On our Hanoi food tour, one of the most popular questions that we often receive from our travelers is “what are famous Hanoi foods?”.
The first one is obvious – everyone knows that Hanoi features the best of Pho bo (beef noodle soup). And then, what we would refer iconic food in Hanoi can vary substantially based on who you ask. Is Bun cha (noodle grilled pork) a Hanoi food? What about egg coffee? How about Banh mi (baguette with pate)? Or how about other soups such as Bun ngan (Muscovy noodle soup), Bun rieu (crab noodle soup), and so on?
When we sat down for a coffee and think of it, we came up with a list of 10 definitive Hanoi foods. Some are famous because they were created here in Hanoi, while other were created in other provinces in Vietnam but popularized in Hanoi as it’s been the capital of the country for more than a thousand years. Some were adopted foods from other culture like Chinese and French, as they were brought here and widely integrated into our local diet.
While this list is not comprehensive to hit everything that could be considered popular food in Hanoi, we did opt to show what we believe are the most famous and are unique to the city.
For more of our recipe to cook some of the dishes mentioned below, click on the respective links to learn more. They are recipes we’ve learned from our grandma when we were small.
1. Pho bo (beef noodle soup)
There are two kinds of Pho, it either comes with beef or chicken. Beef noodle soup is Pho bo in Vietnamese, and it’s considered a national dish in Vietnam. Pho bo is said to originate in Nam Dinh, a mostly farming province in the south of Hanoi (learn more about pho). When it was brought to Hanoi in the early 20th century, Hanoian restaurants developed the flavor of Pho bo to higher levels.
Most Vietnamese and pho connoisseur say that it’s not because Hanoi is only place serving Pho, but it’s only in Hanoi that Pho has its best flavor! So, eating Pho bo has become a must-try for Hanoi visitors, recommended for both Vietnamese from other cities and international travelers.
Different families in Hanoi has a secret recipe for their own flavor, but a typical bowl of Pho bo is made of rice noodle, marrow-rich beef stock, thinly sliced beef, chopped ginger and fresh spring onions.
Like most Hanoian, we often have Pho bo for breakfast on our way to work. Hence, Pho used to be known as the most popular breakfast in Hanoi. Well, it’s still is. But people eat Pho bo throughout the day now, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I personally go to one of my 5 favorite Pho bo restaurants, depending on how the traffic goes on the day. When my mom and dad come to see us, I always take them to Pho Gia Truyen on Bat Dan Street for breakfast, as their beef stock is one of the best in the city (the only thing I don’t really like about the place is that it’s always so busy that dinners have to queue in a long line).
So, if you happen to be in Hanoi, make sure you try Pho bo! When you do, no matter where you get, be sure to add a tsp of rice vinegar (or a lime wedge) and a drop of chili paste set available on the table. You won’t regret it!
2. Bun cha (noodle grilled pork)
From the success of the beef noodle soup, Hanoi has had a bit of a reputation of making rice noodle, well, with almost everything. Perhaps it’s in our Vietnamese blood, I say that because Vietnam has recently gained 5 world records, from the World Records Union, as the country owns the most “strand and broth” dishes in the world (164 dishes).
You may wonder if the noodles are the same, or are Pho and Bun the same noodle. Well, they are both made from rice, but look a bit different in shape. Pho noodles are flat and thick like fettuccine, while Bun noodles are cylindrical like spaghetti.
Bun cha consists of a soupy bowl of diluted fish sauce that is filled with charcoal-grilled fatty pork, meat balls, pickled kohlrabi and carrot. It comes along with a side of rice noodles (bun) and fresh herbs like perilla, coriander and lettuce.
If one says Pho bo is the most popular breakfast dish for Hanoian, then he may also say Bun cha is the most popular lunch dish in Hanoi. We often tell our travelers who love the dish that, whenever they see smoke on the street there is Bun cha there. As people are charcoal-grilling pork right on the sidewalk. Of cause, not all of their neighbors are happy about the smoke flying around in front of their shops.
I personally have Bun cha for lunch once every week, because if I don’t, I miss the taste of the grilled fatty pork! When you have one, it’s optional to order extra fried crab spring rolls to eat with the delicious mixed fish-sauce-broth, but make sure you add a tsp of rice vinegar and the green herbs. For me, the more herbs, the better flavor!
