of September to October. We then did what people called 'the Vietnamese squat' on some small low chair while waiting our sand worm to be cooked. Apparently Cha Ruoi is a special delicacy from Hanoi and North Vietnam. Though it's a bit greasy, I couldn't stop munching. The worm has a very soft texture and blend really well with the batter of eggs, scallions and a hint of pepper. Very tasty omelet!
|Banana flower salad with chicken|
Banh Beo Tom Chay & Banh Beo Thit
I was also taken to this restaurant that served some authentic food from Hue. Bahn Beo literally means water fern cake and is the Vietnamese version of tapas. I was excited when the waiter brought me this food. Just look how it's beautifully presented on a traditional bamboo tray. The rice cake batter was steamed on tiny ceramic plate topped with chopped dried shrimp, small bits of crunchy pork and pork crackling. Oh yum! Very tasty and interesting dish indeed.
Banh Bot Loc
Wrapped in banana leaf, this snack loosely translates to 'clear flour cakes'. It's also originated from Hue, as the city was once the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty and known for having simple yet sophisticated dishes. The small clear looking dumpling has a Q factor or bouncy texture from tapioca starch. Somehow it felt like I was chewing gummy bear but a savoury one. It is filled with shrimp and served with fish sauce that has a combination of sweet and spicy flavour.
Or what people called the sizzling Vietnamese crepe. I thought the size would be like a normal crepe so I greedily ordered two portion of Banh Xeo. I nearly fell off my chair when the waiter brought me two humongous and fat crepes. Seriously, they were really huge that will put an elephant panty to shame! Well I know it's not the right comparison and elephants don't wear panties but you get the idea, right? The crispy crepe is stuffed with chunks of meat, shrimp, diced green onion and ample of bean sprouts. To eat it you need to cut the giant crepes into smaller portion, wrapped it in fresh rice paper and dip it into the special sauce. It is surely tasty but after the two giant portion, I probably won't order it again in the next two years :p
The main reason I flied all the way to Vietnam was that I wanted to taste the authentic pho in its home country. This linguine-shaped rice noodle soup may look simple and humble but the taste is satisfying and beautiful. I think the critical key would be the flavourful broth and the freshness of meat. I noticed that the Hanoians usually eat this beef noodle soup in the morning as their breakfast. But I much prefer to have it as dinner or supper. The broth of beef pho is made by simmering beef bones, oxtail, flank steak, charred onion, ginger and spices. While the topping can be chosen from fatty flank, lean flank, brisket, steak, tendon, tripe and even meatballs. Add a squirt of lime juice and slices of chili padi to give an extra oomph. Stay away from my pho, I'm not sharing it! :p
Compare from Pho Bo, this chicken noodle soup has clearer broth which tastes lighter too. Pleasing my sense of taste but I love my Pho Bo more! I presume the cooking method for the chicken is similar to Hainanese boiled chicken since they taste quite the same. Just like Pho Bo, it's also served with ample of fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, shiso leaf, spearmint and else.
My sister and I had just done our shopping in Dong Xuan market and passing through a narrow alley packed with people eating in some food stall. Then I noticed an older lady was selling this vermicelli soup with some escargot on top. I looked at my sister with big grin on my face and she instantly nodding in agreement. The idea of eating snail makes a lot of people cringe but we both love it. Tomato based broth has a perfect tanginess and complement the snails well without overpowering its flavour. Dang! I'm having a sudden crave of this snail noodle soup right now.
Found this dish when I was exploring Ninh Binh and they said it's the speciality from the province. The mountain goat meat is grilled along with galangal and lemongrass. The tender texture of the meat indicating a great cooking skill. Surprisingly it doesn't have the distinct odours or gamy smell like it normally does. The taste is actually reminds me of black pepper beef that I order in some Chinese restaurant. Surely luscious!
|crispy fried banana|
Ages ago when I was working as a pastry commis chef in Switzerland and London, I used to bake trays of baguette every morning. Crunching sound teased my ears as my knife slowly cut into the cracky crisp skin. Piping hot steam escaped from the fluffy inside and the beautiful aroma wafted into my nostril. That's how I became madly in love with baguette. It's not surprising I adore Bahn Mi, the Vietnamese sandwich. You'll have ample choice of fillings from grilled chicken, chicken floss, grilled pork, Vietnamese sausage, spreadable pork liver pate, canned sardines, meatball in tomato sauce, fried eggs, mock duck to tofu. Accompanied with fresh slices cucumber, cilantro, slices tomatoes and pickled carrot. And the final touch will be mayonnaise, spicy chili sauce and cheese. Phew! I'm drooling just typing about it now. Why am I torturing myself? *sobs*
Cha Phe Trung
And of course, it would be a shame to leave Vietnam without tasting their famous Vietnamese egg coffee. I did browse before hand because the idea of mixing egg with coffee as a drink sounds a bit odd to me. We went to cafe Giang which is quite difficult to find if I were not with Cat. He ordered a hot egg coffee and an iced egg coffee with chocolate. After a very light stir into those creamy layer of whisked egg, I took a sip from my teaspoon. Surprisingly it tasted really good! Something like tiramisu but with a stronger kick of coffee. The iced egg coffee was even better because it's added chocolate. This gotta be my new favourite way to enjoy coffee!
All in all, I was happy to taste quite a number of new Vietnamese dishes. Some of them stands out better than the other and did a wonderful job spoiling my taste buds. I have always love street food and Hanoi is definitely a impeccable destination. Thinking about arranging another trip to Vietnam now. So who is going with me? *grin*
What's your favourite Vietnamese food? Any recommendation which food I should taste on my next trip to Vietnam? :)
Please do check the previous Food Porn series: