Vietnamese street foods we can’t live without (Part 2)

Eating in Hà Nội (North Vietnam) is always a pleasure for me. I like Hanoi taste. I know many people from South could survive hardly in the North as they found Northern food a bit bland, no flavours, or too much MSG. To me, I found it different – quite authentic, probably sophisticated and specially not too sweet or too fatty like the Southern taste, but I have to agree with MSG.

This time I came back to Hanoi with a friend, we spent almost two weeks there, I got a chance to visit the Yên Tử mountain, the Hạ Long Bay, Sapa, Tràng An…I even went to a very traditional festival named Hội Lim for the first time, and went back to Bát Tràng, where I visited almost 15 years ago – the village famous for their hand-made fine china stuff.

During these two weeks I experienced a lot of good street foods in Hanoi, I’m going to list down some in this post, but also in other review later.

Beef noodles at Bát Đàn 

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One the most recommended beef noodles in Hà Nội – Phở Bát Đàn

Two years ago when I was in Hà Nội during Lunar New Year the store was closed, so this time, finally, I got a chance to experience the beef noodles considered the best in Hà Nội.

I knew in advance that we need to queue, do self-service which is quite unusual in our street food culture, but it was true, especially early in the morning. The queue was long and all tables mostly occupied. You have to wait then to share the table with others.  Later, in the afternoon, just before lunch, plenty of space! Noodles were very good, the best so far, and much better than many other noodles shops.

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Beef noodles at Bàt Đàn – the famous “queue-in phở” in Hà Nội. 

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Chicken noodles – not in Bát Đàn, somewhere in Hà Nội. It was good! 

I was curiously wondering if they would serve this fabulous beef noodles with those herbs, veggies like in Saigon, to me it’s better but it sounds ridiculous to Hà Nội people. It happened to me when I bought a bread with cold cuts at Nguyên Sinh, a famous store in Lý Quốc Sư, I asked why no veggies, the girl looked at me coldly and said “Veggies made bread sour”. OK!

Sticky rice 

In Hanoi there is a famous store for sticky rice, Xôi Yến, they made probably million dollars a year, but to be honest I found Xôi Yến too over tasty! They add so many things, all mixed together, I hardly feel the fragrance of the sticky rice.

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The above sticky rice served with cooked chicken and lemon leaf in a small street not far from Hoàn Kiếm Lake. I first tried it quite long time ago. Simple but good! I like it probably because of the flavour of the lemon leaf, the fragrance of the rice mixed with the soya sauce and the chicken! Only in the North they serve chicken with lemon leaf.

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 A street vendor of sticky rice in Hà Nội 

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Peanut sticky rice with flossy pork, while in the South they serve the same sticky rice with salted sesame and sugar, maybe some shredded coconut. 

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 Another peanut sticky rice with salted sesame

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Corn sticky rice is my favourite, but I realised what I favour in Sài Gòn – quite different from “authentic” corn sticky rice in Hà Nội. In sài Gòn they add sugar or even a bit of oil, with more corn than rice. Here in Hà Nội, no sugar, no oil, more rice than corn!

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Sweet gourd sticky rice – I quite like the gourd flavour and its red colour. 

Rolled cake (bánh cuốn) 

I was obsessed with this cake. I think because of the experience in my childhood when being a little boy, I witnessed how the vendor skillfully rolled this cake on a white fabric surface with the steam raising around. It amazed me!

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I went to a famous place for this rolled cake (Thanh Vân, 14 Hàng Gà). It was a big house, selling not only this speciality but also some other dishes. I was disappointed. It was good but not that good as people recommended, partly of the atmosphere, it was a newly-built house, very large, compared with the typical house size in the old quarter of Hà Nội. No any “authentic taste”, typical tasteless Southern eatery!

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A street vendor of rolled cake in Hà Nội with her special big steam 

Egg Coffee at Cafe Giảng 

I heard about this egg coffee long ago, but only now got a chance to go this famous place, cafe Giảng, for my first cup of egg coffee! We went there early in the morning, we were surely the early birds. I was excited to order. It was very nice!

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 My first cup of famous egg coffee in Hà Nội.

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It was thick, freshly eggy taste coffee 

But when I came back here for the second time, late morning, the place was full of customers, I did order again the egg coffee, my second time was not that good, impressive like the first time. I didn’t feel the thick creme with eggy taste on the top. It was more coffee! But anyway – good experience!

Porridge 

I love the porridge or congee. I don’t know what is the difference between these two words. Anyway the porridge in Hà Nội is very “special”. I did try long long ago, late at night, on way back to one of my friend’s place. I was greatly surprised at that time, but then I never tasted it again so forgot it, but I  knew the porridge in Hà Nội was totally different from the South.

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The porridge in Hà Nội made of freshly-powdered rice and that “shocked” me. I feel like I’m eating baby food. And I still found the “youtiao” (giò cháo quẩy) in Hà Nội – not good! It was hard and not tasty. The youtiao here quite similar to the ones in Chiang Mai (Thailand) same size, but in Chiang Mai tastes better, or maybe similar to the ones in Beijing – I didn’t taste it yet!). The youtiao in Sài Gòn, similar to the ones in Hong Kong. Anyway it was not that bad, the porridge, it was healthy food and could be a good choice for breakfast in Hà Nội in the cold days.

