Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hanoi Holiday (part 2)


Hanoi’s memories still linger in my mind, just as these stubborn sniffles still linger in my sinuses! I’m feeling much better now, but not at the 100% I am used to. Which means less cooking, less frequent posting, and oh-boy you don’t want to see the pile of hand-washing waiting to be done!

Yesterday, with a whoop and a holler, I managed to (on top of a full day's work!) go to the bank, roast some vegetables, wash 3 dresses, and start this post on the rest on my Hanoi highlights…


The Street food – Hanoi street food proves that there can be such a thing as “good fast food”. The city’s many street-side food vendors and small restaurant proprietors whip up deliciousness as fast as their famous motorbikes take a roundabout. And just as expertly. Usually, each establishment will serve one dish, one that they have been churning out time upon time…in some cases for generations. So you can imagine just how perfect all that practice begot.

One delectable example was the grilled beef (called bo nuong – please correct me if I’m wrong) we had at a place called Xuan Xuan (#47 Ma May, Old Quarter) near our hotel. After getting cozy amongst the squat stools and tables, we got a little gas cooktop with a grill plate, a plate piled with marinated strips of beef (with a ton of garlic! MMM!) & veggies, and a little squeeze-ee bottle filled with oil. We were then left to our own devices with regards to our dinner. We squirted oil on the hot grill pan and laid on the beef. The smell of the sizzling beef (and garlic!) was amazing! And the taste was way up there too :) We polished off 5 baguettes among the 3 of us sopping up the juices!

You can truly never go hungry in Hanoi. A fantastic meal is never far away…and often at a bargain price! The pho in my last post is a good example…as is the banh mi/banh my pa te below (yummy!!!). In a small market we chanced upon, there were delicious pork patties (the type you find in bun cha) we just couldn’t resist. Aside from this there are countless treats to be found down the bustling lanes of the Old Quarter and around Hoan Kiem Lake. Just follow your nose :)


Riding a motorbike in the Hanoi rush – When it comes to driving, whether it is a car or any other vehicle, I am a late bloomer. Suffice to say I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to driving anything (now, being a passenger I am fabulous at). So as adventurous as it sounded, I couldn’t bring myself to hire a motorbike. As fate would have it, when my hotel offered to get me my banh mi, I found out they would be sending someone on a motorbike. I jumped at the chance! In two shakes I was on the bike and off to get our breakfast. As a pedestrian, Hanoi’s motorbikes can seem overwhelming and a tad threatening…As a passenger, they are exhilarating, fun, and seem like the best possible way to be getting around! With the wind in my face and thoughts of banh my pa te in my head, everything seemed brighter that morning :)


Banh mi – Oh had I been waiting to try this! This baguette sandwich that combines French (pate, mayonnaise, baguette bread) and Vietnamese influences (Vietnamese herbs, pickled veg, fish sauce, chili) has gotten rave reviews, not the least from my SEA neighbor Bordeaux in Bangkok, whose banh mi meal haunts him still! I was determined to be likewise haunted. I asked the guy at our hotel where I could get a good one…and he offered to send someone to Din Liet (the street, towards the lake from the Old Quarter…it was on #38) to get one. Well, if you read the above, then you know I wrangled a place on his motorbike for the ride :) Between the thrill of riding a motorbike in the busy Hanoi streets, and the truth of this sandwich’s goodness, I was in heaven. Fatty pate, butter, crisp cucumbers, chili, strips of pork…and a fried egg, all squooshed together in a soft baguette. This is going down as one of my favorite breakfasts…ever. I must replicate this here somehow...


Cha Ca La Vong – The one place that everyone I asked said do not leave Hanoi without trying. More than a hundred years old and serving only one dish, this place is somewhat of a legend in the Hanoi food scene. It’s even snagged a coveted spot in Patricia Schultz’s 1,000 Places to See Before Your Die. The draw? An age-old recipe of fried fish in a secret blend of herbs, oils, and spices, cooked at your table over a coal fire. There are rumors about the “secret” that makes this dish taste so good, the secret that makes people flock to this place. Secret or no, I too was soon under its spell as I piled the succulent yellow-tinged fish and bright green herbs onto my bowl of bun (rice vermicelli) adding a sharp splash of fish sauce. My brain kept questioning, “What’s that flavor?” but my palate just wanted to surrender. Guess which won out? ;) Cha Ca La Vong, #14 Cha Ca, Old Quarter, Hanoi.


