Dorm ( Balcony with city view) – Price: USD 5/night

Feeling social? Well the Hanoi Youth Hostel or dorms for short are perfect for groups and single travelers a like. Book as many beds as you require and the rest will be filled by guests travelling alone or in smaller groups, one dorm has 4 bunk-beds, your budget is king! Hanoi Youth Hostel are equipped with:

  • Free breakfast
  • Free WiFi
  • Free towel
  • Free beer during Happy Hour
  • Free locker
  • Linens including pillow, bed sheets and blankets.
  • Air – conditioning  in all dorms
  • Bed light
  • Free luggage storage until 8 pm on the day you check out.

Dorm 2

Dorm 3  dorm 1  Dorm 4

Book a dorm before 3oth June and receive one free beer at the hostel. Simply book on, and your beer will be waiting for you on arrival.

Private room ( en-suite, balcony with city view) – Price: USD 17 /night

  • Free breakfast
  • Free Wifi
  • Free beer during Happy Hour
  • One double bed
  • Private bathroom
  • Fluffy, clean towels
  • Refrigerator
  • Air conditioner
  • Television and DVD
  • Clothes hanging unit
  • Table and chair
  • Reading lights


Private Room (2) Bathroom (3) balcony



Hanoi Youth Hostel

Address:  05 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Ha Noi, Vietnam.

Hotline: +84 972004080


40 delicious Vietnamese dishes (by CNN)

By Helen Clark and Karryn Miller

Vietnamese cuisine doesn’t win any points for complexity. Many of the most popular dishes can be made just as well on the side of the road as in a top-end restaurant.

But it’s precisely this simplicity, the subtle variations by region and the fresh ingredients that keep us pulling up a plastic stool for more.

pho noodle soup1. Cheap can be tasty too.

1. Pho

What list of Vietnamese cuisine would be complete without pho? It’s almost impossible to walk a block in Vietnam’s major cities without bumping into a crowd of hungry patrons slurping noodles at a makeshift pho stand.

This simple staple consisting of a salty broth, fresh rice noodles, a sprinkling of herbs and chicken or beef, features predominately in the local diet — and understandably so. It’s cheap, tasty, and widely available at all hours.

Just look out for a mass of people on plastic stools — or try a tried and tested favorite: Pho Thin, 13 Lo Duc, Hai BaTrung District, Hanoi; +84 43 821 2709

2. Cha ca

Cha ca
A food so good they named a street after it

Hanoians consider cha ca to be so exceptional that there is a street in the capital dedicated to these fried morsels of fish.

This namesake alley is home to Cha Ca La Vong, which serves sizzling chunks of fish seasoned with garlic, ginger, turmeric and dill on a hot pan tableside.

Cha Ca La Vong may be the busiest but the service is a bit gruff and the food overpriced. Instead make your way toDuong Than in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem district, where you’ll find plenty of more affordable but just as tasty options

3. Banh xeo

Banh xeo

A crepe you won’t forget.

A good banh xeo is a crispy crepe bulging with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, plus the garnish of fresh herbs that are characteristic of most authentic Vietnamese dishes.

To enjoy one like a local, cut it into manageable slices, roll it up in rice paper or lettuce leaves and dunk it in whatever special sauce the chef has mixed up for you.

Banh Xeo 46A has mixed reviews but judging by the crowds that swarm there each night they must be doing something right. Banh Xeo, 46A Dinh Cong Trang, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).

4. Cao lau

Cau lao

Soft, crunchy, sweet, spicy — a bowl of contrasts

This pork noodle dish from Hoi An is a bit like the various cultures that visited the trading port at its prime. The thicker noodles are similar to Japanese udon, the crispy won-ton crackers and pork are a Chinese touch, while the broth and herbs are clearly Vietnamese.

Authentic cau lao is made only with water drawn from the local Ba Le well.

Try Morning Glory, 106 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An; +84 510 224 1555

5. Rau muong

Some might call it river weed — with good reason — but that doesn’t stop the masses from scarfing down platefuls of morning glory, usually stir-fried and seasoned with slithers of potent garlic.

Rau muong is common at Vietnamese restaurants and beer gardens.

Chung Den Bia Hoi, 18B Hang Cot, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

6. Nem ran/cha gio

Nem Ran/Cha Gio
A spring roll that jumps out.

Vietnam’s bite-sized crunchy spring rolls might not enjoy the same popularity as their healthier fresh equivalent, but they deserve a special mention.

The crispy shell with a soft veggie and meat filling dunked in a tangy sauce gets the gastronomic juices flowing before a main course. In the north these parcels go by the name nem ran while southerners call them cha gio.

1 Hang Manh, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

7. Goi cuon

Goi Cuon

Roll, dunk, bite, repeat.