Rice noodles with grilled pork and crab roll (Bún chả Hàng Mành)

One of the most popular Hà Nội specialities is definitely “bún chả, nem cua”, it’s so famous that everyone want to try at least once while visiting Hanoi. The former  US President tried this speciality with late Anthony Bourdain. The foreigners might have a difficulty to find the best place in Hà Nội, but Vietnamese – should be no problem! But by somehow ridiculously an original Hà Nội-born gentleman in his early 40s took us to a wrong place for bún chả. After the first bite, I realised something wrong with the crab roll. It was bad, quite bad, strangely covered with bread crumb that I’ve never seen before.

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Looks good? But tastes not good, after the first bite….I gave up! 

When I looked around, I found, next to where we were sitting, another shop named Đắc Kim, with a big board in the shop “We are the original bún chả nem cua, the next one is fake”. “The next one” meant our place, right at the corner! Usually I didn’t pay attention to those notices, but our roll was bad, so I was wondering where was this place and quickly realised that we were in Hàng Mành. The best “bún chả nem cua” supposed to be here, on this street. And Đắc Kim is the one!

The funny thing that our friend booked the hotel, right in front of this place. The next day I decided to buy some “nem cua” to take-away from Đắc Kim, just to compared with nem cua from the “fake shop”. Đắc Kim was much much better! So watch out when you come here for bún chả!

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The grilled pork was ok, but my favourite “crab roll” was far from good! 

Rice noodles with tofu and fermented shrimp paste – Bún đậu Phất Lộc 

Few years ago, in Sài Gòn there was a big trend among the youth to discover the Hà Nội taste – “the rice vermicelli, the tofu with the shrimp paste” was the top choice. Everywhere. Everyone. At that time I took a chance to try for the first time, not in Sài Gòn but in Hà Nội, at Phất Lộc, one of the most popular places. It was very good! I liked it. Everything was fresh: tofu, rice noodles, herbs.

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Back to Phất Lộc where I have been two years ago to taste my first bún đậu.

But usually when the trend reached the crowd, later it was gradually fading away! Now these eateries “bún đậu”, no more in trend in Sài Gòn, we still could find it somewhere, and my appetite for this speciality also cooled down. Anyway I still felt happy to come back to the old place and introduced it to my friend. One more thing, in Hà Nội the “bún đậu” is so popular, people can get it everywhere.

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I quite like this pork cut. it was good.

Deep-fried savory cake at Lý Quốc Sư 

I passed by this small shop in Lý Quốc Sư several times, not far from the church, I was hesitating to stop by. The deep fried cake, in Saigon we call “bánh xếp”, I don’t like fried food so this one doesn’t attract me very much! One morning I decided to grab few cakes, for take away, to my coffee place. It was good! The outer amazingly thin, crunchy but the filling inside just ok!

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Another early morning, with friend, we decided to spend more time in the store where they serve this fried savory cakes. It was empty. Only two of us with the owner, a man in his 70-80s. The owner started first the conversation when hearing our Southern accent. He said he used to live in Saigon, Đa Kao district, when he was a kid, according to his words, he has been “kidnapped”. I wanted to ask him more how he lived in Đa Kao and why back to the North. It was during the war? Probably long before the war. But I didn’t ask!

Rice noddles with taro stem (!?) – Bún dọc mùng 

Being a Southern-born, and I used to study linguistics, that’s why I found the Northern Vietnamese language quite interesting. The words, the expressions they use, the way they speak. I don’t know many words, like “dọc mùng” in” bún dọc mùng”.  I was amazed at how rich is our language and that brought me back to the old times when we were student, we argued which accent in our language is official – the Northern accent or Southern.

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Bún dọc mùng was simply rice noodles with “bạc hà” (i.e “elephant ear” or “taro stem”!) 

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 It was noodles in pork soup, served with pork meat, meat balls…Taste was good. 

Rice noodles with deep-fried fish – Bún cá cây si  

I suddenly got a message on Facebook from a tour leader at Bike Expert Tour guide in Quảng Bình. I met him last year before my trip to Sơn Đoòng. It happened that both of us were in Hà Nội at the same time, so he asked “Let’s meet and go for something good!”.

Sure! We met at noon and went to bún cá (i.e rice noodles with deep-fried fish). It was in a very small alley, where we can see a big tree, that’s why the dish was named after that tree – “bún cá cây si”. It was very good, rich taste but not much sour flavour as I expected for this kind of dish. It has been served with deep fried fish or with a special side dish: fish spring rolls!

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 My first bún cá in Hà Nội. It was very good, rich taste…

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The fish has been deep fried so it was tasty, crunchy…

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The fish spring roll, a side dish, wrapped not with usual rice paper but fish fillet.  

The sweets 

I love sweets as many others. The most typical sweets in Hà Nội could be those we keep buying from Hàng Đường as gift to friends, or fabulous green bean cake from Hải Dương or fragrant young rice cake.

I bought these colourful cakes from a small store, along the way back to the hotel. It was like a collection of different little cakes people buy for the full moon festival by Lunar calendar. It was not bad. Different taste. And not too sweet!

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Hà Nội eating experience amazed me, not only because of the taste, but the tradition, the culture that I hardly find it in Sài Gòn. I love listening to those stories that from tim to time the owner shared with us, or observing their behaviour, like at the popular chicken porridge place, in front of the famous old church in Hanoi, I was told about the old lady-owner, who loved to blame staffs in her high-pitch voice. I didn’t witness her blames but curiously listening to her flirt with a young couple. She kept saying how handsome was the boy, even though with glasses, and asked the girl to better look after the boy, otherwise she might lose him! The old lady was funny!



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