I have been to Vietnam a few times already, but this time we went with my best mate from UK Paul Coleman (PC), and his son Ryan and me of course with my clan. What a lovely time we had. Paul was a tad uncertain at the start, him being a Vietnam virgin and all, but towards the end of the trip, he was a natural. I wanted to give you a wee wander through some of the eateries we frequented to give you some ideas of where and what to eat if you happen to stumble into Hanoi, Vietnam.
You are going to love it if you come here – truly one of the most exciting cities and countries I have visited, it’s edgy, it’s cultured, it’s fast pace, it’s food heaven, it’s historic, it’s just bloody gorgeous all up – love you Hanoi, Vietnam. Our day would go like this, breakfast meeting with PC/Ryan and the Kennett’s to discuss what we would do for the day.
Our usual day was;
- Go to the old quarter of Hanoi for a walkabout and explore;
- With a view to hitting a restaurant for lunch;
- Then head back to the hotel for an afternoon nap for Amy with Mary;
- The boys would then jump in the pool; and
- Paul and I would be Googling and having a beer to find our next dinner location.
Some of our wanderings we had looked like this.
Walking the streets in Vietnam is an experience, cooking is happening everywhere, things being sold, fruits, fish, meats, little burners the size of a flask cooking various delicacies, noodle soups, deep-fried tofu, grilling chicken, beef, and all sorts. The smells of the streets are full of these cooking odors, wafting through the air. So as you weave through people, avoiding the stock being delivered, dodging motorcycles and cars like a well-trained matador you get a little oasis’ of food literally at your feet. I so love Hanoi, Vietnam.
Where did we stay on this trip? We stayed at the rather luxurious Hotel Metropole, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Here’s a tip I learned in the hotel during breakfast one morning. A tip that I really want to share with you, and did actually on IsLifeARecipe. Now normally how would you do this – egg cracking on cup edges, kitchen tops, using a knife, using a spoon, side of a saucepan, etc. is that your usual style – well how about trying the Hanoi, Vietnam method? This amazed me no end.
So I’m in the breakfast queue at the hotel for some sunny-side-up eggs for Amy, and the lady serving was cracking eggs for the cook who eventually cooked them. What was she using, knife, kitchen top, cup edge? Nope, she was using another egg. Yep another egg. Try it it really works, give one a firm tap against the other and one will crack open, just one. It’s incredible. She was cracking an egg every 2-3 seconds, no mess, no shell, incredible.
Pho 24 Restaurant, Hanoi, Vietnam
My all-time favourite dish, Pho Bo. And now to be eating in its home country is exceptional.
We ate this virtually every day, as they even served it at breakfast in the hotel. Of course, part of our food adventuring was to wander the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam in search of Pho Bo, the delectable Vietnamese beef noodle soup. Pho 24 is lakeside in Hanoi, so you get pretty nice views if you get the window seat. In fact, about 9 years ago I attended a financial service conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, and went to this very same restaurant and sat at the very same seats.
Pho 24 was empty when we entered, full when we left, and mixed with locals and tourists, always a great sign for quality expectation. This restaurant is cheap and so fulfilling. Pho Bo is the beef version, or have Pho Ga if you prefer chicken (as Amy does). We ended up visiting Pho 24 two times, once on our first day in Hanoi, Vietnam, and then again when Paul and Ryan arrived. Yep, it’s addictive is the Pho @ Pho 24.
Now you have my Pho Bo recipe already for this amazing dish, but when in Vietnam you try the local stuff as you get some specific ingredients I have never found elsewhere. Such as Culantro, or ngo gai, which is of the coriander family and comes as an addition at Pho 24.
The first Pho 24 restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam opened in 1920. The dish itself is said to actually originate in Northern Vietnam, apparently to the South West of Hanoi. It was designed to meet the taste requirement of local Vietnamese and French and was originally sold in large boxes by street vendors until the restaurant opened in 1920. Some debates exist regarding the naming of the dish though with one suggestion linking it to the French dish “pot-au-feu” or ” dish of fire”, where the French also add charred onions to flavor and color the broth, which is something that distinguishes Pho from other Asian noodle soups. After the war with the US, the Vietnamese had many fleeing immigrants, so Pho became a Global dish. In fact, we used to eat it at least 3 times a week when we lived in Melbourne, where there is a huge Asian population and restaurant presence along Victoria Street.
Cha Ca La Vong, Cha Ca Street
We went very local one day for lunch. In fact, this is a very local and very famous local dish in one street in Hanoi, Vietnam. So much so that they have now renamed the Street Cha Ca Street after the dish. Here we found this beautiful 2-storey, old old restaurant called Cha Ca la Vong. This was just a wonderful place.