3. Bun thang (Like-Herbal-Medicine Noodle Soup)
Got to explain what does Bun thang mean first. Bun translates to rice vermicelli (like the noodle in Bun cha above), while thang comes from Thang Thuoc in Vietnamese – which means a unit of traditional Chinese herbal medicine. Since the soup is topped with a little amount of up to 20 ingredients laid out the different amounts of herbal medicines, Hanoian calls it Bun thang.
So bun thang is made of rice vermicelli noodles in a chicken broth, sometimes pork broth, and topped with salted dried shrimp floss, thin strands of shredded chicken, dedicate cuts of Vietnamese ham, scrambled eggs and shiitake mushrooms. Then the noodle soup is garnished with green onions, Vietnamese coriander, fried shallots, and a few slices of red chili peppers. The finished bowl of Bun thang shows a clear broth, eye catching appearance with a nice aroma.
Comparing to other Vietnamese noodle dishes, Bun thang is mild in flavor. Hence, the dish is served with condiments like lime, rice vinegar, shrimp paste and chili sauce to enhance the flavors. Like the shrimp paste, which has a strong pungent smell, but when added into the broth, the pungent smell is no longer noticeable, and it gives the broth a nice earthy aroma!
4. Bun ngan (Muscovy duck noodle soup)
Well, this could be interesting. As Pho is considered the most popular breakfast, Bun cha is the most popular lunch in Hanoi, then Bun ngan is considered the most popular street dinner meal.
From mid-afternoon, signs of Bun ngan starts appearing on many streets in Hanoi and they stay on until mid-night. When most other street food outlets finished their day, we can always find a still-opening Bun ngan.
Bun ngan is a nice combination of boiled Muscovy duck with bamboo shoots, served with rice vermicelli noodles and topped by spring onion. Another version of the soup is Mien Ngan, in which rice noodle is replaced with cellophane noodle.
The dish is rarely found outside of Hanoi, so make sure you try this out when visiting the city. The best place to look for a good one is the Old Quarter of Hanoi, where the local boiled many Muscovy ducks making a supper sweet broth!
Well, rather than continue of this trend of “[food] noodle soup”, we’re going to shift gears into other food types that could be considered Hanoi famous cuisine!
5. Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette with pate)
Hanoi received a rather large influx of French during its colonial period, and naturally the French cuisine has integrated itself into the regular diets of Hanoian over the years. Among the French legacies, one items stands out as being a favorite – the banh mi.
Though the French brought the baguette to Vietnam, the Vietnamese took it to a different level. There are some variations along the length of the country, Hanoi baguettes stick to the basic ingredients of cornucopia of roasted chicken or pork, homemade pork-liver pâté, headcheese, carrot, a generous sprinkling of cilantro leaves, slices of cucumber and chili sauce. A combination of those ingredients, the spicy, salty, sour, savory and aromatic make a bite into a well stacked Hanoi baguette a moment of rapture!
This baguette has a popular following in Hanoi, and can be ordered at high-end hotels, restaurants, cafes and food stands all over the city. It provides simple and delicious sustenance for breakfast and midday meal. It used to be a street food that local people barely think of long before Hanoi street food became an obsession with foodies, especially foreign travelers. So, when eating your way around the city, having a banh mi is a must!
Looking for great banh mi in Hanoi?
Check out one of our favorite banh mi in Hanoi, Banh mi 25, you may love it as much as we do. They have many different flavors for you to choose, from filled pork to chicken and beef. You may want to try banh mi with a bottle of Hanoi beer premium!
6. Cha Ca (grilled turmeric-marinated catfish)
As far as Hanoi food is concerned, none would be more emblematic than that of Cha ca, the grilled turmeric-marinated catfish serves with rice noodle and fresh dills. This grilling catfish dish started some 130 years ago by Doan family, who served the meal to Vietnamese patriots during French colonial rule. Their Cha ca was so exceptional that the street where the restaurant is located was named after the dish, the Cha Ca Street.
Not like most other Vietnamese foods in Hanoi being served on many different streets, Cha ca is the dish that we need to go to some certain family-run restaurants, like the original one – Cha Ca La Vong at 14 Cha Ca Street, or Cha Ca Thang Long at 21 Duong Thanh Street.
The dish consists of turmeric-marinated catfish (or snake head fish) that’s being fried table side in a pan, topped with lot of spring onions and fresh dills (oh yes, it looks good and smells really good!). It’s served with white rice vermicelli noodle, roasted peanuts and other fresh herbs.
