Street food is a cultural as well as culinary experience. At times it seems that half of Hanoi is sitting on the pavement while enjoying a meal. There’s no better way to get to know the capital’s people than to have a feed while sitting on tiny plastic chairs set up on the street.
Locals love street food for its reasonable prices and convenience. For those in a hurry, street food is the quickest option, while for those who have time to spare. Curbside stalls are a place to chat, enjoy some food and watch the world go by. The interesting street food scene can be seen everywhere: from students sipping ice lemon tea at pavement stalls along Nhà Thờ Street near St Joseph’s Cathedral, to street corner dinners of all ages hunched over a bowl of phở bò (beef noodle soup), the street food of choice.
Beef noodle soup, which also comes with chicken (phở gà) and a range of other variations, is the Vietnamese street food dish that’s won culinary recognition around the world. Enjoyed from early in the morning to late a night, phở street stalls are ubiquitous.
For from being a health risk, one traditional dish is famed for improving your health. Gà tần (chicken soup with medicinal herbs) is a delicious concoction of stewed chicken and lotus seeds, gingseng or angelica roots and an array of mysterious seeds, berries and herbs such as ngải cứu (a local herb resembling mugwort). The soup is said to help with everything from asthma to menstrual cramps.
The chicken is melt-in-your-mouth soft and despite the dish’s exotic ingredients, the taste is subtle and suitable to Western palates.
Very popular among young diners, this street is transformed in the afternoon as dozens of barbecues are set up by the roadside along with a small tables and plastic stools. The chicken (and grilled pork ribs) are cooked on skewers and served along with side dishes of sliced seasoned cucumber, pickled morning glory and some bread.
Hà Nội’s street food is so diverse that the intrepid food lover could spend months exploring the countless stalls and curbside restaurants. There are a myriad of tradition foods that can be found on the streets such as lunchtime favourite bún chả (noodles with grilled pork, lettuce, herbs and fried spring rolls) and bánh tôm (fried shrimp cakes) available at lakeside eateries in the Tây Hồ (West Lake). There’s also the winter-time favourite of hot pot (known as lau) and more exotic fare such as boiled snails (ốc luộc). With so much food to be had on the streets, visitors to Hà Nội should arrive ready to eat.