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Need some help understanding northern Vietnamese cuisine

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On a whim, I recently went to Ha Noi restaurant on Bolsa in Westminster. I'm very familiar with the cuisine found in southern Vietnam and somewhat familiar with the cuisine from central Vietnam. But when it comes to northern Vietnamese cuisine, I'm quite in the dark.

I had some cha gio that I think had taro or yam inside of it. They had an egg-based wrap instead of a rice-based one. It wasn't bad, but I like the southern ones better.

We also had deep fried shrimp with yam french fries. I'm not a fan of shrimp in general, so I can't comment on it, although everyone else loved them. But those french fries were addicting.

I also ordered the stir-fried beef chow fun out of curiosity. It was rather bland and seemed to be a pale imitation of Cantonese chow fun--no wok qi. Then I found out from the waiter that I was supposed to pour a slightly sweet vinegar on it. That was very tasty (and probably why the dish was on the bland side).

The pho tai seemed stronger and heavier than those I've had in southern Vietnamese restaurants. It was different, but I can't otherwise put my finger on it.

All in all, it was pretty good even though I would prefer central and southern Vietnamese-style dishes. The menu was difficult to understand because it was mostly in Vietnamese. I was only able to figure out many of the dishes by reading the Chinese characters on the menu.

What exactly is it about northern Vietnamese cuisine that makes it special? Where there other dishes that we should have looked for? How does it compare with dishes from other parts of Vietnam?

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Ha Noi
9028 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, CA 92683

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  1. When I go to Ha Noi, I usually order the Bun Cha Hanoi (make your own lettuce wraps w/ noodles, pork/meatballs/fish-sauce, and herbs) and the Cha Ca Thang Long (catfish on a skillet w/ grilled onions, dill, and other spices). It's my understanding that these are the specialties there because this is what I see everyone else ordering at Ha Noi.
    I'm sure someone more knowledgeable than I am can give you a detailed explanation of the differences between North vs. South Vietnamese cuisine.

    1 Reply
    1. re: I got nothin

      this

      bun cha hanoi or cha ca thang long

      also go down the strip mall to le croissant do re and buy a fruit tart. you will not be disappointed.

    2. You should have gone with the specials of the house, which I got nothin detailed above.

      I think the bun oc is popular here, as well. The cha ca thang long is a winner.

      I usually think of northern pho as having a very clean, clear stock. I don't add hoisin/sriracha to northern pho, and go lightly on the herbs. Southern pho is lustier and can stand up to jalepeno/chili sauce, hoisin, and more lime.

      1. Anywhere I can try this type of food in the SGV? Seems like there are dozens of places here serving pho and rice/vermicelli bowls but not much variety.

        1 Reply
        1. re: cant talk...eating

          i like the Bun Cha Hanoi at Com Tam Thuan Kieu on valley (http://www.yelp.com/biz/com-tam-thuan...). i think it taste better than hanoi's and you get a lot more!!!

          i don't know where you can get cha ca thang long in sg.

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          Com Tam Thuan Kieu
          120 E Valley Blvd Ste I, San Gabriel, CA 91776

        2. Bun Cha Ha Noi is one of my favorites. Having been to all 3 areas of VN, I think you will find more fresh produce in Southern food. Proximity to the Mekong Delta means you can find all kinds of vegetables, fruit and herbs in Saigon. The climate is colder and the soil isn't as good in the North. I think the food from the South tends to be a little sweeter and spicier.

          That said, I love Bun Cha Ha Noi. Cha Ca is also a very famous dish. Pho Ga, Chicken with Lime Leaves....I really enjoyed eating in the North and wish there were more places that featured that type of food. My favorite is Hue food, followed by food from the Mekong Delta.

          If you are in Little Saigon, Quan Hop makes a pretty good Bun Cha Ha Noi. I like it because the sauce is very funky like in Vietnam. I also think the quality of the meat is better.

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          Quan Hop Restaurant
          15640 Brookhurst St, Westminster, CA 92683

          Ha Noi
          9028 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, CA 92683

          Pho Ga Restaurant
          741 E Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776