These light and healthy fresh spring rolls are a wholesome choice when you’ve been indulging in too much of the fried food in Vietnam.

The translucent parcels are first packed with salad greens, a slither of meat or seafood and a layer of coriander, before being neatly rolled and dunked in Vietnam’s favorite condiment — fish sauce.

Quan An Ngon, 18 Phan Boi Chau, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi; +84 43 942 8162

8. Bun bo Hue

Central Vietnam’s take on noodles caters to carnivores with its meaty broth and piles of beef and pork. The thick slippery rice noodles also make for a heartier meal than noodles found in the north and south.

You don’t have to go to Hue to enjoy this dish; if in Ho Chi Minh City try Tib Express, 162 NguyenDinh Chieu, District 3, HCMC; +84 8 3822 5038

9. Banh khot

This dainty variation of a Vietnamese pancake has all the same tasty ingredients but is a fraction of the size. Each banh knot can be scoffed in one ambitious but satisfying mouthful.

The crunchy outside is made using coconut milk and the filling usually consists of shrimp, mung beans, and spring onions with a dusting of dried shrimp flakes on top.

Co Ba Vung Tau, 59B Cao Thang, District 3, HCMC

10. Ga tan

Got the sniffles? Opt for ga tan, a broth that’s Vietnam’s answer to the proverbial cup of chicken noodle soup. Sure it’s not quite how your mother used to make it, with its greenish tinge from the herbs and hunks of chicken parts, but it’s worth a try if you’re needing a Vietnamese tonic.

Try this at one of the street stalls on Hanoi’s Tong Duy Tan aka Pho Am Thuc, or “Food Street”),Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

11. Nom hoa chuoi

Nom hoa chuoi

Yes, bananas have flowers, and they taste great.

Vietnam’s banana flower salad packs a much bigger punch than a typical plate of mixed greens.

Banana flowers (thick purple lumps that will later turn into bunches of bananas) are peeled and thinly sliced then mixed with green papaya, carrots, and cilantro along with chicken and a heavy-handed pour of a salty fish sauce dressing and crunchy peanuts.

Highway 4 restaurant, 3 Hang Tre, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi; +84 4 3926 4200

12. Bun bo nam bo

Bun bo nam bo

Dry, but not dreary

This bowl of noodles comes sans broth, keeping the ingredients from becoming sodden and the various textures intact. The tender slices of beef mingle with crunchy peanuts and bean sprouts, and are flavored with fresh herbs, crisp dried shallots, and a splash of fish sauce and fiery chili pepper.

67 Hang Dieu, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

13. Hoa qua dam

This chunky blend of fresh tropical fruit in a cup is the perfect local treat when the heat of Vietnamese summer starts to wear you down. It could be considered a healthy alternative to ice cream — if you stick to the shaved ice variation — but for the full experience it’s best had with diabetes-inducing condensed milk mixed in.

15B To Tich, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

14. Phocuon

Pho Cuon

Don’t let the sea-slug appearance put you off.

Pho cuonpackages the flavors of phoand goi cuon in one neat little parcel. This Hanoi take on fresh spring rolls uses sheets of uncutpho noodles to encase fried beef, herbs and lettuce or cucumber.

The best place to find them is on Ngu Xa island on the capital’s Truc Bach Lake — specifically at 26 Nguyen Khac Hieu, Ba Dinh district, Hanoi

15. Ga nuong

KFC may be everywhere in Vietnam these days, but skip the fast food for the local version. Honey marinated then grilled over large flaming barbecues, the chicken legs, wings and feet served are unusually tender, while the skin stays crispy but not dry.

Viet Ha on Ly Van Phuc, Dong Da district, Hanoi

16. Pho xao

Pho xao may just be a slightly healthier take on my xao — but the beauty is in the details. The flat, smoother phonoodle doesn’t crisp up like its pre-boiled instant cousin.

When done well the outer edges acquire a browned crunchiness, whilst the center stays soft and glutinous. This dish tastes best with a fried egg and seasoned with chili or soy sauce.

26 Nguyen Khac Hieu, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

17. Ca phe trung

Ca phe trung

Egg coffee? Kind of like a glass of breakfast.

Vietnamese “egg coffee” is technically a drink but we prefer to put it in the dessert category. The creamy soft, meringue-like egg white foam perched on the dense Vietnamese coffee will have even those who don’t normally crave a cup of joe licking their spoons with delight.

In Hanoi, follow the tiny alley between the kitschy souvenir shops at 11 Hang Gai into the clearing, and up several flights of increasingly dicey stairs to pair your ca phe trung with an unbeatable view of Hoan KiemLake.

