Photos by Kelsey Lynn Madison
The fun begins at the Thang Long Water Puppet theatre on the top of Hoan Kiem Lake, right across from the 18th-century Jade Mountain Temple. Your guide will meet you here to take you away on a culinary whirlwind.
TIP: Now is the time to inform your guide of any dietary preferences, restrictions or cravings. The flexibility of this tour makes it completely customizable.
Take a quick stroll up the city’s shortest street to arrive at your first stop: nộm thịt bò khô. This long-established stall makes a fresh yet flavourful green papaya salad, topped with slices of beef jerky, peanuts, lemon balm leaves and fish sauce. Time to dig in. Feel free to take in the show, as the staff prepare dozens of bags of salad for delivery across the city. The sight of the cook expertly slicing jerky with scissors is deliciously mesmerizing.
As you set off, keep in mind that anything that looks good is up for grabs. For instance, a plate of bánh khúc wrapped in banana leaves from a sidewalk vendor. A speciality of Hanoi, roasted pork and mung bean paste are layered inside sticky rice with khúc leaves from the Red River. Steamed and served with salty peanuts and pork patty slices, this snack will leave you wanting more.
A few streets up and around an unassuming market corner lies your next stop: cá cuộn thịt. A twenty-year-old stall quickly fries up fish balls, stuffed with pork. The end result is gorgeous hearty bites with fresh greens and a light fish sauce for dipping. Add a few squeezes of kumquat juice to brighten up the dish even more, before going deeper into the alleyways.
Dive into the network of ngõ (alley) nooks in the heart of the Old Quarter. You’ll get a glimpse of how locals live here, by peeking into the endless corridors of tube houses and cosy temples. These streets were once individual guilds focused on 36 goods, from bamboo to silver. When something smells good, it’s time for another stop.
Pull up a stool for some deep fried delights: bánh tôm and bánh gối. Bánh tôm consists of a small patty with shrimp on top. Bánh gối is a sort of Vietnamese empanada, stuffed with pork, wood ear mushrooms and glass noodles. Dip away in your fish sauce and top with mint for a fresh bite, before moseying along for a cold glass of bia hơi.
After all this walking it’s time to rest your laurels at a local watering hole. These fresh beer halls are a staple across the capital, where Vietnamese come to unwind, snack, and down a pint. Vietnamese beer is unpasteurized and consumed soon after production -- a perfect treat on a balmy day. As light as a glass of water, enjoy a few with your guide as the city swirls around you.
Time to wrap things up at an established modern-Vietnamese bistro. Take a seat in an atmospheric restaurant to taste hip dishes such as cha ca rolls and banana flower salad. You can also order a glass of rice wine, elevated from the beloved Vietnamese beverage with local ingredients such as passionfruit and apple.
To book this tour or for more about Sens Asia’s latest Hanoi food tours visit their website.