Vietnam

Eating Hanoi, Vegetarian Street Food Style

FINDING VEGETARIAN STREET FOOD IN HANOI

Street food in Hanoi, and really all of Vietnam, is next level.

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Giant flames rise from the sidewalk.
Vendors squak orders to each other, and hastily collect money from patrons.
Eaters squat low to the ground on tiny plastic chairs to eat their feast.
There’s often little regard for food hygiene, but that’s part of the experience.

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With countless food stalls and a wonderful variety of dishes and flavours, Hanoi is known as one of the top ten cities for street food in Asia.

Before I even arrived in Hanoi, I’d heard the days of vendors operating only on the sidewalk was ending. Most places have set up space inside buildings, albeit cramped, for people to eat or for themselves to cook. It’s in response to the government’s desire to ‘clean up the streets’ of Hanoi to make them more desirable for tourism.
(A real shame, in my opinion).

Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still see people cooking in the street- just not as many as you would have a few years ago.

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Being a vegetarian, I was apprehensive of what’d I’d find. I knew how to say I am a vegetarian (Toi an chay), but still- I worried about being able to find great street food in a place known for its beef and chicken dishes.
Chay, by the way, is pronounced ‘chai’.

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When I heard of a street food tour that catered to vegetarians visiting Hanoi, I was all for it.

The operators of Hanoi Street Food Tour were born and grew up in Hanoi. Reading the tour’s rave reviews, I was sold.

I liked that it’d be an easy way for me to try some of Vietnam’s classic dishes, vegetarian style, and that I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to tell the vendors I’m a vegetarian, and allergic to nuts. Most vendors speak little to no English, so if you’ve got serious food allergies, eating street food can be a bit of a problem.

The tour departs daily, traversing Hanoi’s Old Quarter. On it, you learn more about Hanoi’s unique food culture and try dishes with French and Chinese influence.

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The best part? It can be an impulse activity.

You don’t need to reserve in advance, just walk up to Hanoi Street Food’s office at 74 Hang Bac Street 10-15 minutes before a tour starts to enquire and pay.

The tour I went on started at 6:30 pm and ended just before 10 pm, lasting nearly three and a half hours.

We walked all around the Old Quarter, and stopped seven times to try food and drinks. My tour group was great- it was a mix of couples, friends and solo travellers. Everyone was from the UK/Ireland or had lived there, so the vibe among us was great.

The tour costs £14, and while that may be a lot more than I’d normally pay for dinner in Hanoi, I thought it was worth the price to walk around the city for three hours, try a bunch of different things, and have a guide regale us with stories about Hanoian cuisine and history.

One more thing to note before I share some of my favourite bites- the tour itself isn’t a designated vegetarian tour. I heard they catered well though, and can confirm I wasn’t disappointed. Some places were so good, I returned on my own again.

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So, where and what did we eat?
So many places and things!

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Finding Vegetarian Street Food in Hanoi

First stop: Han Coffee

Here, I tried my first egg coffee and LOVED it. Rich, smooth and creamy- it was utterly delicious.

This was also when I learned that the Vietnamese started using egg because of a milk shortage during the war. Eggs were readily available, and as an added bonus, didn’t need to be chilled.

Here, we also tried breakfast banh mi. It was good, but not in the top five banh mi I’d have in Vietnam.

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Second stop: Bun Cha Ta

This was perhaps the stop I was the most excited for. I’d been dreaming of trying bun cha since reading ‘Eating Vietnam’ as part of my trip preparation.

Happy to confirm my first bun cha was incredible.

Never eaten bun cha? Dip the lettuce and herbs in the broth you’re served, then use chopsticks to get a bite of everything- lettuce, herbs, noodles, tofu. There’ll be chili and sauces on the table you can use to further enhance the flavour of your bun cha.

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Third stop: Bánh Cuốn 14 Bảo Khánh

At our third stop, I felt the steam of the dish from the sidewalk before we even got close.

Banh Cuon, or savoury rice pancakes are a Vietnamese favourite for breakfast and hella cheap. If I recall correctly, our servings would have been 20-30 pence a piece.

