Eating in Hanoi’s Street Kitchens

Last Updated on February 3, 2021 by Natasha Amar

The charming capital of Vietnam makes quite the impression on the first time visitor, with its busy streets where hundreds of motorbikes head in your direction as you try to cross the street and fail miserably, vendors call out to you selling cheap eats and pretty conical hats and well-heeled ladies squat on street corners of the Old Quarter exchanging stories over steaming cups of coffee. I have never felt the strong sense of cultural differences anywhere else in Asia as much as I have in Vietnam, whether it was in the misty town of Sapa or the busy city of Hanoi.

Imagine my surprise when I first saw people squatting on the street, sharing a quick snack from a vendor or a hearty bowl of Pho bo (noodle soup with beef) which was also being cooked on the street. I had seen street stalls in Asia selling food before but nothing like Hanoi’s street kitchens. Proper meals were being cooked on these tiny stoves around which there were little low stools that I am convinced are made for children. These places were packed with suited executives, teenagers getting high on Bia Hoi (local beer), families with kids in tow and the odd tourist, extremely busy even on rainy nights with water dripping all around and sometimes through the flimsy plastic sheets that had been placed on the frames of the roofs.

Eating in Hanoi’s Street Kitchens
Creative Commons License

Hanoi Street Food by Paul Galow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

“Street kitchens are an important part of local culture, the locals…we eat on the street, no matter if you have big job or big car, this is where we meet our friends”, explained Anna, the receptionist at my hotel. After walking by several street kitchens in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, I finally walked into one for a bowl of Pho ga for dinner one night. While the pho was not the best I’ve had in Hanoi, the energy of the place was quite remarkable with sounds of friendly banter, serious discussions, intense debates and the occasional drunken argument, the stall packed with people seated on the stools or squatting on the ground with bowls of soup in hand. People waited outside for those inside to finish their meals quickly so they could find a spot to settle down in. On some tables, there were no meals, just bottles of Bia Hoi as the voices of patrons grew louder. Some ate quickly and left immediately after while some enjoyed their meals at a leisurely pace while exchanging accounts of the day with their companions.

The culture of street kitchens in Hanoi is more about community and bonding over meals than it is about food. These places do brisk business every day even with pouring skies, understandably because they’re considerably cheaper than cafes and restaurants but also because this is where the locals have been going to eat for years, before the country opened its doors to tourists and newer establishments showed up.
Get your online visa for Vietnam. For more tips on what to do while in Vietnam, check out top things to do in Hanoi and the rest of my Vietnam travel blog.

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  1. says: Fairlie

    We did a fantastic street food walking tour in Hoi An, and we were told that the way to choose which street food place to eat at is by the amount of scraps of paper on the ground around the small stools – the more mess, the better the food (as apparently they are the order dockets…and that shows high turnover). Counter-intuitive to most visitors from places like Australia, where we would usually shun the messy outlet.

  2. says: Ami

    That’s one of the BIG reasons I want to visit Vietnam, and soon! I’ve heard and read so much about the street food there that I can hardly wait anymore to bite in!

    1. says: thebohochica

      I’m sure you will enjoy it, especially if you’re an adventurous eater 🙂 otherwise there’s always good old pho!

  3. says: simon

    I hate to admit that I didn’t eat on the street much the first time I went to Asia – I was too intimidated. In my defense, though, it was my first time overseas and I was much younger than I am now. I went back to Asia just a year or so ago, but this time I pretty much only ate street food – it was amazing! Love me some pho.

    1. says: thebohochica

      I think I was brave coz I’ve lived in Mumbai for a while and tried all the nasty street food we have there. I reason if I’ve survived that then I will everywhere else 😉

  4. says: traciehowe

    Ah yes, Hanoi does make quite an impression. I figured out how to cross the street, but being a picky eater when I was there, I was too nervous to go to one of those bustling street kitchens. I was introduced to Pho after I left and regret missing my opportunity when there! Glad you had the experience.

  5. says: Em

    Wow, sounds like a very interesting place. What better way to soak up the culture then to eat some street food like locals. Nice article

  6. says: Emily Luxton

    What a lovely article – it really transported me there 🙂 It’s so important to immerse oneself in the local culture. I’m planning a trip to Vietnam before Christmas, so I’m looking forward to this sort of thing!

  7. says: Claudia

    Street kitchens are very common in Latin America too. You can see whole families sitting around an improvised table to have a full meal, including soup!

  8. says: Dave Cole

    This looks like a pretty incredible experience. I love the democratic and socially leveling experience of sharing a meal like this. So encouraging to see and fun to take part.

  9. says: Mindi @ 2foodtrippers

    I loved eating on the streets in Hanoi! It’s been 10 years, but I still remember a conversation with an older man about his experiences in the war, while we both slurped soup on tiny plastic chairs.

  10. Love this it seems similar to some local markets we saw in Phuket, Thailand. We have returned from 2 months is Thailand and Cambodia and skipped Vietnam for next year – We love street food this will definately be a place on our list! Looks great and I bet the prices were awesome!

  11. says: Lauren

    What a different atmosphere! It must be such a social experience, as it is quite busy there! I’ve heard street food is great for the environment but also for the price! 🙂

  12. says: Milosz Zak

    Was this amount of street litter common throughout the places you visited, or was it a crowded market of sorts where it would have been expected to see this. Street food, although so delicious, is sometimes very dicey.

    1. says: thebohochica

      This is common in and around the street stalls but not everywhere in Hanoi. I agree that you have to be careful with street food but I often take chances 😉