After 30+ hours of traveling, I am finally in Vietnam. This is my first stop in my 3 week solo trip to Asia and Hanoi is bustling. Hanoi is a good blend of its French colonial past and a fast emerging Asian economy and this mix is reflected in the architectural styles, food and culture of the city.
The advent of globalization has resulted in an almost homogeneous landscape in many regions around the world but Hanoi is still unspoiled, exotic and yet modern enough to have all the amenities, so travel is easy and safe.
My first day started with a city tour by Hanoikids.org. It is a nonprofit organization that offers free tours by university students who are eager to practice their English. Hands down the best deal in the city!
We visit the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and the Museum of Ethnology and end the tour with lunch at one of the many pho eateries in the city. It is a simple menu.
You have a choice of beef, chicken or tripe served with fresh garlic, chillies or chilli sauce and lime. That’s it; and none of this basil, bean sprouts and mint leaves business that we get in America, and that is pretty much the standard here.
The quality of the stock is what makes for a great pho; a rich soup that has simmered for many hours resulting in a perfect base. The stock provides the taste for the dish since the noodles and meats are plain. About $4 for two hearty bowls and a side of fried bread. And yes, the pho here is different and truly better tasting.
DUONG XUAN MARKET TOUR
I go on a night street food tour next and it is fantastic. We visit the Duong Xuan market for a progressive dinner, street food style with a knowledgeable and amiable guide.
It is a 3km walk which circles the parameter of the market and we stop to try different specialties along the way.
First up is banh my, which is essentially miniature baguettes with a delicious pork floss, pate and green onions filling.
We move onto banh cuon or fresh rice noodle rolls which are filled with ground pork, minced wood ear mushrooms and fried shallots.
Vietnamese Street Barbecue
Then we sit down for barbecue, dining street style. Little plastic chairs and tables set close to the ground and they are everywhere and convert sidewalks, roads, and yards into instant dining places.
The food is precooked and kept warm on portable burners set on the tiny tables. Very efficient, cosy and interesting dining ambiance amidst rambling mortorcycles, cars, bicycles, shoppers and everything in between.
There is toasted baguette in honey, chicken and beef skewers with cherries, barbecued eggplant, taro, mushrooms and corn and everything is really quite delicious, seasoned well and cooked perfectly.
Next up is dessert which is a variety of local fruits served in condensed milk. Condensed milk is a lot like bacon, it really does make everything better!
We end the night with coffee at a cafe which has one of the nicest views of the city. It is in an old shophouse much renovated, and the cafe is set on the fourth floor which can be accessed only via a steep spiral staircase.
I try the egg coffee; coffee served with condensed milk and an egg yolk foam. Sweet, rich and thick and not to be consumed on a daily basis I think.
I really enjoyed this food and market tour. I booked it via Viator online and it cost US$26 per person. The tour is about 4 hours and there is plenty of walking so you should wear comfortable shoes. Give yourself plenty of time to find the meeting place because the market is massive and the meeting point is not obvious or marked.
The tour guide was very informative and it was great to be able to experience Hanoi street food and culture on a personal level. The food was fresh and delicious and this was most definitely some of the best money I spent in Vietnam!