The French left Vietnam in 1954 after 100 years of colonial rule, but their influence on Vietnamese cuisine remained. From the egg coffee, to sandwiches, to classic Vietnamese noodle dishes, there is a taste of east and west. If you like fusion cuisine, it’s cool to see and taste its modern day interpretations in Hanoi.
I asked our tour guide Ms. Bach Duong to take me to eat some Phở (noodles) and Bánh Mì (sandwich) for breakfast. He politely refused. I asked him why. He said, “You have such a nice breakfast at your Western hotel.” Indeed, the buffet breakfast was over the top, but I wanted the real thing. I wanted to compare Hanoi with Vietnamese food back in California. Most of our Vietnamese food in the U.S. is from southern Vietnam, so it was fun to discover some of the differences between northern and southern dishes.
Here’s where the fun began. As much as I try to respect local culture, I’ve been rebuked at least a few times on our travels on how to eat or not eat food. Like dipping my already seasoned sashimi into soy sauce at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Or, asking for sauces for my pho and other dishes in Hanoi. One distinct difference between Hanoi and southern Vietnamese food is that in Hanoi they don’t have the habit of drowning their food with additional condiments. Oops.
What I did learn from my our short four-day swing through Hanoi is that the Vietnamese people are some of most gracious and friendly people in the world. I think I already knew that from having Vietnamese American friends in California, but traveling to their homeland helped me appreciate that even more.
The following is a sample of some of my favorite foods in Hanoi. And by the way, I never got that Banh Mi.
BEST NORTH VIETNAMESE FOOD IN HANOI
CHA CA LA (GRILLED FISH)
This was one of my favorite foods in Hanoi; Cha Ca La is different than what I am used to eating. In fact, it’s really different from the rest of the Vietnamese dishes in Hanoi. The fish is cooked in a turmeric oil and served with rice noodles and garnished with peanuts, green onions and heaps of dill. It’s different.
BUN CHA (GRILLED PORK AND VERMICELLI)
Bun Cha is perhaps Hanoi’s most famous dish and one of my favorites back home. It’s a rice noodle dish with grilled pork. It usually comes with some lettuce, ground peanuts, fish and vinegar sauce and maybe spring rolls.
CA PHE TRUNG (EGG COFFEE)
Ca Phe Trung (egg coffee) has been served in Vietnam since the 1950s. A must try. Buzzfeed called it “liquid tiramisu.” It is sweet and savory.
BÁNH CUỐN (RICE FLOUR ROLLS WITH DIFFERENT FILLINGS)
I’ve had a lot of Bánh Cuốn back home, and Hanoi’s offerings were many. Perhaps the most popular one here is the minced mushrooms and pork.
(Source: EUGENE C)