Hanoi has made an indelible impression on the culinary scene with various dishes that have garnered local and international recognition. First-time diners in Hanoi will be captivated by the variety of food options as the city melds tradition with modernity. Here is a list of the Top 10 Signature Dishes in Hanoi.
- 1. Cha Ca La Vong – Fish with Dill & Turmeric
- 2. Pho Bo & Pho Ga – Beef Noodle Soup & Chicken Noodle Soup
- 3. Bun Dau Mam Tom – Vermicelli with Fried Tofu and Shrimp Paste
- 4. Banh Cuon Thanh Tri – Thanh Tri Steamed Rice Rolls
- 5. Bun Oc & Bun Rieu – Snail Noodle Soup & Crab Noodle Soup
- 6. Bun Thang – Noodle Soup with Chicken, Pork, and Egg
- 7. Bun Cha – Grilled Pork with Vermicelli
- 8. Com – Young Green Rice
- 9. Ngan – Mule Duck
- 10. Xoi Xeo – Sticky Rice with Mung Bean
1. Cha Ca La Vong – Fish with Dill & Turmeric
Often referred to as simply cha ca, Cha Ca La Vong is a popular dish traditionally prepared with snakehead fish, a freshwater species native to Vietnam. Served to guests with a generous helping of fresh dill and scallions, the fish is cooked right before their eyes.
The dish’s history dates back to early Vietnamese battles against colonial French forces.
At 14 Hang Son Street, the Doan family originally made this dish for patriots hiding in homes across the capital, organizing secret meetings. Over time, the family’s home evolved into a restaurant that exclusively served this dish. Patrons began referring to it as Cha Ca La Vong, named after a statue near the family’s entrance.
To create this meal, fish pieces are marinated for at least an hour in a blend of turmeric, garlic, shallots, galangal, and other spices. The fish is typically grilled beforehand, then fried in a sizzling hot pan just before serving it to customers. Cha ca is enjoyed with vermicelli, fresh herbs, roasted peanuts, and mam tom – a shrimp paste.
The unmistakable scent of dill and scallions fills the restaurant as you sit down. Combine this fish dish with vermicelli, peanuts, and seasonings to savor it. Many argue that the dining experience is incomplete without mam tom, though newcomers unfamiliar with the strong sauce may prefer to start with just a small taste.
If you’d rather not try the shrimp paste, you can always request a side of fish sauce instead. Both condiments enhance the rich flavor of the tender, boneless fish pieces. The dish’s non-pungent nature makes it a suitable option for everyone to relish.
The price for a serving is approximately VND135,000 ($5.72). Locations:
- Cha Ca La Vong, 14 Cha Ca Street, Hoan Kiem District
- Cha Ca Phan, 14 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street, Hai Ba Trung District
- Cha Ka Restaurant, 15 Ngo Thi Nham Street, Hai Ba Trung District
2. Pho Bo & Pho Ga – Beef Noodle Soup & Chicken Noodle Soup
Pho, a renowned noodle soup, is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine.
In 2022, international food publication TasteAtlas ranked pho as the 34th most popular dish worldwide. The soup features a broth made by simmering either beef or chicken for several hours, to which rice noodles and meat slices are added.
Although there are various theories about pho’s true origins, it is widely believed to have emerged in northern Vietnam during the French colonial period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Northern and southern pho differ significantly; the northern broth is clearer, the noodles are flatter, and it is typically not served with herbs or bean sprouts.
Pho bo (beef noodle soup) is arguably more popular among patrons and well-known among global food enthusiasts. Interestingly, the northern version lacks meatballs, a common topping in southern pho.
Classic northern beef noodle soup features assorted meats, such as gau (slender fatty brisket slices) and tai nam (a mix of cooked and raw beef). Upon receiving an order, the chef layers the toppings over the noodles, then pours in hot broth and sprinkles scallions to complete the dish.
