Daredevil's Guide to Hanoi's Unusual Dishes (Not for the Faint-Hearted!)

Understandably, not every local delicacy is within our usual comfort zones, due to the influences of different cultures and traditions. Rather than shying away from these dishes and dismissing them as grotesque, I enjoy taking up the challenge and learning more about their cultures through trying and appreciating their local fare. Here are some unusual delicacies which I tried during my visit to Hanoi, which you may like to savour when you're there as well!


1. Bun Rieu Cua

Bun rieu cua is a noodle dish served with a rich, thick broth made from the liquid pounded from the shell of paddy crab. You will be able to enjoy the delicious crab meat and roe together with eggs, tomatoes and fried tofu. Like all other Vietnamese roadside stalls, a basket full of herbs like banana flowers and perilla will be made available at your convenience to enhance the flavour of the soup. The flavours work in harmony and offer your palate a real treat of both the sweet and the savoury.

Bun rieu cua with a generous serving of crab roe
(You can choose to have yours without pig's blood like this one!)
Here’s where it gets scary – the dish is often served with congealed pig’s blood which has a smooth, silky texture resembling tofu. Now you can be a fully-fledged vampire! I must say that it is definitely an acquired taste but I found it rather delicious possibly because we Chinese are no strangers to pig’s blood which is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. No worries, though – there are options of bun rieu cua without pig’s blood like this as well!

Bun Rieu Cua
Address: 11 Hang Bac
Opening Hours: 0700h – 2000h
Expect to Pay: VND 30,000 

2. Mien Xao Luon

This seemingly harmless dish is basically glass noodles fried with egg, herbs and ground peanuts. It may sound plain and unappetising, but this delicacy is brought to the next level, thanks to the deep-fried eel that works well with the ground peanuts to give it that extra crunch and texture. 

The display cabinet at the store front is filled with eel! Don't they look like snakes?!

Eel is probably in our comfort zone only when it is served in Japanese cuisine, be it unagi sushi or don, but what happens when you walk into a restaurant where the store front is a display filled with deep-fried eel to the brim? Just get that image of its snakelike structure out of your head and dig in! The stall will surely give your teeth a good workout as the fried eel crackles in your mouth. The glass noodles and egg are heavenly and well-seasoned to give it the nice finishing touches.

Mien xao luon is served with crunchy eel and herbs with silky vermicelli and eggs.

If you still have some stomach space for extra food, you may want to try their other dishes like fried eel (cha luon), eel porridge (chao luon) or eel soup (sup luon).

Dong Thinh Nha Hang Mien Luon
Address: 87 Hang Dieu
Opening Hours: 1700h – 2300h
Expect to Pay: VND 60,000 

3. Bun Oc

I’ll give you a hint – they are slow, have shells and can probably be found in your backyard. Yes, snails are the stars of this dish and I’m not talking about escargots. A huge bowl of rice vermicelli infused in a tomato soup base is served here with luncheon meat, deep-fried tofu and snails of varying sizes. The stall is extremely generous with their serving of snails which are excellent in terms of their juiciness and QQ texture. 

Bun oc with the usual basket of vegetables and herbs - just look at the size of those snails!

Pho aside, this is definitely my favourite dish in Hanoi, as the broth was really light on the palate and had extracted the essence of the tomatoes. Unlike escargot which uses the strong buttery taste to cover that of the snails, the soup here does not overpower but rather complements the natural juiciness of the snails. I was never a big fan of luncheon meat, but theirs has a splendid texture and great flavour. If you are not afraid to walk quite a distance for one of the best dishes in Hanoi, I highly recommend this stall.

Quan Bun Oc Thuy
Address: 13 Hoe Nhai
Opening Hours: 0600h – 2100h
Expect to Pay: VND 50,000


4. Ca Phe Trung

Hanoi is the birthplace of the famous egg coffee (ca phe trung) and which better place to savour this delicacy other than the stall that started this trend that took the world by storm? Egg coffee uses the whisked eggs to substitute the milk to give it a white, bubbly froth that floats above the thick coffee. The sweetness of the eggs starkly contrasts against the bitterness of the coffee, giving it sort of a latte feel. 

Look at that froth of flavourful egg yolk floating above the thick coffee!

The café may be a little difficult to locate – I actually walked past it twice without realising that it was right there. Look out for the little signage that says Café Giang and then head into the little stairway. There are 2 floors in this cosy little café which gives off a retro vibe with olden furniture and artwork. Immerse yourself in the Vietnamese way of life – enjoying a lovely conversation with your companions over a cup of coffee. It is really an awesome place to chill out at, no matter what time of day it is.

