I love Hanoi. I went for the first time last weekend with a buddy from high school. We spent our days pho hunting, drinking coffee with ice cream in it, and seeing important historical stuff. We also walked about 40 miles, and got down with local snacks.
Hanoi is one of the liveliest places I have been, and people are outside all the time. The Old Quarter, where we stayed, was full of people eating street food, playing music, watching toddlers waddle down the sidewalk, hanging out with friends, and eating ice cream. There was a remarkable about of ice cream. It felt like a very social place, and finding a quiet spot was more of a challenge that I might have thought. The traffic is terrible (welcome to SE Asia) and it takes some cojones to cross the street, assuming you aren’t used to walking directly into oncoming traffic.
We did a lot of cool stuff in 4 days, but the best thing was the Hanoi Street Food Tour.
The tour is great, even though their website could use a little work. The staff is young, organized and attentive, and our guide, Cherry (potentially not her real name), was as informative as she was adorable. The company offers a number of different tours, from scooter tours of the city to cooking classes with local chefs. We decided on the 3 hour walking tour, running about $25 bucks.
First stop: Bún chả
Bún chả is a traditional Hanoi dish, and a local favorite. The meatballs are made of braised pork belly, then grilled and dunked in a warm broth of fish sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar. Add the super delicate rice noodles, a generous hunk of fresh garlic, and a handful of herbs. Cherry said that she had eaten it every day for two months, and I totally get why.
Second Stop: No Bo Kho
If all salads tasted like this, there would be no sad salad days. No Bo Kho combines shredded green papaya, fresh herbs, peanuts, fish sauce, brisket, and sweet beef jerky. No included in the photo is the garlic chili sauce I poured all over it. I think this was my favorite of the tour, but that’s like picking a favorite child. Or in my case, a favorite friend’s dog.
Stop Three: Beer Food
Simply called “beer food” this stop was basically just piles of deep fried delicious. From right to left: fried fermented pork sticks, “pillow cakes,”spring rolls, shrimp cakes. Let’s talk about this for a second. 1. Fermented fried pork sticks do not sound delicious, but they are. 2. Pillow cakes are not cake, and are named as such because sometimes people drink too much beer and need a pillow. They are filled with a mix of sweet sausage, ground pork, rice noodles, wood ear mushroom, and angel wings. 3. The spring roll is just that, but 400 times better than any peasant spring roll you may have tried. 4. Shrimp cake, also not cake, but rather a full-sized shrimp on top of a rice-flour pancake situation, deep fried together. It’s shrimpy bliss, and you eat the whole thing, head to tail. It’s not weird or gross, you are.
This is beer. It’s pretty ok, and it will run you 28 cents, or 5,000 dong. Dong.
Stop four: Girlfriend Rolls
I loved eating this. We stopped in a park and ate “Girlfriend rolls” while Cherry told us about the name. I’m going be honest, I didn’t listen the whole time because I was too busy shoving this into my face, but it was something about if you give a girl this treat, and she accepts it, then she is your girlfriend. Which is understandable, because it’s a super thin crispy pancake rolled up with fresh coconut, black sesame, dried sugar cane and condensed milk. If I lived in Hanoi, I would be everyone’s girlfriend.
Stop Five: Bánh cuốn
Oh I love these guys. Slippery fermented rice rolls filled with pork, wood-ear mushrooms and shallots. On top is fried garlic, pork floss (!), and a deep fried baby eel. Yum num num. The little green guy up top is not a lime, it’s a green cumquat that is only available this time of year. These dudes come with the standard fish sauce/sugar/vinegar sauce, but when it’s cumquat time, you squeeze that bad boy into the sauce, making everything a million times better. This might actually be my favorite dish.
Last Stop: Banh Mi and Egg Coffee
I didn’t take a photo of the banh mi because it wasn’t that good. It was fine, but no one needs a photo of a mediocre sandwich. The egg coffee, however, was awesome. Its made by putting a shot of very strong espresso at the bottom of the cup and topping it off with egg yolks whipped with condensed milk. Yeah. Not super light, but super delicious.
I can’t recommend this tour enough, I am not usually into tours. I learned a lot, ate a lot, and left with dreams of noodles; the best kind of dreams.
All iPhone photos by Caitlin Decker. They aren’t that good, so stealing them would be dumb. Steal Tiff’s instead, at least those are good.