18. Bo la lot

Vietnamese are masters of wrapping their food. Bo la lot is neither raw nor deep-fried, but flamed on an open grill to soften the exterior and infuse the betel leaf’s peppery aroma into the ground beef inside.

3T Quan Nuong, 29-31 Ton That Thiep, District 1, HCMC; +84 8 3821 1631

19. Xoi

Rice that sticks … in the memory.

Savory sticky rice is less of an accompaniment to meals in Vietnam, more a meal itself. The glutinous staple comes with any number of mix-ins (from slithers of chicken, or pork to fried or preserved eggs), but almost always with a scattering of dried shallots on top.

Xoi Yen, Nguyen Huu Huan, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

20. Banh cuon

These rolled up rice flour pancakes are best when served piping hot, still soft and delicate. Although seemingly slender and empty they have a savory filling of minced pork and mushrooms.

Zest is also added by dunking the slippery parcels in a fishy dipping sauce.

Corner of Cong Quynh and Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, HCMC

21. Ca tim kho to

Ca tim kho to

The humble egg plant comes good

Eggplant alone tends not to get us excited. Although when it’s diced and sautéed in a clay pot along with tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar, and (depending on the recipe) minced meat, the once bland vegetable redeems itself.

Pineapple Restaurant, 35 Hang Buom, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi; + 84 43 935 2316

22. Bot chien

Saigon’s favorite streetside snack, bot chien, is popular with both the afterschool and the after-midnight crowd. Chunks of rice flour dough are fried in a large wok until crispy and then an egg is broken into the mix.

Once cooked it’s served with slices of papaya, shallots and green onions, before more flavor is added with pickled chili sauce and rice vinegar.

Nighttime food vendors sell this at the corners of PhamNgu Lao and Cong Quynh, District 1, HCMC

23. Bun dau mam tom

Bun dau mam tom

Sometimes it’s the sauce that makes the meal.

This plain-looking tofu and noodle dish is served with mam tom sauce — the Vegemite of Vietnam. The pungent purple dipping sauce is used to flavor the slabs of deep-fried fofu that are at the core of the meal.

Corner of Hang Be and Hang Bac, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi

24. Banh goi

These pockets of deep-fried goodness are often described as the equivalent of a Cornish pastry or as a Vietnamese samosa, depending on the nationality of the person explaining.

Inside the crispy exterior you’ll find that it’s similar to neither description, with its filling of finely minced pork, mushrooms and vermicelli noodles.

52 Ly Quoc Su, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi; +84 4 3828 5922

25. Com suon nuong

This simple meal is the Saigonese equivalent of bun cha — with rice in place of noodles. A tender pork cutlet is barbecued over hot coals to give it a rich, smoky flavor, and laid over the fluffy white com.

Com Tam Cali has a number of branches across HCMC. Try Tam Cali 1 at 32 Nguyen Trai, District 1, HCMC; +84 8 3925 2222

26. Chao


Just looking at this rice porridge dish will ease your stomach pains.

With its thick and creamy texture Vietnam’s rice porridge is the best pick when your queasy stomach can’t handle much else. If you want to jazz it up you can always add slices of chicken, fish, beef, duck or pork ribs, along with a sprinkling of herbs and shallots.

Chao Ca specializes in fish chao, 213 Hang Bong, HoanKiem district, Hanoi; +84 43 829 5281

27. Bo luc lac

Cubes of beef are tossed around a steaming wok with garlic, pepper, and some vegetables to make shaking beef. There’s nothing special about the beef that makes it shaking.

The name is just a literal translation that refers to the process of mixing the beef around while cooking.

Nha Hang Ngon, 160 Pasteur, District 1, HCMC; +84 8 3827 7131

28. Hat de nong

The smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire can bring back fond memories of Christmas carols — until a moped transporting a giant blow-up Santa whizzes by. Pick the street vendor with the most enticing smell.

To Tich, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

29. Banh uot thit nuong

Banh uot thit nuong

Anything served on a stick can’t fail.

It’s all about the marinade when it comes to the grilled pork in fresh rice paper rolls that are popular in central Vietnam.

The typical mixture coats the meat in a blend of sugar, salt, chili, lemongrass and fish sauce. Cilantro, basil and mint are added when it’s served up to add some green to the appetizer.

Morning Glory, 106 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An; +84 510 224 1555

30. Bun cha

Bun cha

Hanoi’s lunch-crowd favorite.

Pho might be Vietnam’s most famous dish but bun cha is the top choice when it comes to lunchtime in the capital.

Just look for the clouds of meaty smoke after 11 a.m. when street-side restaurants start grilling up small patties of seasoned pork and slices of marinated pork belly over a charcoal fire. Once they’re charred and crispy the morsels are served with a large bowl of a fish sauce-heavy broth, a basket of herbs and a helping of rice noodles.

