5 of Hanoi's special noodle dishes beyond Pho

Nga Do
If you've tried one dish that hails from Vietnam, it's most likely Pho. Made with rice noodles, the beef noodle soup is a must-try on the streets of Vietnam -- not to mention readily available overseas. But there's much more to Vietnam's diverse noodle scene than this familiar food.

In Vietnamese, "bún" refers to rice vermicelli. It's basically Asian spaghetti. It's slurpable and versatile, with endless combinations that make it taste new every time. You can eat bun with fish sauce or tomato broth, snails or grilled meats, wrapped in a spring roll, or woven into mini-bún blankets of joy in the form of banh hoi.

"What I love about the variety of Vietnamese noodle dishes is that while they may have some crossovers in ingredients and herbs, they often have totally different compositions, and certain ingredients that truly make each noodle dish special," Mark Wiens, a "full time travel eater" who runs the Migrationology food travel blog said.

1. Bún riêu

Bún riêu is a meat or seafood vermicelli soup with a distinctive crimson color. The broth gets its appearance from tomato paste and annatto oil, made from achiote tree seeds. Freshwater crabmeat and blanched tomatoes are the soup's star players. Tamarind paste lends sourness to the broth, while airy bits of fried tofu contribute crunch.

Photo by T.Tseng
Depending on the region, bún riêu might also come topped with beef, pork, snails or fish. Vermicelli noodles swim in the soup, adding balance to a dish that's both colorful and light. Add to that the requisite plateful of lime wedges, chili and greens -- like banana blossoms and mint -- and you have a perfect meal.

2. Bún chả

Photo by Larry
Bún chả is a local lunchtime obsession in Hanoi. A cold noodle dish, bún chả features hunks of charcoal-grilled fatty pork -- cha -- bathing in a blend of the ubiquitous fish sauce, vinegar, lime and sugar. Vermicelli noodles, fruits and veggies, such as carrots and green papaya, accompany the glorious pork. Plus, it's a meal fit for a president.

3. Bún bò Huế

Photo by Alpha
Vietnam's central region is known for fiery, sinus-clearing specialties, like this spicy soup named after the country's ancient capital city, Huế. Despite the area's notorious desert-like heat, every morning you'll see locals slurping up the thick rice noodles and cuts of braised beef swimming around inside the lemongrass-scented broth. For the adventurous eater, congealed cubes of pork's blood add a distinct minerality, which contrasts nicely with the refreshing crunch of shaved banana blossoms.

4. Chả cá

More than a century old, Cha Ca La Vong restaurant is so good an entire street in Hanoi is named after it. The humble two-story cafe is famous for its chả cá: chunky cuts of tender grilled catfish, or basa, that's been yellowed by turmeric and seasoned with dill and shrimp paste.

Photo by Tri Nguyen
Chả cá arrives in a small pan atop a portable gas stove accompanied by bountiful garnishes, chopped peanuts and cold noodles. Like most great eating experiences, cha ca is a do-it-yourself process. As the fish fries on the stove, diners can cook up the fresh green onion, ginger and extra dill. The flavor combination is fresh, yet earthy; delicate, yet pungent.

5. Bún bò

Bún bò translates to "Southern-style beef noodle," but you can still find this particular type of noodle soup in the northern city of Hanoi. The best place to try it? Bun Bo Nam Bo in Hanoi's Old Quarter.

Photo by fabulousfabs
Stir-fried and spiced with lemongrass, a mountain of beef sits atop a throne of vermicelli, accompanied by an herbaceous assortment of greens. Crispy, fried shallots add texture to the dish, while the scent of green papaya and pickled carrots create an enticing aroma.

Pack your passport—and an appetite—as we hit the world's hottest culinary destinations on and off the grid all month long. Now Boarding: your next trip to Vietnam.

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