Vietnamese food! Travelling to Vietnam can indicate lots of different things to people. Adventure, culture, tropical weather, amazing food and so on. For foodies like me, I bet Vietnamese food is on top of all the other aspects. I can confidently say Vietnamese food is the best for rich flavours and variety!
I read many articles suggesting local dishes and must try Vietnamese food. And I see some dishes are repetitively mentioned because they’re that good! Like pho in Hanoi, banh xeo in Ho Chi Minh and cao lau in Hoi An. These are must try foods in each city.
But like I mentioned before how Vietnamese food is the best for its variety, there’s really an endless list of dishes! I’ve lived in Hanoi for over a year now and I’m still learning about so many regional and local dishes of Vietnam. Most of the famous dishes we know are from top tourist destinations. But there are many areas undiscovered by travellers and thus their regional delicacies!
I know that most travellers have limited time to spend in each city. That’s probably why we all try to list down the best of the best to try. So I agree that a bowl of pho and bun cha are definitely top priority in Hanoi.
However, if you’re a foodie passionate about trying yummy local dishes other than pho and bun cha, I have a great recommendation for you!
Banh Da Cua
Bánh đa cua is a speciality from Hai Phong province, which is a port city in the north Vietnam. Banh da is the name of Hai Phong’s version of rice noodle. It is similar to pho in shape and size, but it is red or brown. Cua means crab and crab paste used for its broth and is the main ingredient of this dish. Dishes in Hai Phong are mostly seafood and river food. Banh da cua has long been the dish they take pride in.
Since Hai Phong is not a typical tourist destination, I’ve hardly ever heard of anyone travelling to Hai Phong for leisure. But because of its unique flavours with crab paste and texture of banh da noodle, this dish can be found throughout the country.
I read that there’s even a poem dedicated to banh da cua. If you’re interested in reading about it, go read this post “Crab soup for the Hai Phong soul“.
So where should you go for banh da cua in Hanoi?
Old Quarter is the centre of tourism in Hanoi and thus many famous local restaurants are located in it. I’ve found a wide range of Vietnamese food and great restaurants to be found there. But I’m also an advocate of getting out of touristy zone and exploring local neighbourhoods. I love exploring around local areas where Vietnamese people live because I see great opportunities to understand their culture better.
What I love the most about living in local neighbourhood is that I get to stumble upon some real hidden gems that are not shared on social media. For example, my favourite hidden gem cafe in town is near where I live. You can go check out my top 5 hidden gem cafes in Hanoi, if you’re a cafe explorer just like me!
And this is exactly how I stumbled upon this amazing banh da cua restaurant. The rustic and unpolished small building was puzzling at first. Then the interior was also as rustic and unfurnished as outside. But something told me that I was in for a surprising treat.
Inside the restaurant feels like a local house filled with tables for guests. I loved how the interior is simply unfurnished. I felt like I was in a local home of a friend. And the crowd of people queuing and enjoying the food was reassuring!
The owner in blue shirt said that there are two options – with or without soup. So I ordered a bowl of banh da cua with soup because I wanted to taste the broth. He was quick to serve my dish even if the place was packed with people.
The main ingredients are banh da noodle, crab paste and vegetables. It’s usually served with beef, Vietnamese sausages and fish cake. But there are several options to add such as crispy tofu. You can also choose which vegetable you’d like. Usually they have thinly shredded morning glory and water celery. I usually go for morning glory because I love this vegetable and also how they sliced it thin.
I loved the broth here because it’s quite light but with the depth of a proper broth. Banh da is special because of its al dente texture. I think it’s a good contrast to the soft pho noodle. The variety of ingredients all played a perfect role in harmonising the flavours and textures!
I’m not a big seafood fan because I do not enjoy the seafood or fishy taste. But I enjoyed this banh da cua so much. I thoroughly savoured every spoonful of soup and mouthful of the noodle.
Tips for ordering!
The owner does not speak any English, but you can order by saying “banh da nuoc” for banh da with soup and “banh da tron” for without soup. Or you can go to the kitchen trolley and pick the ingredients you want.
I know that for some people, being in the middle of a crowd who does not speak any English can be intimidating. I feel that way too because I get lots of curious stares (nothing harmful or personal) for being a foreigner in a local area.
But I embrace that as part of a local experience! And that’s how I get to make friends with locals – with my broken Vietnamese and body language. Also, Vietnamese people can be the sweetest people on earth when they see you trying to say a word in Vietnamese. They appreciate your effort and more often than not, there are people willing to help you out.
I really hope you can visit this authentic banh da cua restaurant. It’ll definitely be a memorable experience in Vietnam!
Address: 33 Đường La Thành, Phương Liên, Đống Đa, Hanoi
Opening Hours: Early morning until 3PM