Hanoi cuisine – Sophistication of Vietnamese tradition and soul

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Blogs

With thousands of years of history, Vietnamese cuisine is a major part of the culture and an all time fascinating topic which has consumed so much ink and paper in both local and international articles.

In Vietnam, the most familiar image would be an old man or lady, sitting at their food stand on the street and talking about how his/ her family business has been developed for 30, 50 or even 70 years. Every Vietnamese dish has its own story and every chef has their own recipe. For that, Vietnamese food is a reflection of Vietnamese lifestyle.

While Pho, Summer rolls, Banh mi are national dishes, each region has their own unique tastes. The middle region is famous for its spicy taste, the southern region is famous for sweetness and the northern region is famous for salty taste.

Hanoi cuisine, however, is considered as the most authentic of Vietnamese food since it is not bold in any particular taste but always balanced and flavorful. Hanoi, as a capital throughout many dynasties, maintains the soul and the culinary quintessence of Vietnam 

As Vietnam is the second-largest rice exporter worldwide, rice is the most important part of our food. Besides the normal white rice in daily meals, rice noodles are a major part of Vietnamese cuisine. It is difficult to count how many dishes with rice noodles there are, and Hanoi food alone has hundreds of them with different shapes and sizes of noodles.

Ladder soup (Bun thang) rice vermicelli noodles with pork, sausages, chicken, egg in clear broth. © Delightfulplate.com

A true Hanoi broth needs to be flavorful and clear.

Pho is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine, especially in Hanoi. Pho is believed to be original from Nam Dinh back in the mid 1880s and only developed later until the 20th century in Hanoi. Although Pho is very popular recently, the use of meats such as pork, beef, and chicken were relatively limited in the past. In fact, Hanoi cuisine is widely used for freshwater fish, crustaceans, and mollusks, such as prawnssquidsshrimpscrabsclams, and mussels.

Many notable traditional dishes in Hanoi are “Bun rieu”, “Banh da cua”, “Bun oc”, “Bun ca” and “Bun thang” in which the broths are made from crab, snail, river-fish or pork bones. The authentic taste of a frugal broth is a subtle combination of 10-20 ingredients depending on the dish. But mostly, they are the result of fresh herbs such as lemongrassgingermint combine with mild sour taste from fermented rice (mẻ) or rice vinegar. A true Hanoi broth needs to be flavorful and clear.


Bun cha – rice vermicelli with grilled pork, meat balls, fried spring rolls in lukewarm fish sauce with papaya pickle. © Ba Tung Huynh/Shutterstock

Fish sauce, soy sauce and prawn sauce are among the main ingredients that make Vietnamese dishes. In Hanoi, people mostly use fish sauce with their food and Hanoians really take fish sauce to another level.

Bun Cha is a remarkable Hanoi food which includes rice noodles and a special fish sauce. The heart of Bun Cha is the fish sauce that is mixed with garlic, chili, vinegar, and then heated until lukewarm and served with kohlrabi and green papaya pickle.

The main protein of Bun cha is the minced pork balls and flat cut pork shoulder. Meat will be marinated and grilled on a coal stove until the color changes to golden brown. Bun Cha is usually eaten with crab fried rolls. The crunchy feeling of fried rolls adds more joy to eating with the soft noodles.

Bun Cha can be eaten all along the year but it is enjoyed mostly during the cooler months of autumn. The coolness of rice noodle and fresh vegetables are balanced in the warm fish sauce. Thach Lam, a famous writer in Vietnam, mentioned in his work that Bun Cha is “a treasure of Thang Long for thousands of years” since it harmonizes all color, flavor, smell, heat and texture.


Rolling Pho or Fresh Pho Rolls with beef/pork and herb

Pho is well known worldwide as Pho noodle soup. But in Hanoi, Pho is also eaten in rolls. While Pho cuon is a great innovation of Hanoi-nese, in fact, it was made by accident. On a random late night at a Pho restaurant, the owners were hungry and tired after a long working day. Unfortunately, they ran out of broth and were too lazy to prepare anything else. They simply grabbed square slices of uncut Pho, rolled them with leftover meat and vegetables and dipped with a basic fish sauce. Needless to say, this innovation then became the favorite dish of the restaurant. Recently, the silky white sheet of Pho wrapped around meat, lettuce,coriander and dunked in fish sauce with green papaya is a trademark of Hanoi food.

Pho Cuon is getting more popular toward the Southern area since it is believed to be inspired by Southern summer rolls (Goi cuon). However, Hanoi also has its own version of summer rolls. Unlike the eating style of Southern people where they wrap all available ingredients including vegetables, fruit and meat, fish or tofu in the rolls, summer rolls in Hanoi are simplified and standardized. Summer roll, as its name, is best to eat during summer because it has a rich mixture of fresh salad, rice noodle, shrimp and pork. The sauce to eat with summer rolls in Hanoi style is also kept as basic fish sauce with lime, sugar and garlic to bring fresh and relaxing taste during the hot summer.


Jelly & lychee dessert (Che khuc bach)- Rainbow version with matcha and chocolate taste, chia seed, almond slides and berries. ©Massageishealthy

Since the food in Hanoi does not include a lot of green vegetables like in the south, a dessert with a lot of fruits is a must-have. Hanoi desserts are mainly served in bowls. The bowl could be hot or cold based on the season.

Tao Pho (tofu pudding) is a notable dessert from Hanoi which is made from soya. Tao Pho can be eaten with ginger syrup during the winter days, and can be changed into a cold version with different jelly toppings. Thanks to the development of local transportation, the supply of fruits from the south is easier to the north. Nowadays, Hanoi dessert bowls are diverse with fresh fruit toppings mixed in cold milk, ice cream or yogurt.

Che khuc bach (jelly & lychee dessert) is an example of modern innovation and a sample of adaptation to western cuisine. In Vietnamese, Che represents desserts with liquid, “khuc” means ‘a small piece’ and “bach” means ‘white’. Che khuc bach originally includes white cubes with creamy taste as panna cotta, served in lychee syrup and almond slides. People try to make it more Vietnamese by reducing whipped cream and adding more tropical fruits. Many chefs also add familiar flavors such as pandan leaf, matcha, chocolate or lotus to the jelly.

Interested in making delicious Viet dishes?

Getting started with Vietnamese lifestyle, culture and tradition, learning to prepare Vietnamese food and drinks in the cooking class series organized by BiziVietnam.