Vietnamese cuisine varies by region. Each city, even each village, may have its own list of unique local specialties. Hanoi is the capital of present Vietnam and it’s also been the capital of the ancient kingdoms in Northern Vietnam since the second millennium. The city has a deep history and there is no better way to understand this than to try the food.
1. When cuisine reflects culture
Like many Asian cuisines, Vietnamese food is underpinned by the Xu Wing and Mahābhūta principles. These philosophies emphasise the importance of the balance between the five elements for health and well-being. This means that each Vietnamese dish features a careful combination of five flavours: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and hot. This sensational synthesis makes every meal an invigorating and memorable experience.
(Photo: Pratiksha Mohanty/ Unsplash)
Hanoi - the heart of the country, embraces this theory the most significantly.The culinary work here is not bold in any particular taste or colours. Neither it has any dominant ingredient. Most Hanoi foods, like other Northern Vietnamese ones feature light and balanced flavors, resulting from subtle combinations of many different flavours. Not only do Hanoians apply it to the taste of food but they make it to the appearance as well. From the first glance of Hanoi dishes, you can catch a stunning combination of colours, from intense tones like red, orange to milder ones like pastels.
Yet, Hanoians do not make food just based on their spiritual values. Every food made in Hanoi can be considered a witness of the city development. They “live” along the time flow, see and hear, then tell the stories in their own way - by the sense of taste. For example, the national dish of Vietnam, Pho, changes itself at each stage of the nation. In times of scarcity, Pho was made so meagerly that it just had 2 ingredients: the soup & the “pho”, with so little meat. As the country thrived, Pho was more generously cooked, gradually becoming a nutritious dish as we have today.
The culture that cuisine expresses can be past or temporary. In the case of Vietnam’s signature drink, it is the latter. Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee exporter and its beans are nothing short of phenomenal. Strong and full of flavour, Vietnamese coffee (known affectionately by some as ‘rocket fuel’) packs an intense punch, delighting your senses and keeping you buzzing all day. One of the most popular ways to enjoy it is with condensed milk over ice, otherwise known as ca phe sua da. The delightful cafes where it’s served are almost as enjoyable as the drink itself, with many of the best ones tucked away in little secret corners and narrow hems.
2. Signatures of Hanoi
The following list includes the most famous and original food that will bring a true Hanoi to your senses. At Lang Lieu, these dishes are meticulously made to preserve the traditional taste. For more information, please have a look at our full menu.
2.1. The famous Pho
It is expected that you’ve heard about this very famous rice noodle soup of Vietnam because its deliciousness has spread internationally. But in order to truly appreciate the broth and herbs, you need to try this bowl of soup and noodles in Vietnam, but start with Hanoi. No one knows exactly when pho was invented, they just know that this dish appeared a long time ago and is an indispensable dish of the capital citizen. Pho has spread across the country, yet in Hanoi it still retains those special characteristics that only the so-called “origin of the dish” possesses.
(Photo: Lightscape/ Unsplash)
The Huffington Post lists the dish as one of the most delicious foods people should discover while travelling abroad. Pho is soup consisting of broth of Beef or Chicken, Rice noodle or called bánh phở, slice of Beef (all different cuts) called Pho bo. Chop Chicken with bone and chicken broth called Pho ga. the broth with a few herbs or no herbs (depending where the Pho cooked), Pho is a popular street food in Vietnam where it found almost a century ago from the northern Vietnam. It is ranked 11 out of the list of top 12 foods.
"Pho is a specialty of Ha Noi. You can taste it in other places. But the pho is better in Ha Noi than anywhere else." It says.
2.2. Bun Cha
Bun Cha - a classic Hanoi dish, is a great combination of savory and fresh flavors. It has a vibrant color and the harmony of the meat and vegetables is incomparable.
When taking Bun Cha as your meal, you will be served with a plate of vermicelli (bun), a bowl of broth with grilled pork, and a basket of fresh greens.
Bun, the vermicelli noodles, are served on a separate plate. To make a decent bowl of bun cha, the vermicelli has to be thin, soft, and chewy.
Cha is the meat of this dish, served in a bowl. The meat is made from pork and cooked in two styles: cha vien (ground pork) and cha mieng (grilled thin sliced pork). It is served with the broth.
The highlight of bun cha is definitely the broth (or dipping sauce). To make the sweet and sour soul of this dish, the cook mixes fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar together. The ingredients might sound simple but the taste varies from one shop to the next because every Hanoin has their own ratio they follow. Diners can tell whether their bun cha is good or bad by the flavor of the sauce.
Without vegetables and herbs, Vietnamese dishes are not complete. In the big basket of greens on the table, there are often fresh lettuce, Thai basil, cilantro, fish mint, banana flower, and coriander.
2.3. Banh cuon
Banh cuon is another local specialty from Northern Vietnam that you don’t want to miss. Banh cuon originally comes from Thanh Tri - the suburban area of Hanoi, where meat fillings were first put in the dish.
It is a delicate and light dish usually eaten for breakfast in Vietnam. However, you can find it all day long.
Banh cuon is made of a thin rice sheet rolled and filled with ground pork meat and minced mushrooms. It is served with fried shallots and cilantro herbs on top.
The secret flavor of this Hanoi food resides in its dipping sauce.
As with most Vietnamese dishes, Nuoc Mam of fish sauce is used in the dipping sauce. The magic comes with the additional drop of ca cuong, the essence of a giant water bug common in Southeast Asia.
This drop in the sauce adds an extra flavor which gives off a taste similar to scallops or shrimps. Today, this natural essence is becoming scarce and many restaurants are now using an imitation essence.
