For the budget-conscious person in Hanoi, there are no better alternatives to eating than traditional Vietnamese dishes found on every sidewalk, corner and alleyway. One needn’t look far. The food here is delicious, cheap and fun, as it requires a level of proactivity and interactivity that is unfamiliar to many cuisines worldwide. I say proactivity because the best places in Hanoi only serve one thing, and they only serve that one thing for a short window in the day. My favorite bun cha place is open for three hours a day at most, even less if they run out of food. So you must plan and run. Once you plop down on a dubious plastic cube, the interaction begins. Fix your plate with whatever options are available: limes, chili sauce, garlic vinegar, pepper. Mix whole chilies into your fish sauce – let it rest! The chilies must permeate everything. Many times it gets more physical. If you’ve got banh xeo or nem lui, be prepared to roll it up in rice paper, adding herbs and whatever else you want. Pay equal attention to your noodles, herbs and meat while eating bun cha; be judicious at your local com binh dan place, a buffet-style lunch offering much variety for little cost, choosing only the best quality of your favorite dishes. And so you must make and construct your food with precision and care. Met with cold bia hoi, a summer night with a breeze and good friends, there is nothing more to be had or said.∗
Mien Muc Tron
A rare find indeed. A delectable mix of glass noodles, fish patties, peanuts, topped with crispy squid!
There are two types of people in the world. One of them shrugs their stupid shoulders and goes, “What’s the big deal about pho?” The other knows fully well what the big deal is, but doesn’t respond because they’re eating pho.
The texture of Vietnamese food is one of contrasts. Banh xeo, “sizzling cake”, is simply a rice batter fried to a crisp, translucent and yellow. Then filled with pork and whole shrimp to be folded into a half-moon crepe. THEN. You roll this majestic entity into a thin dry rice paper, pile it with herbs and green banana, and dip. The crunch that follows is on par with a religious experience.
Banh Cuon Nanh Thit Lon
Earthy flavors, sweet and sour too. A succulent pork-mushroom mixture, loosely wrapped in mushy rice papers, to be dipped in the classic fish-chili sauce. One plate is small; I recommend ordering many different plates, no less than thirty.
Bun Bo Nam Bo
The beauty of all this is that it’s fast and fresh.
What Lies Behind the Curtain?
Untold treasures of the culinary persuasion, there can be no doubt.
Pho Xao Bo
“I did not know it then, but Frida had already become the most important fact in my life,” said Diego Rivera about his unibrowed paramour. And I did not know it then, but pho xao bo had already become the most important source of carbohydrates in my life.
Com Binh Dan
Argentina has Lomo a lo Pobre, Poor Man’s steak. Vietnam has Com Binh Dan, Poor Man’s rice. Evidently poor men eat well.
Banh Da Cua
Flat brown noodles soak up a broth teeming with crab and fried fish.
Grab a Seat, Someone will be with you shortly