Hanoi’s most famous bun cha outlet is 1 Hang Manh, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

31. Banh mi

Banh mi
The baguette, upgraded and improved.

The French may have brought with them the baguette, but Vietnam takes it to a different level. How exactly depends on what end of the country you’re in.

In the north chefs stick to the basic elements of carbohydrate, fat and protein—bread, margarine and pâté—but head south and your banh mi may contain a more colorful combination of cheese, cold cuts, pickled vegetables, sausage, fried egg, fresh cilantro and chili sauce.

One of the better baguette vendors in Saigon sets up shop beside the Cherry mini-mart on DoQuang Dao, District 1, HCMC

32. Lau

Eating this hodgepodge hotpot dish is a communal affair with everyone digging in to the oversized boiling pot. We’ve found that just about anything can (and will) go into this soup from tofu to frogs.

It’s best to stick to one main protein rather than opting for the mix of meat, poultry and seafood together.

On the northern edge of Hanoi’s Truc Bach lake you’ll find a number of restaurant staff crossing the street to deliver lau to lake-side diners

33. Banh bao

Steamed pork buns aren’t traditionally Vietnamese but thatdoesn’t stop the spongy rolls from being sold by street vendors and in traditional Vietnamese restaurants.

The best buns have a hard boiled quail egg buried within the minced meat, while the cheaper ones come without any filling at all. Remember the lower the price the less stuffing, so you might not be getting the good deal you thought you were.

Often sold by wandering vendors patrolling Hanoi’s Old Quarter at all hours. In the south try Banh Bao Tho Phat, 78 Nguyen Tri Phuong, District 5, HCMC

34. Com rang

Fried rice may not be the most adventurous option, but sometimes you just want some familiar grub done right. Baby sized chunks of meat and colorful vegetables are mixed with soy and fish sauce in a wok streetside to create a rice dish that is still moist but slightly smoky.

Make it Vietnamese by supplementing with Bia Hanoi.

Try one of the vendors on Tong Duy Tan (aka “Food Street”), Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

35. Bo bit tet

Vietnam’s equivalent to steak and eggs fills the void when you’re hankering for some greasy pub tucker. The thin flank steak is usually served with eggs, thick potato wedges, and Vietnamese meatballs on a sizzling cast iron plate.

Le Hong, 489/29/18 Huynh Van Banh, District 3, HCMC

36. Com chay

Com chay

Veggie food for meat lovers.

Com chay refers to two things in Vietnam: vegetarian food, or Vietnam’s homemade rice crispies that are popular with children. Unlike the sweet treats in the United States, Vietnam’s version of a crispy comes with meat instead of marshmallows.

Vietnam’s vegetarian restaurants use mock meats to create all the traditional dishes and usually do a pretty good job. Although some places include artificial creations we would rather not try. Fake rubbery snails anyone?

Try Hoa Dang vegetarian restaurant, 38 Huynh Khuong Ninh, District 1, HCMC; +84 8 3820 9702

37. Che

This dessert can be served in either a bowl or a glass. The latter is the more enticing option with the visible layers of bean jelly, coconut milk, fruit, and ice.

Best had when you’re craving something sweet on a scorching day in Saigon.

Nha Hang Ngon, 160 Pasteur, District 1, HCMC; +84 8 3827 7131

38. My xao bo

My xao bo
World’s best “instant” food.

Mix noodles with a dollop of oil, then add beef, onions, garlic, morning glory and some tomato for color and you have a platter of my xao bo. The whole dish takes about as long to make as instant noodles — but oh so much more flavor.

Any bia hoi establishment serves this dish, but the eateries on Tang Bat Ho, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, have perfected it

39. Dau phu sot ca chua

Dau phu sot ca chua
Tofu + tomato sauce, but greater than the sum of its parts.

The English translation of “tofu in tomato sauce” doesn’t really do this dish justice. The slabs of deep-fried soy are doused in a rich fresh tomato and spring onion coating, and seasoned with a speckle of fresh herbs.

Chim Sao at 65 Ngo Hue, Hai Ba Trung district, Hanoi; +84 43 976 0633

40. Canh bun

Canh bun
Got crabs? Cook ’em up and devour.

Another hearty soup that’s high on the lunchtime agenda, this is a crab and morning glory noodle soup. Canh bun is similar to the more well-known bun rieu crab soup, but has a small handful of variations — including the type of noodle used.