The rice sheet is made by steaming fermented rice batter on a cloth stretched over a pot of boiling water.
2.4. Com (Green rice flakes)
Com is freshly harvested sticky (glutinous/sweet) rice that's been toasted to bring out its delicate flavor. It can be eaten as is and out of hand. Though the grains quickly lose their delicate qualities (around 24 hours), people in the North enjoy them past their prime in other dishes. For example, they can be featured in rice cakes called bánh cốm, which often appear during special events like engagement ceremonies or Tet, made into ice cream, or suspended in a sweet dessert soup. The grains may stir-fried with sugar and oil, a preparation that sounds rich and dandy. They may also be popped and mixed with sugar syrup into a Vietnamese rice crispy treat. In other cases, they can be used as the main ingredient for Cha Com, which is a specialty of Lang Vong - Vong Village (Hanoi).
For northern Vietnamese, particularly Hanoians, Com from Lang Vong has a special place in their hearts. The rice grown in that village is wonderfully flavored and fragrant, a unique artisanal product that's only grown and harvested in autumn by farmers of that village. Super fresh Com from Vong village is considered the best.
2.5. Banh Duc – Steamed Rice Cake with Dipping Sauce
Banh duc is a series of steamed cake made of rice flour and molded into different shapes, usually a circle, rectangle, or triangle. You will eat this delicious type of rice cake with dipping sauces and it often has peanuts inside. Banh duc has two common varieties in Hanoi: savory banh duc and plain banh duc with peanut.
The savory banh duc is placed in a bowl and meat sauce is poured directly on top. The plain cake with peanut is cut into small pieces and it will be dipped into an accompanying sauce. Each dish brings different tastes; while the plain banh duc with peanut has a simple taste of rich rice flour, a bit brittle and slightly sweet of peanut, the savory one brings much more sophisticated flavors and appearance.
2.6. Bun Thang (Noodle with Chicken Soup)
Bun thang is a special dish both in its name and in how it’s made. In the past, the Hanoian women cleverly used the remaining food from Tet (Vietnamese New Year) and combined the leftovers to make a new dish which was tasty and economical. The dish’s name is derived from this phrase: “Thang thuoc bo,” which means a package of rejuvenation. Bun thang consists of many nutritious ingredients mixed together, just like the method used in Eastern medicine to mix herbs. This dish is made primarily of noodles and chicken soup; in addition, people can eat it with duck eggs, shrimp, squid, onions, garlic, or shiitake mushrooms. This combination makes bun thang not only a delicious food but also a very nutritious one.
2.7. Cha Ca La Vong (La Vong’s Grilled Fish)
Cha ca – fish cake has made an appearance all over Vietnam with different tastes, but cha ca La Vong has a very distinct flavor in comparison. The Doan family, who has pioneered the flavor of this dish, has a secret recipe and this secret has only been inherited by the oldest son of the Doan. In general, they slice fish into small pieces, then marinate and fry them before grilling. This food is so famous that the street where the Doan live and sell cha ca is now known as “Cha Ca Street.” In their restaurant, the Doan family have placed a statue of La Vong (a chef in the 11th century BC) which is why people call the dish “cha ca La Vong.”
2.8. Xoi xeo (Sticky Rice with Mung Bean Topping)
Xoi xeo is a typical breakfast food of Hanoians. It’s made of steamed glutinous rice and other delicious ingredients. During the steaming process, the rice is mixed with chicken fat. This steamed rice is then paired with mung bean, which is steamed and ground, and topped with crispy fried shallot. This fresh yellow xoi xeo is packaged in lotus leaf. The smells of chicken fat, crispy fried shallot, and lotus leaf combine to make a nondescript yet delectable scent of xoi xeo.
2.9. Che (Sweet desert)
Che is any traditional Vietnamese sweet beverage, dessert soup or pudding. Varieties of Che are made with mung beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, tapioca, jelly (clear or grass), fruit (longan, mango, durian, lychee or jackfruit), and coconut cream. Other types are made with ingredients such as salt, aloe vera, seaweed, lotus seed, sesame seed, sugar palm seeds, taro, cassava and pandan leaf extract. Some varieties, such as che troi nuoc, may also include dumplings. Che are often prepared with one of a number of varieties of beans, tubers, and/or glutinous rice, cooked in water and sweetened with sugar.
The preparations are named with the addition of qualifying adjectives referring to a wide variety of distinct soups or puddings which may be served either hot or cold. Each variety of che is designated by a descriptive word or phrase that follows the word che, such as che dau do (literally "red bean che").
In Hanoi, Vietnamese Panna Cotta cubes in sugar syrup (also known as Che Khuc Bach - meaning white cubes in sweet soup in Vietnamese) is the most reputed. The white cubes (panna cotta) are made with milk, heavy/whipping cream, sugar, almond extract and cheese; these cubes are kept cool in the fridge for about 5 hours before serving with sugar/lychee syrup.
In a nutshell, Hanoi culinary works are highly meticulous & representable. They reflect history, tradition and the soul of Vietnamese people. At Lang Lieu, we are dedicated to bringing the most authentic Hanoi to your plate!
Named after the progenitor of Vietnamese cuisine, we dedicate ourselves to providing a special journey back time so that every guest can fully sense Vietnamese culture-rich history through the food we serve. Our menu presents signature traditional dishes in Northern Vietnam, from the Old Quarter of Hanoi to the mountainous North-West and North-East. Also, located right in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Lang Lieu has such a tranquil vibe that you will immediately find peace the moment you step past the door.