Street food is a quintessential Hanoian experience. If you’ve arrived in Hanoi without a clue as to what to expect from the city, one of the first impressions that stands out is its vibrant street food culture. You will certainly find yourself curious to pockets of locals seated on low stools on the sidewalks dedicated to something delicious. But you might find yourself walking right past, unable to itch the culinary curiosity you find yourself so often in. On the other hand, you might figure that a street food tour will sort things out and sign up for one, and although the variations and newness of the experience might appeal, all tours will navigate the same circle of a select few street foods that appeal to tourists. You might even know this to be true in your own cities where you might find yourself thinking, ‘but there’s so much more to the city’s food culture’ than just a, b and c. So in that spirit, to highlight the underrated street food in Hanoi, we’ve complied a list of our favorite unknown Hanoi street food treasures tourists never know about.
1. Raw Jellyfish Roll
To roll things off, we’re introducing to you Nguyen Thi Gai. At 90 years old, she stands as a testament to the street food culture that has been the way of life for Hanoians long before the arrival of tourists. What’s even more impressive is that she has been selling these fresh jellyfish rolls since she was 19! That by itself warrants a visit to this one-of-a-kind stall in Hanoi located at Hang Chieu Street in downtown Hanoi. Easily accessible if you’re staying in the Old Quarters or around Hoan Kiem.
The rolls themselves comprise of raw jellyfish they are red in color as they are dipped in red natural dye made from the bark of a kind of mangrove tree) which is used to wrap other complimentary ingredients like fresh aromatic herbs, grilled tofu and coconut shavings which is then dipped into a sauce made from lemon, red chilli and fermented shrimp paste. The closest one can liken it is to sashimi but the flavors and textures goes over and beyond into a burst of flavors and textures that is both new and familiar. As you go into your third bite, you will find yourself smiling not just for the taste but the entire experience wrapped into this one simple yet unique affair.
2. Sua chua café + sua chua nep camp
Coffee culture in Hanoi extends beyond the glorious cafe sua da (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk) and the exalted cafe trung (egg coffee) and branches out into a myriad of coffee based drinks that are both a delight and a great alternative to the typical order of coffee. On 43 Yen Phu, Tay Ho, you will find Cafe Duy Tri serving up a delicious cup of cafe sua chua (iced coffee mixed with tangy frozen yogurt and sua chua nep camp, frozen yogurt with fermented purple sticky rice, which is a refreshing and texturally delightful post meal drink.
3. Pho Cuon
Few will recognize Pho Cuon, literally translated to rolled pho, for it is the unsung hero of the food culture in Hanoi. The locals however have a love affair with these simple rolled delights. Sheets of rice paper, or pho (yes, the same is used to make the iconic Pho) is used to wrap minced beef with an array of aromatic herbs that is then dipped in nuoc cham, a sauce made of fish sauce, sliced young papaya, sugar and lime. The result? A simple yet stunning dish that has a distinct flavor that feels fresh, savory, sweet and tangy at the same time. It’s hard to describe really, but one thing is for sure, it is wildly popular with the locals and the best place to get yourself a plate is on Nguyen Khac Hieu Street.
4. Xo Xeo
Another dish that is widely underrated yet a must have on any food list of Hanoi is the Xo Xeo. The dish comes served in a hearty bowl of turmeric stained sticky rice with shavings of mashed green beans. This serves as the ‘rice’ base on which you get to select your own toppings. Anything from fried eggs to pate to pork belly to Chinese sausages. Though a serving of Xo Xeo may seem small in appearance, they are in fact quite filling and makes for a hearty local meal. A popular joint to get a bowl of Xo Xeo is at Xoi Yen on 35 Nguyen Huu Huan in the Old Quarters.
5. Banh Gio
A popular late afternoon snack, Banh Gio (rice and pork steamed dumplings) takes your palate on a different kind of culinary ride. The texture of the mashed rice makes the first impression as you take your first bite. At first surprising to the newness of the texture, you might stop chewing for a second, however, as the reassuring savory flavor settles into your palate, you begin to enjoy the dish. At its core is the pork bit, which is succulent and flavorful to say the least. The two combined makes for a great meddley of textures and flavors. You can also opt to top up your banh gio with a variety of luncheon meat type servings of pork.
6. Banh Cuon
If you have befriended a local foodie, Banh Cuon is most likely on the top of their recommendations. And for good reasons. Within a thin crepe skillfully made out of steamed rice lies a minced pork and mushroom mixture which is then topped with crunchy deep fried shallots. This wrap is then dipped in a tangy sweet sauce that brings together the whole dish. You can also compliment each bite with a serving of herbs to give it that extra kick.
It’s typically served for breakfast in the morning and most stalls usually run out by 8 am. Its in the category of dishes for which you wouldn’t mind waking up early for, and mind you, these lists aren’t very long.
For a list of the most popular street food experiences in Vietnam, check out this list of 9 amazing street food experiences which will surely have your mouth watering. 🙂