An Expat Food Guide for Hanoi

Hanoi is a food mecca, with everything from deliciously gritty, greasy street fare to elegant continental, Japanese and Chinese restaurants. Vietnamese cuisine was influenced by a hundred years of French rule, resulting in a vigorous fusion of East and West. Women in conical hats sell fresh baguettes from bamboo baskets on almost every corner, and fresh salad greens are included alongside many local dishes. Open-air markets teem with fruits, produce, meats and fish, and specialty shops sell Western items you may crave such as cheeses, olives, breakfast cereals, and European chocolate.

Ask a local Hanoian where to get the best Vietnamese food and the answer will almost invariably be, “On the street!” There are thousands of food stalls, restaurants and vendors lining the streets and sidewalks of Hanoi, some consisting of little more than a few plastic stools and a charcoal brazier. Most recognizable to expats (and most ubiquitous!) may be “pho,” rice noodle soup with beef or chicken. Hanoi is the birthplace of pho, but here you’ll find a basic, almost spartan version of the Vietnamese national snack-cum-comfort food. Two more delicious street favorites are “bun cha,” fried spring rolls served with rice noodles and salad greens, and with “banh my pate,” baguette with pate and greens.

As with any developing country, upon moving to Vietnam it may take a few days for your digestion to adjust to local conditions. While washing and cooking facilities may not be sophisticated in local restaurants, most expats suffer no consequences from eating local food—every neighborhood grapevine is a de facto sanitation commission, and any stall or restaurant that made people sick would soon be out of business! As soon as you’re feeling adventurous, ask local friends or co-workers to take you to their favorite restaurants—this is a simple and enjoyable way to access the culture and life of Hanoi, and you may be introduced to things you’d never find on your own.

All major hotels have restaurants providing international and local cuisine, and several have weekend brunch buffets.

A yen for western food is easily satisfied, with take-out pizza, a quick meal at a European café in the Old Quarter, or at one of the high-end restaurants in West Lake. Most supermarkets carry a selection of pasta, bread, cereals, and condiments. You could live in Hanoi without varying your diet from your home country, though most expats find an infusion of Vietnamese food to have a healthy and slimming effect!