Exploring the coastal city of Haiphong reveals a wealth of delightful street food.
Just two hours by car away from Hanoi, Haiphong boasts its own exceptional culinary tradition, which seems to combine the identity of the ancient Imperial Citadel cuisine with the seafood delicacies of its coastal locations.
The small alleys, narrow lanes and crammed marketplaces of the City of Red Flame Trees offer a world of big surprises for food lovers. A can’t-miss treat for visitors are Haiphong’s famous crab noodle soup (banh da cua), featuring noodles made from the rice of low wetlands and cooked in a wild crab broth with shrimp and fish cakes. In stark contrast with rice vermicelli or phở noodles, red da noodles require an elaborate series of processing steps from selection of rice to milling and mixing the rice dough to spreading it, and Haiphong still prides itself in such a unique delicacy. Even the signature phở of the North is relegated below banh da cua in the culinary hierarchy of Haiphong.
Haiphong’s coastal proximity explains why seafood is such a popular ingredient, in contrast with their exorbitant prices in inland cities. And seafood from Haiphong is exceptionally delicious from restaurants to small street vendors. In fact, many of Haiphong’s unique treats are found deep within small alleys, which can be tricky to find but still entice so many young foodies every day. Pincers of thunder crabs sautéed with tamarind sauce, or clams, snails and oysters of steamed with chili sauce, cilantro and lemongrass or grilled with cheese and spring onions are some familiar treats here. The harmonious spicy, salty, sour and sweet tastes, coupled with diverse recipes and affordable prices contribute to food vendors always being swamped from late afternoon to midnight. Eating out is a long-standing tradition of the city, which has resulted in a series of food corners in marketplaces in Haiphong, most notably a corner of Cat Bi Market known as “Heaven of Snacks”.
Here food courts are crammed side by side in a riot of enchanting colors and flavors. From round Vietnamese crepes made of crunchy deep-fried rice dough filled with prawns and crabs to wrapped rice cakes stuffed with minced pork and chopped wood ears (moc nhi), covered in transparent filtered rice. Other unique foods are available, such as shredded pork skin with sesame, rolled rice cakes stuffed with prawns or sesame-coated pancakes.
One last Haiphong delicacy not to be missed is its spicy banh mi – a small baguette sandwich just about two fingers in length with pate and a signature spicy chili sauce. This simple treat is incredibly addictive and its reputation has spread around the country, with mobile carts owned by Haiphong natives found in cities all over Vietnam.
When it comes to street food, Haiphong locals prove particularly creative in their presentation, which is simple but alluring. A fleeting scent of flavorful crab broth in the morning, a display of fresh and eye-catching foods or a gentle sing-song call by vendors to entice customers are all part of the delightful culinary landscape of Haiphong.