Pho ga (chicken noodle soup), while not as prominent as pho bo, follows a similar preparation method but with different ingredients. The most succulent chicken parts, such as the tender meat and crispy skin of the wings or thighs, are used. For early risers, soft poached eggs or tender boiled chicken ovaries are suggested accompaniments to the soup.
To enhance your pho experience, try dipping deep-fried dough in the broth. Green chiles, lime, or garlic vinegar can also be added for extra flavor. Both pho bo and pho ga in northern Vietnam feature a savory, well-seasoned broth that is less sweet than southern pho. While no dipping sauce is provided, the fresh meat more than compensates for it.
Prices range from VND35,000-90,000 ($1.48-3.82) per bowl.
- Pho bo: Pho Thin, 13 Lo Duc Street, Hai Ba Trung District; Pho Nho, 27A Huynh Thuc Khang Street, Dong Da District; Pho Khoi Hoi, 50 Hang Vai Street, Hoan Kiem District
- Pho ga: Pho Ban, 172 Ton Duc Thang Street, Dong Da District; Pho Cham, 64 + 68 Yen Ninh Street, Ba Dinh District; Pho ga Nguyet, 5b Phu Doan Street, Hoan Kiem District
3. Bun Dau Mam Tom – Vermicelli with Fried Tofu and Shrimp Paste
Hailing from Hanoi, bun dau mam tom is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating dishes. Its precise origins remain uncertain. Initially a staple meal in rural households, the dish quickly gained popularity among urban diners due to its unique flavors.
Early iterations of bun dau featured fried tofu, vermicelli, herbs, and a cup of shrimp paste. Today, a wide array of toppings is available to cater to diverse customer preferences. Popular choices include cha com (young green rice and pork cake), boiled pork, and pig tripe.
Once your order is placed, a small flat bamboo tray bearing all the toppings arrives at your table. The herbs, bun la (firm noodles flattened into patches and cut into pieces), and deep-fried tofu are arranged in a circle. Mam tom, the fermented shrimp paste that serves as the dish’s dipping sauce, is the star of the show. Enhance the sauce’s taste by adding sugar and kumquat juice.
The peculiar aroma of mam tom sauce can dissuade some foreign diners from trying bun dau. Although the sauce is the dish’s main highlight, its strong flavor may not suit everyone’s palate. As an alternative, you can order fish sauce to enjoy with the meal instead. The mild sweetness and nutty undertones of tofu, combined with the potent aroma of herbs, create a beautifully balanced mix. Even if I’m not a fan of mam tom, I find it hard to resist this delectable, crispy tofu.
Prices start at VND35,000 ($1.48) per serving.
- Bun dau Trung Huong, 49 Phat Loc Alley, Hang Buom Street, Hoan Kiem District
- Bun dau Co Tuyen, at the end of Alley 29, Hang Khay Street, Hoan Kiem District
- Bun dau Cay Bang, 129 Dai La Street, Hai Ba Trung District
4. Banh Cuon Thanh Tri – Thanh Tri Steamed Rice Rolls
The Australian magazine Traveller recently ranked banh cuon among the top 10 dishes worldwide. Hailing from Thanh Tri Ward in Hanoi’s Hoang Mai District, Thanh Tri steamed rice rolls are considered the most authentic version in Hanoi. They are typically served with sweet and sour fish sauce and cha que (cinnamon-fried pork rolls). In some establishments, a distinctive spice called tinh dau ca cuong (belostomatid’s aromatic essence) is added to the fish sauce to enhance its flavor.
The rice rolls’ thin, elastic wrapper is their most distinguishing feature. The original banh cuon Thanh Tri is typically served cold, with no fillings, and garnished with fried shallots. Many Hanoians have enjoyed this version as a breakfast dish for generations. However, the traditional banh cuon Thanh Tri has lost some appeal as newer and more sophisticated dishes have emerged.
The Thanh Tri rice rolls have a firm texture and are thin and translucent. The batter is created by soaking the rice for several hours and grinding it with water. The cook then pours the batter onto a cloth and steams it in a large steamer. After cooking, the rolls are given a very thin layer of scallion oil, which imparts a glossy sheen.