Look for street food vendors with Canh Bun on handwritten signs surrounded by lunchtime crowds, or visit Bun Saigon at 73 Ly Tu Trong, District 1, HCMC


Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080



The lotus season in Hanoi

I woke up at 5am and rode my motorbike to the West Lake. Around that area, there are many flower villages. I went to one of them which is located near the West Lake Water Park, in order to take photos of a lotus lake and some activities that only take place in the early hours of the morning.
The lotus season in Hanoi starts from June and lasts 3 months. Every morning from 5am to 7am, the local residents, who own the lotus lakes, tour around the lakes on very small boats (in Vietnamese, we call them “thuyền thúng”) and pick both flowers and leaves, following the orders from their clients who are waiting on the bank. This is a wholesale business. Any business people, who want to buy lotus flowers cheaply, go there to buy flowers directly from the lake owners, then sell them at their shops in Hanoi. We also can see lotus flowers on the back side of street vendors’ bicycles. Some Hanoians also go to the lotus lakes in early morning and buy flowers for their houses. The lotus flower is not only beautiful, but also has a very good smell. 


So I got into the lotus lake at around 6am. I watched a local man standing on a very small boat and touring on his lake. Later I found out his name was Mr. Quang. Sometimes he was back with flowers and handed them to the women waiting for him on the bank. I also watched how people covered the lotus flowers with the leaves, then packed them with bamboo strings and put them into their bikes before leaving for Hanoi’s markets. 

A woman and her son were sitting on the road and taking off the inner parts of the lotus flowers. They will be mixed with tea, as a result, the tea will have a very good smell, in Vietnamese we call it “chè sen” (lotus tea). I asked the woman whether it was possible for me to join the boat with Mr. Quang. She said certainly I could, but I should wait until he finished working. I wondered how it would be, if I could rent a boat and get out on my own. She said it would be impossible, since the boat and long pole may be stuck inside the roots of those lotus trees, 


When Mr. Quang was back, I told him I wanted to join the boat with him and he agreed. His house (a 3-storey building) is located by the lake and he also has a small tent right on the lake, so I went to his tent and waited for him. I changed into a white Áo Dài (Vietnamese traditional dress) and Mr. Quang’s wife gave me her conical hat and a bunch of lotus flowers. Problem is that I went there alone, so we needed to find someone to help me take photos. The boat is too small, so close-up photos would not be good like a great view of the lake, when someone stands on the bank or sits on another boat to take photos of me. 

As soon as I stepped my foot on the boat, Mr. Quang smiled and said “Look at the crowd!” who were standing on the other side of the lake. I wondered why suddenly there appeared so many people (more than 20 people) watching every move of our boat and taking photos. It turned out that they were 

Japanese tourists passing by the place and saw my Áo Dài and the boat. It must have been a beautiful Vietnamese sight for them. 

We were moving toward the bank, where the Japanese tourists were standing. Mr. Quang saw his friend there and asked him to help me take some photos. Mr. Quang also thought that was the best place for taking photos, as the leaves are high and large, I could stand up and be surrounded by green color of the leaves. I handed my camera to his friend, but when we moved far away from the bank and I stood up, his friend struggled with using my camera and there was no way I could be back and explain him how to use my camera. I said “Please help me!” in Japanese, and a Japanese girl offered me a help with some shots by my camera. 

Mr. Quang said that some brides and grooms also went to the lotus lake for taking their wedding photos. My photos were not as good as I expected, since there were only 2 people on the bank who could help me take my shots and they were too far from 


me. I should have been there with a photographer or a friend, but I didn’t want to bother someone to go with me at 5am in the morning. At the end of the boat trip, I gave Mr. Quang VND 100,000 as a tip. 

The boat ride on the lotus lake was the most interesting experience for me, when comparing with the boat rides on the bay, river or stream I’ve done. Imagine you are sitting on a very small and light boat controlled by a long pole, managing to keep the boat balanced, finding your way among the leaves and flowers (sometimes your boat hits them), holding flowers in your hands, having some worms sticking on your dress and the mud made your white dress dirty. 

I said to Mr. Quang “This beautiful place in Hanoi should be preserved. We should not make this place become a land of concrete buildings” and he agreed with me.

Hanoi _girl 



Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080


Flower bikes make Hanoi romantic

Every visitor to Hanoi in any day will meet a very popular image – flower bikes roaming around on the roads, from the big streets to small lanes, in sunny days or even rainy days, but the flowers on the bikes are different from day to day, month to month and season to season. As such, there is a saying that just by looking at the flower bikes along the streets of Hanoi, one can know it is spring or autumn in this place.

Hanoians prefer buying flowers from mobile flower shops - Hanoi attractionsIf people in Saigon often take flowers from shops, most people in Hanoi prefer buying flowers from “mobile flower shops” arranged on bikes or carried by bamboo baskets along streets.

Hanoi with seasonal flowers - hanoi guideHanoi has four distinct seasons and each has its own flower.

