Eating Street in Hanoi | Vietnam

During our time in Hanoi, we sought to get a real taste of street food in Vietnam because although I already knew a couple of Vietnamese dishes, it's often hard to know what you're ordering from the hole-in-the-wall places where there is no English translation... and in all honesty, sometimes it's a little intimidating sitting down in a place where you don't know what to order, let alone the etiquette, so a street food tour seemed like the best option to throw us in at the deep end and get us acquainted with the food of a country we'd be spending the next six weeks in.

Just a little background before I go into what we ate and the tour itself, our guide Kevin was from Hanoi and grew up stomping the very streets he took us round, which meant he was able to take us to all of his personal favourite eateries as well as pushing us out of our comfort zone and very confidently nudging us to try new foods, whether we knew what they were or not - although I hasten to add we made it clear that both Shay and I wouldn't be partaking in eating any dog as it is a common meat in Vietnam and Kevin obliged, no dogs or part of dogs were consumed on our tour. But on a lighter note, as an ex-chef it was very clear how passionate Kevin was about his country's food and the fresh ingredients that go into all the dishes as well as the accessibility of good food in Vietnam. Ok. So I think I've covered everything, let's get into the tour.

Kevin first asked us if we had any allergies or if there was anything we didn't eat - not that it would really have mattered because he lives by the phrase 'never try, never know' - very wise words. He took us through a back alley of the Old Quarter first where we tried some country pancakes, or known in their Vietnamese name as Banh Xeo. They are crispy rice flour pancakes (with tumeric for the colouring) filled with beef or more commonly pork and shrimp (with the shell on dontchaknow) that are fried until golden, folded then cut into smaller sections with scissors (vital). They're served with a little bowl of nuoc cham which is basically a fish sauce based dip. You grab half a rice paper, place some lettuce and fresh Vietnamese herbs as well as cucumber and then a piece of pancake and roll it up, then you dip it, then you eat it. It's delicious and quickly became my favourite dish in Vietnam. It's hold and cold, crispy and dense whilst light and fresh at the same time - totally contradictory but it's all true.

Next we came across a cart selling cooked duck, I'm not entirely sure if it was a planned stop or if Kevin just fancied some because it looked great, but I've never had such great tasting duck before, it was so moist and just sort of melted in your mouth. I don't know how it was cooked or if it was even special but it was fab. Whilst we were at the duck stand,  a woman sat close by was just casually slicing up cooked pig's ear to be formed into a salami type sausage with mushrooms, she gave us the tinest nibble to have and looked on in awe as we tried something so normal for her, for the first time. It wasn't disgusting, but I definitely won't be going out of my way for it, it was hard and grissly, much like how you'd imagine tough cartilage to taste really, so there's that.

Then we popped passed a small bakery, where the family working were just churning out the fluffiest loaves of bread you've ever tried. Unlike the rest of Asia, bread is a common feature in Vietnam due to the French colonial influence. We tried plain bread and some small sesame seed doughnut balls as well as a 'pork roll' which was surprisingly very nice - like a savoury swiss roll with a porky gelatine instead of jam and cream... I realise I'm not really selling that at all, but you'll have to trust me on that one.

We carried on through the winding and confusing streets passed lots of herbs, vegetables and fruit, as well as a netted bag of frogs - there's that French influence again - where we tried some fried wood worms that tasted a lot like a little burst of pate in a crunchy casing. Yum. We washed our worms down with some well-needed water and a stop at a fresh fruit seller where we had the juciest clementines you've ever tried, as well as trying milk fruit, not really anything like it's namesake but still gorgeously sweet and a nice palate cleanser.

Next we hopped along to a stall where Kevin was fairly cryptic about what we were eating - sticking to his 'never try, never know' stance. Shay and I were presented with what looked like small pork patties and another fish sauce dip with chillies in, it looked like pork, it tasted like pork, was it pork? Well yes, but there was also sea worms in there. But we didn't find that out until after we'd gobbled the lot - and fair play to Kevin on that too because perception is everything and hearing the word 'sea worm' doesn't exactly induce a rumbly tummy does it?

