I paced down the streets of downtown Hanoi clutching in my hand a damp piece of paper courtesy of the monsoonal rain. On it was scribbled the address of the best local food in town, suggested by my tour guide after I told him I didn’t want Vietnamese food - I wanted food that Vietnamese people ate.
After very little sleep on the flight to Hanoi, I was ready for some great food before recuperating in my hotel. This delicious vendor did not disappoint.
I approached the quaint little eatery and was quickly asked not what I would like to eat, but simply how many people were eating.
The serving style was a pre-set menu and the food arrived within minutes. I later learnt this dish was called “Bun Cha”: a beautiful conglomeration of grilled pork, rice noodles, pickled cabbage and crab spring rolls. Accompanied by fresh chilli, garlic and Vietnamese herbs, the local Bun Cha was amazing – aromatic, tasty and filling.
The atmosphere definitely added to the entire experience. Sitting on the infamous small plastic stools in thick muggy heat wasn’t terribly comfortable, but it was definitely memorable.
I was surrounded by locals eating and enjoying the same foods as me, using handmade fans to cool down from the sticky heat. Costing not much more than $5 with a beer, you can’t argue with the value either!
The next best culinary experience I had in Vietnam was admittedly in a fairly popular tourist area, but that didn’t take away from its authenticity. Bia Hoi Corner also known as Bia Corner, is a busy intersection in the Old Quarter of Hanoi where ‘fresh beer’ is served. Fresh beer is essentially a mid-strength tap beer which costs around 25-40c a serve. On this corner locals and tourists can rub shoulders (which is very easy given the small sitting proximity) and share delicious local treats.
The Bia Corner is a wonderful spot to people watch, enjoy some great food, a refreshing drink and breathe in the street culture of Vietnam.
I opted for a personal mini barbecue, in which you grill your own meat and vegetables while being able to sit amongst all the hustle and bustle. I enjoyed a wonderful mix of spring onions, tomato, chicken and mushrooms topped off with a zesty lime, chilli and garlic sauce as traffic zipped past me on motorbikes, vendors sold their wares and locals went about their journeys. There’s plenty more exotic and tantalising dishes to choose from with the likes of octopus and pigeon available as well.
Walking through the streets of Hanoi one day, I was intoxicated by the aroma of char-grilled meat. I then found my next favourite Vietnamese indulgence - the wonderful and simple dish of barbecued meat. These can be found throughout Vietnam offering pork, beef, chicken, octopus and fish. I especially enjoyed the very spicy grilled octopus, served with cucumber and vegetables to stem the burning! Sitting in the back alley with locals enjoying this was one of my favourite meals and experiences in Vietnam.
Another exciting Vietnamese speciality I thoroughly enjoyed was the famous Vietnamese Iced Coffee. Being an avid coffee lover myself, I had heard wonders of its authentic taste. It wasn’t until after a 9-hour night bus to Phong Na that I was woken up by its powerful punch for the first time. Made with half coffee and half condensed milk, Vietnamese Iced Coffee is the holy grail for caffeine fiends. The strong flavour of Vietnamese coffee beans and the sweetness of condensed milk marries well and delivers a drink that is highly popular amongst the Vietnamese locals. Make sure you try this one from one of the many homely coffee houses across Vietnam.
It’s always exciting and delicious to try local street food but remember to be careful, some street vendors have higher standards of hygiene and better food storage than others so it pays to be a little cautious when experimenting. You can always eat Vietnamese food in restaurants, however some of them have a Western influence given the amount of tourists that visit now. For pure, unadulterated Vietnamese, hit the streets and you’ll be satisfied, excited, nourished and thankful for a delicious local experience!
Samuel Turner is an Australian journalist with a passion for adventure, travel and food.
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The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.