Oh, Hanoi! Hanoi! How I totally fell in love with this city! Honestly, it was completely unexpected…so much so that Katherine and I were lamenting as we planned out trip about how we were wasting a night in Hanoi because of our Halong Bay boat cruise instead of using that extra night in Saigon or Hội An. What was wrong with us?! Why did all of our friends tell us there was nothing in Hanoi and it would be fine if we skipped it?! I’m here to tell you, don’t fall for that…Hanoi is amazing. There is the beautiful mix of French Colonial and Vietnamese architecture, a gorgeous European style promenade around the centrally located Hoàn Kiếm Lake, the air is cooler and less humid, the people are even friendlier and more fun-loving than everywhere else in Vietnam (which I honestly didn’t think was possible) and the food is some of the best I had in all of Vietnam.
Oh, the food! This is where it gets tricky. Since Katherine and I did end up with only one night (16 hours including sleeping time to be exact) in Hanoi as soon as I started researching the food I knew we had a problem on our hands. Too much food and too little time! But Katherine was a trooper and let me drag her all over the city to have not one, but three dinners plus street food plus another spot for dessert. Yeah, I get a little crazy when it comes to experiencing an amazing place through food…but trust me the marathon foodie sprint was worth it! So let’s get eating…
First up is the not-to-be-missed Bun Cha! Bun Cha is my new favorite Vietnamese dish that has fatty grilled pork, white rice noodles, herbs, a delectable mixture of pickled garlic and chilis and a slightly sweet dipping sauce. I mean honestly, this pickled garlic and chili component alone had me distracting my fellow diners with my groans of enjoyment as I ate! This was our first dish of the evening…and we knew we had a few more spots to hit after this so we were really trying to restrain ourselves and not eat it all but we just couldn’t. We slurped up every last bit smiling the entire time. The crispy spring rolls too…some of the best I had while in Vietnam.
Now, this is the important part…you must go to this spot for your Bun Cha because it’s that good! And it was recommended to me (by a guy I met on Tinder of all people!) so strongly that I just had to check it out…boy am I glad I did! You can see the restaurant, Bún Chã Dãc Kim behind me in the photo above. The address is 1 Hang Manh St, Hanoi. Be forewarned though, there’s an imposter right next door with the same name and everything so make sure you go to the right one…and let me know when you do so you can make me jealous!
Dinner #2! Unfortunately for us our destination was only about 4 blocks away so not a whole lot of time to work up an appetite but this next one, Bún bò nam bộ, was almost as delicious as our first dinner. So as full as we were starting to get we had no problem finishing this one either…a delicious stirred beef vermicelli bowl that actually originates from Southern Vietnam but it’s become very popular in Hanoi as well. It’s a dish filled with vermicelli noodles, fresh raw vegetables and herbs, beef stirred in just as you order it and then topped with fried onions, roasted peanuts and bean sprouts. The sauce has a delicious lemony tang along with fish sauce and chili amongst other delectable flavors. Apparently this is a popular breakfast in the warmer months in Hanoi. Man this is making me hungry just writing about it. Another trusted source sent me to this place named after the dish itself and I definitely support this recommendation so I’ll send you there as well: Bún Bò Nam Bộ at 67 Hang Dieu, Hanoi in the Old Quarter.
Oh, our 3rd dinner…it was kind of a disaster. I guess when you’re eating three dinners in one night you can’t expect them all to go perfectly! Unfortunately I was really looking forward to this one…it’s Cha Ca, a specialty of Hanoi. Table-side fried fish topped with garlic, ginger, turmeric and dill. It looked so amazing and unique on a few shows I watched before going for Vietnam so I was looking forward to hunting some down on our limited time in Hanoi. I likely was going to be headed to a somewhat touristy spot (Cha Ca Va Long) but Katherine’s friend who is from Vietnam intervened and told us where to go for the authentic original. Sweet! Until we get there and find out it’s closed on the one day we’re there. Ugh.
