In the Old Quarter, Hanoi, two worlds exist side by side. There are fancy cafes and restaurants, while just along the streets and alleyways, are banh mi stalls, noodle houses, and mobile dessert stops just laying on the sidewalks. Fruit vendors are in every corner of the town, while lemon tea shops are just always a few steps away. Everyday, that’s the same scenario in this bustling town. When the sun sets however, you are in for something more.
Before we bring you with us on a walking tour in search of the Old Quarter’s nightlife street food, here are tips you should know about on how to prepare for the food tour:
- Must be super hungry. An empty stomach is the number one requirement as there will be a couple of hours of continuous eating. What happens towards the end? Except for dessert (of course!), we shared dishes just to finish them all.
- Arrive a few minutes before the tour starts. If you’re joining a group, better not be a hassle to other members as they might be super hungry too!
- Take photos of food stall and restaurant signs with their addresses. Chances are, you wouldn’t remember the places because you’ll be hopping from shop to shop. And in the next few days, you might wanna come back to those you like so snapping photos of the stalls, aside from the food, is a smart idea.
- Be open to try new flavors. Some of the food might weird you out but trying won’t kill you and who knows, you might have found your new favorite dish!
Now let’s get down to business.
Day food tours have made its own name all over the world. What people don’t know is however, a night food tour is not only as exciting, but is also able to give you a peek into the lives of locals who head out to unwind. What’s a more perfect location than the Old Quarter? Filled with people from different backgrounds, they all come together to sit out on the streets, grab a Bia Hơi, and enjoy the night away.
More alive than ever, Tạ Hiện – or Beer Street – is where everywhere is at. Together with Travease, who helped us in choosing the best local food tour guide for a night out in Hanoi, we headed out and explored the ins and outs of Hanoi’s night scene.
“We want to try something not too touristy,” we told Hai, our local guide upon meet up.
“We just had a food tour guide earlier for lunch so we would like to try something different this time around.”
Checking his bookings for our time slot, he looked up to us and happily said, “Sure!” It was a very good coincidence as there were only the 2 of us on that group which gave way for Hai to restructure the food line up just for us.
We started off with a bowl of dry noodles topped with stir fry beef which we have never seen anywhere in Hanoi. The stir fried beef makes a good alternative to boiled beef topped on Phở. This dish doesn’t go with any soup, which makes the flavor of the stir fry really stand up. I personally like dry noodles so this was quite enjoyable.
A Bánh Mì sandwhich is never missed out on any food tour in Vietnam. Not wanting to try something meh, we asked Hai to bring us to a highly recommended Bánh Mì food stall. Man are we giving him a lot of challenges! Honestly, this particular one was one of the juiciest we’ve ever had. Paired up with a refreshing Kumquat or Lemongrass drink, it’s a perfect afternoon snack!
Hold your horses! Quite possibly Ian’s favorite Vietnamese chicken dish, the taste was similar to those yummy deep fried breaded sweet and spicy Korean chicken snacks. If you prefer a more toned down flavor, lemongrass chicken is an alternative which is what locals would prefer.
With just a 24 hour shelf life, this is the freshest beer can get. Hanoi’s beer culture dates back to decades ago when it was still rationed to avoid shortages. Now to a more unlimited supply in modern days, youngsters are luckier to get them at anytime. Served straight from a keg, these beers are rather refreshing and light and costs less than a fraction of those commercialized ones.
We’ve had the exact same ones in Chinese restaurants in the Philippines, and food shops in China. What’s interesting is that these are served only for breakfast in China, while in Hanoi and in Manila, these are available throughout the day. Buchi, 芝麻圆 (Zhi Ma Yuan), or Bánh rán, whatever name or country, we’re in no way, skipping these!
Three hour laters, tired from walking and full from eating, we didn’t in any way forget that there’s always room for dessert. This dessert is almost similar to the Philippines’ Halo-Halo. The only difference is that Sữa Chua Nếp Cẩm has sticky rice in it. The white milky sauce isn’t actually just purely yogurt. Condensed milk, coconut milk, and sometimes fresh milk, are all mixed with the yogurt which gives off a kind of unexplainable milky and sweet – but just right amount – addition to the toppings.
Have got to say our guide really knows the Old Quarter so well. He has been a tour guide for 6 years and boy does he know what he’s doing. The most noteworthy part is when Hai adjusted the itinerary to cater to our request on the spot. Two thumbs up! If you are from the Philippines and are looking into booking your Hanoi Night Street Eats tour via Travease, especially request them to get Hai for you.
Finally, it’s time to pick out our ultimate favourite! Out of all the dishes during this tour, our favorite would have to be SỮA CHUA NẾP CẨM / sticky rice with yogurt. We went back just the day after because we couldn’t get enough of it.
More photos of our Vietnam trip here.
Here’s a full video of our Night Street Eats tour.
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