The simplicity of Thanh Tri steamed rice rolls sets them apart from other variations. Because the rolls have no filling, the traditional banh cuon Thanh Tri encourages diners to focus on the rolls’ softness and the dipping sauce’s prominent flavor (complemented by crispy fried shallots). Although authentic banh cuon Thanh Tri establishments are becoming rarer, steamed rice rolls with ground pork and wood ear mushroom fillings are easily found throughout Hanoi.
Prices start at VND20,000 (85 cents) per serving.
- Banh cuon Ba Hoanh, 66 To Hien Thanh Street, Hoan Kiem District
- Banh cuon Ba Hanh, 16B Tho Xuong Street, Hoan Kiem District
5. Bun Oc & Bun Rieu – Snail Noodle Soup & Crab Noodle Soup
Both bun rieu and bun oc, the crab and snail noodle soups, are believed to have originated in the northern delta. Once primarily served as a popular breakfast option in many eateries, these noodles are now a staple Hanoi specialty available throughout the day.
A bowl of bun oc typically contains toppings such as freshwater snails, tomato slices, tofu slices, and chopped scallions.
In some establishments, you may find additional toppings like beef shank, cha lua (pork rolls), or even fertilized duck egg. The tomato-based broth has a light and tangy flavor derived from wine vinegar. Besides the herbs, this noodle soup is also accompanied by sliced banana stems.
A bowl of bun rieu, which closely resembles bun oc but substitutes snail with crab, can be found with similar toppings like tomatoes and deep-fried tofu.
The distinguishing feature of this noodle dish is the crab paste, which boasts a rich flavor of freshwater crab and a delicate, spongy texture. Unlike the dense and solid crab paste used in southern bun rieu, this paste is light and dissolves in the broth as you enjoy your meal.
Both dishes captivate with their unique aromas. You’ll encounter a novel yet delightful tanginess from the wine vinegar that you may not have tasted before. This is followed by the familiar sweet and sour flavor of tomatoes, complemented by a hint of umami from the bone broth.
The chili oil served alongside these dishes is also worth mentioning. Although quite spicy, it is recommended for first-timers to add a bit of chili oil to their bowl, as it lends a beautiful color to the dish. The unique spicy flavor even elevates the sweetness in a bowl of either bun oc or bun rieu. To truly savor a bowl of bun oc, it’s advised not to order beef shank as a topping on your first visit, as it can alter the broth’s original flavor by introducing a more savory note.
Prices start at VND30,000 ($1.27) per bowl.
- Snail noodle soup: Bun oc Co Hue, 26 Dang Dung Street, Ba Dinh District; Bun oc Gia Truyen, 19 Kim Ma Thuong Street, Ba Dinh District; Bun oc Ba Ngoai, 17 Alley 11 – To Ngoc Van Street, Tay Ho District
- Crab noodle soup: Bun rieu Hong Phuc, 22 Hong Phuc Street, Ba Dinh District; Bun rieu cua Cau Go, 42 Cau Go Street, Hoan Kiem District; Bun rieu Co Huong Beo, 57 Tran Xuan Soan Street, Hai Ba Trung District
6. Bun Thang – Noodle Soup with Chicken, Pork, and Egg
Bun thang is a dish that has its origins in Tet holiday leftovers. Some believe the term “thang” derives from “thang thuoc”, meaning prescription. Preparing this dish demands patience and precision from the cook, similar to a doctor preparing a traditional prescription.
The broth for the noodles is made from chicken bones, pork bones, and shiitake mushrooms. While sa sung (sea worms) and ca cuong were once included in the broth, rising prices have led most establishments to replace these ingredients with other condiments. A bowl of bun thang is adorned with a variety of toppings, such as thinly sliced omelet, cha gio (pork rolls), ground pork, shrimp floss, salted egg, and dried radish.
