5 authentic experiences in Hanoi

Cuisine de rue, Hanoi

While Hanoi’s monuments are its cultural thread, it’s its people who give the city its soul. So why not spend a day like a local?

Vietnam’s capital doesn’t have a rich historical heritage like Paris. Its cultural charm lies in the narrow streets and lifestyles of its inhabitants. It’s only by rubbing shoulders with the Hanoians that you’ll understand the soul of the city. It’s human contact with the city’s residents that allows us to enjoy authentic experiences. This mini guide toHanoi offers you the chance to experience a day in the life of a Hanoian.

Hanoi at dawn (04h00 – 07h00)

Hanoi à l'aube

Hanoi is an early-morning shopping city. From 4am, the wholesale markets are in full swing. Inhabitants flock to public spaces for outdoor sports activities: tai chi, stretching, aerobics, cycling, jogging, gymnastics, badminton and more. In a city of 7 million inhabitants, parks are often crowded, and this is precisely where you should go to get close to sports enthusiasts. Hanoians are welcoming by nature, and you’re more than welcome to join their group. Mornings are also a good opportunity to discover the Hanoian breakfast.

In Vietnam, you don’t eat breakfast at home. Everyone eats out, and we eat salty food in the stalls that are omnipresent in the city’s alleyways. To get the day off to a good start, we have the famous cà phê sữa đá,« black coffee with condensed milk ». A legacy of French colonization, coffee culture is very strong in Vietnam. Hanoians are accustomed to frequenting their own addresses, either in stalls or in Vietnamese chains such as Cộng Café or Highland Coffee.

Discovering street food (09h00 – 12h00)

Cuisine de rue, Hanoi

Hanoi’s street food scene took shape during the 20th century. Initially, it was the daily habit of poor workers and peasants to eat quickly on their way to work. Gradually, the tradition was democratized towards the upper echelons of society. Today, street food is an integral part of the lives of Hanoians from all walks of life. Due to population density, the sidewalk is a social extension of the home. Stalls, stores and gargotes are set up there.

Street food reflects a very outward-looking way of life. On a culinary stroll, you’ll wander through cramped streets, sampling a variety of specialties such as: bánh cuốn (rolled and stuffed rice cakes), bún chả (grilled pork vermicelli), chả cá (fried fish fondue), hoa quả dầm (fruit salad).

Drinks in a « Bia Hoi » (6:00 pm – 7:00 pm)

Bia Hoi, Hanoi

It’s a typical city lifestyle. Like Spanish tapas, Bia Hoi is a local brasserie that Hanoians frequent with friends or colleagues. It’s often a large, relaxed space where it’s easy to make contacts. A place for socializing par excellence, Hanoians also go there to network – a sort of offline « LinkedIn »! Draught beer is the main drink, and there are plenty of local delicacies such as Lạc luộc (steamed peanuts), thịt bò khô (beef jerky), mực nướng (grilled dries), rau mông tơi xào tỏi (garlic-sautéed baselle), etc….

Dinner with a Hanoian family (7:00 pm – 8:00 pm)

Dîner chez habitant, Hanoi

When you’re invited to eat with a family, you’ll discover not only authentic flavors, but also the typical living space and customs around the table. Tradition dictates that several generations live together under the same roof. Dinner is a sacred occasion for the Vietnamese, as it’s a reunion of all family members. The sense of community is very strong in Vietnamese cuisine, and this character trait is perfectly expressed during a meal with a Hanoian family. You’ll learn the very hierarchical code of behavior: how to serve tea, alcohol, rice, distribute chopsticks, hold the bowl and so on. This initiation will come in handy as your trip to Vietnam unfolds in other regions.

Party time

Soirée salsa et bachata à Hanoi

More than half the population is under 35. The Vietnamese are young, and they take full advantage of it. There’s no hesitation in importing all kinds of foreign cultural trends: Christmas, Halloween, Black Friday, gyms, etc. Dance clubs, bars and cafés are springing up like mushrooms. Dance clubs, bars and cafés are springing up like mushrooms, but it’s important to distinguish between those dedicated to tourists and those reserved mainly for locals. Young Vietnamese represent a contemporary culture that is evolving and adapting to the age of globalization. Your participation in a Salsa & Bachata evening or a live music café will give you a real understanding of Hanoi.

This article is a non-exhaustive list of authentic experiences in Hanoi. There’s plenty more to discover in the city and elsewhere in Vietnam. If you have a more generous time budget, don’t hesitate to take a look at the blog vietnam-en-profondeur. com for more inspiration.