Beautiful Vietnam
CNN lists top 5 dishes in Hanoi for foreign visitors
  • | VET | March 06, 2019 08:14 PM

CNN has recommended five of the best dishes in Hanoi for foreign visitors to try, as the Trump-Kim Summit takes place in Vietnam’s capital.

The dish of Pho. Photo: CNN

With more than a thousand years of history and a rich culture, Hanoi is known for its diverse cuisine. The world-famous “pho” (beef noodle soup) and “bun cha”, which former President Barack Obama’s enjoyed during his visit in 2016 and is made up of bits of marinated, charcoal-grilled pork patties and pork slices in a dipping sauce with rice noodles and herb garnishes, were mentioned as must-try street food.

But CNN strongly recommended five other dishes among the hundreds available in the city’s diverse food scene.

The first was “cha ca” (fish cooked with turmeric and dill). The dish is so exceptional there is a street in the capital dedicated to it - Cha Ca Street in Hoan Kiem district. Along this busy road, where spiderwebs of exposed electrical wires hang overhead, dozens of specialists compete to sell the best “cha ca” - crispy turmeric-marinated fish that’s fried tableside in a pan with herbs. The most famous on this strip is Cha Ca La Vong at 14 Cha Ca Street, one of the oldest eateries in Hanoi and the first to set up shop on the street over a century ago. The dish itself dates back more than 130 years. It was first invented by the local Doan family, who served the special meal to troops during French colonial rule.

Cha ca (Photo: CNN)

The second was “banh tom” (shrimp cake), which is made from freshwater crayfish or shrimp from West Lake and flour and sweet potato. Instead of grinding the shrimp into a paste (like a fish ball), it’s usually left whole, sitting atop the crunchy cakes. The dish is typically served with lettuce leaves for wrapping, plus chili, lime juice, and fish sauce for dipping. “Banh tom” is thought to have become common in the 1930s when small street vendors began congregating along Thanh Nien Street, the road that separates West Lake and Truc Bach Lake.

As the hawkers garnered popularity, the government later combined many of the stalls and opened one big restaurant on the lakefront. Today, the restaurant remains a fixture on Thanh Nien Street and still draws a steady stream of friends and families gathering for slow afternoons full of crispy, savory shrimp cakes, chilled local draft beer, and front-row seats to the lake.

Banh tom (Photo: CNN)

The next was “bun ca” (fish noodle soup). Fresh and light, “bun ca” combines fried fishcakes, dill, tomatoes, green onions, and perilla, a mint-like herb. It can be found everywhere at lunchtime.

Mark Lowerson, founder of Hanoi Street Tours, pointed to a vendor west of the Old Quarter called Van at 105 Quan Thanh Street, Ba Dinh district, who specializes in the dish he believes is the best in town, with two types of noodles for your choice of steamed or fried fish.

Bun ca (Photo: CNN)

Another type of noodle dish on the list was “bun rieu cua” (crab noodle soup), a meat or seafood vermicelli soup with a distinctive crimson color. The broth gets its appearance from tomato paste and annatto oil, made from achiote tree seeds. Freshwater crabmeat and blanched tomatoes are the soup’s star players. Tamarind paste lends sourness to the broth, while airy bits of fried tofu contribute crunch.

Depending on the region, “bun rieu cua” might also come topped with beef, pork, snails or fish. Vermicelli noodles swim in the soup, adding balance to a dish that’s both colorful and light. Add to that the requisite plateful of lime wedges, chili and greens, like banana blossoms and mint, and you have a perfect meal, according to CNN. It recommended a street stall run by Ms. Thu in Tho Xuong laneway, near St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hoan Kiem district.

Bun rieu cua (Photo: CNN)

Last but not least is not food but a drink - “ca phe trung” (egg coffee), a Hanoi specialty in which a creamy soft, meringue-like egg white foam is perched on dense Vietnamese coffee.

Ca phe trung. Photo by CNN

While destinations across the city now serve it, the humble Cafe Giang at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan in Hoan Kiem district claims to have invented it.

There are hot and cold versions. The latter is served as a yellow concoction in a small glass. It’s consumed with a spoon and tastes almost like coffee flavored ice cream - more like a dessert than coffee. Meanwhile, the hot version comes resting in a small dish of hot water to maintain its temperature. The strong coffee taste at the bottom of the cup seeps through the egg, the yellow layer on top, and is quite thick and sweet though not sickly.

Leave your comment on this story