With influences from Southeast Asia, neighboring China, and faraway France, Northern Vietnamese street food could have become a haphazard mix of influences, none of them cohesive, and certainly none of them delicious. You see, the flavor profile of your average Northern Vietnamese street food is an unexpected mashup of bright, briny, sugary, spicy, and any-other-food-adjective-you-can-think-of flavors. Fresh cilantro is paired with fatty tendon in a bowl of phở, and sticky rice is given texture by a carefully cooked egg and flossy pork in xoi xeo.
As for the results? Well, Northern Vietnamese food may not always sound good. On occasion, it doesn’t even look good. But you know what is true? It always tastes good. Worth traveling across the Pacific for, giving up Thai/Chinese/French food for, and in the realm of “best things you’ve ever eaten” good.
Vietnamese street food is really randomly and chaotically delicious.
It starts at the night market
For me, there will never be a place more confronting than an Asian night market. The night markets in Hanoi are some of Asia’s best. Inside the tangled alleys of Dong Xuan, you’ll see food in its truest form, and perhaps even overcome a fear of eating unfamiliar foods because they probably don’t taste so bad after all.
Each vendor focuses their offerings around the things they can best source. The egg lady sells eggs and the fruit guy sells fruit. The egg lady would never sell fruit, because why the hell would she?
Whole gardens of cut flowers nearly tip the bicycles that carry them. The finger-like Buddha’s Hand fruits spill out of their baskets onto the sidewalk. And with the heavy thud of a butcher’s knife, fish gasp for life and no one even blinks (besides the fish, that is). Women grow strong — though only on one shoulder — as they haul lychees and longans in baskets on balance poles. But balancing is only half the challenge. Perhaps the truest struggle is navigating Hanoi’s congested streets, for hours on end, with said baskets on balance poles.
Street Food by Night Tour with Urban Adventures
We could have wandered Don Xuan market for days without discovering all of it’s corners. We also could have subsisted on nothing but phở for our whole time in Hanoi, but but we didn’t want to miss a bite of Northern Vietnamese street food. To get a grasp on the incredible diversity of Vietnamese cuisine, we enlisted the help of a local guide on the Street Food by Night Tour with Urban Adventures. By way of a night market tour, we were promised tastes of the city’s best street foods, and we hardly stopped eating the whole night.
We met with our guide — Hoang Le — on the outskirts of the hectic Dong Xuan market. The tour had us dipping past local vendors and into unassuming restaurants, tasting things we may have never sought out for ourselves. To name a few, the Street Food by Night Tour gave us a taste of the dishes below:
- Bánh mì : crusty bread sandwich filled with pork, pate, pickled vegetables, and herbs
- Bánh cuốn: rice paper with mushrooms, pork, shrimp, and onions
- Bánh tráng mè: fried rice paper with sesame
- Nuóng Vîet: Assorted Vietnamese BBQ, served with chili and tamarind sauce
- Hoa quả dầm: Mixed fruit served with ice, tapioca, and sweetened condensed milk
- Caffe trứng: Sweetened coffee served room temperature with whipped egg whites.
Ever heard of these Northern Vietnamese street foods? We hadn’t either! And that’s exactly what made the tour so worthwhile. Whether you’re hoping to identify new fruits, eat an adventurous dinner, or simply get some help navigating the night markets in Hanoi, Urban Adventures is an awesome way for independent travelers to get their bearings on Hanoi. Tours start at $26.
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the best of Northern Vietnamese street food
Not hungry for a full meal? If you’re a snacker like I am, Vietnamese street food offers lots of delightful bites.
- Fruit lovers won’t want to miss rambutan, mangosteen, and the incredibly smelly durian.
- Gỏi cuốn (prawn, vegetables, and noodles wrapped in rice paper) or bánh cuốn (rice paper with mushrooms, pork, shrimp, and onions) will run you less than $1 each.
- If you’re seeking a more substantial snack, opt for bánh mì (crusty bread sandwich filled with pork, pate, pickled vegetables, and herbs). You can even get a finger-sized sandwich, if a whole sandwich will ruin your dinner plans.
- If you’re craving a savory treat, you can grab a fried bánh tráng mè (fried rice paper with sesame) from just about any street stall and stave off your hunger for your next meal.
We’re sure you’re not going all the way to Vietnam just to eat fruit.
- While it’s pretty obvious, you can’t go to Vietnam without taking down a full bowl of phở bo (beef noodle soup) — it’s every bit as delicious as it sounds.
- If you’ve got a big appetite, head out for nuóng vîet (assorted Vietnamese BBQ) and order skewers of anything from beef to octopus. Served alongside honey crusted bread, tamarind, and chili sauce, Vietnamese BBQ is hardly anything like it’s Western counterpart, and well worth the experience.
- Our whole world is currently revolving around bún. More specifically, bún bò Nam bộ (Vermicelli noodles served with grilled beef, warm broth, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs). This Vietnamese favorite is best eaten at its namesake restaurant Bún bò Nam Bộ in Hanoi’s Old Quarter and is definitely not to miss if you’re in Hanoi.
- Ready for something unexpected? Xôi xéo (glutinous rice with cooked egg, flossy pork, and other savory condiments) is a deliciously unusual dish and quintessential Vietnamese Street Food.
- For more Vietnamese street food beyond phở, check out this dreamy and jealousy-inspiring food post from Television of Nomads!
Beer is food too, right? Well, I guess we’re on vacation anyway.
- Bia Hoi (Vietnamese draft beer) is cheaper than water, food, and probably just about anything else you might want to purchase in Vietnam. Made without preservatives, Bia Hoi is meant to be made and sold on the same day which means you best drink up for… the local economy?
- Ok, so if beer is not your thing, you can also dessert with caffe trứng (sweetened coffee served room temperature with whipped egg whites). It’s foaminess makes it nearly as delicious as a milkshake and a satisfying night cap. I’d give that a thumbs up!
So there’s a recap of all of our favorite Northern Vietnamese street food. If you’re headed to Hanoi, don’t forget to get a taste of the city with Urban Adventures! We’re not big on organized tours, but we swear this one is so worth it.
Traveling in Northern Vietnam? Don’t forget to check out these other posts!:
- Halong Bay + Bai Tu Long Bay
- Hanoi in Photos
- Things to do in Hoi An, Vietnam (from Getting Stamped)
- Backpacking Vietnam Budget (from The Broke Backpacker)
- The Alternative to Trekking in Sapa: Sapa vs. Ha Giang