Hanoi - streetfood highlights

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Written by James
Published on 25th May 2015 at 07:15 • No comments yet, be the first!

En route to Yangon I stopped for a few days in Hanoi, Vietnam. Armed with the recommendations of Thanh and Trang, our resident Vietnamese students and expert spice-packers, I took a whistlestop culinary tour of Vietnam's capital city.....

A Vietnamese Spicery

Vietnamese cooks tends to use fresh herbs to season the food more than dried spices but you often see a little bit of star anise, cassia, black cardamom, annatto seeds and dried chilli being used. Added to this are the other Vietnamese kitchen stalwarts - fish sauce, rice vinegar and light soy sauce, and together with an abundance of fresh herbs the flavours of Vietnamese food are light, delicate and totally delicious - these were my highlights:

Bun Cha Chilli mango stall - pickled plums and salted mango with fresh red chillies help with digestion and also cool you down on a hot day. 

Bun Cha is a big deal in Hanoi. Thinly sliced pork is marinated with sugar, lemongrass, garlic and fish sauce then grilled over charcoal and put together with spiced pork meatballs into a slightly sweet and sour broth with lots of fresh herbs, rice noodles and chopped chilli and garlic to season at the table. It seems to be what half the city lunches on and every day about 11am, tiny charcoal grills start to block the pavements up as the bun cha stalls get going.

Pho bo - this is THE favourite breakfast dish throughout Vietnam (but you don't get many bowls of it by pronouncing it 'foe' as I found out, it's more like 'fur' with the emphasis on the first 2 letters). Pho is a light beef broth very delicately flavoured with star anise, cassia and black cardamom, then served with rice noodles, spring onions, fresh herbs, sliced red chilli, lime and a sweet garlic rice vinegar at the table.


Bun ca (fried fish noodle soup) - Chunks of crispy fried fish in a broth flavoured with slightly unripe tomatoes giving a rich colour and slightly sour flavour, then served with fresh bean sprout salad, roasted dried red chilli paste and what was really unexpected for me - handfuls of fresh dill herb. Dill rarely seems to get a starring role in British cooking as it can be so dominant but the Vietnamese seem to be very keen on dill, particularly in fish dishes like the brilliantly named cha ca thang long which is fish marinated in lots of turmeric then grilled and served with rice noodles and loads of fresh dill.


Pho tiu (Roast pork noodles) - this rice noodle salad was topped with thinly sliced char Sui style roast pork, a spoonful of sticky pork broth, handful of crispy shallots, peanuts, rice vinegar, roasted chilli flakes, chilli sauce and lots of fresh herbs. Really moreish and definitely one to try and recreate in our R&D department (the humble Spicery kitchen). There were a couple of other welcome surprises that I had no idea were such a big deal in Vietnam but are a legacy of the French occupation and are now massively popular across the city - beer and coffee.


Bia hoi - throughout the day there are little crowds of people sat on street corners sipping a watery brew which turned out to be Bia hoi. It's a fresh beer brewed that morning without preservatives and designed to be drunk ice cold (and in generous quantities). It's a very light, pretty low alcohol beer and worth every penny of the 30p a glass cost.

The other big surprise about Vietnam was the amount of coffee people drink. I knew Vietnam was a big grower of robusta coffee but didn't realise there was such a huge culture around drinking coffee as well as exporting it. Coffee shops are everywhere and the standard way of drinking it is extremely strong, usually with ice as a cold drink and always sweetened either with just with sugar or a splash of condensed milk. Then there's the uniquely Hanoi creation of egg coffee - a rich sweet brew with condensed milk at the bottom and a couple of beaten egg yolks floated on top. It makes the coffee really rich, sweet and creamy, almost like a hot liquid tiramisu.


Mystery painted lines on the pavement throughout the city centre turned out to be.......


......Badminton courts at 6-30am, obviously! If you ever get the chance, Hanoi is a really attractive, elegant city with great food on every street corner so well worth a visit. Thanks to Thanh, Trang, Tu and Mark from Hanoi Street Food Tours for showing me around.

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