So, if you want to try a famous Hanoi food that 100% created by Hanoian in Hanoi, Cha ca it is!
7. Banh com (young sticky rice cake)
Most cities in Vietnam have an iconic cake, and in Hanoi that cake is Banh com, which is made from young rice and mung bean. This traditional young rice cake is also one of Vietnam’s specialties that no one is unaware of, it’s customarily one of the must-haves for many wedding proposals in Northern Vietnam. The cake is made from the most fragrant grains of young sticky rice, with the fillings made of green beans, grated coconut and lotus jam.
So if sticky rice is on your radar, Banh com Hanoi is a must. You can find them in most stores, but a trip to Hang Than street where there are nearly a hundred of Banh com shops would be ideal for the full experience. Our favorite place is Banh com Nguyen Ninh at 11 Hang Than street, they are one of the original families making Banh com on the street.
Banh com tastes special while eating with a cup of Vietnamese tea, hence we often buy home when we are heading to the the countryside and share them with our ants and neighbors – they love drinking tea with sweet cakes.
8. Banh cuon (rice noodle rolls)
In the world of Hanoi breakfast foods, there are many dishes vying for being a Hanoi icon. Beside Pho that you already know, there are still another dish that standout without a doubt – Banh cuon.
This rice noodle roll is made of a thin, wide sheet of steamed fermented rice batter. The rice sheet is extremely delicate, made by steaming a slightly rice batter on a cloth that is stretched over a pot of boiling water.
Each noodle roll is filled with a mixture of cooked seasoned ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, and minced shallots. The dish is finally topped with some fried shallots and fresh cilantro or mint. A portion of this one often comes with Vietnamese pork sausage called Cha lua, and a dipping sauce flavored with a drop of ca cuong (giant water bug).
Banh cuon is one of the Vietnamese foods that I often ate while following my grandma to the weekly market in my village, you can always find a lady sitting with a bamboo basket full of banh cuon. That was our happiness!
9. Caphe trung (egg coffee)
We beg that you’ve heard of Vietnamese coffee, a cup of Vietnamese coffee is strong and tasty with sweeten condensed milk. Many of us are grateful to the French for bringing the coffee tree to the country, with the hard work that the Vietnamese growers put into their farms, making Vietnam the world’s second coffee producer.
But we are not just talking about a regular Vietnamese coffee here, we are talking about egg coffee which was invented by Hanoian during the resistance war. By combining the egg yolk and sweeten condensed milk, Mr. Giang created the egg coffee for his own coffee shop. We think he didn’t know that his coffee would become one of the must-tries in Hanoi, and his family coffee shop has become one of the busiest coffee shops in town!
One sip of the original Hanoi egg coffee and you’ll know you’re tasting something just a bit different, though many of our travelers concluded that it’s like liquid tiramisu!
Looking for some to try?
Café Giang at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan Street is the original family-run coffee shop, opened since 1946. Beside egg coffee created by their father, they are offering egg matcha, egg beer and egg ice cream. Yeap, you don’t need to be a coffee drinker to visit this famous local place!
10. Kem Trang Tien (Trang Tien Ice Cream)
Grew up in the countryside, so whenever I asked my Uncle who lives in the city about how the city is like, he always said that “Hanoi has a lot of Trang Tien ice cream!”. And when he took me to the city, the first thing we did was eating that ice cream, and that was my first ice cream ever.
Trang Tien ice cream is actually a state-owned ice cream warehouse, opened since 1958 and located right in front of Hanoi Opera House. Vietnamese loves ice cream, so this is one of the city’s busiest places in the evening and during the weekends.
You can order either ice cream cones or bars, which will be handed to you from the warehouse’s freezers. There are different flavors for you to choose, from coconut to chocolate to young rice taste and vanilla. Each type features a good blend of its flavor with a right amount of sweet, and a little on the icy side.
Trang Tien ice cream itself is not of gourmet quality, but the ice creams are good, cool and refreshing. We often end our Flavors of Hanoi French Quarter tour with a couple ice cream here, it’s really a good treat after walking around the city.
That’s our list of Vietnamese foods that Hanoi is famous for. Hope it gives you an idea of what to try next. Please contact us if you are looking for a private food tour with a real local foodie, we are good at what we are doing and looking forward to showing you around our city.