The food scene in Hanoi, Vietnam is one of the capital city’s highlights; you’d be easily forgiven if you skip all the must-see sights in Hanoi in favor of hunkering down at any number of streetside stalls in the Old Quarter, eating your way through these northern Vietnamese favorites.
As with beer, a certain regionalism prevails with Hanoi and food – the pho noodle dish is prepared differently between North and South, and the bowl of pho you get in the capital will be very different from that bowl you quaffed a few days back in Saigon.
Pho Bac – the Original Pho, Invented in Hanoi
Pho is served everywhere in Hanoi, at all times of the day, mainly because it’s so easy to make: all you need are rice noodles (“pho” actually refers to the type of noodle used; another noodle dish, “bun”, is named after a type of rice vermicelli noodle), herbs, vegetables, and a choice of beef or chicken, all scalded in a meaty broth.
It’s cheap, too – a good hearty bowl should cost about $1-$2.
The pho served in Hanoi answers to regional tastes and prejudices; after all, Hanoians proudly claim that pho was invented in the North. The serving style, for starters, is different: in the South, pho is served with the vegetables on the side, while in Hanoi and the North, the vegetables are already incorporated into the dish. This is the essence of pho bac, or pho from the north: pho made with unsweetened stock, the soup’s aroma redolent with star anise and other more delicate spices.
Bun Cha – Grilled Meatballs – The Food Makes All the Difference
Bun cha is another only-in-the-North dish that invites comparisons with the rival bun thit nuong, a similar dish served in the south. In Saigon, bun thit nuong comes with all the ingredients mixed together, including the sauce. And southerners disdain the use of cha, preferring to use thit nuong, or roast pork, in the dish.
Finally, bun thit nuong can be eaten at any time of the day. In the North, Hanoians prefer to take their bun cha only during lunchtime. Come high noon in Hanoi, you can venture to particular corners of the Old Quarter to find a bun cha joint grilling merrily. A dish of bun cha costs around VND 20,000.