Two Hanoi Banh Mi stalls - a tale of travel in the age of Tripadvisor

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05 Sep 2017

Two banh mi stalls in Hanoi’s Old Quarter tell an interesting story of travel in the age of Tripadvisor.

Banh Mi 25 in Hanoi’s Old Quarter is one of Vietnam’s most popular sandwich stalls. It started attracting crowds of travellers soon after opening a few years ago, and even spent some time at number 1 on Tripadvisor’s list of Hanoi’s best restaurants.

Meanwhile, 50 meters away, Banh Mi Hang Ca has been serving locals for 30 years and barely sees any travellers.

In this video, we take a look at both places.

 

 

In Vietnam, Tripadvisor's impact is enormous. It makes and breaks many restaurants.

Many other eateries flourish without ever paying much heed to their ranking. Many of our favourite places to eat have never been near the top 20.

But if you’re a restaurant with a high ranking on Tripadvisor, you’ll know about it. Quite a few restaurant owners view a place at the top of Tripadvisor as their core mission. Not only does it generate business, it can underwrite a nice price premium.

Banh Mi 25 still holds a high ranking on Tripadvisor, serving tasty banh mi and providing friendly, service in English. Each day, long lines of travellers gather at lunchtime to sample the fare. It’s a high volume operation.

 

Mr Phuong, Banh Mi 25, Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer Mr Phuong, Banh Mi 25, Hanoi

 

Banh Mi Hang Ca, Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer Banh Mi Hang Ca, Hanoi



Just down the road at Banh Mi Hang Ca, things are a little more subdued. Mr Hoan’s place doesn’t even exist on Tripadvisor. And it sees few tourists. Hoan thinks that not speaking English locks him out of the tourist market - though his menu is posted on the wall in large English letters.

Hoan and his wife Ha have been serving banh mi to the people of Hanoi’s Old Quarter since 1987. They opened soon after Vietnam began to allow small-scale commerce following the decisive Communist Party Congress of 1986. The 80s were very tough times in Hanoi and prior to 1986, the country teetered on the brink of economic collapse.

We’ve noted before that quite a few of the longstanding eateries in Hanoi’s Old Quarter started operating in 1987 - even though food was still in short supply, and these were very early days in Hanoi's slow embrace of market economics.

It's an extraordinary thing to consider as you sit today with Mr Hoan and Mdm Ha watching the BMWs push through the motorbikes along the narrow streets of the Old Quarter.

We're always partial to an eatery with a story, and both of these places are telling Hanoi stories of sorts. I enjoyed both - and appreciated the hospitality of both owners.

 

Here's our handpicked list of Hanoi's best eating including these two banh mi stalls.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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