Café Giang
Address: 39 Nguyen Huu Huan
Opening Hours: 0700h – 2200h
Expect to Pay: VND 20,000

5. Trung Vit Lon

This must have been the subject of almost every single conversation I had with my friends and colleagues even weeks after I returned from Vietnam. It would start off with a disgusted shriek or a comment about how inhumane I was to have tried it. Well, after all, it is a local delicacy and the essence of travelling is to adapt to the local lifestyle and broaden your mind. In fact, it was one of the items on my bucket list that I was dying to try ever since I stepped foot in this country.

Grab a seat and enjoy trung vit lon for yourself!

Ever heard of the infamous balut – a developing duck embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell? It is wildly popular in the Philippines and trung vit lon is Vietnam’s answer to it. The local take on this dish is to first dress the embryo up in a bunch of herbs and ginger and then lightly salt it. After that, you should take a sip of the savoury fluid from the shell and thereafter make your way through the embryo starting from the hardened yolk.

Trung vit lon eaten the Vietnamese way - with herbs, ginger and salt!

This is not for the faint-hearted, as you will be tasting the crunchiness of the partially developed beak and legs, the fibre-like structures (its feathers-to-be) and some mildly disturbing anatomical features. However, the herbs and seasonings do give the delicacy some sort of kick to it. 

After breaking apart the egg, you'll see the 'baby duck' and the solidified yolk!

If you are looking for this dish, you may want to search the roadsides in the early morning when there are numerous vendors selling this local delight. This was rather counterintuitive as I thought there would be many stalls at the night market where I would be able to find it.

Now that you've either feasted on unique local delicacies or been grossed out too much that you've probably lost your appetite, let's explore some culturally and historically significant landmarks in the central region of Hanoi's city centre, where we can find ancient relics dating back to prehistoric ages in the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, here!

Are you inspired to visit Hanoi after reading this post? If so, please feel free to check out the affordable flight options which have been made available by Skyscanner in the link below. Download the Skyscanner app on your mobile device to have a one-stop station to compare airfares from the various airlines available! It also offers car rental, travel agent and accommodation in various travel destinations including Hanoi.


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Comments

  1. Ok, so I’m not the overly experimental eater (LOL) but I do enjoy tasting local dishes when I visit new places.. :) The photos of the dishes on your post looks yummy, BUT after reading it, I’m a bit hesitant. LOL. I’m from the Philippines and I don’t like Balut (weird right?). But my husband loves them! I think I’ll try the Ca Phe Trung as it seems pretty safe. :D

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    1. Hey Marvi, totally understand! Different people have different tastes, so it's not surprising that a Filipino like yourself doesn't enjoy balut! :) I found it pretty much an interesting experience, as I've never tried it before.

      And yes! Go for the ca phe trung (egg coffee) - it's aromatic, it's thick and it's one of the nicest coffees I've ever had! :)

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  2. Oh wow! All these do look super tasty! I've been a huge fan of Asian food since I went to a Chinese restaurant first time at the age of five. After that I've been exploring a lot of Asian restaurants around Europe and the US but I'm super excited that next summer I'll actually go to Asia for the first time. Yeah! Not going to Hanoi though but I'm sure that Singapore, Bali and Japan can offer some delicious experiences as well. :)

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    1. Hey Nora, great to see that you're a big fan of Asian cuisine and will be visiting our continent really soon :) I'm from Singapore, so yes - we have quite a lot of delicious local fare here which you'll enjoy trying!

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  3. Hey Nathan I just got back from Hanoi and I didn't even try half the things you did! Bun Rieu is one of my absolute favourite dishes but the one I had didn't have enough crab which I reckon is the winner of the dish. Cannot stomach balut......... gross!!!!! Definitely not shiok.....

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    1. Hi Amy, yes - the crab roe and the liquid which is the essence of the broth are the absolute winners for me in bun rieu cua! :)

      I can totally understand your sentiments with regard to trung vit lon (balut) because many of my friends have similar reactions to me trying the dish. Nevertheless, I believe trying local cuisines by putting aside our preconceived notions will help us better appreciate the indigenous practices and cultures :) What do you think?

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  4. This is right up our alley! We love trying new/exotic foods! And we loved the food in Hanoi! We even went to the snake village, Le Mat, and had a huge feast haha. Great post!

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    1. Hi Louise! Great to hear from an adventurous traveller like you :) How was the food there at the snake village?

      I've had snake soup in Taiwan, but I'm sure the way it's prepared here in Hanoi would be a whole new level!

