Street food is more than just cheap in Hanoi, it becomes a way of life, a routine, a comforting place where you see the same workers, the same regulars and the same dirty plastic stools at least once a week. Here are the five street food joints that have made their way into my regular weekly rotation and made their way into my heart.
Number 5 – Banh Cuon
Address: 14 Hàng Gà
This simple but delightful dish of steamed rice pancakes rolled around minced pork and topped with fried onions makes for a great snack or light dinner. Dip the cool rolls into a bowl of fish sauce for that Vietnamese flavor and enjoy the sensations. It’s not a big meal, but at only 35,000 dong, it’s worth every penny. Banh Cuon was one of the first street food meals I tried in Hanoi, but I’ve had it at least once per week since then. Delicious, light, satisfying, and flavorful, it’s the perfect meal to end a hot summer day.
Number 4 – Bit Tet
Address: Hoè Nhai (several vendors on the same road)
Bit tet is a Vietnamese take on a Western classic. It’s a thin layer of beef served with a sunny side up egg, French fries, and a cube of pate, all drenched in thick gravy. This meal is greasy, heavy and very messy, but boy it’s good. Served on an iron cow-shaped plate, plucked straight from the flames, this meal is sure to satisfy even the biggest of appetites. It is accompanied by heaps of banh my which can be broken apart and dipped in the egg and gravy. These places are open later than typical street food joints, sometimes the lights will stay on past 10pm, so it’s become the perfect late night meal for me on the evenings where I don’t get home from work until 9pm. Nothing like a heaping plate of protein and starch after a long day’s work.
Number 3 – Bun Cha
Address: 34 Hàng Than
Everyone’s favorite Northern Vietnamese dish, bun cha was sure to make the list, and this restaurant, just a bit north of the Old Quarter is my favorite in town. It’s always packed because it’s so popular, but the workers will magically create a few new tables from seemingly thin air if you wait a few minutes and soon you’ll be munching on barbecued pork, meatballs, greens and noodles all swimming in sweet and sour fish sauce. Order a side of steaming hot spring rolls and you’ll be eating a meal fit for a king. Even if you can’t get to this location, make sure you try bun cha while you’re in Hanoi, otherwise you’ll be missing out on one of everyone’s favorite Northern dishes.
Number 2 – Xoi Yen
Address: 35 Nguyễn Hữu Huân
This heavy hitter of a street food joint apparently rakes in 80,000 USD per month. That’s the rumor anyway, and I have no problem believing it. The concept is simple, you get your choice of sticky rice with various flavors, and then on top you pile as many extras as you want, from cold strips of steamed chicken to deep-fried eggs and barbecued pork. Then you sit your bum down on an itty-bitty stool on one of the upper-levels of restaurant and gorge on the greasy, typically-oniony goodness that is the savory sticky rice, all the while staring down at pedestrians and peaking in the windows of nearby cafes. It’s an amazing, heavy, glutinous weekend meal and a brilliant hangover cure.
Number 1 – Banh da Tom
Address: 105 Quán Thánh (The main dish is Bun Ca, which is the name you’ll see on the sign.)
This soup will warm your belly and soul with tomatoes, garlic, spices, thick brown noodles, delicious broth, and a heaping portion of shrimp. I have no reservations in declaring this my favorite Vietnamese dish, not only in street food, but number one in all food I’ve tried here. It’s honestly that delicious.
The restaurant itself is a standard street food joint with tiny plastic tables and stools outside, and a woman in the back selling drinks like tra da for a pittance. But my god is it glorious. This little spot also serves a very nice fish soup, but if it’s your first time, give it a pass and go straight for the shrimpy, garlicy goodness that is banh da tom. It will change how you think about street food forever.