Want to eat like a local in Hanoi? As a city, Hanoi is changing rapidly from the old to the new, and its rapid transformation is reflected clearly in the food scene: while fancy restaurants continue to pop up everywhere, the old street food culture still continues to flourish.
The markets of Hanoi’s old quarter, for example, have changed dramatically in recent years. According to Hanoi local Mrs Yen, who until recently hadn’t visited the area for 10 years, it’s much more modern and clean. But the essence of the street scene – the fresh tasty food, the companionship and the fun – is still there. So how can you experience street food like a local?
1. Get low
For a start, get ready to be low on the ground – most likely on a small plastic stool. Think being back at school, but flimsier.
2. Get ready
Remember, it’s all about speed. Vietnamese street food is characteristically simple, fresh, flavoursome – and quick. This food is about a fast turnaround, which is fantastic as it means you can hop from spot to spot and focus on one dish at a time. There will be a lot happening around you and it’s a brilliant assault on the senses.
3. Visit at night
Visit the markets at night when they really come alive. A quiet street you saw during the day suddenly becomes packed with pop up restaurants. The transition is an experience in itself – it’s a battle between the restaurant staff, who keep putting out more and more tables, and the police, who need to make sure they don’t spill onto the street too much. It’s pretty funny to watch.
4. Get a guide
Explore the markets with a guide. They will be able to take you to the best local eateries which are often tucked away in hidden corners that you would never find on your own. They will also be able to recommend the dishes that are most authentic and distinctive to Hanoi.
5. Get out of your comfort zone
Try something you’d never usually order – or better still, that you’ve never even heard of. Ask questions (language barriers permitting) and see what locals would recommend. Maybe not everything will be to your taste, but it’s the best way to experience authentic cuisine – and you’re bound to find some mouth-watering gems in there too.
Sam Clark is CEO at Experience Travel Group. Experience Travel Group offers tailor-made luxury travel experiences in South and South-East Asia.