Banh mi, or bread in Vietnamese, was developed in the 1950s as Vietnam’s own interpretation of baguette. It is a classic marriage between ingredients from both East and West – baguette, pate, and mayo from their French colonial times, and local ingredients such as pork, grilled chicken, or even cilantro.
If you find yourself at Hanoi like we did earlier this year, a freshly made banh mi makes for a great option as breakfast on-the-go.
Banh Mi by street vendor in Hanoi
This vendor selling scrambled egg banh mi set up her “stall” at the market just right outside the Ancient Lane hotel we stayed at Hanoi. We just had to give it a try after walking by and smelling the freshly made dish for the second day in a row.
The scrambled egg was prepared on the spot using her tiny frying pan with ingredients that undoubtedly involved fish sauce and pepper. The whole thing is then stuffed into this lovely baguette that was soft and yet crunchy on the outside, some thinly sliced cucumber, a bit of cilantro, a squeeze of chili sauce, and there you have it – one of the simplest form of banh mi.
Baguette with freshly cooked omelette
It turned out to be a lovely simple breakfast, and one that would go well with some local coffee for sure. Banh mi stalls can be found pretty much everywhere in Hanoi, give it a try, this version cost 15,000 VND if not mistaken.
My style of travel usually involves minimal planning with a few points of interests we’d visit, and pretty much winging it rest of the way. After all, it’s always more exciting to have a bit of surprises and a sense of adventure while at a foreign land, isn’t it?
Mien Luon Dong Thinh, fancy some eel?
This method of traveling was precisely how we ended up at Mien Luon Dong Thinh, we were basically walking around Hanoi looking for a lunch spot and thought whatever that they have right at the stall in this restaurant looked peculiar enough to warrant further investigation.
As it turned out, we landed on a rather notable eel restaurant! Yessss!
There are several options to choose from at this place, and luckily the menu on the wall did have English subtitle for all the half a dozen choices – vermicelli blend, fried eel, clear vermicelli soup, fried vermicelli, eel soup, and eel porridge. Each will cost between 25,000 to 60,000 vnd.
crunchy deep fried eel with porridge turned out to be rather good
We ended up trying the fried eel with vermicelli and the eel porridge. The eels were crispy and quite tasty, a very different taste from the boiled eel soup I had in Ho Chi Minh City, much easier to eat and not entirely too different from Japanese shishamo, but with sweetness of eel.
Of course, the vermicelli salad comes with fresh greens, nuts, and a healthy dose of fish sauce, as you would expect. The porridge also would make a very good comfort food on a cold day.
I’d recommend anyone with at least a mild sense of adventure to try this while at Hanoi.
One of the more improbable thing I heard about Hanoi (or Vietnam in general) while doing research about the place prior to visiting was this “free food tour” thingy, cos you know, in my mind, how can anything truly be free?
HanoiKids free food tour at Hanoi
Well, as it turns out, there is such thing. The many different “clubs” that offers free food tour operates under a similar motto – in exchange for their service, the tour guides, usually university students, get to practice their conversational English, and all we needed to do is to pay for the meals.
Our experience at Hanoi was provided by HanoiKids, we booked the service online through their website, and sure enough on the evening of our appointment date, our guides – Mint & Mok, showed up at the hotel lobby as promised.
Both these girls are students from Foreign Trade University located just a few kilometers away from here. In fact, they didn’t even know each other prior to this engagement, which I thought was a pretty interesting arrangement.
first meal – herbal chicken noodle
Our first destination was herbal chicken noodle, or My Ga Tan. This is not entirely too different from our version of herbal chicken mee suah, but with darker broth that’s almost half way to bak kut teh taste, and “instant” noodle instead of mee suah. The chicken was rather tasty and really soft, there’s also a side of salt & chili padi should you want to kick it up a notch.
Address: Mỳ Gà Tần 24 Hàng Bồ, Hàng Gai, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
dry pho with steamed chicken
Next up was none other than the most famous dish in Vietnam – pho. In Hanoi this is usually served with chicken instead of beef, and the place we were brought to – Pho Ga Khanh Beo, has the more unique dry version.
The chicken was again very soft, with the overall flavor here more subtle than the beef version in Ho Chi Minh City, but does make for a good comfort meal as well. This isn’t entirely unlike dry version of kuih teow soup in Penang, but with more vege and nuts.