French-Viet at Green Tangerine – My dining experience in Hanoi would not be complete without trying at least one French-Viet place. Just as the blend of French and Vietnamese (and greater Asian) beguiled me, the same combination in food could be just as good I thought, maybe better! Set in an old colonial house, the restaurant is a haven of calm in the busy Old Quarter. Enjoying their French chef’s creations in the airy courtyard was great way to rest our feet and catch our breath. I had the duck liver mousse in a small bun seasoned with coriander and citrus (and served with sesame brittle that went perfectly with it!) and C had shrimp in Chinese spices served with fried potatoes and apple slices. We were a big group for this meal…so we all got to pick from each others plates and sample the chef’s delicate balance of French and Asian. Green Tangerine, #48 Hang Be, Old Quarter, Hanoi.


Re-reading this I realize that it is all about food! Am I, or you, even surprised? Oh dear, you must think I do nothing but eat. Although that wouldn’t be a gross exaggeration, I do get around to other things as well! I enjoyed the serene beauty of Halong Bay, coasting along in a junk boat (and getting my first taste of Hanoi vodka!). I was moved by the amount of locals in the line going to see Ho Chi Minh, particularly by an adorable bunch of well-behaved and respectful kids. I bought a cute bag! I was awed by his imposing mausoleum, all size and stark lines…such a contrast from the crazy vibe of the Old Quarter and the old-world charm of the French Quarter. I was entranced by how cozy French and Asian influences could be with each other, like old friends…like the flavors in the banh mi I had that morning, surprising yet suited.

Hanoi, I know what it’s like to carry more than one culture on my back. And I know that being true to one does not necessarily mean being false to the other. After all, balance and fusion bring about such great specimens – you and me included ;) You will not be easily forgotten!

32 comments:

Lina said...

Im so jealous! I wish I was there!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I'm also really jealous ;-P! I'd love to visit that beautiful country and eat all that gorgeous food!

Thanks for the interesting post! Isn't that beef dish Bo La Lot?

Cheers,

Rosa

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Joey that looks spectacular! All of it food and the sites. It's ok to be so much about food;) Sorry about the sinus, I've just had a bout with mine and gadfry it's rotten.

Marvin said...

Hanoi barely gets any pub here in terms of it being a travel destination. Is it a big draw for people in the Philippines?

Katrina said...

I had more or less made up my mind to do Hue over Hanoi, and now your post is swaying me again! ;-) I've got a feeling our trip is going to be longer than we'd planned.

You've also swayed me when it comes to Vietnamese food. I'm probably one of the very few who isn't a huge fan (no, not even of pho), but the street food is making me hungry for it. I'm especially excited about the French-Viet dishes! You know how I love fusion...besides, I'm all for corrupting all that healthy, fresh Viet food with the richness of French liver pate and butter! ;-D

Veron said...

all your pictures of the food has me drooling.So envious!

katiez said...

All of that food sounds so wonderful! I love the idea of the baquette breakfast~
Not suprisingly, we have a lot of Vietnamese restarants here in France. I'm always a bit cautious, tho - it can be too hot!

maybahay said...

your collage of photos are always great. thanks for taking us on your travels...

Bron said...

Looks like an amazing place Joey!
I'm incredibly jealous!

mtan said...

We are so seperated from birth! I am not one for driving my own motorbike, especially in a city like Hanoi, but I did enjoy being a passenger on one. Did I tell you about my banh mi experiments last year? Actually it was a sandwich week - cuban pulled pork and banh mi, not to mention forcing you to eat those chicharon tacos :D
I have to go back to Hanoi to try the dishes at Green Tangerine! Thanks for the inspiration, Joey.

glamah16 said...

I love your posts. I tried a Banh Mi(?) in Paris. They say you can get some in Chicago but I imagine it tastes way better in the exotic setting of Hanoi.

Anonymous said...

wow, what a great trip and journey! My friends and I planning to go Hanoi this coming Oct too..
Do you have any idea where we can get a budget rate hotel rooms or any hostel rooms where it is near the Old Quarter?

Thanks! Have a pleasant day!

christine said...

That was a lovely write-up, Jo! It really took me back and made me wish I had been with you guys even more. :) I regret not trying the banh my pate now, you make it sound so amazing!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Lina! Hope you make it there one of these days :)

Hi Rosa! Thanks! Now I know what that leaf wrapped meat snack is! I’ll be sure to tell my friend who loved it too :) Hope you get to visit someday!

Hi Tanna! Thanks! I know I sometimes talk about food too much and people want to bop me on the head :) I don’t know why sniffles insist on over-staying every time they visit!

Hi Marvin! Vietnam (and other parts of Asia) has been gaining popularity with travelers here, especially with the dawn of budget flights in this part of the world :) A good thing for us because we are encouraged to explore our wonderful neighbors :) Do we (Philippines) get any pub at all?

Hi Katrina! It’ll be nice to do it all in one trip but if you can’t no worries…I’m sure Cebu Pacific will have another seat sale like they always do :) And I hear Hue is beautiful! Vietnamese food is really varied and delicious…it’s great to discover dishes other than the ones they have here :)

Hi Veron! Maybe you can look into more of Asia when you come visit! :)

Hi Katiez! Nice to hear there are a lot of Vietnamese place over there…I love spicy food so you can imagine how I go crazy over the spices :)

Hi Maybahay! Thank you for taking the time to read and enjoy it!

