West Lake Shrimp Cake: A Must-try Tasty Specialty in Hanoi

Aside from Pho and Banh cuon, there is one dish that is considered the iconic specialty of the city by CNN Travel, which is delicious West Lake shrimp cake.
September 02, 2021 | 22:18
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Photo: Hanoi Tourist Department
Photo: Hanoi Tourist Department

Shrimp cakes, one of top 7 specialties of Hanoi, were sold only on Co Ngu street (the old name of Thanh Nien street) in the past time but now this type of cake are also sold in the luxury restaurants. However, most of visitors who used to go to Hanoi will eagerly seek a chance to enjoy the specialty West Lake shrimp fried cake in Banh Tom Ho Tay restaurant, not only because of shrimp cake itself, but also for the beautiful scene view at West Lake. It is so great to enjoy delicious shrimp cake here at sunset in summer.

The iconic dish of Hanoi

Photo: Hanoitimes
Photo: Hanoitimes

"(Shrimp cakes are) related to war and, of course, poverty in Vietnam," Quỳnh Anh Nguyen, a photographer living in Hanoi, tells CNN Travel.

"Back then, people didn't have much (in terms of) luxurious food or quality meat or anything. I still remember that we were just looking forward to (eating at) the restaurant on the weekend with my parents. It was like a treat."

Obviously, Kem Trang Tien or Trang Tien Ice Cream and Banh Tom Ho Tay or West Lake Shrimp Cake are dishes that have been ingrained in the subconscious of Hanoians. It was a familiar meal for weekend eating-out in the old days of the older generation. And it is still today as their children and grandchildren continue to excitedly enjoy the cake when having the opportunity to visit West Lake.

It is fair to say that Banh Tom Ho Tay is one of the first things that come to mind for tourists coming to Hanoi. The familiar question that tourists are often asked is: “Have you ever eaten West Lake Shrimp Cake?” And, almost immediately, the cake will be one among the list of ‘should-not-be-missed’ dishes that locals recommend trying when you are in Hanoi.

Photo: vnanet
Photo: vnanet

The famed dish is named after Hanoi's West Lake, the largest and one of the most beautiful in the capital, and the home of a shrimp variety that makes up the basis for the dish. However, there is more to West Lake shrimp cake than shrimp, it is made from thinly-sliced potato or sweet potato, rice flour and a host of other ingredients.

The cake crust is made from the scrumptious flour. The shrimps are the one grown in Westlake because only this shrimps can bring customers the very unique taste. Besides, the frying oil is the scrumptious oil also. It was boiled to the suitable degree in order for the cakes do not soak too much oil and has nice look and good taste. The sweetness, aroma of shrimp, the delicious taste of crackers and sour, spicy sauce will remind of the bland flavor at the tip of the tongue. It’s very great if you enjoy shrimp cakes when it is hot because at that time, the cake is very brittle and shrimp is not fishy. The sauce to eat with this cake is the combination of sweet and sour tastes and cucumber, green papaya, and carrot. The eater could take a bite of the cake together with cold beer, and enjoy the nice smell coming from the stove and the breeze blowing from the lake.

Photo: Toplist
Photo: Toplist

But the point of making a big difference is the fried shrimp that must be catched from the West Lake. Because only this kind of shrimp brings dinners a taste of the firm, mild and sweet meat that you can not find elsewhere. Today activities have much changed, shrimp caught from Lake West is no longer plentiful as before, so the West lake shrimps can be replaced by raised shrimps.

Where you can get the best West Cake Shrimp Cake?

Photo: myhanoi
Photo: myhanoi

1 Thanh nien Street, Tay Ho district, (about 4km away from Hoan Kiem lake).

The restaurant had its origins in a Banh Tom street-stall where customers used to gather to enjoy the specialty nearly 100 years ago. They would sit on wooden stools in the shade of the banyan tree while the stall's owner unloaded her mobile kitchen and ingredients from the two baskets slung over her shoulders.

Over time, the stall grew into a small shop, with long lines that forced the owner to set a limit of 10 pieces of banh tom per customer. The shop has now become a small restaurant, but the endless flow of customers coming and going remains unchanged.

Besides the restaurant’s signature dish of Banh Tom, the Banh Tom Ho Tay Restaurant now offers a variety of Hanoi specialty as well as international fusion dishes that can satisfy the most discerning diners. Should you come early or made a booking in advance to have seats on a terrace with a gorgeous view over Truc Bach Lake, ordering your favorite dish along with West Lake Shrimp Cake, and you'll have the perfect meal for a summer's evening in Hanoi.

Some reviews of TripAdvisor users about the restaurant:

"If you want to try a local atmosphere you could come here to enjoy the food. It’s one of Hanoi specialties food. It’s very busy at the weekend as many Vietnamese people come there with their family and children." - phuonglam from Hanoi, Vietnam.

"We chanced upon this great eatery recommended by our hotel bellhop at the Hanoi Club. Easily spotted as the entrance to this joint is brightly lit and there is an adjoining famous ice cream-dessert parlour (Kem Ho Tay) selling coconut based ice cream. There is an endless stream of Hanoians popping by to buy the ice cream from the kiosk facing the main road (Thanh Nien).

The menu is extensive and has English description. However, the staff proficiency in English may be sketchy at best. But it should not be a problem..just point to the item no. In particular, I recommend the Deep fried Chicken with garlic & salt and the famous Hanoi Shrimp Cake. The snail we ordered were somewhat tough and not expect the French version of Escargots...while the pigeon was skinny and not really good. But do have an adventure at the food, try it and be smarter for the experience... you will enjoy the ambience by the lake." - Jensen Chua from Singapore.

"We ate at Banh tom Ho Tay restauarnt twice in April 2012, stopping for a few drinks and a light bite to eat. The restaurant is on the waters edge of the lake, halfway along the causeway. Comfortable plastic chairs and white tablecloths on the tables. A broad menu with a lots of seafood. Beer was cold, spring rolls and everything we had to eat was very tasty. Healthy mix of tourists and local customers makes this a great place to escape the traffic and enjoy a quiet spot for an hour or two." - User review from Australia.

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