I’m going to try and document the places we went on this tour with a guide from Handspan Travel (https://handspan.com), I might do each spot as a separate post below this one. This report is from August 2022 - I went to Hanoi for work for just over 2 weeks and took my husband and 14 year old son with me. We used Handspan Travel to organise day trips etc for them during the week while I was working and also a couple of short breaks during the weekends when I was off. I think Handspan were really good - we had an agent who corresponded with us by email before our trip and created a bespoke itinerary for us based on our requirements. She was really good at responding and offering alternatives if we weren’t sure about stuff. The local guides they provided were great - fluent English and really enthusiastic about showing visitors their amazing country. My husband , son and I did this food tour together one evening after I finished work. Our tour guide was a super energetic young man who kept us engaged throughout. My husband felt the price was slightly high but I felt it was worth it to have a local guide as we would never had tried all the stuff we did in the course of an evening just on our own steam. I just enjoyed leaving the navigation and decisions to an expert and it wasn’t just food, we got to see some interesting parts of the Old Quarter. I would highly recommend Handspan Travel. Their website has a lot of info, including on the food tours they offer.
The tour guide met us at the Thang Long Puppet Theatre in Hoan Kiem and within a minute we were at the first stop on the food tour: Long Vi Dung - Nộm Thịt Bò Khô (address: 23 P. Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm). I sort of got the feeling he was just taking us to places he personally likes a lot and which showcases a variety of Vietnamese flavours. The whole tour was walking. It was evening so the temperature was starting to drop but it was really humid. I was glad it didn’t rain. This first stop was a hole in the wall but because the Old Quarter is so touristy the menu had photos English terms in brackets. We let our guide do the ordering. It was 2 kinds of beef salad, one with barely cooked beef and the other with a sort of dried beef jerky and an order of steamed rice flour rolls filled with vegetables including mushroom. Everything very tasty!
On our way to the next stop we passed by a street which had several shops selling prepared fish and crustaceans. I was very interested (the Bengali in me can’t resist a fishy detour) and took some photos and probably would have bought some stuff to take back to our apartment but my husband and son were impatient to keep moving. The ladies running the stalls were very occupied with their phones and probably thought I was just a nosy tourist who wasn’t going to buy anything; I couldn’t get them to make eye contact! The big pan of tiny fried crabs was particularly intriguing.
Our guide announced the plan now was to grab a banh mi each and then go to a cafe that did great juices and sit outside and enjoy our banh mis with fresh juice. We got our banh mi from Bami Bread - Banh Mi Hoi An (98 P. Hàng Bạc, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm). I was already familiar with the menu as I used to get banh mi practically every day on my last visit from a Bami Bread branch outside the swanky 5 star hotel in Cat Linh my work put me up in. On that previous visit I had a per diem but it wouldn’t buy me even a side salad at the hotel, so I used to eat like a queen at Bami Bread. The only thing is the staff there seemed to have a panic attack whenever they saw me coming as they spoke zero English, were very young and it wasn’t a touristy area. We got pork banh mis to go and then walked to Trà Chanh (address: 8 P. Chợ Gạo, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm), the cafe with the juice our guide highly rated. We got fresh kumquat juice. Really refreshing on a super-humid evening. The pet dog of a neighboring shopkeeper came up and was looking longingly at our banh mi!
After the banh mi break, we had a longish walk down some very interesting streets, one of which was full of stalls selling toys - Vietnamese families were out en masse browsing the stalls and lots of cute kids were being treated to colourful toys and balloons by their parents. Then we reached our penultimate stop - a hole in the wall restaurant specialising in Phở Bò (beef noodle soup). I am not quite sure what the name of this place is. It had a placard with lots of words on it but I couldn’t get a Google match on it. It had a pennant with Phở Tư lùn on it, and the address for Phở Tư lùn (68 P. Hàng Mã, Hàng Bồ, Hoàn Kiếm) matches that of this place, even though the Google image match for Phở Tư lùn looks very different to my photo! I’ve attached my photo of the store front for information - the fixed rectangular placard above the shop says something very different to Tư lùn Phở Bò which is on the portrait orientation pennant hanging on the side. Anyway, there was a huge pot of beef stock simmering away at the front and two serious looking women tending to it. Our guide ordered Phở Bò (I think the house special? There didn’t seem to be any menu for this place). The place is very bare bones, a couple of stainless steel tables, tiled floor, a chiller cabinet containing both cans of drinks and raw meat (not on the same shelf, but yikes!) and electric fans bolted to the wall above each table. The phở was amazing though.
Thanks for posting this trip report and great pictures!
The last stop was for dessert at Hoa Béo (address: 2VJ2+X4G, P. Tô Tịch, Hàng Gai, Hoàn Kiếm), which sells a variety of fruit based desserts which I think in Vietnam go by the collective term chè. By this time my son and I were stuffed and could not eat another mouthful, so my husband had a bowl of jackfruit and some kind of red beans with condensed milk and crushed ice on the side. He liked it. The place was busy with families and friends relaxing with sweet treats. Seating is all on the roadside on tiny plastic stools.
And after all that sampling of food we did not experience any stomach upsets! I have reasonable travel experience in Asia and had been prepared for at least some tummy problems while visiting Vietnam in August but we were completely well throughout…
Amazing report, thank you for posting it!
The only time I’ve gotten ill in Asia was after eating at either at a TGIFriday (Western/American chain) or at our Western “fancy” hotel breakfast buffet in Delhi. A bad experience followed due to one of those 2 meals at Indira Ghandi Airport.
B’s GI system would be a bit unhappy early on all of trips to Asia. Then his flora would adapt, I suppose?