Bun thang boasts a delightful savory flavor uncommon in other noodle dishes. Each topping complements the others, ensuring a completely satisfying taste experience. If you prefer to avoid mam tom (shrimp paste), you should request its removal before ordering a bowl of bun thang. However, if you can, including the shrimp paste can impart a delicious umami flavor to your bowl.
Prices start at VND35,000 ($1.48) per bowl.
- 29 Hang Hanh Street, Hoan Kiem District
- Pho ga – Bun thang Lan Ong, 16 Lan Ong Street, Hoan Kiem District
- Bun thang Ba Duc, 48 Cau Go Street, Hoan Kiem District
7. Bun Cha – Grilled Pork with Vermicelli
Bun cha shares similarities with bun thit nuong, another well-known grilled pork and vermicelli noodle dish from southern Vietnam. Both dishes have earned international acclaim, with bun cha even being featured in the British Platinum Jubilee Cookbook last year.
A serving of bun cha consists of grilled pork, vermicelli noodles, dipping sauce, and various herbs. The grilled pork comes in two forms: meatballs and pork belly. The meat is marinated for hours before being grilled on a red charcoal stove. The dipping sauce is a vital element of bun cha, primarily made from fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Thinly sliced carrots and green papaya are also added to the sauce. Since each establishment uses its own marinade and sauce recipes, the flavors can differ from one place to another.
To enjoy bun cha, diners dip the vermicelli into the dipping sauce, then eat it with a bite of grilled pork and herbs. The combination of marinated grilled meat infused with charcoal aroma and the sweet-sour dipping sauce creates a delightful fusion of flavors.
Don’t hesitate to ask for extra dipping sauce, carrots, or green papaya. You can personalize your dipping sauce by adding more chilies, garlic, and kumquat juice. My favorite way to savor bun cha is to accompany it with a side dish of deep-fried spring rolls.
Prices start at VND35,000 ($1.48) per serving.
- Bun cha Cua Dong, 41 Cua Dong Street, Hoan Kiem District
- Bun cha Dac Kim, 1 Hang Manh Street, Hoan Kiem District
- Bun cha Ba Tuyet, 34 Hang Than, Ba Dinh District
8. Com – Young Green Rice
A specialty of the northern region, particularly in Hanoi, is com (green rice flakes). This delicacy has been incorporated into various dishes by northerners, often associated with autumn, allowing them to enjoy it all year round. Such dishes include banh com (green rice cake) and cha com (green rice patties).
According to legend, unusually heavy storms devastated Vietnam’s rice fields a thousand years ago. A man from Vong Village collected the remaining grains from the floodwater to feed his elderly mother. He roasted and pounded them to remove the husk, inadvertently creating what is now known as com. Com is characterized by its distinctive green color, light fragrance, soft texture, and subtly sweet taste.
Cha com (green rice patties) are made from lean pork and pork paste combined with com, forming mini patties. These patties are deep-fried until golden brown on both sides, resulting in a crispy exterior and a moist, soft interior with the savory aroma of pork and the fragrance of new rice. Enjoy these patties with rice or noodle dishes like bun dau mam tom.
Banh com (green rice cake) was first crafted by a member of the Nguyen Duy family on Hang Than Street in 1865. The cake’s primary ingredients are glutinous rice, green rice flakes, and mung beans. The green rice flakes are gently heated with sugar and pandan leaves until they melt and become stretchy. The mung beans, soaked for hours, are then cooked with sugar to create a viscous filling. This filling is wrapped in the rice mixture, shaped into a square, and allowed to cool. Banh com is a sweet treat enjoyed by people of all ages and is often purchased as a gift by locals and international tourists alike.
Pairing the green rice flakes with bananas is a popular way to savor com in Hanoi. This combination offers a delightful blend of com’s light sweetness and the vanilla and candy-like notes of bananas.
Com prices start at VND200,000 ($8.46) per kilogram.