Address: Phở Gà Khánh Béo 22 Hàng Hòm, Hàng Gai, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam Hours: 5:30 pm to 11:30 pm
Grilled quail eggs at Nguyen Quang Bich Street
Moving on from those noodle dishes, we had this traditional street food that’s made of 3-4 quail eggs cooked with cheese, meat floss, fried shallots, green onion, sausage etc and served with tamarind sauce. It does take quite a bit for the lady to “grill” those tiny plates up but what you get at the end was quite a unique taste and experience unlike any other, now if they can just serve this at hotel breakfast egg station, my life would be complete.
Of course, no meal is complete without dessert, and for this purpose we were brought to this place by the name of Hoa Beo for a spot of dessert. We ended up having yogurt, fruit jelly, and even mixed fruits with condensed milk. While they aren’t exactly very sophisticated, it was a good sweet note to this rather awesome free food tour.
Thank you Mint & Moc for the wonderful hospitality. Do check out HanoiKids if your’e heading to Hanoi.
Address: Hoa Béo 17 Tố Tịch Hàng Gai, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
When it comes to Vietnamese food, pho usually gets all the glory, and to be fair, before I stepped foot on Hanoi, I too did not know the existence of this arguably superior Vietnamese dish – Bun Cha.
Bun Cha Dac Kim, Hanoi
For those who aren’t familiar, bún chả ( is a dish consists of grilled pork with rice vermicelli, bún stands rice vermicelli, and chả is pork.
My first taste of this wonderful dish came at Bun Cha Dac Kim in Hanoi, a rather famous joint for this dish and coincidentally situated near where we stay at Ancient Lane Hotel (pretty decent room and situated right at the morning market)
bun cha comes with plenty of vegetables
At this place, bun cha comes with freshly grilled pork and ground pork soaked in the dipping sauce (or broth) which is made of fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar. The vermicelli is served separately on a plate, and of course there’s plenty of herbs & raw vegetable, as well as those yummy spring roll with crab filling.
You can eat this dish by dipping the vermicelli in those broth and then mix with the pork & vegetable, or alternatively, wrap it the Korean bbq style, either way is not wrong.
mom loves the accompanying spring roll, so did I
The version at Bun Cha Dac Kim was really good, especially with those super spicy chili padi that they have too. We ordered 2 portions for the three of us and that turned out to be plenty enough. If you find yourself at Hanoi, do make sure to treat yourself with Bun Cha!
One of the reasons I’ve been to Vietnam 9 times prior to this trip was due to work. Back then, we were developing a pretty complicated web based program with a team of programmers based in Ho Chi Minh City, and the team lead for that project was none of ther than Trinh, a friendly local chap whom I’ve developed a friendship over the years.
Quán Lẩu Cá Kèo Bà Huyện is the name of the restaurant
So on this trip, I took the opportunity to catch up with Trinh again after not seeing each other on flesh for the past 9 years or so.
Haze and I was on a rented scooter, following Trinh on his bike heading to District 3 towards Quán Lẩu Cá Kèo Bà Huyện 2 restaurant for dinner involving fish. A place I have visited in my previous trip, courtesy of another Vietnamese colleague’s introduction. I actually consulted the same person for address, too bad she was not able to join us over the holiday season.
fish is as fresh as they come, they’re alive!
What we came here for was Keo fish, a type of freshwater goby/mudskipper measuring some half a feet or so (scientific name – pseudapocryptes elongatus). According to Trinh, this delicacy is only available in South Vietnam.
The fish is usually served in two different ways – grilled, or in soup.
The grilled version is served on a stick not entirely different from shishamo in Japanese cuisine, but of course with plenty of vege on the side, and some fish sauce based condiment on the side.
grilled keo fish vs steamboat version, Trinh & me
The soupy version though, came in a hotpot with even more vegetable and a side of vermicelli noodle as well. The texture is smooth and it also has a naturally sweet seafood flavor.
We didn’t know how fresh the fish were until Trinh ordered additional fishes when we ran out. They came to the table ALIVE! The waiter then carefully dump the live fish into the hotpot and close the lid real quick to spare us the death scene. A few minutes later, we were enjoying some of the sweetest and freshest seafood, the taste is not overly different from marble goby, in fact.
If you’re into some special type of seafood, this place would offer quite an experience.
P/S: I believe it was something below 300,000 VND for the three of us for this meal.