We love street eats and see it as the best way to explore a city, so we always prioritize a newcity visit with a guided food tour. We did that in our former trips to Asia, including Singapore, Bangkok, and Hong Kong. In our most recent vacation to Vietnam, a friend of us from New York recommended us Flavors of Hanoi for a private Hanoi Food Tour.
The company has different foodie experiences for travelers to choose from, we decided to book the “Heart & Soul of Hanoi’s Old Quarter” as we wanted to see the city’s eldest trading area. Communication with the owner, Buffalo Joe, was as easy as a WhatsApp chat. Within minutes, we got our tour confirmed.
We met up at the Metropole Hanoi, where we were staying, at 17:00. Trang – our foodie tour guide briefed us with the stops before heading to the Old Quarter, and we liked her instantly!
On our way walking by the city’s historical buildings, including the former Tonkin’s Palace, Hanoi Post Office, and the Hanoi City Hall… she explained to us what it was with a brief history so we could learn about the city along our food walk, that was exactly what we love about a walking food tour.
The first stop was for the Nom bo kho (green papaya salad with beef jerky) as we reached the Old Quarter. The dish consists of thinly shredded green papaya and beef jerky, fish sauce-based dressing, white perilla leaves, and topped with roasted peanuts. The salad was such a perfect harmony of flavors and textures, offering a great freshness for a street appetizer.
Next, we sampled traditional Banh khuc (sticky rice with cudweed cake). It was a tasty steamed cake, stuffed with pork and mung bean, and was eaten with sesame and peanut salt. The cake, which the local often eat in the morning, was the tastiest sticky rice cake we had ever eaten in Asia.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter does not have large green tree-lined sidewalks like the French Quarter, but it’s home to endless narrow lanes where locals and merchants share their daily life activities: drinking iced tea, eating, chatting, and watching K-pop while cooking.
Provided us with very interesting history of the area, Trang also showed us that there are many residents, although their life is tucked in cramped space, choose to stay instead of exchanging for larger places away from the quarter. We also met a family living in a tiny decrepit attic, who each day wish for a larger place to live – where they don’t have to share the toilet with other families.
One of the tour’s highlights was our visit to a family on Nguyen Sieu Street. Welcomed us into the house built in 1904 was a 90 years-old lady, who made us tea and talked to us about her family history, and walked us to the room where her family dine each day. The visit gave us a great inside out to the life of the people in the capital Hanoi.
Then we went to Cha Ca La Vong, which is known as the oldest restaurant in Hanoi and has been serving the only one dish – cha ca (grilled fish) since 1871. The food was boneless turmeric marinated and grilled hemibagrus (a type of river catfish), which is then fried table-side with tons of fresh dill and spring onion. It’s served with rice noodle, cilantro, roasted peanuts, and shrimp paste. This was one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, especially its smell and taste.
After the delicious fish dish, Trang took us to the traditional medicine street, there we sampled both Vietnamese rice liquor and medicine herb infused wine. It’s fun drinking the most popular alcohol in Vietnam and talking to the owner who made the drinks for her family unions.
Then we ate Mien tron ga (chicken mixed with glass noodle) at a hidden kitchen tucked away inside a dark lane, where there was no other tourist eating there, just locals, some said hello to us with chicken feet in hand. And then we ate Banh mi (Vietnamese baguette) and Pho bo (beef noodle soup) at a family run eateries, where there was a line in front of the place.
As we reached to a pointed of being so full, Trang walked us through another lane to a hidden café to try incredibly delicious Vietnamese coconut coffee – the perfect to end a food tour.
Trang took us back to the hotel after nearly 4-hour walking in a loop around the old town, with endless delicious street foods and intriguing interactions with the local along the way. Trang wasone of the best guides we’ve had in two weeks in Vietnam, and the corners she took us to in the Old Quarter remains unparallel!
We couldn’t speak high enough of the tour. Highly recommended Flavors of Hanoi as you’re visiting the city.