Looking to explore all the beauty of Vietnam’s capital soon? Still don’t know what to do, where to go and what to eat in the vibrant and diverse city? Many travelers arrive in Hanoi without knowing much, except maybe a chaotic traffic or delicious Vietnamese cuisine. Hanoi, as well as every part of Vietnam, is iconic for its traditional food choices that attract travelers all around the world.
It’s not a buzz, it’s real! Vietnamese cuisine is extremely diverse, fresh and influenced by cultures around the world. Street food vendors are on each step and it’s now a recognized part of Vietnamese culture. I’ve been traveling all around SEA and while the street food differs from country to country, Vietnam is a country with the most diverse street food scene I’ve ever experienced.
In this article, I will talk about street food culture and traditional cuisine you should definitely taste once you’re in the capital.
- 1 Street Food Culture in Vietnam
Street Food Culture in Vietnam
Before we dip in delicious and fresh food choices you can find on the streets in Hanoi, I’d like to share a bit of interesting history of street food in Vietnam.
First portable street food vendors started to hit the roads in the early 20th century. It’s not documented about the street food scene in the south, but the north, especially villages around today’s Hanoi, was thriving with delicious street food. In the beginning, street food vendors were a bit different than nowadays since they mainly moved their stalls through the day. The choices of food were scarce and people usually prepared Bánh mì (sandwich) or Cơm tấm (broken rice). Once the demand for street food started to exponentially grow, locals from surrounding villages decided to master their local specialties and hit the streets of Vietnam capital – Hanoi.
That was the birth of street food we know today in Hanoi.
Since Hanoi was the place where the economy was booming, many people from the countryside decided to move to Hanoi. Food in Vietnam differs drastically depending on the province, so the migration of people resulted in a very pleasant boom of diversity in street food.
Read More: What to expect when arriving to Hanoi?
Nowadays, eating street food is a whole experience. Locals and tourists blend together and enjoy delicious and diverse food on Hanoi streets. There are so many different options which makes it nearly impossible to run out ideas for the next meal on the street.
I’m going to share my favorite street food specialties in Hanoi:
#1- Phở Bò/Gà (Noodle soup with beef or chicken)
Phở, an iconic noodle soup, is probably the most known Vietnamese dish in the world. In Vietnam, Phở originates from the northern region and later was introduced to Hanoi streets. Since then, locals prepare delicious bowls of Phở and I would say that Phở in Hanoi is by far the best in the country.
A popular noodle soup has various fresh ingredients including rice noodles as a base and fresh herbs like mint, basil, onions and meat. The most important part of Phở is broth which differs from place to place. People usually add chili pepper and lime to neutralize a spicy taste.
A bowl of Phở usually costs up to 50,000 VND ($2.17) on the street and you can expect to have a way better Phở than eating in restaurants.
#2- Bánh Cuốn (Rice Rolls)
Bánh cuốn is another traditional dish originating from northern parts of Vietnam. People usually prepare and eat this dish in the early morning as breakfast, so you have to start your day early to catch a plate of delicious Bánh cuốn.
The specialty is made from wide and fermented rice batter that is later filled with minced pork, mushrooms and fresh herbs. Locals usually serve Bánh cuốn with chả cá that is their fish or meat sausage, basil leaves, and fish sauce with chili pepper. It’s a very light dish so expect to be hungry after an hour or two after eating it.
The prices on the street for a portion of Bánh cuốn won’t exceed 30,000 VND ($1.30).
#3- Bún Chả (BBQ pork in noodle soup with fresh greens)
Bún chả is an iconic dish originating from Hanoi and it’s a very usual lunch option for locals. Basically, it’s a noodle soup served with grilled pork or beef, fresh herbs, fish sauce, salad and other vegetables.
It’s a very special and interesting bowl of soup since it features various ingredients that you have to mix yourself. People usually serve all the ingredients separated and you’ll have to make your own soup depending on your taste. The most usual ingredients are grilled meat (pork or beef) as a base, rice vermicelli, fish sauce with chili peppers, papaya, carrot, onions, basil, beansprout, garlic and lime. Some street food vendors will add more or fewer ingredients, depending on their style which makes every bowl of Bún chả slightly different.
Did you know that even a former American president Obama enjoyed Bun Cha in Hanoi?
The price for a delicious and hearty bowl of Bún chả will cost you up to 50,000 VND ($2.17) on the street.
#4- Cơm Tấm (Broken rice)
Cơm tấm, or broken rice, is a very popular lunch specialty around the country. There are many versions of broken rice with different names, but in essence, the base of each version are fractured rice grains. Usually, you have to pick what you’d like to have on your plate with broken rice.
There are many cooked and grilled food options including grilled meat (chicken, pork or beef), greens, vegetables, eggs, tofu, prawn paste cake, fish sauce and a small bowl of soup. Broken rice is a way cheaper than regular rice since it’s produced by rice that’s damaged in the milling process. Despite a popular belief, broken rice is extremely nutritious and can be compared to brown rice.
Further Read: 10 Free Activities in Hanoi.
If you’ve ever been to Vietnam, you know that people eat with chopsticks, but, interestingly, broken rice is a dish that people tend to eat with a spoon and fork.
Prices usually won’t exceed 50,000 VND ($2.17) in street restaurants, but be careful since touristic places are known by high prices of Cơm tấm.
#5- Bánh Mì (Iconic bread filled with fresh ingredients)
Probably no person never heard of iconic Bánh mì. The literal translation from Vietnamese means ‘bread’ which represents a long baguette filled with different ingredients. Bánh mì originates from France and it was introduced to Vietnam during the French occupation of the country (middle of the 19th century). It became a staple food during the American war for independence and since then, you can find this iconic meal all over the world.
Bánh mì is a fusion of meat and vegetables in a fresh and warm baguette. People usually make Bánh mì with following ingredients; meat sausages, cilantro, cucumber, onion, tomato, carrot, soy sauce and popular pate.
You can find Bánh mì on each step in Hanoi and it usually costs from 10,000 – 20,000 VND ($0.43 – $0.86) depending on the place.
Have you ever tasted any of the above-mentioned dishes? What’s your favorite street food in Hanoi? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.