- Com lang vong Ba Can, No. 19, Alley 85, Xuan Thuy street, Cau Giay district
- Com vong Co Man, No. 10, alley 86, lane 44 Tran Thai Tong Street, Cau Giay district
- Banh com Nguyen Ninh, 11 Hang Than Street, Ba Dinh District
9. Ngan – Mule Duck
Ngan, also known as mule duck, is a type of poultry primarily consumed in Vietnam’s northern region. It’s rare to find dishes featuring mule duck in the southern or central areas. Ngan is generally larger and meatier than duck or chicken, boasting fatty skin and lean, flavorful, firm meat. Bun ngan (noodle soup with mule duck) and ngan chay toi (mule duck fried with garlic) are two of the most popular mule duck dishes in Hanoi.
Bun ngan combines a delectable mule duck broth simmered with sautéed fresh and dried bamboo shoots. The broth is poured over a bowl of vermicelli noodles and topped with bamboo shoots, ngan meat, spring onions, and cilantro. A sweet and sour dipping sauce filled with minced garlic accompanies each bowl of bun ngan. Known for the natural sweetness of the ngan and its light, savory broth, this meal is enjoyed for breakfast or lunch.
Ngan chay toi, a Hanoian specialty since 2016, has rapidly gained popularity among the city’s youth. It’s said that a mule duck restaurant created the recipe to use up leftover meat. After receiving numerous compliments from family and customers, the restaurant owner added the dish to the menu. The mule duck is first boiled, then cut into smaller pieces, marinated with seasonings, and deep-fried in hot oil. The key ingredient, garlic, is fried until golden and crispy while maintaining its soft texture and unique flavor. The chef combines the meat and garlic before serving.
Designed for two people, a serving of ngan chay toi requires a 15 to 20-minute wait, as it is made to order. If you’ve never tried mule duck before, I recommend starting with ngan chay toi. Order half a mule duck fried with garlic, half a boiled mule duck, and a bowl of bamboo soup for a complete experience.
Bun ngan starts at VND35,000 ($1.48) per bowl.
Ngan chay toi starts at VND140,000 ($5.93) per serving.
- Noodle soup with mule duck: Bun ngan Nhan, 11 Trung Yen Alley, Hoan Kiem District; Bun ngan Minh Thu, 31 Ly Quoc Su Street, Hoan Kiem District; Bun ngan Huyen Anh, 39 Nguyen Du Street, Hai Ba Trung District
- Mule duck fried with garlic: Ngan chay toi Thuy Luong, 51 Hang Luoc Street, Hoan Kiem District; Ngan Dung Huyen, 16 Hang Thiec Street, Hoan Kiem District; Ngan Thanh Huong, 38 Hang Non Street, Hoan Kiem District
10. Xoi Xeo – Sticky Rice with Mung Bean
Xoi xeo, or sticky rice with mung bean, is a traditional breakfast deeply rooted in the hearts of those born and raised in Hanoi. In the early morning, long lines of people can be seen waiting to purchase xoi xeo for their breakfast. For just a few thousand dong, you can enjoy a serving of yellow sticky rice, aromatic with the scent of scallion oil and fried shallots.
The key components of xoi xeo include sticky rice, mung beans, fried shallots, and scallion oil. Many believe that the dish’s unique name stems from the custom of hand-cutting, or xeo, a block of mung bean on top of the sticky rice.
Xoi xeo is a dish that boasts a range of flavors, all derived from simple ingredients. The mung beans impart a subtly sweet and nutty taste, enhanced by the lively aroma of the scallion oil. The fried shallots provide a crispy and savory contrast, which, when combined with the soft and fragrant sticky rice, creates an explosion of flavors in your mouth.
Modern xoi xeo vendors now offer additional toppings, such as pork rolls, braised pork, pork floss, or chicken stir-fried with mushrooms. I particularly enjoy pork rolls as a topping for xoi xeo because it adds protein to the meal without overwhelming the natural flavors of the sticky rice and mung bean.
Prices start at VND15,000 (63 cents) per serving.
- Xoi May, 31 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Hoan Kiem District
- Xoi xeo Co Tuyet, Cu Loc Alley, Thanh Xuan District
- Xoi Nguyet, 90 Dao Tan, Ba Dinh District