Interesting is that I read some blogs and the like about this place and everyone slated it, stating it is run down, it has rude staff, has exorbitant prices for the food, small portions, etc. Have to say not my view of the world about this place at all, I thought the staff was great, the food was delicious, we all had fun cooking it on the table, and yes it was a little pricey in comparison to other lunches we gad, and yes it is old but boy it has a character like the rest of Hanoi, Vietnam. We were asked to sit upstairs, we stole a reserved seat at the window, where Amy was gazing out at the streets.
My little Amy is street watching as we await the food. I could, like her it seems, sit for hour after hour watching this. Organized chaos outside, supping a chilled beer, and eating amazing food inside. I feel like I belong here, I feel like it is home.
We joked and laughed with the staff and other diners, as we had no idea how to prepare the food – so you’ll see one of the team came to help show the first time. The food was delicious; buttery, Fennelly, peanuty with a little chili spice heat too – just gorgeous. We all wolfed it down, including me who is not a fishy person as you know. The fish they use here is catfish.
This place is like 80-100 years old, run-down a little yes, but that’s the charm of the place and also the attraction to go in and explore, like the rest of Hanoi, Vietnam. Also because it is old it therefore means it is successful and sustainable. Lots of locals don’t mind going there for the food and/or décor I suggest we Westerners just shut up and get on with it, and stop being self-opinionated ponces -this place was amazing, reasonably priced, great culture and charm, nice people both eating and serving and truly wonderful flavors. Price, as a moan, well if you think 150,000 Vietnamese Dong is expensive I suggest you get a higher paid job or get some pocket money from your Dad, or sell something to pay for it – the price is reasonable believe me. Of course, you pay over the top for what is a tourist stop – but a restaurant that had a whole street renamed after its food, I’ll give that a go for sure.
The food writer Alastair Hendy, who lives in London, has a recipe for this classic fish dish in his new book – Food & Travels: Asia. So I have stolen that and added some things I think are missing from what we enjoyed that day in Hanoi. The way to do this is if you can, is to finish it off at the table along with its classic accompaniment of cooked vermicelli noodles, crushed toasted peanuts, and nouc cham, a Vietnamese condiment made of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, rice vinegar, chilies, and garlic.
You will need:
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed;
- 3-4″ of galangal, peeled and finely chopped;
- 2 tablespoons ground turmeric;
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce;
- 1 chili padi finely chopped;
- 1-2 teaspoon caster sugar;
- 500g firm white fish – catfish, monkfish, or snapper cut into 2cm rough chunks;
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper;
- A knob of butter;
- 1 tablespoon of Olive oil;
- 1/2 cup of Dill, roughly chopped;
- 4-5 Spring onions cut into 5 cm lengths;
- A handful of roughly chopped coriander;
- Vermicelli rice noodles to serve how many people you have; and
- Crushed salty peanuts.
Mix the galangal, garlic, turmeric, fish sauce, chili, and sugar together and marinade the fish overnight in that mixture. Just place it in a bowl and cover with silver foil.
Heat the vegetable oil and butter in a non-stick pan and sauté the fish for 3-4 minutes to give it a nice color. Then at the table-side scatter the dill and spring onion on the fish until it wilts. Then serve the fish and greens atop the noodles with some of the crushed nuts sprinkled on top, and that little condiment in a side serving dish.
That is that! Simple but bloody delicious you’ll find! And the cooking at the table side just adds a little bit of fun too.
Seasons of Hanoi, 95b Quan Thanh Street – +84 4 3734 1466
I stole a recipe for a squid salad once from a book by Mai Pham, who originally stole it herself from this very restaurant. So whilst in town let’s go to the origination of that dish. Our night at Seasons of Hanoi Restaurant.
A beautiful unassuming place, dressed up for Christmas tonight of course. North of the city center near the West Lake of Hanoi is the location, so this became our first taxi ride in Hanoi, Vietnam as it is quite a walk. Boy did we pig out here at this restaurant as it was just such good quality food
Every dish is always accompanied by salt, white pepper, chopped chili, and lime juice – mix to paste and there you have your condiments all in one. Stunning- here is what we pigged out on;
- Beef in 5 spices;
- Coconut rice;
- 5-spice pork belly;
- Steamed tuna; and the following
And a last-minute entry of soft shell crab deep fried in batter and served with tamarind sauce. Sorry, we guzzled this one really quickly so I only have a photo of the after-effects as it were. All of course washed down with pints of Ha Noi Bai (the local beverage in Bourdain speak), and a nice bottle of Michel Picard, French Bourgogne Pinot Noir. Heaven.