Peach blossoms mark another spring reaching Hanoi - Hanoi attractions

Hanoi becomes colorful with peach blossoms in spring - seasons in HanoiHanoi welcomes the spring with pink peach blossoms.

Hanoi welcomes april with lily - Hanoi attractionsWhile its April is covered by white color and pure scent of Lily.

Sunflowers make May of Hanoi more beautiful - Hanoi guideMay reaches Hanoi with the image of yellow sunflowers.

Lotus in summer in Hanoi - Hanoi seasons

Lotus bikes along streets in summer in Hanoi - things to do in HanoiLotus shows its most charming beauty and perfume in sunny summer

hanoi-with-seasonal-flowersCrystal gems in fall

Flowers in Hanoi

x-eye daisy season in Hanoi - - Hanoi attractions

Ox-eye daisies in November

Flower bikes - special feature of Hanoi - Hanoi culture toursBicycles bringing flowers from Nhat Tan, Quang Ba flower villages or neighboring provinces to Hanoi become a very special feature of this place.

Flower bikes make Hanoi be differ from others - Hanoi attractions

Flower bikes make Hanoi more romantic and poetic.



Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080


Poodles & Noodles: A Gastronome’s Guide to Vietnamese Food

By Steve McDonald in Backpackology

Going to a Vietnamese restaurant and ordering Pho is like going to a French restaurant and ordering a baguette. Sure, it’s a tasty meal, but you can do much better.

Vietnamese cuisine is one of the finest in the world, but also one of the most under-represented. For the uninitiated, this makes Vietnam the culinary equivalent to a glory hole—it might look shady and you wont know what you’re getting, but the adventurous shall be rewarded.

From the succulent seafood of Haiphong, to the dainty steamed rice cakes of Hue, to the soft summer-rolls of Saigon, Vietnamese cuisine emphasizes light, vibrant flavors with fresh, local ingredients. This makes writing a foodie guide extremely difficult, as the cuisine is insanely regional. For example, one of the dishes below can only be made in one small city, using water extracted from only one specific well.

The following guide contains what I believe to be the twenty-five best, most distinctively Vietnamese dishes, arranged by region instead of course, as a culinary roadmap to Vietnam.

To understand Vietnamese food, you must first understand Nuoc Cham.

NUOC CHAM (DIPPING SAUCE): Nuoc Cham is Vietnam’s national condiment, a heady mixture of garlic, sour lime juice, salty fish sauce, sweet palm sugar, and spicy chili. The Vietnamese pour the stuff on e-ve-ry-thing. Nothing is holy. Nuoc Cham is to the Vietnamese as ketchup is to people who laugh at Larry the Cable Guy.

Northern cuisine closer resembles the cuisine of China than Southeast Asia, with noodles, soy sauce, and sour vinegar shaping a rustic flavor profile.

BUN CHA (BBQ PORK & NOODLES): The Vietnamese have discovered the meaning of life and they call itBun Cha. It’s basically a giant cereal bowl filled with Nuoc Cham. And just when you thought things couldn’t get better, you discover that there are delicious patties of grilled pork submerged in it! Your Oh-Great-Bowl-Of-Sauce is served with sides of vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs, and fried crabmeat spring rolls, which are dunked in the sauce and eaten with the pork.

NEM RAN (FRIED SPRING ROLLS): Despite the lies you were told by Panda Express, Spring Rolls are as Chinese as Freedom of Speech.
Vietnam’s most famous export involves deep fried rice paper rolls stuffed with vermicelli, pork, shrimp, crab, vegetables, oil, oil, and oil. Sometimes they’re transcendent. Other times, they’re just soggy tubes of grease. The best ones are wrapped in thin vermicelli paper, fried extra crunchy, wrapped again in fresh lettuce or herbs, and dipped in Nuoc Cham.

BAHN CUON (Stuffed Rice-Noodle Roll): Some people describe Banh Cuon as a “Vietnamese Crepe”—but they deserve to be slapped in the face by a Frenchman. Instead picture a giant, square sheet of rice-noodle wrapped around seasoned meat (usually pork) and buried beneath a handful of fried shallots. It’s very tasty, especially when doused in Nuoc Cham.

PHO (VIETNAMESE NOODLE SOUP): You could say I’m not “bowled over” by Pho (pronounced fuh). It has nothing to do with the taste—the broth stewed with cow bones is hearty and delicious, and the noodles and meat are perfectly accentuated with herbs and fresh, crushed peppercorn. My problem with Pho is my blanket hatred of all noodle soups. I enjoy noodles and I enjoy soup, but when they’re placed in the same bowl, it offends me on an elemental level.