At this point we rolled on passed the BBQ dog restaurant, merely perusing what they had on offer but not indulging. Shay did ask the question as to why dog is eaten out here and Kevin told us that it's because Vietnam was once a very poor country (and still is in parts), and people would eat whatever they can get their hands on, which you can totally understand, because at the end of the day if you're desperate, it's sustenance that could mean the difference between life and death. Although we both stood by our choice to not eat dog, it definitely gives you a different perspective on other cultures and the normality around eating every part of the animal - I guess it makes the western world look quite wasteful in that respect.

Moving swiftly on - yeah if you thought the street food tour ended there, you've got another thing coming - we came to the egg coffee cafe, which you can read about quite easily in any Vietnamese guidebook. Treated more like a dessert, egg coffee consists of the thick, bitter black Vietnamese coffee, with whipped egg and yoghurt which you mix all in together to create this wonderfully light moussey dessert, which is actually very reminiscent of tiramisu. Give me ALL the egg coffees! I went for a cold one, and Shay went for a hot one and they were both equally delicious and devoured very quickly.

Next on the agenda, and only a few doors down we stopped at a place serving snails, clams and quail eggs - but not as you know it. Whilst waiting for our food, we were served a shot of 'medicine' *ahem*. A homebrew rice wine with medicinal qualities for men... to make them strong... nudge nudge, wink wink if you know what I mean. I still had a shot ha ha ha!!! All jokes aside, it's the kind of drink that seriously puts hair on your chest, but I kinda like the culture of doing a shot to toast before the meal, maybe it's the Eastern European in me, I don't know, but Shay enjoyed it too, then again he is Irish. Our snails were promptly placed on our table so we set about pulling the bodies (?!?!) out of the shells with little metal tooth picks, we dipped them in a vibrant asian sauce and very much enjoyed them. Then the clams arrived... oh the clams. Clams have very much become one of my favourite seafood eats and these were served in this amazing pineapple infused broth again with chilli and all sorts of fresh flavours - descriptive, I know. In fact I think this might have been my favourite dish of the night. And then the quail eggs arrived. Hm. I can't knock this because it is a delicacy in Vietnam and you know, each to their own but basically, going along the same lines as the whole 'waste not, want not' way of thinking, when birds are starting to form in their eggs, namely quails, chickens and ducks, the Vietnamese boil the eggs and eat them. It's effectively a half-formed embryo and hats off to Shay here because he tried one. I chickened out - mind the pun - at the thought of it, which wasn't very 'never try, never know' of me but, I don't regret it. Shay did say however it just tasted like chicken and egg funnily enough. Like I said, I know other cultures have their delicacies and I appreciate that, I just wasn't brave enough to try it.

Now onto something a little more palatable for me, we went to Kevin's favourite place to get Bun Bo - 'Bun Bo Nam Bo'. Bun is a vermicelli noodle dish with beef or 'bo' and fresh herbs. I have actually had this before in the UK but really it doesn't compare to the real deal. Again there's so many fresh flavours going on, as well as different textures, the wet noodles and the beef then the fresh herbs, beansprouts and peanuts! It's truly fantastic and something I'd love to make at home as well.

Our penultimate dish was a bowl of Pho Bo, which shay and I shared because after three and a half hours of picking at different dishes and eating whole dishes, I was super full, as I'm sure you can imagine. I thought I wouldn't be able to eat much of the Pho, even though Kevin had assured us this was without doubt THE best place to grab a bowl of the good stuff in all of Hanoi. He was right, and we both guzzled down the lot, it was too good not to. The broth was just so clean and refreshing and full of flavour, it would have been so hard not to.

The final stop of the night was a final dessert. Kevin gave us three options, two of which were Western desserts and one Vietnamese dessert, so we opted for the latter which was a green bean porridge type thing, sweetened with fresh coconut and it was nothing like I've ever tasted before. It wasn't actually that sweet but it was definitely interesting with all the different textures. In all honesty, I probably wouldn't have it again, but I'm really glad we tried it.

And so at this point the end of our street food tour had come to an end. We were supposed to do three hours, but naturally ended up walking the streets for four hours! A whole four hours of new experiences and tastes in one of Vietnam's most vibrant cities. If you find yourself in Hanoi, I implore you to try a street food tour, not only because your belly will be grateful but you'll come away knowing a lot more about Vietnamese cuisine and feeling that much braver when placing yourself on one of those tiny stools on a street corner.