Everybody, and I mean absolutely everybody, knows that the best part about visiting a new place is the food. It’s undeniable. Only through eating can you consume the rich diversity of different ways of life in the time it takes to chew and swallow. The best way to get a taste for what life is like for ordinary folks in any destination is to eat like a local. Sometimes that’s a little tricky and just turning up at a stranger’s table at dinnertime can lead to all sorts of awkward questions. Lucky for those visiting Vietnam, the best local food is sold on the streets and is available to all. Prices are outrageously low for those used to dining outside of Asia meaning you can try everything without busting the bank. Just be careful not to bust your stomach.
Banh cuon Ha Noi
Debate continues to rage over who sells the best Banh Cuon in Hanoi. The only way you’re really going to be able to find out where to find the best Banh Cuon at the precise moment you want it is to ask a local who seems to be in the know. A staple of Hanoi street food, the quality of Banh Cuon you find on the streets will vary but to be honest, to my pallet, even the Bahn Cuon on what some would consider the low end of the scale is pretty darn tasty. Steamed rice pancakes filled with pork mince, mushrooms, onions and a squeeze of lime forms the basis of Ban Cuon’s most basic incarnation. One bite and you’ll be craving this tasty little snack at all hours of the day.
Cha ca La Vong
Another dish best served on a plastic plate at the side of the road while you balance precariously on a plastic stool no bigger than a house brick is Cha Ca. If you’re a fan of dill, you’ll be a fan of Cha Ca. The dish consists of small fish fillets that have been marinated in turmeric and sautéed in dill. You also get a huge display of condiments such as crushed peanuts, sliced chilli and coriander to mix into your dish. Like much Vietnamese food, Cha Ca is served with cooked but cold rice vermicelli noodles.
Mien Xao Luon
This popular little dish is a great change from pork-heavy noodle and rice dishes. Mien Xao Luon consists of tiny little deep friend eels, stir fried with glass noodles, bean sprouts and egg. The stir fried fish and noodles are topped with shallots and cucumber giving a nice light flavour to accompany the greasy crunch of the eels.
A rather large portion of Chim Quay
Unidentifiable barbequed meat is a common sight on the streets of Vietnam. Coming from a culture used to seeing meat handily pulverised into sausage or burger-based shapes it can be a little alarming to see a bird or small mammal barbequed whole and slapped onto your plate. One of the small birds commonly eaten in Hanoi is Chim Quay, or barbequed pigeon. Available from a few food stalls around the Old Quarter, Chim Quay is definitely worth a try.
Xoi ngu sac
Xoi is Hanoi street food through and through. The base of the dish is sticky rice that is mixed with shaved bean curd and shallots and moulded into handy little globes. The rice balls are topped with anything really but crunchy pork and fried egg are two of the favourites. The best time to eat Xoi is at night when the young and restless of Hanoi are enjoying a Hanoi beer or two and grabbing these tasty snacks on their way from bar to bar.
Unfortunately for me, once the sun goes down and I’ve eaten my evening meal all I can think about is eating something sweet. If a few beers are on the cards this urge becomes even worse and in the past I’ve gone to some embarrassing lengths to get my hands on a sweet treat late at night. That’s why street food in Hanoi is so amazing, there’s always something available. Che Chuoi is one of the most simple but best desserts available in Hanoi and involves banana chunks cooked with rice and banana leaf mixed with hot coconut milk and fried peanuts. It’s delicious hot or cold and, for me, captures the naturally sweet and sticky taste of Hanoi.
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