We’ve made over a dozen trips to Vietnam since 2009. It’s one of our favorite countries for food. Most of those trips have been to the capital, Hanoi. Over 1,000 years old, Hanoi is a very special city to us. Our Hanoi Food Guide features some of our all-time favorite Vietnamese dishes to eat.
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The Best Food To Eat In Hanoi
Traveling across Vietnam, you’ll quickly discover how Vietnamese cuisine differs from North to South. While a relatively small country, each region in Vietnam has its own style, specialties, and twist to traditional Vietnamese dishes.
Many of the most well-known Vietnamese dishes originated from the North. From our experiences, Hanoi cuisine is richer than food from Saigon. One example is the much-loved pho. In the North, the broth is more intense and flavorful. Pho in Saigon tends to be lighter and less flavorful.
One simple explanation for this is the weather. Hanoi gets cold in the winter. Amber and I have learned this lesson the hard way. In Saigon, it’s warm most of the year. As a result, Northern Vietnamese food tends to be heavier and fattier. While Southern Vietnamese food is lighter and fresher.
Many traditional Hanoi dishes are influenced by Chinese cooking. This comes as no great surprise, as Vietnam shares a border with China. While Vietnamese food has been influenced by China, it’s by no means Chinese. Vietnamese and Hanoi food in particular are their own cuisines.
What Makes Hanoi Food Stand Out
Across Vietnam and in particular Hanoi, Vietnamese food is defined by its ingredients. Having explored a number of local food markets in Vietnam, one thing stands out, fresh ingredients. From fresh Vietnamese fruits and vegetables to pungent herbs, fresh ingredients are king.
In addition to these, Vietnamese cooking features tons of fresh seafood including fish, prawns, and our personal favorite, clams. One of the first dishes we ate in Vietnam was clams cooked in lemongrass, garlic, and ginger. The aroma by itself was intoxicating, let alone the taste.
All of these fresh ingredients can be seen in various Vietnamese breakfast dishes, Vietnamese desserts, and our favorite Vietnamese snacks. It is why we keep going back to Vietnam.
Eating In Hanoi
As I mentioned in our Saigon Food Guide, eating on the street in Vietnam is one of my favorite things. There’s just something special about the noise and chaos of Hanoi or Saigon while eating. Across Hanoi, there are tons of street food vendors cooking up delicious Vietnamese dishes. The best advice Amber and I can give is don’t pass up the opportunity to sample what they are cooking.
When traveling to Hanoi, Amber and I recommend spending some time sampling foods from one of the Hanoi fresh markets. Here you will find street food vendors selling all kinds of wonderful snacks, soups, and sandwiches. Our top recommendation is Dong Xuan Market in Hanoi. Go early, as that’s when the market is at its best.
There are some fantastic restaurants when eating in Hanoi. And since you can’t eat street food every day, it’s definitely worth visiting a few. During our last trip to Hanoi, we ate at our favorite restaurant Chim Sáo. Set in a local neighborhood, Chim Sáo is (was) the only place I’d eat tofu. Based on TripAdvisor, Chim Sáo appears to be closed. I’ve reached out directly to the restaurant and have yet to hear back. I only mentioned them to suggest looking for restaurants outside the Old City and the tourist areas.
12 Must Eat Hanoi Food Dishes
With our Hanoi Food Blog, we share our 12 favorite dishes that are a must-eat in Hanoi. By no means is this an end-all, be-all list. They are dishes we’ve discovered over many trips to Hanoi. Amber and I eat and enjoy these every time we travel to Hanoi.
Phở – Vietnamese Beef Soup
Hands down, the most popular dish to eat in Hanoi is Phở. Phở is the national dish of Vietnam. Everywhere you go in Vietnam, you’ll find pho. On the street, in restaurants, and along roadways in Vietnam there’s pho. Amber and I first had phở at a tiny street vendor in Hanoi. I think his name was “Shorty”. Whatever his name, it was a truly wonderful experience. One we’ve since repeated dozens of times across Vietnam.
Pho is a noodle soup made using a rich broth, usually beef. We’ve been told the key to a great phở is the broth. And a good phở broth cooks for hours. Once the broth is ready, slices of beef or chicken and rice noodle are added. Garnishes include fresh chilis, bamboo shoots, and fresh herbs like basil, mint, and cilantro. To give pho some zing, many people add fresh lime, chili sauce, or soy sauce.