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  5. I am not so experimental with food or it's always just one bite and I'm done. I can see myself taking one bite of all this but eating the whole dish ..quite difficult for me :P

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    1. Hey Neha, totally understandable! Different people have different thresholds for unusual, exotic foods - but give it a shot and you may grow to like it! :)

      Take it as a challenge to try out unique local cuisines in which you get the bragging rights once you've swept it off the plate!

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  6. Looks very interesting but it is a completely different cuisine for me. I wish to try them. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hey Jithin, that's great! These local fare can be found in the stores stated above which are rather accessible by foot in Hanoi. Do feel free to try them out when you're there - it'll be a whole new experience! :)

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  7. Not sure I could eat some of these but your pictures make them all look delicious!

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    1. Thanks Claire! They all taste delicious, do give them a go when you visit Hanoi! :)

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  8. Food is such a big part of experiencing a place. I love trying out new flavors and this list will come in handy when I make my way to Hanoi.

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    1. Hey Denny, great to hear that you are inclined to embrace unique local flavours when travelling overseas!

      The cuisine of a place certainly sheds light on the culture and tradition endeared by the local people. Do try these out when you visit Hanoi! :)

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  9. So brave of you to try these delicacies. When I was in Vietnam, I only ate pho LOL. I didn't have the courage to eat other things.

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    1. Hey Fairuz, I love using the avenue of trying new cuisines to broaden my global perspective and better appreciate diverse cultures around the world! You should give it a shot too, it will certainly add colour to your travels! :)

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  10. I love food! Especially traditional local cuisine. And I have a strong stomach fortunately. I am up for all these dishes EXCEPT the balut. I just...I think...uhm no.

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    1. Hey Sharifa, cool! Great to hear that you are willing to try out local fare - it's a great way to explore and understand foreign cultures better! :) I totally understand why the balut is out of your comfort zone as well haha!

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  11. Going Vietnam in few months time and I guess I should try the egg?? Not sure I can overcome my fear but I guess it is a good challenge! I cant wait to check it out!

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    1. You should most definitely try savouring trung vit lon (Vietnamese balut) when you are there! Where else can you taste it with their local flavours? Safe travels!

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  12. I would be willing to try just about anything on a culinary tour of Hanoi. But not the baluk! That is something I would rather not see or taste.

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    1. Hi Doreen, great to hear that you are willing to venture beyond your comfort zone and try unfamiliar local fare!

      The balut does not taste as bad as it looks actually, but your reaction is understandable! :)

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  13. Im a huge fan of Asian food. I went to Chenzhen last year and had some local dishes that were amazing. I think I will try everything in your post except for the baby duck...

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    1. Wonderful to hear that, Joannay! I believe you visited Shenzhen in China? They certainly have some wacky local fare there as well! :)

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  14. So delicious! I love how you took us on a culinary journey!

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    1. Hi Christine, I'm assuming that you're an adventurous foodie who will venture into the unknown and savour weird local fare when overseas as well? :)

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  15. Came across quite a few of these on pour trip to Vietnam. Unfortunately we weren't so brave and stuck to more traditional Pho!

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    1. No problem! The locals make such sumptuous pho that never fails to make one's mouth water :)

      Do give different kinds of local fare a shot as well, since they shed light on the culture and traditions held dear by the locals. Start out small and then everything after that is just a challenge! :)

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  16. There’s a Vietnamese Pho House in the Philippines that I frequent whenever I need comfort and I must say I love pho so much. I’ve always wondered how it taste like in Vietnam.

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  17. Oh my!! I think that would be a little bit (way) too much for me! haha! My stomach is quite sensitive and I get food poisoning faster than a cold!!!!
    They do look quite interesting though.

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    1. Hey Nikoza, that's understandable! It may be better to stick to familiar foods when one has a weak stomach - I guess you should check out the foodie's guide which I have posted instead, as it probably suits you more! :)

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  18. Well some of these look pretty challenging to eat, but I am always up for new cuisine, so I would probably try them :)

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    1. That's great to hear! It's always exciting trying local fare when we travel, because it's probably the only chance to try such authentic dishes! :)

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  19. OH I think I wanna try Eel!!! Great blog :)

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    1. Hi Iva, the eel is really crispy and gives your mouth a good workout :) It goes well with the vermicelli, so you should most definitely give it a shot when in Hanoi!

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  20. These are so strange! I think I'd like the crab soup but that egg coffee is a bit out there lol

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    1. Hey Tahnee! The egg coffee was really smooth and the mild eggy flavour complements the strong Vietnamese coffee - I enjoyed it! :)

      It's a break from the excessively sweet milk coffee served in the shops around Hanoi, so you should give it a shot!

