Whenever we go to a new place, either to travel or to live, it is exciting to discover the local mysteries: how local people enjoy life, what they eat and where they go for fun. But sometimes you have a pang and find yourself searching for restaurants where you can indulge in the taste of home.
A suggestion for this situation is to step out of your comfort zone, and try the Vietnamese version of western dishes. It could be an exciting experience, and sometimes, you will find a “perfect marriage” between the western-originated food and local ingredients — which typically include Vietnamese fish sauce.
An example is bo bit tet, or Vietnamese-style beefsteak. This is not the beefsteak that is served in classy western restaurants with polished glass windows, it is the local bo bit tet that is served in streetside eateries with tiny plastic stools, crowded with local diners. This is the version that will offer you a fresh look at how a beefsteak is prepared.
The Vietnamese adaptation of steak is the one that includes thin beefsteak, crispy fries, omelette, pork meatballs and paté — all served sizzling on a hot plate. Beefsteak is eaten with traditional Vietnamese banh my, not a western baguette. Here, the beef is not the king. It is also neither rare nor medium-rare, but cooked and swimming in sauce.
Why it is called bo bit tet? Bo in Vietnamese means beef, while bit tet is an “imported” word which does not originate from Vietnamese. As beefsteak is not a Vietnamese dish, local people call it by its French name, pronounced in a Vietnamese way. That’s why bit tet is pronounced in the same way as the French word biftek, but without the “f” in the middle or the “k” on the end.
In recent years, this western-originated dish has become a favourite with locals, and also a “can’t miss” on the list of recommendations for foreigners who live in Hanoi.
Where to Go
Tasty bo bit tet can be found at the famous streetside eateries Banh My Ngoc Hieu, on Hoa Ma, or on Hang Buom and Hang Giay. But beating all of the above is the tiny street of Hoe Nhai — here almost the whole thoroughfare sells bo bit tet.
At first, Hoe Nhai only had two beefsteak eateries. But now, the street has become well-known — locally it is called “beefsteak street”. For expats, the street offers a complete experience, both visually and taste-wise.
There are a series of streetside joints here that look almost the same, all with young boys standing outside, trying to wave you in. But my recommendation is to go to Bit Tet Ngon So 5.
The presentation of the dish is quite similar throughout Hoe Nhai. However, the taste is slightly different — some eateries add onions and tomatoes while others don’t. Bit Tet Ngon So 5 is said to serve up the most delicious beef and sauce.
“We do not remember exactly when the street started to be filled with bo bit tet eateries like it is now,” the shop owner says. “But the majority of us weren’t cooking in western restaurants and hotels.
“My brother, who is our main chef, used to own his own pho shop, and cooked Vietnamese food his whole life. He learnt how to cook bo bit tet from a friend, then adjusted the seasonings so that it matches the local taste.”
During lunchtime, you will see Hoe Nhai become bustling with diners, which is a total contrast to the peace of the small street in the morning. Together with other “branded” streets — like Bat Dan for pho, Ngu Xa for pho cuon and Phung Hung for hot pot — Hoe Nhai has become the main street for this western dish, shining in its own way as a local essential.
Bo bit tet costs around VND70,000 per diner. Bit Tet Ngon So 5 is at 20A Hoe Nhai, Ba Dinh, Hanoi. It’s the only joint in the street that offers free banh my and fries, as well as free Wi-Fi. The eatery opens from early morning till late at night.