That’s interesting. I have lots of family living in India and lived there myself for quite a few years. My dad is a gastroenterologist and was very restrictive about what he would and wouldn’t allow us to eat, especially outside the house. Being a doctor now myself, I think most of his reasoning was sound. My brother-in-law nearly died of Salmonella in India last year.
I guess I sort of relaxed my boundaries in Vietnam quite a lot (drank lots of iced drinks, ate lots of salad-type stuff, went to hole-in-the-wall sort of places and street vendors) but the whole food and beverage sector seemed very well-regulated compared to India (where it’s like the wild West) but not as fastidious as Singapore.
Fantastic report – thanks for bringing us along!
I had amoebic-d as a small child, and was restricted on outside food for many, many years after. Even now, nothing raw outside, no street food unless it’s cooked, nothing that could have unpurified water in it (eg ice, chutneys), and so on.
I am still very strict with myself, and with any visiting family too, which sometimes causes issues (as in I took away a plate of raw onions and salad veg from my nephews and SIL, and SIL wanted to argue, but then got sick from something else the next day as she always does, so all further debate on food rules ceased ). I am free with digestive enzymes and probiotics when I am eating anything that I anticipate may stress my system (street, spicy, seafood, and so on).
That’s horrible - could he trace the cause?
My last bout with food poisoning many years ago was a result of leftovers being kept on the counter for too long instead of being left in the fridge until they had to be reheated. Supposed energy efficiency vs food safety (I was livid when I finally recovered and had enough energy to be).
Over dozens of trips to Asia I’ve only gotten sick once: at an Indian restaurant in a very touristy part of Siem Reap (Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia). That was longer than a decade ago.
When I’m in Asia I don’t really pay attention to things like ice cubes in drinks, eating street food on pavements sitting on plastic chairs. I just do it and never really have any problems. I’m used to eating a wide variety of ingredients from when I was young.
A few months ago in Phuket I even ate raw shrimps (kept cool with ice!) at a local restaurant - no issues whatsoever.
Then again, I’ve yet to visit India…
I travel to SE Asia fairly every couple years and still get sick fairly frequently, but usually due to dishes I know are high risk or should have known were risky. I LOVE green mussels in coconut milk dishes in Bangkok and I also know that I frequently get a mild case of the trots the day or two after but figure it is worth it.
My more intense but still silly mistakes were that I ate Laab Muu “Family Style” not “Tourist Style” in Vientiane without realizing that in effect I was eating pork sushi. That was a bad one, I had trouble finding a western clinic and tried to rely on charcoal and ginger for the first two days. Not optimal.
I also, God help me, drank a freshly squeezed lemon outside of Ulleri Nepal using bottled water and, the good part, local ice. I got one delicious sip before I realized what I had done. The woman that ran the tea house I went to that night assigned me a room with a bathroom that had a sink directly in front of the toilet and dosed me heavily with an antibacterial med of some sort. Norfloxacin? Whatever it was, it starting working within 12-18 hours. I think I continued my trek within a couple days.
But I guess my point is that though I get sick occasionally, it is usually due to my own mistakes or choices. It is not a bolt out of the blue.
I also eat pretty much everything I encounter in Asia and have never really gotten sick. Some unhappy tummy or less solid 2s that’s about it.
But I’ve also heard that India is a whole other beast when dealing with food sanitation and possible food borne illness.
I would add Nepal to the Worst Food Sanitation Leader Board with India.
But Nepal is in some ways simply India writ tall.
If you ever go to Hue, Vietnam’s old imperial capital and their epicentre for traditional cuisine (it’s home to about1,300 out of roughly 1,700 traditional Vietnamese dishes listed), try Connect Travel. They were our official guide when the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism invited Singaporean food writers to showcase Hue back in Feb 2020.
Thank you for this recommendation @klyeoh - I am hoping to go to Vietnam next autumn. I will be based in Hanoi but hope to have a free weekend to do a small trip. I might look up Connect Travel and see about doing a weekend in Hue.
Hanoi’s great. But Hue, Danang and Hoi An are all worth a side-trip.
I loved Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City and Hue while I was in Vietnam, though they have completely different vibes, so to speak. Saigon was a world city, vibrant and crowded with superb food and lots of crazy traffic. Hue was like a national park back in 2002, quiet and green with French architecture in evidence outside the Imperial City. But as Peter notes, Hue is simply phenomenal for food as well. One thing that comes back to me is the sight of the older women slowly wading through waist deep water of the moat of the imperial city, picking water plants for a cafe. It was so stately, so timeless.
One other event that I think I shared here a year ago. I was at a cafe and the owner came out to speak to me. We shared food stories and he asked me about my trip and how I had chosen to come to Hue. I hesitated and told him the truth, my cousin Ron was a Viet Nam War vet and he had told me, “VIetnam has the best food, the most beautiful girls and some of the best beaches in the world!”
The cafe owner smiled and said that my cousin was right. Then he asked me if my cousin had been to Hue. I paused and told him, “Yes, my cousin was a 5th Marine and he fought in the Battle of Hue.”
The cafe owner blinked, and said, “Tell your cousin he would be welcome in my cafe and in Hue.”
Telling that story still brings a tear to my eyes, knowing the history of what the people of Hue suffered then and in the years to come.
I never got to tell Ron the story, he passed shortly thereafter. But that was the type of welcome I got from locals all over Vietnam. Nearly to a person they were warm and friendly. Capitalist to a T, but friendly! LOL!
They won the war and mostly let bygones be bygones. And what a nation they have to be proud of! Tough neighborhood though. Poland might have a worse location but only by a bit.