More than ‘pho’: 5 dishes every Hanoi visitor needs to try
With US President Donald Trump visiting Hanoi to meet with Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Kim Jong Un this week, the world’s gaze is now on the capital of Vietnam. Here are five dishes every Hanoi visitor — not just global leaders — should try.
Cha Ca (fish cooked with turmeric and dill)
Hanoians consider Cha Ca to be so exceptional that there is a road in the capital dedicated to these fried morsels of fish — Cha Ca Street.
Along the busy road, where spiderwebs of exposed electric wires hang overhead, dozens of specialists compete to sell the best cha ca — crispy turmeric-marinated fish that’s fried tableside in a pan with herbs.
The most famous restaurant on this strip is Ca La Vong — one of the oldest eateries in Hanoi — and the first to set up shop on Cha Ca Street, over a century ago.
The dish itself dates back more than 130 years. It was first invented by the local Doan family, who served the special meal to troops during French colonial rule.
Banh Tom (shrimp cake)
Deceptively time-intensive, Hanoi-style banh tom, or shrimp cakes, have just a few main ingredients: freshwater crayfish or shrimp from West Lake, flour and sweet potato.
Instead of grinding the shrimp into a paste (like a fish ball), the fried seafood is usually left whole — sitting atop the crunchy cakes.
It’s typically served with lettuce leaves for wrapping, plus chili, lime juice and fish sauce for dipping.
Bun Ca (fish noodle soup)
Fresh and light, bun ca combines fried fishcakes, dill, tomatoes, green onions, and perilla — a mint-like herb.
A lunchtime staple in Hanoi, you can find bun ca (fish noodle soup) just about anywhere.
Bun Ca Van, 105 Quan Thanh, Hanoi, Vietnam; +84 167 937 7964
Bun Rieu Cua (crab noodle soup)
Bun rieu is a meat or seafood vermicelli soup with a distinctive crimson color. The broth gets its appearance from tomato paste and annatto oil, made from achiote tree seeds.
Freshwater crabmeat and blanched tomatoes are the soup’s star players. Tamarind paste lends sourness to the broth, while airy bits of fried tofu contribute crunch.
Depending on the region, bun rieu might also come topped with beef, pork, snails or fish.
Vermicelli noodles swim in the soup, adding balance to a dish that’s both colorful and light. Add to that the requisite plateful of lime wedges, chili and greens — like banana blossoms and mint — and you have a perfect meal.
Where to try it? There’s an excellent bun rieu street stall run by Ms. Thu, located in Tho Xuong Alley, near St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
Ca Phe Trung (egg coffee)
Vietnamese “egg coffee” — or Ca Phe Trung — is a Hanoi specialty in which a creamy soft, meringue-like egg white foam is perched on dense Vietnamese coffee.
While destinations across the city now serve it, Hanoi’s humble Cafe Giang cafe claims to have invented it.
There are hot and cold versions. The former is served as a yellow concoction in a small glass. It’s consumed with a spoon and tastes almost like a coffee flavoured ice cream — more like a dessert than coffee.
The hot version comes resting in a small dish of hot water to maintain its temperature. The strong coffee taste at the bottom of the cup seeps through the egg — the yellow layer on top — and is quite thick and sweet, though not sickly.