As Vietnam slowly reopens post-lockdown, we take a look at the local dishes that best define its capital
1. Banh cuon
If you find yourself hungry for a midday snack while in Hanoi but are unsure about committing to a full-on meal, keep an eye out for these – rice rolls made from fermented rice batter that’s been steamed and stuffed with a hearty mix of seasoned ground pork and minced vegetables such as wood ear mushrooms, beansprouts and onions, to name the most common. Dip them into some fish sauce and enjoy them just as the locals do.
2. Mien xao luon
Think of this as Hanoi’s answer to Japan’s upscale unagi don (braised eel on rice). Expect stir-fried glass noodles, made infinitely flavourful after being simmered in a savoury eel-based broth, topped off with plenty of deep-fried eel, egg and a myriad of greens, such as perilla leaves. From chewy to crispy, it will be hard to find such a perfect marriage of textures anywhere else.
3. Ca phe trung
Also known in English as Vietnamese egg coffee, this traditional drink comprises hot (or iced) coffee and a rich foam made from egg yolk, sugar and dairy beaten together. Types of dairy that have been used over the course of time include condensed milk, butter and even cheese, all of which create a thick and creamy brew that’ll knock you off your feet.
4. Pho xao
Just about everyone should be familiar with the soupy pho (rice noodles in broth) or pho tron, its salad counterpart, but to come across its stir-fried iteration can be rather uncommon beyond Vietnam. What makes this version possibly more enjoyable than the former two is the noodles’ contrast between crispness from being fried and the elasticity that remains on the inside.
5. Cha ca
This is one of Hanoi’s most famous foods, even warranting an entire eponymous street in the heart of the city where you’ll find multiple vendors selling their takes on it. Dating back over a century, its signature component is snakehead fish marinated in turmeric, fish sauce, galangal, garlic, shallots, salt and sugar before it is grilled and deep-fried. Some restaurants even let you grill the fish yourself, akin to a Korean barbecue experience.