The Banh Cuon I tried was made with onion and mushroom, and topped with fried onion bits. To eat it, you pick up a piece with chopsticks, and dip it in a fish sauce that you’ve seasoned with kumquat (or other citrus) and chilis.

I chose to eat fish sauce occasionally in Vietnam, because otherwise, it’s nearly impossible to try dishes as they’re intended. It wasn’t an everyday thing for me, but more of a- ‘Will I miss out on this experience if I don’t allow myself to have it?’ filter.

These steamy pancakes were delightful. Couldn’t definitely eat for breakfast every damn day.

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Fourth Stop: Apron Up Restaurant 

Here, we tried two dishes. This was the only place that struggled to cater to vegetarians- one of my dishes was a pretty basic (and bland) spring roll.

The other though, was good- Mien Xao Chay, vegetarian glass noodles with tofu, onions, herbs and peanuts.

It’s a bit similar to bun cha (the vegetarian version at least), but I liked the salty crunch the peanuts added.

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Fifth Stop: Viet Spring Rolls

I’d been here before the tour on my own, in search of fresh summer rolls. The tofu and egg ones I took home for dinner that night were unreal. I didn’t have a love affair with herbs before visiting Vietnam, but after trying insanely fresh ones in summer rolls and other dishes, life will never be the same.

On the tour, we tried what this restaurant is known for- its fried spring rolls.

Y’all.
It turns out I’ve been eating spring rolls wrong my entire life.

The right, and most delicious way, grab a lettuce leaf and put herbs, a bit of fried rice and a bit of a spring roll inside. Dip in a vinegar sauce.

Outstanding.

Here, we also tried the local Hanoi brew- Bia Ha Noi, which I wasn’t a huge fan of. Not really a beer drinker to begin with, this reminded me of the Natty Light I used to drink at frat parties- tasteless and too fizzy. It’s cheap though, which is why it’s popular at street bars.

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Six (and final) Stop: Chè Ngon – Trôi Tàu

Dessert time, at last.

Our last course was a sweet, refreshing dessert at a shop I would have never found on my own. Most places we visited were somewhat overt- storefronts or vendors that you could visibly see from the street.

This place, however, was tucked down a narrow alleyway and off to the side. You definitely wouldn’t see it if you didn’t know what you were looking for.

Here, we tried Kem Xoi, a dessert made from pandan sticky rice, coconut ice cream and coconut toppings.

It was so good. The dessert menu here was long, and so impressed with the Kem Xoi we tried, I returned on my own to try other offerings.

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With dessert finished, our guide helped point everyone in the direction they needed to head home and wished us well.

I had such a good time.

Street food in Hanoi is a masterclass.
It’s a literal art form, and having a guide handy to explain the significance of dishes, help translate, and tell us history about the vendors we ate at, as well as the city itself was such a treat.

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Whether you go on this street food tour, or another one in Vietnam, be on the lookout for the vegetarian eats noted above, as well as these popular bites-

  • Sinh Tố (aka a smoothie): You can grab one from a street cart and can choose whatever fruit you’d like. Try fruits that are native to Asia, like jackfruit, sweet lychee, longan, or rambutan
  • Xôi (sticky rice): There are sweet varieties of sticky rice that make it a dessert (enter: pandan), usually topped with sesame seeds, coconut, or peanuts
  • Che: A sweet soup made with fresh fruit and coconut milk
  • Nộm hoa chuối: Banana flower salad with lime
  • Đậu sốt cà chua: Braised tofu in tomato sauce
  • Rau muống xào tỏi: Stir-fried morning glory with garlic (a must try!)
  • Bánh xèo chay: Savoury rice pancakes with bean sprouts, and mushrooms
  • Cao lầu chay: Hoi An noodles in soy dressing, served with greens
  • Đậu hũ chiên sả ớt: Tofu fried with shredded lemongrass and chili
  • Ca tim xoi mo hanh: Eggplant simmered with green onion

My mouth is watering just writing this post about vegetarian street food in Hanoi.
*Insert drooling emoji*

Have you ever been on a street food tour in Asia or elsewhere? Would you add any stops to this guide of where to find vegetarian street food in Hanoi?  

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