In 2010 when I was in Hanoi on a press trip, I met Tracey Lister, an Australian expat with active passion about Vietnamese food. She’d been living in Vietnam’s capitol for many years, exploring the food scene then writing about it as well as running the Hanoi Cooking Centre, a terrific place to take classes. She has a quiet curiosity about food and is highly observant – traits that she poured into her latest book, Vietnamese Street Food.
She authored the charming book with her husband, Andreas Pohl. The location photography gives a true sense being in Vietnam. It’s a book that anyone who’s traveled to Vietnam should have, not just as a keepsake but to cook from. It’s also terrific for armchair travelers and cooks. Many people are interested in street food nowadays so I asked Tracey to share her thoughts and expert advice on what to eat in Hanoi.
An American restaurateur once remarked to me, " Vietnam doesn't really have a restaurant culture." How do you agree or disagree with that statement?
I don’t think Vietnam has a strong fine dining culture in the Western sense, although that is growing in line with the economy.
There is, however, has a long history of people eating out. Historically, restaurants started to appear as part of the Chinese trading communities in the early 19th century with eating places initially serving mainly Cantonese dishes. The Chinese restaurants were subsequently joined by French establishments. These two influences together with the local village banquet tradition morphed over time into the uniquely Vietnamese restaurant scene we enjoy today.
On a typical day in Hanoi , how many times do you eat on the street? What are your favorite street foods these days?
At the Cooking Centre we have a chef who produces a delicious staff meal for lunch, so it’s a bit hard to resist that. But on a weekly basis I imagine half a dozen times. A Saturday lunch favorite is Bún Chả with Andreas and Franka at a stall close to where we live.
I never tire of the classics Phở Bò and Phở Gà [beef and chicken pho], but am enjoying Bánh Đa Cá [fish noodle soup]. I just love the chewiness of the Hải Phòng noodles and the soft fish together. Also, Bánh Tôm Hồ Tây [fried shrimp and sweet potato cakes] and a Bia Hà Nội [Ha Noi brand beer] on a Sunday afternoon are a winner.
For people traveling to Hanoi for the first time, what street foods should be on their hit list?
- Bún Chả, Phở (of course)
- Bún Ốc, noodles and snails with turmeric green banana and tofu
- Trứng Ngải cứu, Omlette with a bitter herb, chilli/lime salt on the side
- Bánh Cuốn, Steamed rice pancake with pork and mushrooms. Try a little Cà Cuống (water bug) essence in the sauce. It has a distinct green apple perfume.
- If visiting in winter, Lẩu (steamboat) on Trúc Bạch Lake.
If I were a beginner cook, what three recipes in Vietnamese Street Food should I tackle first? Why?
- Barbecue pork ribs (page 56). Everyone loves a BBQ It's an easy recipe with accessible ingredients, which can be prepared in advance.
- Sticky rice steamed in lotus leaf (page 92) makes for a dramatic centre piece on the dinner table.
- Black sesame seed and peanut soup (page 179) for dessert. It's comfort food and looks fabulous. We just don’t have enough black food.
If you had to move away from Hanoi , what street foods would you miss the most?
I have had good Phở outside of Vietnam, but never a good Bún Chả, so probably that. Maybe there is an opening there for someone?
I’d purchased Vietnamese Street Food last year from Kitchen Arts and Letters in New York and prepared a fun faux crab and rice noodle soup (bun rieu chay). At that time, the book was a pricey foreign import. This year, the publisher is releasing it in the United States, and I received a copy to give away to a lucky winner! If you don't win, the book is a steal at this price.
Here’s the giveaway lowdown:
Prize: 1 copy of Vietnamese Street Food
Who is eligible to enter: Anyone with a United States mailing address.
How to enter: Simply leave a comment on this post. What’s your favorite Vietnamese street food? Or, what’s your favorite Viet snack food? Include your email address so that I can contact you directly if you win.
Can you enter more than once? Yes, if you’re a fan of the VWK Facebook page, follow me on Twitter or have joined me on Pinterest, you can enter an extra time for each of those social media networks. If we’re buddies on all three, then shoot, you can enter 4 times. If you’re doing multiple entries, let me know who you are by including something like [FB], [Twitter], or [Pinterest] in your comment.
Deadline to enter: Monday, March 25, noon (PST)
Selection, notification, and claiming the tickets: The winner will be randomly selected via Random.org and notified by email. The winner will be announced next Tuesday, March 26. I’ll send the winner the book. If you’d like more details, read the official giveaway rules.
- Safe eating tips for traveling in Vietnam
- Faux crab noodle soup plus tofu coagulating video tip (recipe is from Vietnamese Street Food)