To truly appreciate Hanoian cuisine, head to the Old Quarter for all of your Hanoi street food needs. The sprawling maze is a bustling foodie paradise. Look past the ramshackle stalls and you'll find a veritable trove of scrumptious food.
Bun Cha comprises minced pork patties pan-fried with strips of pork belly and dunked into a tepid dipping sauce layered with fish sauce, sugar, raw garlic and chopped chilli. Throw in a handful of rice noodles, a ton of fresh herbs, and you've got a refreshingly light dish.
I love how balanced Dac Kim's Bun Cha is, with fresh apples and basil wrappers lending a crisp freshness to the smoky succulence of the grilled meats.
What is called cha gio in Ho Chi Minh City is referred to as Nem in Hanoi. These were of the crab variety, a luxed-up cousin to the typical pork spring rolls.
The crab spring rolls were served fresh out the fryer, so exercise caution before popping one of these extremely hot but incredibly delicious morsels. These rolls were crunchy on the outside while remaining juicy and sweet on the inside. One of the best, if not the best, nem I've ever had in my life.
A 3-person portion of Bun Cha and Nem at Dac Kim along 1 Hang Manh, a local institution, costs 195,000VND (about S$12.40). Beware of imitations. They've several competitors with similar-sounding monikers and setups.
No visit to Vietnam is complete without indulging in Pho, a soupy rice noodle dish and arguably Vietnam's national dish.
These were, hands down, best Pho I've ever had in my life. The Pho Bo (35,000VND/S$2.20) was unbelievably light and clear, with onion strips keeping the restorative beef-based consomme balanced.
Its chicken counterpart, the Pho Ga (35,000VND/S$2.20), was just as delicate, laced with tender slices of chicken breast swimming in a comforting chicken soup. Get the half-portion so you leave space to sample as much street food as possible.
The BBQ (130,000VND/S$8.60) fuses Korean and American styles effortlessly. Here, you roll up char-grilled short ribs with toasted kimchi, root vegetables and fresh herbs in lettuce.
Head to Bo Beo located at 52 Hang Buom for a transformative pho experience. I swear you'll never look at pho the same way again.
A DIY concept of crisp rice roll paper, rice noodles, fresh herbs, julienned carrots and cucumbers, chopped nuts and dipping sauce play supporting roles to grilled battered seabass seasoned with caramelized onions, dill and spring onions. A 2-person portion costs 100,000VND (about S$6.35).
There's a method to making a secure roll: leave a 1-inch gap between the vegetables/herbs/noodles/nuts and the grilled fish.
For this alone, the Hubs would return to Hanoi.
Restaurant Orchid at 25 Hang Bac looks deceptively like a hostel on the first floor, but it actually is a converted bookstore. There are still books, mostly in French, available for browsing while you eat. Head on upstairs to the second floor for a homey cosy dining experience.
The idea of drinking egg coffee conjured up images of Rocky and his bulk-up beverage of raw eggs dunked in chocolate milk. This was a lot less disgusting than initially thought; the "egg" part is really whipped egg yolk with condensed milk, butter and cheese. A calorie-bomb, but manageably sweet. Mostly because it was balanced out by the bold coffee notes. An iced tea and egg coffee cost 250,000VND (about S$18.90).
The nondescript entrance to the famous Cafe Giang, beloved by locals, even though it's very much a highlight on the tourist trail.
Go upstairs, where all the action is, through the seemingly dark alleyway. 39 Nguyen Huu Huan Street.
Vietnamese desserts are not unlike our hawker dessert stalls of sweetened condensed milk, crushed ice, jellies and fruits. The Caramen Thap Cam (20,000VND/S$1.30) was a creme caramel topped with fresh jackfruit, coconut chips and smothered in crushed ice and milk, was a brilliant adaptation of the classic French dessert. The Sua Chua Nep Cam (20,000VND/S$1.30) was a black glutinous rice pudding swirled with yoghurt for a sweet-sour finish. I preferred the creme caramel whilst the Hubs preferred the ricee pudding.
Huong Hai Che Ngon at 93 Hang Bac appears as a tight little space from the front.
but through yet another dark alleyway next to the shop front, is additional seating.
It's a spartan, utilitarian common room at the end of the alley.