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  21. Wonderful post, and great pictures of food.... such an exotic dishes. You have a great blog!

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    1. Thank you for your support! I love sharing my travel experiences with like-minded folks, and hopefully help them plan their trips to these destinations I've visited - hope it helps you as well!

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  22. So far the scariest thing I keep reading on this list is all the TOFU! Ha, I would love any type of snail meat, all the eel variations and may even consider the Duck Embryo but the congealed Pig's blood may be a pass. Every time I eat animal blood that metallic taste of the blood is always a bit too funky for me. Though it is rare for me to say no to anything once.

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    1. Hey Eric, no worries about the tofu, it's really soft and just deep fried on the surfaces!

      Totally understand - blood can be a bit icky for some, but it actually doesn't taste as bad as it sounds or looks! I just had another serving of congealed pig's blood in Laos two weeks ago, and it was great haha! :)

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  23. I had never heard of any of these dishes. I like Tofu a lot. And what's more, these dishes each look so healthy. I am bookmarking this post, and will definitely like to try some of these dishes when I get a chance to be in Hanoi

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    1. Hi Neha, great to hear that! They all taste great, so you should definitely give them a shot when you're in the area :)

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  24. Love Vietnamese food. The presentation is so colorful...and flavorful, too. I see you have the famous egg coffee on there, too!

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    1. Definitely, Vietnamese cuisine is so delicious yet healthy at the same time (did I mention all the greens that accompany the main dishes?)

      It was great trying the egg coffee from the shop that started the entire frenzy! Such an authentic experience with a lovely ambience in Cafe Giang! :)

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  25. I can't believe I didn't try any of these dishes when I was in Hanoi! I love pig's blood (this is making me sound weird haha!) and it is similar texture to tofu. Vietnamese food is amazing! I would try almost every dish on this list except the balut! I think crunching into the embryo would put me off.

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    1. Hey Lana, it's not weird! Pig's blood may look and sound disgusting, but it tastes oddly yummy! I just had a serving in Laos two weeks ago, so that was great as well :)

      Perhaps, you can give these unusual local fare a shot the next time you visit Hanoi, be it for the experience or just for the bragging rights! :)

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  26. Everything looked pretty tame and delicious to me until the last one, the balut of Vietnam, the trung vit lon! I'm not sure I'd enjoy that one, I guess I would likely try it though, I generally try most things and would enjoy all the others on the list no question!

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    1. Hi Kavey, great to hear that you're open to trying new cuisines, because that should be part of the experience when travelling overseas and exposing oneself to foreign cultures!

      Do give trung vit lon a shot because it's an alternative culinary experience - different from the way the Filipinos savour the duck embryo! :)

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  27. I love learning about and sampling cuisine from other places. I think these are some very flavorful and hearty dishes.

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    1. Nice to hear that! You should give them a shot when you visit the area :) They taste fabulous and give you a more in-depth perspective on Vietnamese cuisine besides just the mainstream pho!

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  28. First off, I am not a foodie and on top of that, this one definitely scares me off. Man, some of the flavors and cuisines are quite unique but scary. Nice to read though.

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    1. Hey Ami, they taste absolutely amazing though! Keeping an open mind when trying new cuisines will most definitely elevate the experience since you're immersing yourself in the unique culture and traditions practised in the country :)

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  29. I just returned from a trip in Vietnam. While Hanoi wasn’t my favourite place of the trip I won’t deny that the food was great. I did try some Bun Oc and really enjoyed it.

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    1. Hey Barry, besides the conventional dishes like pho and bun, it was certainly great experiencing some more exotic delicacies which we've never tried in our homes.

      Bun oc was really great with the chewy texture of the snails and the silky noodles to top it off! Great to hear that you enjoyed your serving of bun oc! :)

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  30. Though we love to try out new food while travelling, we must confess that we are not that adventurous as you. Also our experiments and trials are limited to vegetarian dishes. Having said that your post is definitely a motivational piece for travelers to look beyond the ordinary with regards to food.

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    1. Hey Sandy, I totally understand your dietary restrictions. Thanks for the comment nonetheless!

      I'm all for the opinion that travellers should keep an open mind and try new cuisines as food offers one an alternative avenue to understand the culture and practices held dear by the locals :)

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  31. Wow! The list is quite unique. I appreciate you being so experimental in trying these different cuisines. The food looks great and I'm sure you must have relished these unique flavours. Although I'm not experimental enough to try Pig's blood or duck's embryo, I would love to try the egg coffee. Your post is an inspiration to many travellers who are food adventurers.

