One thing for sure many first-time visitors will be asking upon seeing an abundance of food stalls in Hanoi is why sellers set up stores outdoors, right outside houses, but not invest in some in-house infrastructure for better customer experience. The answer is hard to tell.
So let’s go back in time a little bit to find out.
Trace back the start of Sidewalk Food Culture in Hanoi
Back when transportation was underdeveloped, shipping like the modern day didn’t even exist so it was hard for both sellers and buyers to meet in between. For that reason, some local vendors had thought of promoting their craftsmanship directing to every house in the neighborhood. They would create 2 holders, that can contain their products and carrying both holders by using a huge wooden stick to balance them out. That way really reduces weight when they walk around.
Some even carry small-sized cooking pots and many kitchen-wares together with fresh ingredients or some prepared ones. They literally bring a restaurant to your own house. A feature of all food vendors back then was that each vendor only sold one dish and had their own recipe. So you have something to wait for each time you hear the sound of them shouting names of their food “Tao pho day! Tao pho day! (Here’s tao pho)” or smell some irresistible fragrance of them cooking. Since then, Hanoi’s food culture in general has been well festered thanks to vendors’ creativity.
Some vendors had saved up from selling doors to doors with enough money for building their own food stores. But the problem is space. It was easy for those who live in the neighborhood, they can make use of their own space inside and outside their house. For those travelling from elsewhere, it was much harder. Eventually, many vendors had taken use of public places. Instead of carrying stuff around all day, they sit upon walking pavement or sidewalk, mostly in densely populated areas and invite people in.
All these activities of both sellers and buyers, vendors and avid eaters in Hanoi have slowly paved ways into creating a culture. It is the culture of sitting around, sipping tea or tasting some sweet, enjoying food in its freshest and watching the everyday life of people on the streets. It is the whole experience from the smell, the waiting, the food to the one-to-one connection between food-maker and eaters that Hanoians have slowly fallen in love with.
The modern-day rendition of Sidewalk Food Culture
Today sees the growth of Vietnam economics so greatly that in 5-year-time, many things could have changed drastically. But believe me, with all the sensation and habits that have been festered long enough by sidewalk food stalls, people would not easily give in to all the luxury that big restaurants offer.
With average income, walking into luxurious or fine restaurants everyday is far too impossible for most Hanoians. Sidewalk food with a fair price and more than fine taste is the go-to choice whenever we’re hungry.
Since sidewalk food stalls are small and sometimes hidden far behind buildings, it can be hard to find them. Many phone apps nowadays can help us to navigate unique food stalls by searching and reading reviews from other local users. To name a few, Lozi and Foody are widely used by the young Hanoians.
Ask any Hanoian today and you’ll find out at least 7 out of 10 have their own long list of favorite food stalls. It could be savory like banh mi, pho to sweet like che or tao pho.
How can you best enjoy this unique food culture?
Well, there is only one way. Get here, try and you’ll see why we prefer eating out in the sidewalk stalls so much. It’s the best way to get a taste of slurping noodles to perfectly crusty banh mi.
You can google names of food on Google and get there on foot but for good recommendations, you can download phone apps like Lozi or Foody. They will have locations, prices and eater’s reviews there. But most of them are in Vietnamese so you could ask for guidance from your tourist guide or any local you know.
The one thing I love is how 8 out of 10 food stalls offer different experiences. It does not have to be famous to have something that you can enjoy. Sometimes, places with few guests can surprise you.
And make sure you’ll ask the price before purchasing. Some opportunists will take advantage of foreigners. But don’t worry too much because most of them vendors are very friendly. If you’re lucky, some may know English and love to chat.
Although there have been some periods where the government wanted to create a more well-organized look for the city by banning stores or vendors using sidewalk for selling, it is hard to implement such laws or policy since Sidewalk Food Culture has been practiced for such an amount of time. Modernization or globalization can change a lot of things but culture or things as unique as sidewalk food would stay in people’s heart no matter how.
Named after the progenitor of Vietnamese cuisine, Lang Lieu Restaurant dedicate ourselves to providing a special journey back time so that every guest can fully sense Vietnamese culture-rich history through the food we serve. Our menu presents signature traditional dishes in Northern Vietnam, from the Old Quarter of Hanoi to the mountainous North-West and North-East.
Also, located right in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Lang Lieu has such a tranquil vibe that you will immediately find peace the moment you step past the door.