THIT CHO (DOG MEAT): There’s no better way to start the morning than eating a whole basket full of puppies. While the littlest ones have tiny bones that are crunchy, their meat is wonderfully tender, because they’re so innocent.

In all seriousness, if you can get your head around the fact that it’s Mr. Fluffy you’re picking out of your teeth, then you’ll find dog meat to be surprising delicious, with all the richness of pork and all the gaminess of venison. For many, dog meat raises the ethical question of which animals are acceptable to eat and which are not. Does such a line exist? Eating dog is slowly losing popularity in Vietnam (especially amongst the younger generations influenced by Western culture), and is usually only eaten at the beginning of the lunar month, when its considered good luck.

BANH GOI (Vietnamese Fried Dumplings): Vietnam’s response to Indian samosas. It’s basically a pork spring roll made with fried dough instead of rice paper. It’s as super awesome and bad for you as it sounds.

Central Vietnamese food is perhaps the most sophisticated, drawing culinary inspiration from France, China, Japan, and its Southeast Asian neighbors to produce a flavor that’s uniquely Vietnamese. The portions are small, the flavors are bold, and the chili is fiery.

BANH HUE (Royal Rice Cakes): While most chefs would accommodate a picky eater with a plain noodle soup or a sandwich, this never occurred to the royal chefs of fussy Emperor Tu Duc. Instead they decided that the most logical course of action would be to fossilize individual shrimps in glass-clear cubes of pounded glutinous rice, like Dr. Grant’s mosquito in Jurassic Park. Perhaps they were fucking with the Emperor. Either way, their dimsum-esque creations are popular in the old capital of Hue, where you can choose from a wide gamut of visually beautiful, delicious ‘Banh’ rice cakes. The most delicious are Banh Khoai, Banh Beo, Banh Loc, and Banh Uot.

CAO LAU (HOI AN-STYLE SOBA NOODLES): CAO LAU WILL BLOW YOUR FACE OFF AND YOU WILL WEEP WITH JOY. Take chewy Japanese-inspired noodles, add mouthwatering Cantonese-style char-sieupork, sprinkle it with Southeast Asian herbs and spices, and then top it off with a French-inspired reduction sauce and crispy fried “croutons.” Just trying to describe it, I nearly cream my boxers. In a unique twist, the dough of the noodles is made with timber ash, imbuing a smoky note. Might that be carcinogenic? Absolutely! But holy hell, is it yummy.

Sadly Cao Lau is only made in the old port city of Hoi An, using water drawn from one specific well. The universe is cruel.

CHAO TOM (SHRIMP PASTE GRILLED ON SUGARCANE): Who doesn’t love a tasty shrimp paste Popsicle? Not this guy. Chao Tom involves rich, decadent shrimp paste grilled on sugarcane. You’re supposed to roll it up in rice paper with herbs and veggies, almost like a tortilla, then dip it in a spectacular Vietnamese peanut sauce. DO NOT attempt to eat the sugarcane skewer like I did. I managed to bite off and swallow two large chunks of it before my waitress ran over to laugh at me.

NEM LUI (PORK & LEMONGRASS SKEWERS): The same thing as Chao Tom, except with delicious grilled pork and lemongrass instead of shrimp paste. The skewers were made of wood, which was much harder for me to swallow.


MI QUANG (SPICED NOODLES WITH PORK, SHRIMP, & PEANUTS): There seems to be a correlation between the amount of soup in my noodles and the scope of my rage. Fortunately, Mi Quang only uses enough broth to moisten its tasty ingredients, which include rice noodles, pork, shrimp, peanuts, banana blossoms, herbs, and a tangy annatto sauce. I might go as far as to say I recommend this noodle soup.

BUN BO HUE (SPICY BEEF & PORK NOODLE SOUP): Goddamn noodle soups! This was probably the least interesting of the ones I tried, but some people lose their shit over it, so here it is. Noodles, beef, and pork mingle in a reddish broth flavored with chili, lemongrass, shrimp sauce, and annatto. Pffffffff. Shrug.

BANH BAO VAC (HOI AN “WHITE ROSE” DUMPLINGS): Perhaps in retaliation for China stealing the spring roll, the Vietnamese hijacked the Cantonese steamed dumpling. It’s obscenely tasty. The only innovation is that you dip it Nuoc Cham.

The South is the breadbasket of Vietnam and its abundance of fish, herbs, and vegetables means you’ll find bigger portions. Local ingredients emphasize freshness, color, and flavors that veer on the sweet side.

BANH MI (VIETNAMESE-STYLE SANDWICHES): I don’t recall the last time I’ve been so enchanted by a sandwich. This southern specialty is a glorious pairing of French and Chinese colonial influence: a crispy baguette is stuffed with various manifestations of pork, vegetables, cilantro, pork crackling, and chili. Mayonnaise moistens, soy sauce imbues ‘umami,’ and the flavors are anchored with a generous slathering of pork paté. Some people are put off by the abundance of fatty pork. They’re stupid.

