There’s much more than pho when it comes to must-try foods in Hanoi, one of which is undoubtedly Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm.
Bún is another type of rice noodle that has a thin and round shape while pho is a flat type of rice noodle.
Đậu is a shorter version of đậu phụ, which means tofu.
Mắm tôm is a renowned sauce made of shrimp paste that has a very unique flavour. I call it the Marmite of Vietnam because I can’t eat nor stand the particular smell, but many people love it.
So Bun Dau Mam Tom is a plate of fried tofu and various kinds of ingredients beautifully placed on a flat platter to be enjoyed with the special sauce and fresh herbs. The shrimp sauce is a default sauce that comes with the dish, but as I don’t eat this sauce, I always request for a different sauce – Muoi Tieu, which is salt with lime.
There are few places notorious for having this dish in Hanoi and I’ve tried in few different places. And recently, I kept seeing social media posts, forums and YouTube videos where Vietnamese people visit and recommend this specific street that is famous of bun dau mam tom. So I decided to visit myself with some local friends.
The place is hidden behind buildings on Hang Khay street, located at the bottom of Hoan Kiem lake in the Old Quarter. It was a peaceful Saturday afternoon, so the road was free from traffic, but with these cute little baby cars and motorbikes waiting for young drivers to drive.
I had watched the YouTube video and had a map with the address, but still had to ask street vendors where the secret entrance to the street is. It was number 31 Hang Khay where the narrow alley will lead you to the bun dau street.
About 20m in from the main street, there were 2-3 different restaurants and staff were actively and vigorously trying to make you eat at their place over another. I found it entertaining to watch and my friends and I were very confused in the midst of the craze.
Then a local tour guide was coming out from the alley after her lunch and quietly mumbled to one of my friends that the real restaurant is at the end of the street and these are fake ones. I do not know how much credibility there is to what she said, but of course our instinct was to go find the real deal at the end of the street.
After going past the alley of touting, you’ll see this restaurant called Bun Dau Hang Cu on the left side. Only a couple of metres from the hustle, it was much quieter here and still full of people both eating inside and waiting outside for take away.
Inside the restaurant had air conditioning and the food was served very quickly. The bun dau here had more variety of ingredients than other bun dau places I had eaten. The food was delicious and offered a harmony of different textures.
If you travel to Hanoi and want to try this specialty of the city, I highly recommend you to try it in this street for the fun adventure of finding the place and passing the narrow Hanoian alley hidden behind buildings.
Address: 31 Ngõ 29 Hàng Khay, Tràng Tiền, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội