The food—fresh, aromatic, delicious, glorious food—is reason enough to visit Hanoi. Here the city streets, particularly in the Old Quarter, are like an endless buffet of Vietnamese-style soups, sandwiches, rolls, meats, and noodles. Constant snacking is, indeed, a mandate.
Here are five specialties to hunt down during your street feasting, including Vietnam’s famously fresh (and cheap) low-alcohol beer.
Bánh mì: Handsome architecture isn’t the only lasting legacy of French-colonial rule. The best baguettes in Hanoi are on par with those found in Paris, and here they’re most delicious when stuffed with fresh cilantro, pickled daikon and carrots, pâté, chili sauce or hot peppers, and cucumber—the classic bánh mì sandwich. Stuffings vary from vendor to vendor, however, which is all the more reason to scarf as many as you can.
Bánh xèo: A Vietnamese cousin of the French crêpe, bánh xèo is a rich, savoury crêpe made in part from rice flour and turmeric, then stuffed with ingredients that usually include shrimp, bean sprouts, pork, and minced green onions.
Bia hơi: Sold in mugs for cents on the US dollar and served in convivial open-air watering holes, bia hơi (“fresh beer”) is a light, refreshing, unpasteurized lager. It’s brewed daily and has a very short draft life, so do your part to ensure not a drop goes to waste.
Bún cha: Along with chả cá (below), bún cha is one of Hanoi’s most famous specialties. This addictive lunchtime staple is simple yet satisfying: grilled pork with sides of rice noodles, fresh herbs, and dipping sauce.
Chả cá: Take chunks of flaky white fish basted in turmeric, add earthy local greens that include dill, and cook it all down in a sizzling pan on a table top grill—that’s the palate-pleasing gift that is chả cá.