A food tour of Hanoi's Old Quarter for just $4

By Thanh Thuy   January 14, 2023 | 05:32 am PT
Visitors keen to sample a variety of Hanoi's famous street foods can join a food tour in the center of the Old Quarter during the Tet holiday.

Dong Xuan Alley, a 200-meter long lane situated in a prime area close to the heart of Hanoi's Old Quarter, has become a popular destination for food lovers, many of whom are foreigners.

A row of low dining tables and chairs are squeezed tightly into the alley's narrow pedestrian walkway, which has about 15 food stalls. Each stall has a small sign and there are prep areas for food vendors on the two sides of the wall.

A wide variety of popular dishes are sold here, from che "xuka," a type of dessert soup only sold in this market, to nom bo kho (green papaya salad with beef jerky). Other popular dishes include banh goi (crispy pork and quail egg dumplings), banh tom (deep fried prawn and sweet potato fritter), bun dau (vermicelli with shrimp paste and tofu), bun oc (snail noodle soup), bun cha que tre (vermicelli with grilled pork), and banh mi que (stick bread).

Dong Xuan Alley is a popular destination for food lovers. Photo by VnExpress/ Thanh Thuy

Dong Xuan Alley is a popular destination for food lovers. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Thuy

The prices range from VND5000 to VND40,000 (21 cents to $1.71). For example, a deep fried prawn and sweet potato fritter costs VND12,000 per piece, while a bowl of snail noodle soup will cost you about VND40,000.

For just about VND100,000 ($4.26), diners can enjoy all kinds of delicious dishes sold from the beginning to the end of the alley.

To start the food tour, diners can choose the deep fried prawn and sweet potato fritter that is sold right at the beginning of the alley. Am, the food vendor owner, said she had been selling this dish here for more than 30 years.

The prawn and sweet potato fritters are deep fried until golden brown. Photo by VnExpress/ Thanh Thuy

The prawn and sweet potato fritters are deep fried until golden brown. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Thuy

In addition to the fresh prawns, the dish's best feature is the crispy crust. The crust is made with a secret recipe to ensure that the fritter won't become dry when it is fried. Another important component is the thinly sliced sweet potato that is fried with the fritter.

Located at the main entrance of Dong Xuan Market is Hoa's bread stick cart. Her cart serves mainly tourists and office workers around the market. She shared with us that she sells more than 800 breadsticks each day. The vendor only sells her specialty for two hours during lunch and three hours in the evening, for a total of five hours per day.

All kinds of che are available for diners to choose . Photo by VnExpress/ Thanh Thuy

All kinds of che are available for diners to choose. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Thuy

There are two well-known dessert soup vendors in this alley. Che Yen has been operating for a longer period of time - more than 23 years. Truong Thi Bach Yen, the owner, said that she makes 23 flavors of che such as green bean, black bean, pomelo, sweet potato, and banana. Different flavors will be offered based on the season. In winter, Yen will have hot sweet soup, and banh troi - floating rice cake, on the menu.

"After eating the deep fried prawns and sweet potato fritters, I will have another bowl of snail noodle soup," said Thanh Mai, a small business owner at the market. "If I'm not full yet, I will have another round of che sweet soup to quench my thirst. Every time I go to Dong Xuan Market to pick up goods, I will spend some time enjoying a food tour here."

The market's small vendors claim that the food alley used to mainly cater to customers coming and going from Dong Xuan Market. However, over the past few years, numerous local and foreign visitors, as well as office workers and young Hanoians, have also come here to enjoy the food.

Dong Xuan Alley is open daily from 7 in the morning to about 6 in the evening, with the busiest hours being lunchtime and at around 5 p.m. At peak hours, vendors in the alley are all full, and many diners have to wait in line for 10 to 15 minutes to take their turn.

There are no parking spaces in the alley due to its small size. Customers are advised to park their vehicles beside Dong Xuan Market.

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