I personally think a food tour is the best & funnest way to get to know a new place so a food tour was top priority for me in Hanoi. I highly recommend Awesome Travel’s Food on Foot Tour – my friend Will and I ate for lunch a variety of delicious Vietnamese food until it came out of our noses all while walking around the city and taking in the sights for USD25, a home run of a deal!
We also really lucked out with our guide – So’n spoke good English and was easygoing, fun, just hilarious. He also prided himself in being able to do the Yao Ming meme face.
It felt to me like if I hadn’t repeatedly announced how full I was, So’n would’ve just kept moving us along onto the next dish. It was a lot of food (I’m so glad Will was there to share everything with me) so bring your appetite. Anyhoo. Are you ready to rumble? Here we go!
Our first stop was Restaurant Xoi Yen for xoi or sticky rice.
Apparently this is a dish that the Vietnamese favor for breakfast because it’s quite heavy and will keep you full for a long time. Variations are plentiful but we had the one with barbecued pork. I also noticed that shavings of a yellow solid something was going on top of everything and later found out it was a block of ground mung beans.
This is a really hearty meal with all the food groups represented. I thought it could use a sauce of some sort though, to elevate flavor and moisten things a little bit.
Xoi Yen was really crowded so we had taken our sticky rice to our next restaurant Net Hue where we got to try a dish of lemongrass skewered pork made into fresh spring rolls. This is called nem lui.
Unlike the Vietnamese spring rolls I’m familiar with, this one used thin dry rice wrappers very similar to the inner wrapping of White Rabbit candy. On to the wrapper would go the grilled pork, rice noodles, mixed greens, and pickles then it would all be dipped in sauce.
This was delicious and super flavorful, a burst of lemongrass and fresh herbs in every mouthful. Sauce is a must to moisten the rice wrapper.
Pho (pronounced ‘fuh’) is top of mind for many people when talking Vietnamese food. I always thought the name referred to the broth-y noodle dish but ‘pho’ actually refers only to the flat noodles. When the noodles are round, it’s called ‘bun’ (pronounced ‘boon’). For the iconic pho ga (chicken noodle soup), we went to this spot:
The sight of simmering stock was promising.
Pho ga was comforting and the broth aromatic from the chicken, scallions, and herbs. But the far more interesting dish here was the summer pho. I had never heard of this before. According to So’n, this dry pho is preferred by the Vietnamese during the scorching summer and understandably so!
Cold flat noodles with strips of chicken, bean sprouts, fried shallots, and cilantro dressed in a fish sauce-based dressing – pho-king delicious.
So’n then took us through snaking Trung Yen alley to emerge here:
I’m not sure if this place even has a name but these fish fritters stuffed with pork are called ca cuon and they were delightful.
We had some nutty and sweet black sesame soy milk to wash it all down.
Bun cha is a dish that originated in Hanoi so this is a must-try. Let’s review, class – ‘bun’ refers to round noodles. ‘Cha’ refers to grilled pork. Bun cha is a dish of cold rice noodles dipped in a sweet-sour-salty sauce with grilled pork.
The pork served with bun cha is usually a fatty cut but the acid in the sauce + the fresh vegetables cut through the richness. Superb.
If I could recommend only one place to you, it would be Orchid Cooking Class and Restaurant on 25 Hang Bac.
Not only was this air-conditioned “proper” restaurant a nice respite from walking the streets at noon, it was also the only stop where we got to have some alcohol. *evil grin*
That’s a coconut. In it is rice wine that’s been infused with the meat inside which So’n called happy water. We all had a shot of the mild and subtly coconut-y liquor, no problem.
You’re probably wondering about the yellow container that looks like it would normally hold gasoline. So’n actually did call it gasoline but this seemed to excite him.
We all had a shot of this “rice wine for men” and it did taste like it was flammable. So’n says it “connects people better than Nokia.” Hahaha ok, So’n.
All jokes aside, the food here was excellent.
This one was particularly good – sprouts + shrimp + egg + something like crunchy fried rice wrappers made into spring rolls with fresh greens. UGH ❤
I regret not knowing about this place sooner. I would’ve totally booked a cooking class!
I had lamented to So’n about a seeming lack of dessert in the Vietnamese diet and I think he was determined to prove me wrong.
We chose dessert and took them out to our next stop for yogurt. Because I had to have yogurt.
Will and I were pretty close to throwing in the towel at this point. But what’s a Vietnamese food tour without coffee?
We tried the egg coffee with rum. I tried several kinds of coffee while there and my favorites are coffee with yogurt and coffee with milk. The egg coffee is interesting but it does tend to taste, well, egg-y and I found it to be an acquired taste.
Eleven dishes and five drinks later, Will and I couldn’t friggin’ move. So we hopped on a xich lo for an hour.
It’s a miracle our overstuffed bellies didn’t break the xich lo.
Vietnam Awesome Travel is at 19B Hang Be St. Old Quarter, Hanoi. You can book a tour through (84) 904 123 217.
Contrary to my Vietnamese dessert observation (or the lack thereof), there seem to be many of the mango-sago-almond-jelly variety that I just didn’t get to encounter while there. I regret this. If you’d like to sample some authentic Vietnamese dessert during your food tour, ask your guide to include it in your route. The same goes for other specific dishes you’d like to try.