Dining in Hanoi for first-timers
People young old seated on low stools outside eateries and cafes along the sides of the streets are a common sight when you roam around Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Despite the sweltering heat, locals and tourists enjoy a warm cup of coffee, a bowl of pho and Vietnamese cuisine in a non-airconditioned setting. There’s something attractive about relishing on the authentic taste of the place, and not even the warm tropical climate can stop travelers to get into such experience.
One of the things I look forward to when I travel is trying local food. While I may find various cuisine in my own country, it still tastes different to eat authentic food in its place of origin. So, when we went to Hanoi for the first time, we tried these delicious dishes:
Cà phê trúng, better known as egg coffee, is a sought-after drink in Hanoi. The mix of the tasty milk coffee and meringue-like froth of the egg has an appeal that even non-coffee drinkers will find satisfying. I never expected myself to take delight on it, thinking about how coffee and egg do not go well together, but my curiosity got the best of me. Intrigued by this beverage that has always been present in most travel shows I watched that are set in Vietnam, I went ahead and had a cup myself. I’m glad I did. Now, I live to tell the experience that made me say “aaahh” after my first sip.
Steamed rice rolls with minced pork & mushroom
They looked delicate and tiny, yet every roll wrapped in thin rice paper was very tasty and filling that they seemed to melt in my mouth. The ground pork and minced mushroom blend well with the rice sheet, and the fried shallots on top add an extra flavor. The roll is dipped in a savory vinegar sauce mixed with some seasonings. Locals call this dish Banh Cuon. This alone can already fill your cravings in the morning or during noon.
Traditional deep-fried spring rolls
One of the popular Vietnamese dishes is the traditional deep-fried spring roll. It usually has minced pork with vegetables and vermicelli and dipped on vinegar or sweet chilli sauce. While you can enjoy this as a snack, the roll itself is already like a meal because of the rice paper, the pork and the vegetables.
Rainbow sweet soup
Nope, this is not a hot broth. Instead, it’s a cold dessert with many colors. It has mock pomegranate seeds, mung bean paste, agar jelly and coconut milk. It reminded me of the Filipino halo-halo but the Rainbow Sweet Soup is less sweet and has a rougher texture than the former, according to my Negrense palate. (I come from the province of Negros Occidental, the sugar bowl of the Philippines.)
I can say that Bun cha is a very filling dish that has a plate of rice noodles, grilled pork belly, a basket of fresh greens and herbs, pickled vegetables, side dishes and a bowl of dipping sauce that has vinegar and other elements. These ingredients are served separately. You can make a wrap or a roll-out of the fresh greens, or you can mix everything with the sauce and eat them as you please. Bun cha is Hanoi’s specialty so it’s best to taste it in various restaurants when you visit this city.
Muc xao dua
It’s stir-fried squid with pineapple, chilli and onion. It has a sweet and sour taste and the squid is chewy and yummy. The pineapple brings out a fresh flavor to the squid.
Pho Bo and Pho Ga
Pho is a must-eat when in Vietnam. It’s a soup with rice noodles, meat and herbs and vegetables. Pho Bo is Vietnamese beef noodle soup while Pho Ga is Vietnamese chicken noodle soup. You can squeeze a slice of lime on the broth to make it tastier.
Heo Chay Toi spicy pork
It was a snack we had near the Water Puppet Theater. It’s dried flakes with fried garlic and chilli. Somehow, it reminded me of adobo flakes, but sweeter and spicier. You’d love to have this while drinking beer or alcoholic beverage.
There were plenty of food dishes that we tasted in Hanoi but it seemed that we only tried the tip of the iceberg. I’d love to explore more of their cuisine. Maybe on my next visit to Vietnam.
These are some of the restaurants where we dined during our trip to Hanoi:
- Wrap & Roll – It’s a tiny but elegant space in a building near the Water Puppet Theater. It has a second floor but we opted to stay on the first level, where there’s a counter and the kitchen is visible to the diners.
- Lantern Restaurant – The fancy restaurant a block away from our hotel in the Old Quarter caught our attention. There are colorful lanterns on the ceiling and the restaurant felt homey. It also has an inn at its upper floors.
- Thuan Viet Quan – This garden restaurant adjacent to our hotel was a few minutes to closing time when we arrived. But they allowed us to place our orders. The restaurant had live plants in its interiors. Tubers like onions, garlic, and pineapple, to name some, which were placed on plastic bottles with water.
- El Domo Restaurant – While waiting for our flight at the airport, this restaurant on the upper floor caught our fancy because of the grilled dome. Moreso, it was packed, which can be an indication that food is good. And it was. I liked their egg coffee here.