Where to eat in Hanoi to find great food and a look at the past and present of Vietnam.
Hanoi packs a punch in a pretty small area when it comes to flavoursome food. Raucous street food eateries? Check. Refined, French-inspired delicacies? Check. Lakeside views, reminders of “that” war, and contemporary, charitable enterprises with an antipodean twist? Check, check, check.
But now, it’s time for culture through the taste of food. And it’s time for me to show you just how many different flavours thread their way through the narrow streets and waterways of Vietnam’s Hanoi.
Without further ado…
Step away from the chaos of the Old Quarter and into the soothing deep green tranquillity of the Green Tangerine. Food here is French with a Vietnamese twist and it’s a creative yet relaxing experience. Mains include the rich and strong marinated pigeon with coffee and cocoa but it’s the dessert menu that really stands out: try the passion fruit tart in a lightened meringue or the mellow caramel and lemon grass cake served with sesame seed ice cream. Deee-licious.
Elegance is the name of the game at this beautiful French colonial style restaurant. It delivers an atmosphere from a bygone age as well as food that is perfectly fresh. After dinner, stroll through the lobby to see some of the hotel’s rich historical artefacts. Graham Greene wrote his classic The Quiet American here and Charlie Chaplin, among others, also strode into town.
For an extravaganza of Asian food and a spectacular view across the largest lake in Hanoi, head to Banh Tom Ho Tay on Thanh Nien road. You’ll find page after page of local specialties, ranging from ginger squid to the ubiquitous Pho, and yet everything arrives fresh, fast and tasty. The pace of the restaurant may be fast but the view is serenity itself. It’s a mystery why more visitors don’t make the lakeside walk to reach it.
Koto has a laudable aim but that’s not the only reason for recommending it: the food is top notch too. Started over 10 years ago by Jimmy Pham, a Vietnamese-Australian, Koto helps disadvantaged youth develop social and culinary skills as they train here under charitably supported apprenticeships. Although the clientele tend to be foreign, the dishes are not with zinging beef in bamboo, honeyed prawns and Bun Bo Nam Bo topped off with refreshing chilli and lime. (It’s also opposite the Temple of Literature so makes a handy refresh and refuel spot it you’re exploring the city and you’re short on time.)
Pull up a plastic seat, crouch near the floor and slurp on noodle soup and spring rolls in the Old Quarter. It’s hard to find a street that doesn’t have a place to eat with morsels sizzled and seared before your eyes. Mopeds swoosh around, chickens strut past and conversations take place at 360 degree angles as thousands of lives cram in to one small place. Just wander through the maze and pick a place that looks popular.
Disclosure: The #DragonRoute project came about thanks to Cathay Pacific UK, my “artistic sponsor” if you will. They fly to Vietnam, Burma/Myanmar, Hong Kong and mainland China.
Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!
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