BANH XEO (VIETNAMESE RICE CREPES): Banh Xeo is like sad, make-believe Mexican food. It’s still very tasty—I just wish it were buried in cheese and sour cream. The dish involves bean sprouts, pork, and shrimp fried into a crunchy shell made of rice flour and turmeric.
Resist the urge to eat it like a taco. Instead, place it in your rice bowl and mutilate it beyond recognition with your chopsticks. You then roll the fragments in rice paper with vegetables and herbs and dip it in Nuoc Cham or glorious peanut sauce.

BUN BO NAM BO (NOODLES WITH BEEF & PEANUTS): Bun Bo Nam Bo crams all the most iconic flavors of Southeast Asia into a single bowl; it can’t decide what it wants to taste like, so it decides to taste like everything all at once. Dry noodles are seasoned with mangoes, fried shallots, lime, garlic, lemongrass, pepper, tender beef, and just enough sour tamarind broth to moisten. Aside from having a having a cool name, Bun Bo Nam Bo is absurdly tasty.

HU TIEU (CHINESE-STYLE NOODLE SOUP): I take back what I said about Bun Bo Hue—this is my least favorite noodle soup. Soggy vegetables and cheap cuts of pork float unattractively in a boring, generic broth. Sometimes they use better cuts of pork or fresh seafood, but no one’s writing songs about it. Allegedly it’s a Vietnamese interpretation of a Chinese dish. I can’t think of any dish I had in China that resembles this, but for that I am thankful.

BUN THIT NUONG (NOODLES WITH GRILLED MEAT): Grilled marinated pork skewers with herbs and vermicelli noodles. It’s like a southern Bun Cha, EXCEPT DROWNED IN CREAMY, DELICIOUS PEANUT SAUCE HURRAY FOR PEANUT SAUCE.

GOI CUON (FRESH SUMMER ROLLS): Southern-style “summer rolls” emphasize fresh flavors. Unfortunately, these flavors are all quite boring. Unseasoned vermicelli noodles are wrapped in rice paper with bland pork and boiled shrimp. It lacks the glorious calories of its deep fried, northern cousin.

Ha Long Bay might draw the crowds and historic Hanoi may feature on all the postcards, but anyone can tell you the real highlight of Vietnam: Caffeine, Sugar, and Alcohol.
Save room for dessert.

CAPHE SUA DA (VIETNAMESE COFFEE): Vietnamese Coffee is strong enough to power a motorcycle, or at least get your hands shaking uncontrollably. While the grounds used aren’t special (typically cheap Robusta beans), the coffee is brewed to cocaine-like potency and sweetened with condensed milk. I’m not a coffee drinker, but this stuff is like chocolate-flavored crack. Perhaps I just like condensed milk.

BIA HOI (VIETNAMESE “FRESH” BEER): A Bia Hoi joint is a ghetto, Vietnamese beer garden, except the ‘garden’ is a dirty sidewalk strewn with litter and everything is in miniature. You sit on a tiny, plastic kiddie stool at a tiny, plastic table and purchase $0.25 pints of beer with colorful Vietnamese Monopoly-money. The experience feels perversely infantile. It’s like Fisher Price’s “Baby’s First Dive Bar;” the fact that the locals are always shitfaced only enhances this illusion of a kindergarten.

CHE (SUGARY ICE DESSERT-THINGY): “Che” is a word used to describe many dishes—from pounded rice cakes to syrupy soups to icy dessert cups. If you order Che Thap Cam, you’ll get a bowl of crushed ice topped with mixed fruits, syrups, coconut cream, pandam leaf, a parade of gelatinous mystery-items, and best of all, sweetened condensed milk.

I realize I’m only staying in Asia so that I can drink condensed milk everyday without seeming strange.

Vietnam boasts an enormous cuisine whose variety dwarfs the likes of Thailand and rivals the great kitchens of India and China. While it can’t compare in size, it compensates with ingenuity and regional flair. Inspired creativity is the hallmark of the cuisine. To indulge a trip along Vietnam’s coast is to indulge in an innovative and ever-changing menu.

So the next time you find yourself in your local Vietnamese restaurant, consider giving Pho a pass. Dig deeper. Travel your taste buds. Feast on rich Bun Cha noodles with pork. Explore the exotic fusion flavors ofCao Lau. Try asking the server for a nice basket of crunchy puppies. Most likely, the flavors will astound you. And in the unlikely event that they don’t… just dip it in some Nuoc Cham.



Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080