Date Traveled, February 2013
Banh Cuon was the first dish I had from my long list of must try foods in Hanoi and it ended up being my favorite.
Banh Cuon is a roll made with a cover of very thin rice sheets and stuffed with some meat, usually pork. The dish is typically served with a nuoc cham or dipping sauce. A side dish of cue or pork pies is also commonly eaten with the Banh Cuon. One of the best places for Banh Cuon in Hanoi's old quarter is the little shop Banh Cuon Gia Truyen situated at 14 Hang Ga. I had read that that Banh Cuon was a popular choice for breakfast and very conveniently, Banh Cuon Gia Truyen was basically across the street from my charming hotel, the Hanoi Charming 2 =).
We were up and about really early, wanting to make the most of our first day at Hanoi, and an early start on food meant we could try more food during the course of the day. We had to politely decline our friendly hotel receptionists insistent requests to try the breakfast at the hotel. We ate their on other days and it was very good. However once we got to Banh Cuon Gia Truyen, we found out for the first time that most places in Hanoi don't really open for food until a little bit later around 8:30 or 9:00. Some much later. It was 8:00 when we had got there and the proprietor lady was preparing for the day and shooed us off when we got near her entrance. Someone else helping out inside laughed and told us "half hour". Our plan for eating early didn't quite work out but I think we still ate a lot that day anyway, starting with the Banh Cuon after we returned there later.
Banh Cuon Gia Truyen on Hang Ga street
The dipping sauce which we mistook for a soup at first
This was also where we saw for the first time how so many of the little restaurants in the old quarter operate. They specialize in a single dish and maybe a couple of sides that go with it. They name themselves after the dish they happen to prepare. The food is prepared in the front, tables are all shared by patrons inside and the place is often messy (sometimes dirty) and depending on the crowds, everyone squeezes into every available spot. The tables also have condiments available and finally ordering in these places is easy, just gesture how many you want and you will have your meal promptly laid out in front of you.
After we ordered our breakfast, the first thing that was brought out for us was the nuoc cham or the dipping sauce. Another lesson I learned early is to spend some time observing the locals on how to eat a dish before attempting to eat it yourself. We thought it was some kind of broth and started to drink it out of some spoons on the table which was embarrassing after we noticed it was meant to be a dipping sauce. The Banh Cuon and Cue came out soon and as I mentioned, it turned to be our most favorite Hanoi dish. It was hot, tasty and satisfying. The cue was not as good as the Banh Cuon but was a decent accompaniment nonetheless.
I suppose the only negative thing about the experience was the fact we didn't taste anything as good as that afterwards. So if you are in Hanoi, definitely try and have one breakfast of Banh Cuon and if you can make it to Banh Cuon Gia Truyen, you can be sure of a great meal.