A whirlwind Food trail through Hanoi
Explore the Vietnamese capital’s culinary gems with the convenience of Uber
When an American President and a celebrity chef/TV host do an impromptu meal at a tiny local restaurant, it’s bound to put that restaurant and city on the global culinary map. Except Hanoi was already on many foodie and traveller bucket lists even before Obama and Antony Bourdain bonded over bun cha in May 2016. Hanoi was certainly on my list, Bún Cha Huong Liên was my first stop on a whirlwind, four-hour trail through some of Hanoi’s iconic food spots; it helped that I ‘Ubered’ it.
(4:14 pm) Bún Cha Huong Liên
A two kilometre walk from my hotel brought me to the Temple of Literature, a unique 11th Century temple dedicated to Confucius. It also houses the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first national university. A great spot to begin your discovery of the Vietnamese capital. But it was food that brought me to Hanoi and at 3:52 pm I jumped on to my first Uber ride for the day. Quốc my Uber chauffeur wore an all-knowing smile as he dropped me off. Bún Cha Huong Liên has now become one of Hanoi’s most visited destinations ever since the Obama-Bourdain meal. I’d heard about the long lines and crowds at this restaurant and was almost a touch disappointed to find a tiny blue stool without much effort. This frenetic space is spread over two levels with community style benches on the ground level where I ran into a Malaysian Tamil. It didn’t take too long for me to wade through this flavoursome broth with grilled pork belly, rice noodles, ground pork patties and fresh herbs. Cost of delicious bowl of Bún Cha – $2; discussing it with a fellow diner in Tamil in Hanoi – priceless!
Bún Cha Huong Liên is at 24 Lê Văn Hưu, Phạm Đình Hồ, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội. Open 8 am to 8 pm through the week. A bowl of Bún Cha will set you back by about $2 while the ‘Obama’ combo (Bún Cha + Hanoi beer + fried seafood roll) costs about $4.
(5:00 pm) Pho Gia Truyen
You can have all what you want here as long as it’s Pho and you pay by cash. A 13-minute ride with Xuan on a Hyundai i10 Grande Sedan brought me to this somewhat pokey yet immensely popular establishment. Xuan was excited to learn about my Chennai connection, given that he loves his i10 Grande and that it’s shipped from Chennai. Not all Uber drivers in Hanoi can speak fluent English but the ones who do (like Xuan) can often share interesting insights about the city. Pho Gia Truyen serves three versions of the Pho (pronounced fuh), one of the country’s best known dishes. The Pho Tai Nam with beef brisket is probably the pick. This noodle broth with herbs originated in North Vietnam, not too far from Hanoi in the early 20th century and is usually served with beef or chicken. It is equally popular for breakfast or dinner. You can watch one of the restaurant’s chefs carve slices of meat with expert precision as you wait in line. The local Hanoi beer makes a great accompaniment.
Pho Gia Truyen is at 49 Bát Đàn, Cửa Đông, Hà Nội, Open from 6 am to 10 am and 5 to 8:30 pm. A bowl of Pho costs about $2
(6:05 pm) Bún Bò Nam Bo
I needed a helmet for my next Uber ride. There are approximately 45 million bikes in Vietnam (a country of 93 million people). Not surprisingly this is one of the only cities in the world (Gurgaon is on this list) where you can rent an Uber Moto (Bike). A zig zag bike ride through Hanoi’s streets can test most nerves; it helps if you’re from India though. I encountered more of these tiny blue stools – you’d think only toddlers can sit on these but I soon discovered that these stools were the norm across Vietnam, at Bún Bò Nam Bo. I ran into an advertising professional from London – the community style seating encourages conversations with random strangers, who handled the spice levels much better than I did. Blame it on all the curry houses in the UK. The establishment takes its name from the Southern style beef salad – Bún Bò Nam Bo, and it is the thing to sample here. Rice noodles, marinated beef, finely sliced fresh vegetables, roasted peanuts topped with fish sauce.
Bún Bò Nam Bo is at 67 Hàng Điếu, Cửa Đông, Hà Nội. Open from 7:30 am to 10:30 pm. A bowl of salad costs about $3
(7 pm) Cafe Pho Co:
No food trail in Vietnam is complete without Vietnamese coffee. This cafe is not easy to find; my Uber driver gave up. It adds to the charm of this cafe that’s tucked away inside a busy commercial building and yet is a world in itself. The views – you have to climb countless stairs though, are terrific but the coffee is even better. It’s easily the best coffee I sampled in Vietnam. You can try the Vietnamese coffee with egg if you’re truly adventurous.
Cafe Pho Co is at 11 Hàng Gai, Hàng Trống, Hà Nội, Vietnam. Coffees cost about $3-4 here. Open 8 am to 11 pm
All images shot on the Samsung Galaxy S8