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.
Part of the charm of visiting a new city is to try some of the local dishes, and when it comes to Hanoi, there are plenty to choose from, with one of them being Bun Oc, or snail soup.
bun oc hawker by the streets of Hanoi
While this dish may sound a little weird at first, do remember that most of us readily eats all sorts of shellfish, clams, and even escargot, which isn’t at all too different from this Vietnamese offering.
We chanced upon this Bun Oc place by the streets at Old Quarter in Hanoi (you can find quite a number of these stalls) and decided to give it a try.
The snails are cooked and extracted out from its shells before being served in a sweetish soup base that’s packed with fresh vegetable and a hint of fish sauce (what else doesn’t have fish sauce in Vietnam?)
a warm bowl of snail soup, anyone?
The dish usually comes with vermicelli to make it a meal, we opted out of the carbs since we had just completed a full meal prior. The snail has a subtle taste with texture that isn’t unlike topshell or well cooked shellfish, which was quite pleasant. I
Vietnam probably has the most mature coffee culture in all of South East Asia, when we were in Hanoi earlier this year, we definitely took advantage of visiting some of the more quaint cafes in this capital city.
Hanoi House Cafe, Hanoi
Our second cafe stop was probably named by someone who’s not overly imaginative, calling it Hanoi House. The first cafe was Gardenista.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi
Well, it is located in Hanoi, but more specifically, right across from the beautiful St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which was constructed way back in 1886 as one of the first structures built by the French colonial government. The church was closed down after Viet Minh took over North Vietnam, and wasn’t reopened until closed down until Christmas Eve of 1990, which… is already almost 30 years ago… (how time flies!)
It is open for public and for mass, and we were lucky to get in and have a peek on a Sunday morning.
Vietnamese Coffee, thick and aromatic
The cafe itself is situated on the first floor of a shop lot which also happened to have some permanent inhabitants. Interior itself smells of antiquity, while also being rather cozy. If you’re lucky, grab a seat by the balcony and you’ll have a great not-quite bird-eye’s view of this small segment of the city.
a lovely place to unwind
We had the standard hot coffee with condensed milk (32,000 vnd, equal to RM 5.70 at time of writing), and like with many other places in Hanoi, they’re thick, aromatic, and has an effect of lifting your eyelids immediately. I love it.
If you want to live a little, they serve alcohol too, but I thought it was perhaps inappropriate with mom around, and the fact that it was 11 in the morning.
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