If you find yourself in Hanoi, Vietnam, I highly recommend the “Food on Foot Tour” run by Vietnam's Awesome Travel. Skip the fancy restaurants – this food is better and much much cheaper.
We arrived in Hanoi last night and wanted to check out the food in the neighborhood. I read about recommendations not to eat on the street and the need to be really careful (like “use bottled water even to brush your teeth because you may get sick”). Some bloggers recommend the opposite – do not eat at the restaurants (which will be empty btw) and only eat street food. Walk around the old quarter and you probably won't know where to go or what most things are. I usually don't have stomach issues but the Mrs' stomach isn't as forgiving. Just in case, we took some Grape Seed Extract (GSE) in the morning and neither of us had any problems.
We ate at one normal highly recommended restaurant on a different day and my main dish had a long black hair in it. Meanwhile, all of the street food we had was delicious and we never found any problems (even though it was often handled with bare hands).
For $25 per person, we got around 4+ hours (it was scheduled for 3 hours) of sampling food in the Old Quarter. Don't worry, you won't have to eat bugs and drink cobra wine…but you can. The guide will find things that you can eat but Vietnamese are mainly meat eaters. Vegetarians, be aware, you won't have so many options. I tried many of the choices on this food tour but just could not stomach some of them.
TheRewardBoss Ranking: 5 out of 5: Excellent! Not to be missed!
Tour Provider: Awesome Travel (www.vietnamawesometravel.com)
Tour: Food on Foot
Price: $25 USD per person
Included: 3+ hours of food drinks, street food and restaurant meal, dessert
TripAdvisor: Ranked #4 of 434 activities in Hanoi
We started at the Awesome Travel office. A tiny place in the Old Quarter. Its a bit hard to find, just follow the street numbers.
Stop #1: Giant Water Bug, Steam Rolled Rice Pancake with shrimp/mushrooms/shallots (or just shallots like we had it)
The main feature at the first stop was the steam rolled rice pancake, however, one of the other guests asked about a particular menu item “Ca cuong nguyen con” (in English “a belostomatid”) and they brought out the giant water bug to show us. After the other guest said he would eat it, they prepared it for us (cooking then cutting it up with scissors into a sauce). This was something I definitely was not going to eat. The smell of this bug was very strong…almost like nail polish remover (the mrs said it smelled like apples). ehh..no thank you. Not off to a great start. Each roll cost 35,000 VND which is about $1.60 USD (all the food is included in the cost of the tour).
Stop #2: Snails and grilled pork
We headed towards an alley lined with street vendors. This woman's specialty was snails and pork that was grilled in a small fire pit. The alley looked a little sketchy and I probably would never consider eating here on my own.
The grilled pork is served in a bowl of soup with a big pile of noodles which are pulled out of a bigger bowl with bare hands. This was a mini-portion (our Vietnamese neighbors had a much larger bowl), and it was delicious!
Stop #3: Soft shell crabs
At the end of the same alley, this vendor served up many different foods. The guide had us try the fried soft shell crabs. I didn't try this but the Mrs did – salty, crunchy, and tasty. Go for the smaller ones as the larger ones were harder and not very edible.
Everything is transported by bicycle – here are some live chickens riding in a basket near the food market.
Stop #4: Fried sweet potato and bananas
We turn right at the food market and stop by to get some healthy snacks: battered and fried sweet potato fries or bananas!
Here are the fried battered sweet potato wrapped in last week's homework assignment. Mmmm delicious! The banana one was fantastic too! I was craving this the next day but couldn't find the vendor again. The price was dirt cheap: 20,000 VND for 5 orders – that's just under $1 USD. What a deal!
Stop #5: Worm pancakes
Ok, this is disgusting. These worms are placed out only for a couple hours per day and you can order some worm pancakes if you are so inclined. Our guide ordered them and some people tried but I skipped it!
Stop #6: Restaurant: Snake/Bird Wine, Banana Wine, Coconut Wine, Fish/rice paper roll, Banana Leaf Salad
That's it for the street food. We stop quickly for some cold lemongrass tea at a corner coffee shop while we wait for a taxi. This next stop was a real restaurant, Countryside Cafe Restaurant,… and I had no idea what surprises were about to come…
Our guide ordered us some coconut wine served in a coconut. It is delicious – tastes like coconut water + vodka. The guide then tells us about some other wines available: a cobra wine and banana wine. After chickening out on some of the previous dishes, I had to try these. We check out the wine jars and turns out its not cobra wine. It is actually snake + bird wine (the black bird is sitting on top of the 7 or so snakes). I was a bit disappointed… and this looked even more disgusting than I was expecting. I ordered both the snake and banana wine. Surprisingly, both wines were just very strong but not much taste. They reminded me of sake. Our guide said that only men drink the snake wine because of it's effects…
The banana leaf salad came – very light and refreshing! The banana leaf is the white pieces that look like raw onions.
Fried fish with onions and veggies came next. We had a chance to try our hand at making rice paper wraps.
I put some fish, onions, noodles, and veggies in the super thin rice paper while trying not to burn my hand from the hot fish. Dip it in the sauce and eat quickly before it falls apart — wow! Amazing!
Stop #7: Che (Dessert)
We've had so much food already…it just doesn't stop coming! Next stop is dessert at this super popular shop, Xoi Che at 95 Hang Bo. This type of dessert is called “Che”.
The first order was not much of a dessert in my opinion: rice and beans? Not my favorite – the rice is also serve with any of the 3 options on the 3 portioned pot on the left: beans, sweet brown sugar ginger sauce, and a lighter sauce that we didn't try. This stop is certainly not for germaphobes – every on the tour ate from the same dish.
This sweet drink came next – lavender with tapioca and a few other sweet ingredients. We ordered another round of the ride but this time with the brown sugar ginger sauce which tasted much more like a dessert.
Stop #8: Yogurt
For our second dessert stop, we headed to this small shop and all sat in the tiny chairs you will see everywhere.
This yogurt dessert is not a traditional Vietnamese dessert. Once you mix it all up, it is delicious! The group seemed to like this more than the Che from the previous stop. One more dessert stop to go!
Stop #9: Hot Chocolate/Rum/Egg or Coffee/Egg
This is our third dessert stop. One can't be in Hanoi and not try the Vietnamese egg coffee – at least that's what my guide said. I am not a big fan of caffeine drinks but the rest of the group got excited and wanted a little “pick me up”. We have been eating our way through Hanoi for over 4 hours by now. The guide brought us to this tiny place which would have been impossible to find otherwise. In Hanoi, great places are hidden behind stores and narrow doors.
We notice the teenagers around us are chatting while eating sunflower seeds (and throwing the shells on the floor – also common in Hanoi). The other guests chose the Cà Phê Trứng (coffee topped with raw whipped egg yolk). We ordered the hot chocolate with rum topped with raw whipped egg yolk. I prefer salty/sour snacks but the flavors blended very well together with a kick of rum made for an excellent finale on this fabulous food odyssey (it was the finale for most of people on the tour)…
Stop #10: Cobra Wine
Remember that Cobra wine that I thought I would be tasting earlier? Turns out they had some at Awesome Travel's office and were happy to serve some. Its the very first picture of this post. It sounded like a good idea and glad that I tried it. But… it was nasty! I couldn't finish my small shot because it smelled and tasted like something has been rotting for way too long. The smell of it stayed on my lips even after washing my mouth at the hotel. My advice: skip the cobra wine.
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