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Category / Vietnam

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
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
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
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
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.

Address:
24B Nguyễn Quang Bích,
Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm,
Hà Nội, Vietnam
Hours: 4-10 pm

you deserve desserts
you deserve desserts

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.

yeap, these desserts aren't too unfamiliar

Address:
Hoa Béo
17 Tố Tịch Hàng Gai,
Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

When in Hanoi, one has to of course, go to the many many cafes dotted around the city that embraces the coffee culture unlike any other South East Asian countries. While the traditional drip coffee is still king around here, there are increasingly more and more fancy modern cafes as the economic status of the country progresses.

Gardenista, French Quarter Hanoi
Gardenista, French Quarter Hanoi

While walking around the Hoan Kiem Lake Park, a place anyone would surely visit while at Hanoi, we took a rest as this beautiful cafe that is Gardenista for a spot of coffee and a bit of rest after a long walk around the lake.

black coffee, extra milk coffee, coconut ice cream coffee
black coffee, extra milk coffee, coconut ice cream coffee

The cafe itself is almost half green house & half cafe, with plenty of plants both on the floor, the counter, and even hanging from the ceiling. The interior is separated into three distinct areas, with another outdoor section to boot. I think this place can easily house over a hundred caffeinated souls.

ambiance is as important as taste when it comes to cafe
ambiance is as important as taste when it comes to cafe

We tried their standard long black, extra milk coffee that’s got a bit more milk than your usual latte, and my favorite – the coconut ice cream coffee. These were pretty good coffee, but I do think that the ambiance is what anyone is really here for. Would love to revisit and spend an afternoon with a good book (nay.. phone and data plan).

gardenista cafe, hanoi, map

Address:
Gardenista
2 Lê Thạch, Tràng Tiền,
Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
GPS: 21.027078, 105.854083

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
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
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
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!

map to Bun Cha Dac Kim, Hanoi, Vietnam

Address:

21.032290, 105.848179

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
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!
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
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.

map to ba huyen 2, ho chi minh city

 

Address:
Quán Lẩu Cá Kèo Bà Huyện 2
10 Nguyễn Thông, phường 7
District 3, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
GPS: 10.777475, 106.685398
Tel: +84 8 3930 0636

Next on Vietnamese Street food introduction is Chao Vit, or Vietnamese duck porridge. A classic dish that I had for the very first time during this trip to Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnamese Duck Porridge stall by Chu Manh Trinh road
Vietnamese Duck Porridge stall by Chu Manh Trinh road 

We actually stumbled  upon this little road side stalls by Chu Manh Trinh road in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City while walking from the touristy areas towards our Airbnb room slightly further North East. The stall was well stocked with plenty of duck, and with a crowd seated around it enjoying porridge & slices of duck meat.

We just couldn’t miss the opportunity.

the porridge also comes with coagulated blood
the porridge also comes with coagulated blood

We ordered a portion of duck for two person to go with porridge, as well as a portion of innards. This was done with a combination of Google translate via the phone, and a bit of finger pointing to the other tables. Technology sure helps in making all these authentic food so much more accessible to those who can’t speak the language, we were the only non-natives at the stall.

simple eat by the road side - chao vit
simple eat by the road side – chao vit

Chao Vit is excellent, the boiled duck meat is served with green onions, cilantro, pepper, fish sauce and more. The condiment that goes with it compliment the meat perfectly, and can be made spicy if that’s your preference. As for the porridge, they’re made from broken rice and  even comes with chunks of coagulated blood, one of my favorite ingredients!

It was really one of the best dishes we had in Saigon, if you’re ever at District 1 and don’t mind dining with the locals, this is a place that you need to check out.

safe to say we both loved this dish a lot
safe to say we both loved this dish a lot

The meal cost us just over 100,000 VND if I’m not mistaken, totally worth it.

chao vit stall at Ho Chi Minh City

Address:
Chao Vit road side stall
Chu Mạnh Trinh
District 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
GPS: 10.782813, 106.703568