Hanoi in March
Where to chow down in Hanoi? Street stalls of course, and plenty of pho, but any other suggestions? Vietnamese or otherwise ... whatever is downright wonderful. Also looking to pick up some European cheeses and a few bottles of good wine ... any shops?
Was in Hanoi last March and plan to be in Hanoi this March as well! What a beautiful city.
In terms of food... I stayed at the Sofitel and they have a great outdoor dinner buffet. Sounds cheesy but actually it was pretty good with lots of good regional specialties. I would agree with Mdibiaso though; the food on the streets is great. I visited Vietnam extensively if you need any more info (HCMC, Nha Trang, Hue, Da Nang etc). Hope you have a good trip.
I was there in October/November. You *must* buy the Lonely Planet World Food guide which is excellent for street food. OK, so wandering about and trying stuff is part of the fun but this guide explains the basics and gives a few pointers as to where to start.
The bun cha (marinated grilled pork in chilli vinegar with cold noodles and fresh herbs to stir in) is extraordinary.
For an upmarket meal you could do worse than the Sofitel (French colonial hotel with Vietnamese restaurant - called something naff like "Spice Garden"). We had lunch there on our last day for about GBP 30 a head and it was sublime.
There are a few decent European restaurants ("Il Grillo" at 116 Ba Trieu for example) but if you've got limited time I'd stick to the Vietnamese.
The market behind the puppet theatre is worth a visit; unfortunately we didn't have time to eat there.
If you get the chance, go to Danang. The Cham museum is worth the trip, and the market (NOT a tourist destination) is where I had my most memorable meal - grilled meat and fresh coriander rolled up in rice paper with more fresh herbs and dipped in a spicy satay-style sauce for about 50p a head including a bottle of pop (which probably cost 40p). The next stall served marrow out of the bone - very St. John.
The bun cha you refer to also goes by the name bun thit nuong (noodle with barbecued meat is the actual translation).
The rice paper concoction from Da Nang is called goi cuon (at least in the central dialect, I have no clue about N or S dialect), which is pronounced approximately "goy coon" with the "oo" of "book".
If you go to the centre of Vietnam, you can go to Hue and have a bowl of bun bo Hue, which is a tomatoey spicy shrimpy broth with noodles and beef. Excellent, excellent.
Also don't miss banh xeo ("bahn seh-aw") which are omelette looking things made from rice rather than egg, cua rang muoi (koo-ah rahng mooee) which is crabs roasted in salt and pepper, and ga xao sa ot (gah sow sha ert) which is chicken in lemongrass.
Here are some helpful words for you in a menu context:
chicken - thit ga (thit gah)
beef - thit bo (thit baw)
pork - thit heo (thit heh-aw)
seafood - do bien (doh bienn)
fish - ca (cah)
soup - canh (cahn)
prawn - tom (tohm)
beer - bia (bee-ah)
fish sauce - nuoc mam (nook mem)
chili sauce - tuong ot (terng ert)
tea - tra (trah)
coffee - ca phe (cah feh)
water - nuoc (nook) or nuoc la (nook leh-ah)
lemonade - da chanh (dah chahn)
I want - toi muon (toy mwoon) (not as rude as it sounds)
Bring me one (portion) of... - toi muon mot it... (toi mwoon mut eet)
Hope you have fun!
Actually bun thit nuong is something different, although it works out to a literal translation of the ingredients of bun cha. The difference is in the way it's served and the way they do the meat. Bun cha uses grilled fatty pork together with small grilled pork patties. In bun cha they are served in a small bowl of fish sauce broth (and sliced papaya). The noodles are served separately as are the herbs. Bun thit nuong is a Southern thing and is a one bowl mixture and doesn't include the same patties. I may sound like I'm being nitpicky, but it works out to a very different dish.
It is 9 years since I was there so restaurant names are meaningless. But the most memorable things were fresh baked baguettes in the morning from the street vendors. And eating one night at what they call biergartens. These are sidewalk restaurents where you sit on a box and have a box as a table. You then got into a tent where they are cooking about 10 different things on gasol camping stoves. Just point at anything. We tooks lots of different things and drank about 5 beers each (draft beer that comes over the mountains from China as oppose to the local brew which is 333 and comes in bottles and cans). All this cost about 1 dollar and 80 cents 9 years ago. I could not believe how cheap it was. We tried to leave a tip of about 1 dollar and they REFUSED the tip saying come back another night if you were happy. It is not a culinary experience for the quality of the food, but it is a unique eating experience. And a very cheap buzz.