"Bun" simply refers to the rice vermicelli noodles, and "ca" is fish, but this breakfast noodle soup is so much more than the sum of its parts. Plenty of bun ca (not to be confused with bun cha) variations abound, but in northern Vietnam, dill is a popular ingredient and is used liberally here, more as a vegetable than an herb. The fish-pork broth is tinged red with tomatoes, which are included for color rather than taste. If bun isn't to your liking, you can also get banh da, dried flat noodles flavored with tea powder, instead.
Sua chua café and friends
Coffee culture is big in Hanoi, but branch out beyond the standard café sua da (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk) with sua chua café, iced coffee mixed with tangy frozen yogurt (right), a sort of Southeast Asian Frappuccino on steroids. Some shops also sell sua chua nep camp, frozen yogurt with fermented purple sticky rice, which is a refreshing and texturally delightful afternoon or post-dinner snack.
A quick morning snack from a local wet market: sticky rice flavored with ginger and caramel, topped with cashews and peanuts. Dense and filling, with a gentle sweetness from the caramel.
This is not to be confused with the noodle soup pho as "cuon" refers to the fresh rice paper sheets used to wrap a mixture of minced beef and fresh herbs. Assembled to-order and dipped into nuoc cham laced with young papaya and chayote, pho cuon are apparently a somewhat recent, and wildly popular, addition to Hanoi's street food scene.
Upon first glance, probably Hanoi's least-appetizing street food option—we spent days peering into empty cans with upturned chicken feet wondering what was going on inside before finally eating one. When we did, we immediately regretted not going in earlier, as these things are delicious: a whole poussin steamed in a fragrant herbal broth, kept in cans simply as a vessel to retain all of its delicious natural juices. When the can is upturned, the poussin comes out stained nearly black, but the meat is hyper-tender and ultra-flavorful, especially when dipped in the accompanying kumquat juice/salt paste.
Another dish we spent several days staring at, trying to comprehend the basic ingredients before ultimately deciding to simply dive in. Xo xeo is a hearty bowl of mashed mung beans and turmeric-stained sticky rice, topped with your choice of meaty add-ons ranging from pâté to Chinese sausage to a fried egg. Vendors nimbly slice thin sheets of the mung bean balls (which look like giant, skinless baked potatoes) and ladle on the toppings, creating a sort of Vietnamese shepherd's pie effect. Xo xeo seemed particularly popular amongst Hanoi teens, who washed it down with glasses of iced soymilk.
My all-time favorite Hanoi street food: "bun" once again referring to the rice noodles, and "cha" to the marinated char-grilled pork (center), both in the form of loosely packed meat patties and thin strips of belly. A hands-on, DIY meal, bun cha arrives with a platter of fresh herbs, fresh chilies, garlic and ginger, fried spring rolls, and jackfruit-infused nuoc mom for dipping. The idea is to go bite-by-bite, customizing each spoonful with little bits of your preferred ingredients. Bun cha overloads your palate in the best possible way.