Few visitors come to Hanoi specifically for the food, so most people give it little thought, just slipping into any eatery when they feel hunger pangs. Yet given the fantastic range of exotic dishes available and the number of restaurants with an idyllic setting, it might be better to forget about the sights and plan your stay in the city around gastronomic exploration.
With is nutritious ingredients and simple preparation, Vietnamese food rivals the cuisine of its neighbour Thailand for popularity among Westerners. Hanoi has some wonderful venues in which to sample some of the country’s most famous dishes, and the backstreets are full of cozy bars, some featuring live music, in which to settle back and enjoy an after-dinner drink.
What to Eat in Hanoi
Like many other Southeast Asian countries, the Vietnamese diet is based on rice and noodle dishes, and a typical family meal will include soups, stir-fries and salads as well as baked and steamed dishes.
If you can forego your usual breakfast of cereals or bacon and eggs, start the day with a steaming bowl of pho, or noodle soup, typically with beef, which should make you feel ready for a busy day without feeling overfull.
In all Vietnamese restaurants, fresh herbs, vegetables and chillies are provided on the table for diners to help themselves (almost no Vietnamese food is spiced with chilli, unlike the cuisine of its near-neighbour Thailand). If you feel like a break from local food, you’ll find that Hanoi has plenty of French, Italian, Indian, Japanese, Mexican and other international restaurants.
Where to Eat in Hanoi
There are some fabulous locations for a memorable culinary experience, both in the city’s top hotels and scattered around the downtown area. Places like Green Tangerine and Green Mango. Both are in the Old Quarter and famed for their inventive menus that feature Vietnamese dishes with an international slant.
The items on menus of such places can sometimes confuse visitors, but they usually provide set lunches or dinners that allow customers to sample the day’s special at reasonable prices. If you just want a no-frills meal, there are plenty of places that offer both international and Vietnamese dishes in simple surroundings, where you can fill yourself and still get change from a few dollars.
As elsewhere in Vietnam, just about all bars are closed by midnight, with the exception of a few places that either keep a very low profile or ‘make an arrangement’ with the police to turn a blind eye. Several bars, such as Minh’s Jazz Club and the R & R Tavern, depend on live music to pull in the punters and some places encourage newcomers to get up and sing a song.
Even bars that don’t feature live music usually play a particular style, maybe classic rock, house and techno or jazz, in order to give their place character. The names usually give an idea of what you’ll find, such as the Roots Bar, which plays mostly reggae.