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    1. Thank you Shaily! I always believe that having an open mind is important when one is travelling, and one of the ways to do that is to be willing to try out local cuisines and new flavours which may lie outside one's comfort zone.

      Great to hear that you're interested to give egg coffee a shot! Perhaps, with that to build up your confidence, you may feel brave enough to give the duck embryo a shot :)

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  32. OK I want to try Bun Oc and Mien Xao Luon, I've had snails before but not eel. I'm thinking they sound delicious so what could possibly go wrong ;)

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    1. Yeah, they taste nice! I like how the stall retains the natural flavours of the snails rather than cover them up (like how the butter does for escargots).

      The way the eels were prepared was unique for me, as I only eat them in unagi sushi back home. They were really crunchy and interesting to try out - so I'm sure you'll like it when you give them a shot! :)

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  33. Maybe I'm just adventurous, but all of these posts sound delicious... except #5. I bet it's tasty but I don't think I could do it.

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    1. Great to hear that! Do give those dishes a shot, as they're exotic and taste fantastic. The trung vit lon really tastes good, so maybe get your fears out of the way and try it when you're in Vietnam. It's part of the local experience! :)

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  34. Wow....interesting dishes. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. You're welcome! Do give them a shot when you are in Hanoi, I'm sure you'll enjoy these local delicacies :)

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  35. Yum yum yum! I love Vietnamese food, and it's great to see something different from the western Vietnamese restaurants! I'd love to try that egg coffee, it looks really different!

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    1. Most definitely! The eggy flavour really accentuates and works well with the thick Vietnamese coffee, so it tastes much better than it sounds.

      The local fare here is much more vibrant and varied than just the stereotypical pho and banh mi, so feel free to give some exotic dishes a shot when you're in the area! :)

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  36. I would love to try all these foods. The best part of traveling is trying new experiences

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    1. Great to hear that you're coming in with an open mind and willing to try out the local fare.

      It's an amazing way to immerse yourself into the local culture and get a better understanding of the livelihood of the people! :)

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  37. Oh gosh I have to admit I probably wouldn't eat any of these. But interesting indeed.

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    1. Hey Kasia, trying out local fare is a great way to learn more about the culture of the locals and have a new experience during a vacation.

      Hope you'll be willing to try out some of the more exotic delicacies I've introduced above - I'm sure you'll find them scrumptious and enjoy them! :)

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  38. My theory is that I'll try anything once before I rule it out forever. The eel doesn't freak me out very much. I'm not a huge fan of it, but smoked eel was something I'd pick up at the local farmers market when I was in northern Germany. It'd be interesting to try it fried. And I'm not sure where I stand with balut. I guess I'll have to figure that out before I visit!

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    1. Hi Rachelle, great to hear that you're willing to try out new food items before judging them!

      It's especially important when you are travelling to a foreign country because local fare will give you a better understanding of the cultures and livelihood of the local people. It will also be difficult to try authentic dishes when you are back home, so why not savour these local delicacies while you are still there in a foreign land :)

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  39. Love that you have highlighted some of the most exciting dishes to seek out and try in Hanoi, this is right up my street as food is a huge part of my reasons to travel. I want to try every single thing you picked except balut!!

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    1. Hey Kavey, my sentiments exactly! Sampling local fare and trying new cuisines are fantastic ways to learn more about the locals' livelihood and their cultures and practices. That's why I enjoy travelling with an open mind and trying whatever the locals eat - it's a wonderful experience!

      Great to hear that you're willing to give most of the dishes I've recommended a shot. Perhaps trying those will boost your morale and make you brave enough to try balut as the ultimate Vietnamese dish! :)

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  40. As a vegetarian, I found myself squirming at the sight and thought of some, if not most, of these dishes! While I totally understand that different cultures have different views and ways of doing things, I don’t think I could ever comprehend how someone would want to eat a partially developed embryo! I know in theory they’re not much more than eggs, but it still turns me sick at the thought. However, with all of that being said, I know quite a few adventurous non-veg eaters who would be super keen to try each and every thing on this list! So I imagine if I ever found myself in Vietnam, I’d at least find myself looking at these dishes in person, if not trying them myself.

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  41. Oh my gosh, I could read this and look at your pics all day!! These all look like things I would eat, or at least try! Great post, thank you.

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  42. Haha I already have problems with my hparents stands century eggs - I don’t think I could master the duck embryo lol - however the noodles with the eel sound yum - i’ll have the first soup without the pig’s blood - loved your post!!!

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