Hi Bron! I have a lot of really cool neighbors ;)

Hi M! We so are! I don’t think you told me…do tell and share your recipe! And I liked those chicharon tacos and was so happy you shared them with me :) That was a great market/picnic lunch we had that day…we must repeat it soon!

Hi Glamah16! I saw banh mi here too but I have yet to try it…It was definitely an experience having all that food on its home turf :)

Hello anonymous person! There are loads of budget places in the Old Quarter and if you do a search online you will find tons! I stayed at Hanoi Elegance 2 hotel on Ma May street in the Old Quarter – very good value for money! Hope you guys enjoy your trip :)

Thank Nens! Glad you enjoyed it :) Wish you were there too…you know you are one of my favorite travel buddies! When I find I way to replicate the banh my pate I will let you know ;)

Eileen said...

Looks like a great trip!

Eileen (passions to pastry)@
www.livingtastefully.com

Suzana said...

I almost felt I was there too! Joey, great you had a wonderful time. Thanks for sharing those lovely photos and stories!!

Stella (Sweet Temptations) said...

Joeyyyy!! Lucky you! The weather's gorgeous & the food looks excellent!

Marvin said...

hi joey. besides the obvious publicity among filipinos here, no, the philippines is still really an unknown to others in the states. hopefully that can change soon.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Eileen! It was! :)

Hi Suzana! So glad you enjoyed my sometimes long-winded ramblings! :)

Hi Stella! It was wonderful :) Although it did get a bit hot sometimes...not as hot as where I live though!

Hi Marvin! That is my hope too!

Jen Tan said...

joey!!! reading this post brought back so much Viet-memoirs again ;P hahaha I soooo loved Chaca Lavong too!!! We followed our guidebooks recommendations and you are right...this place is a MUST! love that grilled fish ob your table thing...with the rice noodles...soo yummy...soo cheap and the experience is just amazingisn;t it?

I have also tried those Bahn mi...wrapped in newspapers! hahaha so cheap and so good..no one will go hungry in vietnam!

kegler747 said...

Hello! Thanks for these infos. Me and my friend will be in Hanoi from May 8-12 so your travelogue is so helpful. This will be my first time there but I have been to Saigon almost 2 years ago. I really love Vietnamese food even here in Manila.

Manggy said...

Ah, I've not met a person who has tasted a Banh mi and not fallen under its spell! It's my regret that I didn't get to taste one in San Francisco... pout pout :(

That French-Vet cuisine looks sooo decadent.. Might as well have been sprinkled with gold dust!

Looks like you had an amazing time, and a good mix of the streets and sophistication-- just the way I like my trips! :)

Kelly-Jane said...

Wow what a place, all your food pictures are lovely, but I love the one of the rocks in the sea, so serene and beautiful.

Hope you are feeling better soon :)

Midge said...

Hi, Joey! I was drooling and in tears over your description of the banh mi! Just too tempting...

Anonymous said...

Hi Jo,

Thanks for your ideas.. really appreciate that... Nice to know you! :)

Take care...and Have a good day..

Lael said...

you have certainly convinced me that I need to get to Hanoi some day! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

Helen said...

Wow! That was fascinating. What a vibrant place and wonderful food. I got really caught up just reading about it.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Jen! I agree – Cha Ca La Vong’s fish was absolutely delicious! Glad this post was able to bring back good memories :) I want to make those sandwiches here!

Hi Kegler747! How exciting! Have a blast and don’t count calories ;) Hope you have a wonderful time on your trip!

Hi Manggy! Really? Nice to know I am not alone :) I like my trips, like my wardrobe, to be a good mix of hi-lo…actually, with a bit more of the lo…heehee :)

Hi Kelly-jane! I am feeling better :) And it really was a wonderful place!

Hi Midge! I miss it already!

Hi Anonymous! You’re welcome! :)

Hi Lael! It was my pleasure! I hope you do get to make it there one day :)

Hi Helen! Glad you enjoyed the post :) It was indeed a vibrant place!

Bordeaux said...

I loved reading about your time in Hanoi. It was as if I was experiencing the city again vicariously through you. Thank you.

ChichaJo said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the posts Bordeaux! Thanks for all the info you shared before my trip! :)

Anonymous said...

Your blog reminds me a lot about Ha Noi. It is my hometown... The food and scenery is great isn't it? I can never get bored of the food there. I should try Green Tangerine next time I go back. Your pictures are wonderful!!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Anonymous! Thank you so much! I am thrilled that someone from Hanoi has enjoyed my post :)