As we hit the streets of Hanoi Old Quarter, it was like entering a magical world. Being Indian, we found the noise and chaos quite familiar and non-threatening. Tiny food vendors on the pavements, the fragrance from each corner, the array of small seats with locals munching on sunflower seeds and sipping never-ending cups of ice tea created an atmosphere quite unique. Some of the roads were packed with backpacker abodes. Millions of things and lives coexist on these tiny lanes, enjoying the coexistence, enjoying the cacophony.
Food is an integral part of Vietnam travel. In Hanoi, like all other Vietnam cities, there are very few billboards. What catches your attention on the streetside though, are small boards with large font selling prominent food items the city loves. It changes a bit from city to city, like Hanoi has Bun Cha, Hue has Bun Bo Hue, and Hoi An has Cao Lau. Our first brush with Vietnamese street food was on the road surrounding Hoan Kiem lake (lake of the Restored Sword).
Eating Bun Cha in Hanoi is a Must!
When your first dish is the best, it’s luck by chace. Our first meal in Vietnam just happened to be Bun Cha, the dish that put Hanoi on the world food map. (See the video of President Obama enjoying a meal of Bun Cha with Anthony Bourdain on YouTube.)
We saw a sprightly lady grilling pork strips and pork patties. I was a bit surprised that there was no one around. We couldn’t resist the aromas so stepped in as the first customers in the shop. There was a little place to sit like most other street food shops, so we went into a narrow alley which led to a slightly larger seating area. It was a comforting place with fans and natural light. We were served a large tray of bowls of broth, rice noodles, plates of herbs, a dipping sauce with slices of yam in it, and a beer with ice in it. We picked a bit of everything, dipped the chopstick-full in the broth and sauce, and gulped it down – it was food heaven!
Food Tour – The Best Place to Start a Culinary Adventure
The variety of food and drinks in Hanoi can be quite overwhelming, especially if it is your first brush with Vietnamese cuisine. We began our trip with a food tour with Oliver who took us around the city and regaled us with good stories and delicious food. And, equipped us to continue the culinary exploration on our own, which we did over the next two weeks.
We took the tour with Oliver, from Vietnam Daily Trips. You can get in touch with him through his Facebook account.
Bun Cha – A dish comprising grilled pork, rice noodles, herbs, broth, and a dipping sauce.
Bun Bo Hue – Bun Bo Hue is a Hue twist on Bun Cha. Essentially a broth with beef and pork bones, the prominent ingredients are a beef shank, lemongrass, fermented shrimp paste, coagulated pig blood (cubes), herbs (Vietnamese coriander and basil, bean sprouts, banana blossom).
Cao Lau – Cao Lau is an aromatic broth based noodle dish signature to Hoi An/Quang Nam province. The noodle is thicker (Quang Nam noodles), and the broth is less. The other ingredients are thinly sliced pork and greens such as lettuce, coriander, and bean sprouts. The sauce is slightly sweet.