Not having the faintest idea what Vietnamese food was about (apart from the fact that it’s Asian), we thought the best introduction would be a food tour in Hanoi, our first stop in Vietnam. We read some reviews online and chose the Food on Foot street food tour from Awesome Travel. David, one of the receptionists at our hostel (Little Hanoi Hostel), gladly arranged the details for us.
At 11h the next morning, our tour guide Ha arrived at our hostel for 3 hours of walking and food sampling (for $25 per person). Before we could start, we had to pick up another couple (from the Netherlands) to join us.The first little restaurant was immediately one we never would have entered without Ha: Quán Banh Gối. She went to order some plates with different snacks or starters, while we got to know the other couple. We all got a bottle of water and Ha told us some historic facts about Hanoi. When the food arrived she explained what it was and how we were supposed to eat it (dip it here, eat with that). Unfortunately we couldn’t remember the Vietnamese names (way too difficult), only the English ones: spring roll, pork pillow, pork sausage and sweet donut. All really delicious, especially the pork pillow. Don’t worry, you can just point at what you want when ordering without a guide.
Our second stop was at Phở 10 lý quốc sư”, for some traditional pho bo (beef noodle soup). The dish was quite nice, too bad there was coriander in it, which we both still hate. Although the Dutch girl urged us to keep trying coriander until we learned to like it (like she did), we usually ask “no coriander” if we remember in time.
The next restaurant we entered was Countryside Restaurant, that turned out to be very close to Little Hanoi Hostel. We tried banana flower salad, which I didn’t even know existed. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t sure I liked it either. The roasted fish with vegetables in rice paper was nice. We got to do the rolling ourselves, but the ones Ha made looked a lot better. At this point we were really trying, but just couldn’t finish the dishes anymore. We washed the food away with some coconut rice wine, quite strong stuff!
At Phở Gà Thanh Hợp, a little Vietnamese restaurant with tiny little stools, we had some bun cha (roasted pork rice noodle) with our knees next to our ears. It’s like this in a lot of local restaurants and bars, something we Westerners aren’t used to. While trying to stuff some noodles down our throat (all those previous dishes were taking its toll), the Dutch guy saw some fried things in a box and asked what it was. She ordered a bowl so we could have a taste of what turned out to be fried eel. Honestly, it just tasted fried. We really appreciated the gesture and felt bad to leave so much food in our bowls.
Last dish before dessert was roasted pork lemongrass in Nét Huế Restaurant. Again, we got to roll the vegetables and pork in the rice paper ourselves. We started to get the hang of it and really enjoyed this last local dish.
Time for dessert! I was expecting some kind of pastries or something like that, but the dessert was ca phe trung (egg coffee). Ha explained us that Giang Cafe was one of the first cafes to offer egg coffee and certainly one of the best. As I am not really a fan of coffee, Ha recommended to take hot chocolate instead of coffee. Turns out I liked the egg coffee better than the egg hot chocolate, classic. It was really delicious, but heavy on our already more than full stomach. Ha said in other cafes you could taste the sliminess of the egg, while here you only tasted a nice blend, almost like mocha ice cream but then hot. This place is very popular with local egg coffee lovers. It’s hard to find, just a long corridor from the street to the back, so keep your eyes open.
While walking from one restaurant to the other, Ha told us about Hanoi and Hanoi food. When we asked, she gave some tips about what to do or see and how to travel to Hué. She also showed us the smallest music store we’ve ever seen! The owner played us some songs (including “Happy Birthday”) on a đàn bầu, a Vietnamese one-stringed instrument.
We definitely recommend this Food on Foot tour for everyone interested in trying and learning about the local food. Ha was a great guide and we got more food than we could handle for just $25.