So we decided to wander around looking for another spot to get Cha Ca since my original spot was pretty far away and noticed it on the menu of this place with those great little street-side stools filled with older men and a few couples…all locals. Score! Or so we thought. We sat down, snapped a few photos and excitedly awaited our sizzling dish to arrive at our table to cook the fish and pile in the fresh herbs. Until a plate of already cooked, breaded and deep fried fish arrived at our table. Huh? I think we stumbled upon the bar-food version of Cha Ca. Not exactly what we were looking for and honestly not very good. I think this is the only time we left almost a full plate of food on the table as we paid and snuck out sheepishly. Oh well, you live and you learn. I’ll be on the lookout for the Cha Ca I didn’t get on my next visit to Hanoi for sure!
Time for a little pick me up to help us get through a bit more food before we call it a wrap in Hanoi! So we head over to an area of town known as “Egg Coffee Lane” for the numerous shops specializing in this local treat. Luckily for us we had a friend who’s a local recommend the absolute best spot to get one of these delights. An egg coffee is a hybrid dessert and coffee all in one. It’s made with very strong coffee, egg yolks, condensed milk and sugar all expertly frothed together. Katherine got the mocha version so hers had chocolate in it as well. It’s served in a warm bath and you slurp it up with a spoon…all while sitting on little stools, of course! Pretty delicious and a nice little jolt of energy with something sweet all in one. I really enjoyed Cafe Giang 39 as well…you go up a narrow set of stairs and there’s an enclosed sitting room that’s both peaceful and cozy. I didn’t see any other tourists up there either…which is always a good sign to me!
After our egg coffees we got back on the road for the last of our Hanoi foodie journey…street food. Hanoi is known to have some pretty great late-night street food areas so we went on a little walking tour but honestly our street food journey in Hanoi wasn’t super successful either! That being said, the street food we did try was incredibly delicious…we just didn’t find as much of it as we had hoped despite heading to all of the popular street food areas that we had heard about. Probably a good thing since we were 2+ dinners in by now and starting to slow down! Some of our favorites that we tried were the Bánh gối, which are almost like a Vietnamese Samosa, and the Bánh khot which is like a little savory Vietnamese pancake. Mmmmm. Why don’t we have street food in the States? Food trucks and hot dog stands just aren’t the same!
About ready to call it a night, bellies full and happy we do have a couple more spots on our list…cocktail lounges and bars! While we didn’t have the steam to check them all out since we had to get up at 5:30am we were lucky enough to be staying at a hotel right around the corner from one of the most interesting ones. Angelina right inside the Hotel Metropole.
Founded in 1901 the Hotel Metropole has an amazing wealth of history encased in an amazing French Colonial atmosphere. Dignitaries and VIPs were hosted here for years and during the war this was one of the bases for both press and diplomats. On my flight over to Vietnam I read Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American” to learn a bit more about the war, which my father fought in, through an iconic story…a lot of that story takes place at or around the Hotel Metropole. So it was a but surreal and moving to be in this historic place. Not so much so that we didn’t have fun though…and honestly it’s hard not to with this bar’s amazing Angelina Iconic Cocktails.
We didn’t really know what we were in for when we ordered these, but we were so engaged and impressed with the historic story and theatrics each one of the Iconic Cocktails entailed that we ended up making fast friends with the bartender and ordered every single one just for the show. Well, for the show and the drink…they were incredible. Especially my first one that you can see our bartender making above, the Joan Baez. As it says on the menu, “inspired by the scent of phở on the streets of Hanoi and Joan Baez’s wartime experience at the Metropole”. This drink truly tastes like all of the aromatics of phở without the beef flavor…holy delicious! The bartender “cooks” cardamom and coriander to release the aromatic flavors and then mixes them with Tangueray gin, cointreau, lime, sugar, cilantro and a bit of red chili pepper. So flavorful and such a fun experience.
As we left the bar, we walked around the hotel a bit and I totally want to come back and stay here. It is an amazing hotel, and that’s coming from someone who was staying at the Hotel De L’Opera Hanoi which is an amazing, super luxurious, romantic hotel in itself. With two weeks of non-stop on the go travel you have to spoil yourself a few of the nights! So a simple nightcap before finishing up this leg of our trip left a lasting impression on me, as did every other experience I had in Hanoi. I truly loved this city and think you will too so make sure you don’t miss out on it like we almost did when you visit Vietnam. It’s a must in SavoryGirl’s book and I can’t wait to go back! If you have tips or tricks or suggestions for when I do make it back, I’d love to hear them…