Quan An Ngon, 18 Phan Boi Chau – +84 4 3942 8162
I googled this place, having seen it in the local newspaper, as it suggested it was a decent joint to visit. We walked there as it was only about 10-15 minutes away. No idea what to expect as we were totally blind to this place, only having some mentions in blogs and some write-ups on the web. But now having visited there, you simply have to try this place if you go to Hanoi, Vietnam. It was a complete mix of locals and tourists dining this night – always a good sign. Also, it was packed as you’ll see below, and we had to wait for about 10 minutes for a table, but well worth the wait, and again another good sign of what was about to come.
It’s like a series of hawkers around the outside of the courtyard but with waited service. A huge menu, of over 20 pages to choose from. We decided to just order a bunch of different dishes and stick them in the middle for all to consume. A lovely cool evening, sat in the courtyard outdoors, and very Christmasy due to Xmas trees, twinkly lights, and the like.
Yes, that is indeed my handwriting. I wrote the order in Vietnamese for the girl serving us to make it easier for the ordering. Translated this becomes;
- Sweetcorn & Crab Soup – order for the girls;
- Deep Fried Glutinous Rice Balls stuffed with Mung Bean – wow, like eating a donut with savory bean paste, deep fried and sprinkled with sesame seeds, delicious;
- Ollie’s favorite Vietnamese food, the beef noodle soup of Vietnam – a Pho Bo;
- Steamed clams with lemon grass – oh my gosh these were simply delicious, very subtle flavors but just so tasty – check the picture below, now that’s pretty, and yes I have stolen this concept & made my own version;
- Chicken congee for Amy. Basically, a rice porridge with shredded chicken & she loves this stuff. You can get this all day long across most of South East Asia from breakfast to dinner;
- Fried chicken wings with garlic for Ryan. For most meals he would order one dish that he specifically liked to make sure he was covered from an eating perspective. But I must say I was well impressed with him, he ate pretty much all that was put on the table including frog, raw chilis, etc.;
- Vermicelli with minced and roast pork. This was great as it came with a little bowl of soup that you added to the noodles to finish off the dish, so very tasty;
- Steamed rice;
- A great dish ordered by Mary was the grilled mackerel with chili and salt. This was a very pretty dish as you can see below. Simply grilled on the BBQ and served with the usual condiment that you mix up yourself – salt/white pepper/chopped chili/lime juice, the perfect accompaniment for quite an oily fish;
- Deep fried frogs legs – for Amy, yes for Amy. She just loves frogs which is quite amazing really. Perhaps she has never seen The Muppets. But I asked her do you want a frog, and yes yes yes was the response. These were deep-fried in batter and were delicate and delicious. Even Ryan had one and enjoyed it, “it’s like chicken”, was his response;
- Finally (I know how many dishes, haha!) we had the Vietnamese pancake dish as a last-minute entry, Banh Xeo. Basically, it is like a crepe texture, stuffed with bean sprouts, belly pork, prawn, etc. The server then cut it into individual pieces, and you take one of these, and add some of the Vietnamese herbs & greens. Then roll her up and dip it goes to the dipping sauce. These were great, the Vietnamese herb added a lemony taste, just so so tasty and delicious.
Garden Vuon Hanoi, 36 Hang Manh – +84 4 3824 3402
Again a fairly short walk to this one from the hotel. As usual a spin around the lake and into the old quarter. We did the usual and ordered way too much food as you’ll see from the shot of the table below. Bear in mind though we’d already eaten 2-3 dishes and had the dishes cleared in the photo, yep we ate a lot this night!
A fantastic group shot, as you’ll see we’re sat outside again in a beautiful courtyard setting. Very nice al fresco experience. Notice a few brown bottles on the table, that sneaky Ha Noi Bai gets in there everywhere, naughty little things they are those local beverages!
Friends, eating, drinking, and chatting. Enjoying ourselves, the food, the company, the place, and of course the city. Amy had her crab with sweetcorn soup, yet again. Bottom left and clearly a whole heap of other stuff.
Halong Bay Boat Dinner
I have put more on the actual trip itself on the family blog, but here is the food experience of our Halong Bay boat cruise. Basically, we were bobbing around in Halong Bay aboard our private charter, for 3 days and 2 nights, visiting sites such as caves, pearl farms, fishing villages, etc., and eating, eating a lot.
What amazes me re the picture below, is that the kitchen is so so small, a typical galley style, a little smaller than ours at home in the condo. The picture below shows the chef after he has cooked and served us 7, yes SEVEN dishes for dinner that night on board. This man is amazing!
