Vietnamese food is delicious. Flavorful, cheap, colorful and has so many different varieties. On my previous trip I had really enjoyed the food and was looking forward to trying some new things this time. Going through the old town, sitting on the small stools in the small shops is quite an experience. But since I don’t know Vietnamese and most of the cheap and good food is in the little stalls alongside the road that don’t speak English, I decided to book a tour to get the most out of the experience. I highly recommend doing this!
Rice flour pancakes ‘Banh Cuon’
Thin rice flour pancakes are steamed using traditional methods. The filling is a mix of minced pork and mushrooms (you can request others if you don’t eat pork or are vegetarian). The pancakes are rolled up, spread with oil with a goose feather (since it’s natural and much more hygienic than synthetic feathers) and topped with crispy shallots and coriander. Finally, they are eaten by dipping into a sauce made out of chicken broth, garlic and chili. The moistness of the pancakes combined with the bold flavors makes this dish super tasty.
Banana blossom salad ‘Nom hoa chuoi’
Young banana blossoms combined with a load of shredded vegetables – carrots, cucumbers, green papaya, peppers and bean sprouts. You can add a meat in this – usually chicken but ours was vegetarian. The dressing is what really brings this salad home; made with water, sugar, soy sauce, lime juice, garlic and chilis, the salad is very refreshing, flavorful and a burst of colors and texture contrasts.
Crispy pancake spring roll
The pancakes are made from the same rice flour as the first dish but somehow (I don’t know the trick!) made crispy. The filling is slightly different with minced pork and bean sprouts (instead of mushrooms) but still topped with shallots. The spring roll is made from combining the below ingredients from top going clockwise; basil, lemon mint, lettuce and then the crispy pancake. Rolled up like a spring roll, dipped into a lovely sauce of vinegar, fish sauce, garlic, sugar and chili – this is a burst of flavors in your mouth!
Pillow cakes ‘Banh Goi’ and Crab fried spring rolls ‘Crab Nem ran’
Pillow cakes (I love the name) are basically fried pastries filled with a variety of fillings – usually minced pork, egg, vermicelli noodles and mushrooms. They are dipped into a sauce made from fish sauce, vinegar, green papaya, sugar and garlic.
Crab fried spring rolls don’t need much explaining except for the fact that I love crab and I couldn’t believe how cheap these were here. So delicious.
BBQ pork noodles ‘Bun Ga’
We pulled up in this tiny shop and immediately a plate of fresh garlic and chili was put on the table. The smell of the fresh garlic was so overpowering, it made me tear up with happiness. I love garlic but however, fresh the garlic is in the supermarkets, the smell just doesn’t compare. Ok moving on to the dish. Bun Ga is basically BBQ meat (pork or beef) with fresh rice noodles (again hard to explain how fresh these noodles really were) that is mixed in a broth of soup. Garlic and chili is added to enhance the flavors according to your liking (I put in TONS of garlic but only a few chilis).
Lemongrass pork spring rolls
This was something I had not heard of or seen before. The pork is actually cooked on the lemongrass to give it a subtle yet surprising flavour. And the presentation is lovely! The spring rolls are made from lemon mint, basil, figs, pineapple, green papaya, cucumber, fresh rice noodles and of course the pork. The balance between the lemon grass pork and the pineapple was the most noticeable but all the flavors combined together was delicious!
A Hanoi speciality and a very weird thing considering the ingredients are raw egg, coffee and condensed milk but it’s actually really tasty! The top is like a custard and when you mix in the milk and coffee it’s like a dessert. A very clever dessert I might say. This was invented by a bartender at the famous Softel Metropole hotel. He then went onto open a small shop in the heart of Hanoi. It’s very very easy to miss. A small alley way brings you to a small shop where you can see the drinks being made. One coffee is enough though, considering it has a whole egg in it!
Overall I had a really great time. The flavors are amazing and the freshness is really what brings out all the different aspects of the dishes.
Travel tip: If you’re interested, contact Vietnam Awesome Travel for the Food on Foot Tour (Guest@VietnamAwesomeTravel.com) and ask for Lily! She’s sweet, bubbly and LOVES to speak English!