December 2016 / Words by Katie, Photos by Katie and Kevin
Whenever Kevin and I land in a new city, we immediately check two sources for relevant information — the New York Times 36 Hours series, which offers jam-packed and solid itineraries for cities all over the world; and Anthony Bourdain, who never fails to find the best eats in town.
In Hanoi, we used both to good results (find the NYTimes article here), but unsurprisingly, it was the Bourdain trail that led us to some of the best and cheapest food in town. To be fair, the street food in Hanoi is amazing EVERYWHERE, so you really can’t go wrong. But, it can be hard to decipher what’s being prepared around you (dog meat? pig’s feet? sea-worms?), so it was nice to have a trusty guide from our pal, Tony. It took some seriously sleuthing to figure out where he eats during the exciting Obama episode, but we tracked down all five joints and made you a map so you don’t have to compare video-stills to approximate locations… you’re welcome 🙂
Let’s dig in:
#1 – Bun Oc Pho Co // 36 Luong Ngoc Qyyen (Bun Oc – Snail Soup)
At the start of the episode, Bourdain was some soup with snails, fresh herbs, tomatoes, noodles, and broth. You’ll find all kinds of soup in Vietnam, Pho being the most classic, but this one is indeed special, with more flavor (plus snails!) than your usual soup fare. Get there in the morning, we stopped by in the afternoon and she had already packed up her operation.
#2 – Dien Tu PSII Bahn Cuon Non // 49 Ham Tu Quan (Banh Cuon – Stamed Rice Pancake Rolls)
These mushroom and pork rice pancakes are a slippery treat that looks kind of gross, but tastes super good. You can get them all over Hanoi (the scene was shot here because the woman he dines with during the episode lives across the street), but the family that owns this place is unbelievably sweet. The chef’s son even sent me an email with about 15 restaurants to try in Hoi An, which was an awesome guide.
#3 – Cussing Noodles // 41 Ngo Sy Lien (Bun doc mung – pork noodle soup)
Admittedly, I was scared as we walked into this one, fearing some notorious cursing from the chef in charge (in the episode, she tells everyone to ‘go away’ after insulting them), but we quietly took our seats and let her helpers lead the way. I’m sure she made fun of us to the other customers, but the soup — made of broth, pork knuckles and snout — was delicious, flavorful, and as a bonus, you have to weave your way through a very local market to get there where you’ll find all sorts of seafood, vegetables, and meat, including BBQ’d dog. At the end of our meal, we pulled out our most useful Vietnamese vocabulary — zhit nyong (meaning ‘very delicious!’) — and she LAUGHED! I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more proud of making someone smile. And look, she even smiled for the camera!
#5 – Bia Hai Xom // 22 Tang Bat Ho (BEER)
Basically, this place is for cheap beer. You can also order food here, but the main draw of places like this one is the price of the pints: about 50 cents. Prepare to see a lot of drunk Vietnamese people.
#4 – Bun Cha Huong Lien // 24 Le Van Huru (Bun cha – pork meatball noodles)
This is the famed spot where Obama and Bourdain ate, and it will be quite obvious that you’re in the right place based on the plethora of posters touting his visit. I feel quite certain they picked this spot because of the size (I assume Obama’s level of security requires larger spaces), so while it was certainly not the best bun cha we had, it was good. Bun cha is basically a bowl of pork patty and porkbelly soup accompanied by rice noodles which you mix together with herbs in a fish, sugar, and vinegar sauce. Almost like a deconstructed pork meatball pho. This is a Vietnamese specialty I had never tried before coming here, and DAMMMMN, it is delicious. If you do want to check this place out, skip the “Obama special” — basically an upgrade with crab rolls, which aren’t particularly good. Just go classic bun cha, with of course, a beer.
Annnnnd, that’s the end of the Bourdain tour. But trust me when I say that Hanoi is one of the BEST cities in the WORLD for street food. So, to get a real grasp on all of The Awesome, and try even more delicious noms, I’d also highly recommend Kevin’s (not my Kevin, Vietnames Kevin) street food tour. He was hilarious, the food was great, and it cost about $20 USD a person. Totally worth it.
Ready to go navigating yourself? Don’t forget to download this map before you go!