We, of course, washed all the food down with our friend Ha Noi Bia, and a bottle of local Vietnamese plonk (a bit sweet for me). What did we eat for this fine feast on board:
- Soup – a basic stock of beef and add in chopped beef, potatoes, carrots, celery, some egg white, and chopped coriander – that’s it, simple but very tasty;
- Prawns – simply salted and pan-fried. Still warm when served and with a little of the pepper/lime/salt/chili dip made these just sublime. Ollie ended up polishing off 3 of these on his own;
- Tofu – breaded and deep fried. We had this with some soy sauce for dipping, or again the salt/white pepper/chili chopped/lime juice to mix to a paste as a condiment;
- Beef with Vietnamese Herbs. Damn, this was good. Almost like butter, the meat melted in your mouth;
- Steamed Fish with Lemon Grass. A picture paints a thousand words right, but what it can’t do is share the smell of this dish. Fresh, fragrant lemon, not a hint of anything fishy. Simply take a firm white flesh fish, gut and de-scale, score the skin on either side, and lay in foil. On top sprinkle some crushed stalks of lemon grass, some carrot and tomato, and basically just steam until the fish is cooked through. Again simple but man was it effective;
- Mussels – These were local freshwater mussels, so the shell is a little lighter in color than we’re used to in the UK. I have to assume you could use any mussel for this dish. Pre-cook the mussels in hot water until they open. Then stuff with Spring onion/garlic/lemon grass, that you have stir-fried to release the fragrance. Then wrap individually in foil and steam or barbecue. These are just delicious, and yes I did recreate these back in Singapore, even putting them into the cookbook I wrote to raise money for Tabitha Foundation, Cambodia.
- Another fish dish was Yellow Tail Catfish (Basa), breaded and deep-fried;
- Squid next. Basically a stir fry with onion and celery and squid of course. Here is a tip that I learned from the cook and from watching other chefs in restaurants at Halong Harbour. If your squid is usually a tad chewy when you cook it, then bash the crap out of it in a pestle and mortar first, then cook it. It then takes on a butter-like consistency, it’s just wonderful. I seriously recommend this technique for any time you cook with squid, sotong, octopus, etc. as it makes a massive difference. No more chewy;
- Vietnamese cabbage, stir-fried with garlic, butter, and black pepper. Probably best cabbage I have ever had; &
- He even had time to create this watermelon carved candle – yes it’s a candle. Inside was a tea light, pretty amazing don’t you think?
One Bad One dining experience though, Legends, just North of the Hoan Kiem Lake, 2nd Floor on the main junction
I suppose you can’t have it all. But we had a bad eating experience for lunch this day. We had been searching for an allusive Pho Bo joint in the old quarter, but the address given was a travel shop. So hot and dusty we stopped for a couple of beers before heading lakeside to see what we could find. As we’re nearing the lake Amy announces an urgent “wee wee” need, so we make a change of tact and basically jump into the nearest place.
We ended up on 2nd floor of the building below, at a place called Legends. A microbrewery claiming to do authentic Vietnamese food. We all order Pho’s. Ollie, Mary, PC and I decided to have the Pho Bo. Ryan and Amy decided to have the Pho Ga. What came out was just nasty. No accompanying condiments or the usual additions. No beansprouts, limes, chilis, coriander, basil etc. It was tasteless and pretty disgusting to be honest. I had to ask for some chili, limes, fish sauce etc to give some taste to the dish – it sort of worked. We even took to scraping the garlic and oyster sauce left overs from the vegetable dish we ordered (which was delicious by the way) in to the soups to try to lift them a little.
The only saving grace of the disastrous food was the view. Likely one of those typical scenarios where tourists will come for the view, and won’t know good or bad Pho if it hit them. Boy was that not the case with us lot turning up, Legends we really did expect better than the crap you are serving up. But the view was fun, I’ll give them that.
Amy enjoyed her noodles though. Yes, my love, you look beautiful!
Nam Phuong, 19 Phan Chu Trinh – +84 4 3824 0926
The last supper. Very sad to say! And sadder still is that I clearly was not on top of my game this night, as I took no pictures of the food itself, apart from this pretty amazing one below. All that fruit carving was done just to poke some deep-fried rice paper rolls onto it. Amazing isn’t it?
Paul also paid for the entire meal. Bless you, mate. So I didn’t get a receipt to even share what we had line by line, and fuzzy memory is not allowing me to recall it all. But yet again it was a lovely meal, with our lovely friends, the last we’d see of them on this trip. So sad, but happy, sad too! It’s worth a look here as I do indeed remember the lovely people, lovely dishes, and that it was truly just a lovely place. A place visited by dignitaries such as Jacques Chirac etc.
Finishing our trip now with some fond memories.
So there we have it the Vietnam Foodie Blog – Hanoi edition. My review of Hanoi, Vietnam. It truly is quite amazing what you can cram into a few days in such a wonderful city. I hope you do get a chance to go visit yourself one day, and if you do – ENJOY!!!