Now, a lot of people think that pho is the same across Vietnam. This is not accurate. In our travels around Vietnam, we’ve found regional variations of pho. In Hanoi for example, the broth is more intense and flavorful compared to pho in Saigon. Speaking of Saigon, we found that pho in the South contains a great amount of onions versus pho in Hanoi. These differences might be subtle but they make it exciting to try different styles of pho in Vietnam.
Bún Chả Hanói
Bún Chả Hanói is the first thing I always eat in Hanoi. It’s my absolute favorite Vietnamese dish. This delicious dish combines grilled pork, pork meatballs, noodles, and pickled vegetables. Add in a flavorful dipping broth with fresh herbs and I’m in food heaven.
Given what Bún chả consists of, it’s no surprise bún chả translates to white rice noodles (bún) with grilled fatty pork (chả). You’ll find bun cha all over Hanoi. Just step outside and follow the delicious smells. It’s the ultimate Hanoi street food and my #1 recommendation for food in Hanoi.
Ngô Chiên Bơ – Vietnamese Fried Corn
In 10+ years of traveling the world, it’s the simple dishes that have left the fondest memories for us. Easily on our top 10 favorite snack food discoveries list is ngô chiên bơ.
Ngô Chiên Bơ is a buttery fried corn kernel dish popular across Vietnam. It’s the perfect Vietnamese street food dish found at most Hanoi markets. As we did, the more time you spend in Vietnam, the more you’re going to crave Ngô Chiên Bơ. To find some of the best Ngô Chiên Bơ in Hanoi, head to Bia Hơi Hà Nội. Located in the Old Quarter, Bia Hơi Hà Nội served lots of great Vietnamese beer snacks alongside bia hơi.
Pro Tip: Places like Bia Hơi Hà Nội only have a certain amount of bia hơi each day. If you want to experience bia hơi and street food, go early. By mid or late afternoon, many places will have sold out of bia hơi and close until the next day.
Often mistaken with spring rolls, these little finger food snacks are actually a different thing entirely. Unlike egg rolls, they are not fried in oil. In fact, they are not cooked at all but instead served as a cold dish.
Made using sticky, moist rice paper, these flavorful little parcels are packed with refreshing vegetables and herbs such as cucumber, carrot, mint, and cilantro, and usually some meat such as pork, shrimp, or chicken. They are served with a selection of dipping sauces, such as peanut sauce, chili oil, or soy sauce, and the result is a party in your mouth.
This is always a good choice if you’re looking for some of the best Hanoi food. It’s also lovely and light, meaning you can snack on them throughout the day and still have room left over for all other good food in Hanoi.
Cha Ca – Vietnamese Turmeric Fish
If you love fish and seafood, then I highly recommend trying this turmeric grilled fish dish known as cha ca. Many chefs in Vietnam use catfish for this dish, but depending on where you go, it can be served with other varieties of fish too.
The fish is marinated in a turmeric sauce, which includes shrimp paste, ginger, and chili, before being grilled over hot charcoal for a charred flavor.
The dish is often served with rice noodles and fresh herbs such as dill, scallions, and basil. It is considered a delicacy in Hanoi and can be found in many Vietnamese restaurants, such as Cha Ca La Vong on Cha Ca Street.
Bún Thang – Vietnamese Noodle Soup
Bun thang is a Vietnamese noodle soup, which gets its name from a medical term in Vietnam that translates to prescription. A Vietnamese chef told me that this was because of the heavy use of dried herbs in this dish’s preparation.
This noodle broth, similar to pho, is usually topped with various ingredients, including egg, Vietnamese sausages, and shredded chicken. It is served with a generous helping of rice noodles, fresh herbs, and the dry herbs used in the broth, making this a flavorsome soup.
Bun Rieu is a rice noodle broth that stands out entirely from any other noodle broth you will sample while eating in Hanoi. Instead of the usual beef and bone broth, this is made with a beautiful, rich tomato broth and flavored with different kinds of crab, from freshwater to brown paddy crab.
The broth is the perfect balance of sweet and sour, and the flavor combinations make it one of the best noodle broth dishes in Hanoi, in my opinion. You can get your hands on this taste sensation at almost any Vietnamese restaurant in Hanoi.
Street Side BBQ
It is not a trip to Vietnam if you don’t try out the street-side BBQs that can either be found right there on the sidewalk or at any Hanoi markets.
