News A SEA Games food tour to introduce northern Vietnam delectables

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Jun 25, 2020
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Southeast Asia's premier sports event SEA Games is being held in Hanoi and some northern provinces. For visiting athletes, fans and others here’s a primer to eat like a local gourmet.
HANOI


Turtle Tower, an iconic symbol of Hanoi in the middle of Hoan Kiem (Sword) Lake, shines at night. Photo by Nghiem Dinh Chinh
For thousands of athletes, coaches, officials in town for the SEA Games 31, Hanoi presents a great opportunity to discover delicious dishes that are particular to the capital city, like cha ca, which is fried catfish tossed with dill, onion, turmeric and galangal.
This dish has the distinction of having a street named after it in Hanoi's Old Quarter.
One of the oldest restaurants on this street, La Vong, has been serving this dish for nearly 150 years.


A set of cha ca is set up over a burner at La Vong Restaurant in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Trang
Diners sit at a communal table with a skillet set up over a burner. Turmeric-marinated fish is added to sizzling garlic oil, and dill and shrimp paste tossed in. The diners’ job is to add herbs, marinated hot chilies, peanuts and vermicelli, which are all laid out on the table.
A set of La Vong fried catfish costs at VND175,000 (US$7.58) per person.
Banh tom, deep fried rice powder cake with shrimp, is another Hanoi specialty that is served by a series of restaurants across the West Lake, a popular hangout area.
The most well-known restaurant for this dish is on Thanh Nien Street between the West Lake and Truc Bach Lake. It is typically served with lettuce leaves for wrapping, plus chili, lime juice and fish sauce for dipping. What made the dish special in yesteryears was that it was made with freshwater shrimp caught in the West Lake.
A serving of banh tom costs from VND25,000-55,000 ($1-.0-2.38).


A set of banh tom, fried rice powder cake with shrimp, is served with vegetables. Photo by Cam Nhi
Pho, Vietnam's iconic noodle soup, which was named by CNN as one of the world's 20 best, is a must try dish in the capital city.
Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su is one of the most famous restaurants in Vietnam serving this dish. It is so popular that it is not uncommon to see people queuing outside, waiting their turn to get in during the peak tourist season.
A bowl of beef noodle soup at Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su in Hanoi. Photo by Ngoc Dinh
The restaurant only serves beef pho, but the options are varied. You can have pho with cooked or poached beef flank, beef brisket or stewed beef in Bordelaise sauce. A bowl of the fragrant, tasty soup costs VND55,000 – 80,000.
Bun cha, a bowl of savory, sweet and sour fish sauce with meatballs and thick pork slices served with a plate of white vermicelli, has had its profile boosted after former President Barack Obama enjoyed this dish during his 2016 trip to Vietnam.
Bun cha is typically served with seafood spring rolls, crab spring rolls and grilled skewers.


Bun cha served with seafood spring rolls, crab spring rolls and grilled skewers is part of Hanoi's cuisine. Photos by Tuan Hoang
Some famous addresses to try the dish are 74 Hang Quat Street and Huong Lien Stall on Le Van Huu Street where Obama and the late chef Anthony Bourdain visited in 2016.
Yet another local favorite is pork rib congee, particularly on cold days. A bowl of rib congee costs VND25,000-30,000.
Many Hanoians say that a nameless roadside stall at 2A Ly Quoc Su Street serves the best rib porridge in the city. This hot treat can also be found in the famous Dong Xuan Market.


A bowl of rib porridge is served with deep-fried pieces of dough in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh
No trip to Hanoi can be complete without visiting some of its coffee shops. Some of the more prominent outlets are 91 Nguyen Huu Huan Street in Hoan Kiem District, Yen Cafe at 184 Quan Thanh Street in Ba Dinh District, and All Day Coffee at 37 Quang Trung Street in Hoan Kiem District for egg coffee, an undoubted Hanoi specialty.
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Coffee shops in Hanoi. Photos by Quynh Trang