If you have ever had the pleasure of visiting Korea, you will know precisely what kind of thing I am talking about when I say street-side BBQ. It’s not the kind you might pop up in your garden twice a year and chuck a couple of sausages on; oh no, this is a unique experience all of its own and one that you simply have to try.
On the BBQ menus, you can expect to see dishes such as pork, squid, beef, greens, and even scrambled egg and fried rice, depending on which ones you pass by. The difference with BBQ is the intense difference in flavor.
If you’re looking to get an authentic Hanoi experience, grab a couple of Vietnamese beers, a good spot on the sidewalk, and a sharing plate of BBQ Hanoi street food, and watch the world go by.
Bia Hơi – Vietnamese Fresh Beer
Known as “fresh beer,” bia hơi is essentially draft beer that’s been brewed and distributed the same day. There is a brief maturing period, but much less than most beers. Bia hơi is much more popular in Hanoi and throughout the North. You’ll find it in Ho Chi Minh City, but you have to look very hard. Restaurants serving bia hơi only receive a certain amount each day. Once they run out, which can be as early as noon, they are out until the next day.
Amber and I were first introduced to bia hơi during our first trip to Vietnam. It was at a “beer garden” in Hanoi where we first drank bia hơi. It’s not the best tasting Vietnamese beer. But it’s served cold, or over ice. And it’s cheap. Back in 2009, you could get a small glass of bia hơi for roughly $0.25.
Pro Tip: In Vietnam, people love to cheers (toast) when drinking bia hơi. The most popular Vietnamese toast is “Một – Hai – Ba – Dzô”. This means, 1, 2, 3, Drink!!!! Make a note and make sure to cheers when drinking your bia hơi.
Nem Chua Rán
Nem Chua ran one of the best Hanoi foods that are often popular with the younger crowd because of its fast-food aspect. Similar to egg rolls, or spring rolls, these savory treats are usually filled with prawns or ground, fermented pork before being dipped in a tempura batter and deep fried. It’s kind of somewhere between an egg roll and a corn dog.
These are excellent snacks to walk around with while you explore. Although they might not be the healthiest option when traveling, who cares, you deserve a treat!
Cà Phê Sữa – Vietnamese Coffee
Amber and I are coffee lovers. As coffee lovers, we can’t get enough Cà Phê Sữa when we are in Vietnam. Not many people think of Vietnam as a coffee country. But Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world. Throughout Vietnam, you’ll find hundreds of coffee shops selling this amazing beverage.
Cà Phê Sữa (milk coffee) is made using a smaller French Press-type coffee maker. The nutty-flavored coffee drips down into a glass with condensed milk. It’s not the fastest method, but the results are worth the wait.
Pro Tip: Add some ice to your cà phê sữa for an even tastier coffee. Called cà phê sữa dá, Đá being the word for ice in Vietnam, it’s our prefer coffee in Vietnam.
Cà Phê Trứng – Vietnamese Egg Coffee
This didn’t sound appealing the first time Amber and I heard the name. However, if there is one drink you must try while visiting Hanoi, it’s Vietnamese egg coffee (Cà Phê Trứng). We did and we love it.
Now, don’t worry, you won’t order this and get a cup of coffee with a broken egg on top. The egg is beaten into the condensed milk, which makes an aerated, silky foam to put on top of a robust black coffee. This drink actually originated in Hanoi back in the 1940s. Supposedly, egg yolks were added to coffee because milk was in short supply.
FAQs – Hanoi Food Guide – What To Eat In Hanoi
In its 1,000-year history, Hanoi has been famous for many things including its food. At the top of this list has to Phở bò. Famous across all of Vietnam, Phở Bò Hanoi is a richer and more intense version of the national dish of Vietnam. Other famous foods found in Hanoi include bun cha, cha ca, and kem, Vietnamese ice cream.
As the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is a modern and cosmopolitan city. You’ll find great local Vietnamese food, but you’ll find many international favorites like pizza and American-style BBQ. Over the past 20 years, international restaurants like McDonald’s and KFC have opened in Hanoi. But still, the best food in Hanoi is found on the street and at markets.
Phở Bò is the national dish of Vietnam. All across Vietnam millions of bowls of pho are enjoyed by Vietnamese of all statuses. While it might have begun as a “poor man’s” dish, that is no longer the case. A bowl of pho will cost less if you buy it from a street vendor compared to a sit-down restaurant.