The sky fell in buckets. Again. It seemed our two-day trip in Hanoi would be very wet indeed. We took shelter on one of the arcades along the French Quarter, wondering how we could maximize our very limited time in the city with the weather hampering our every move. After a few minutes of watching passing motorbikes zip along the road, my eye wandered to the second floor of the building right across from where we were standing. I heard faint clinks of bottles hitting bottles. A bar.
|FRENCH BREAD, A COMMON SIGHT ALONG HANOI’S ROADWAYS|
|A TYPICAL SIDEWALK COFFEE SHOP|
Our Hanoi adventure consisted mostly of non-stop walking, non-stop shopping and non-stop eating. That last one started right after our very early check in at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. Since we really can’t avail of their free breakfast buffet yet, we went off the still gray streets of the city and found a roadside hawker right along a hospital fence selling banh mi and coffee in Ngo Quyen Street [GPS MAP 21.024330, 105.854914].
|A BANH MI CROSS-SECTION|
We’ve been craving for a delicious bun of banh mi ever since trying one out in Saigon a few years back. Set on a mid-sized French bread, the whole bun is filled with a mix of cheese, mystery meat, vegetables and unknown dressings. Much as we wanted to unravel the mysteries behind this sandwich, the language barrier was just too much for the vendor to explain everything to us. The important thing was that it tasted extraordinarily well, without even trying.
|WE BOUGHT OUR FIRST STREET EAT IN HANOI FROM THIS FRIENDLY GUY|
It also went well with Vietnamese ca phe, a very strong concoction of brewed iced coffee with condensed mix at the bottom. We were also each given a cup of jasmine tea, which is generally consumed after finishing your coffee. It tasted quite bitter. We decided right then, popular as it seemed in Hanoi, that it was not for us. Damage was VND20,000.00 (USD1.00) for everything.
|SIDEWALK HAWKERS IN HANOI|
|PREPARING OUR BUN THANG|
Having had our fill, we started our Hanoi walkathon right after, tracing the edges of Lake Hoan Kiem and the narrow alleyways of the Old Quarter. It wasn’t long before we found a stall along Hang Thung Street [GPS MAP 21.032259, 105.854250] near the sidewalks of Shoe Street offering hot bowls of noodles. We sat ourselves on their low stools and pointed our way to lunch. The only words we connected with the nice lady on the counter were pork and chicken. We told her chicken, yes, and she was soon busy preparing our bowl of bun thang.
|BUN THANG CHICKEN FOR US|
|BANH BAO, OR SIOPAO FOR US FILIPINOS|
We paired the noodle soup with banh bao, a soft wheat flour bread filled with pork and salted egg from a neighboring hawker; siopao, basically. The pair looked wonderfully delicious, but that’s as far as it got. We were a bit disappointed with the taste and wasn’t able to finish the whole thing. Damage for both was VND44,000.00 (USD2.00).
|ENTRANCE TO CONG CAFE|
|WE PREFER DRINKING AL FRESCO, RAIN AND ALL|
Torrential rain fell once more as we were walking back to our hotel. It was with luck that we found Cong Café [GPS MAP 21.025297, 105.854329]; its almost hidden entrance, very speak easy-ish. The café is set on the second floor and has a relaxing al fresco balcony set up and a cozier hall. Since we were still full, we simply asked for a couple of Bia Hanoi and Saigon Special. We were surprised it came with a free plate of sweet peanuts! Beer damage, VND140,000.00 (USD6.30).
|HANOI BEER X SAIGON SPECIAL|
A brief respite from the rain allowed us for a quick run to our hotel. And the moment we stepped inside the lobby, the heavens fell once again. Seeing how hopelessly impossible it would be for us to go out again, we decided we might as well have a brief siesta.
|WE’RE HAVING OUR DINNER HERE|
We woke with pangs of hunger a few hours later. The sky was already darkening but the rain has finally slowed to a light patter. Slowly navigating the slick and slippery slate sidewalks of Hanoi, we came upon Com Ga Food Corner [GPS MAP 21.031365, 105.854491], a hole in the wall eatery along Nguyen Huu Huan Road. We checked their prices and sat down, again on low stools, which was such a challenge for a big-bellied guy like me, lol.
|CHICKEN & PASTA, HANOI STYLE|
Looking at the table across ours, we decided we’d also have what they’re having; nui xao cai bo (macaroni with beef and vegetables) and com ga nuong BBQ (fried rice with barbecued chicken). Just to be on the safe side, I checked another eatery beside us and hauled a take-away of cha gio (fried spring rolls) with rice.
|CHA GIO, LOVE ON FIRST BITE|
Turned out we really have no need for the added side dish, their servings are huge. The pasta was really good and very cheesy, although quite filling; the macaroni they use isn’t your usual hollow type but a solid tube of pasta! The chicken was superb as well, and so was the fried rice and veggies that goes along with it. Surprisingly, my favorite was the Vietnamese fried spring rolls, which was filled with minced pork. The damage for everything, VND115,000.00 (USD5.00).
|VIETNAMESE PEEPS LOVE TO EAT ON LOW CHAIRS AND TABLES|
For desserts, we chanced upon Café Tuan [GPS MAP 21.033652, 105.854441],a simple café offering a different kind of coffee experience; ca phe trung or egg drop coffee. We immediately seized a sidewalk table before a horde of Chinese tourists flocked the shop. C, much more adventurous than me, requested for the egg coffee while I asked for their regular nau da (iced coffee with milk).
|CA PHE TRUNG X NAU DA|
As expected, my coffee was extremely strong. The ca phe trung on the other hand was a different experience. Before serving, egg whites were poured into the hot coffee and stirred until frothy. Surprisingly, the concoction produces a very cakey mocha taste complete with icing! Damage for our coffee break, VND45,000.00 (USD2.00).
|HANOI’S TA HIEN BACKPACKERS AREA|
The next morning, we availed of our hotel’s free buffet breakfast before doing the second leg of our Hanoi walkathon. It was a day of non-stop walking and shopping and it was already way past twelve when we started to look for grub. We found our spot at a tight alley along the Ta Hien backpackers area.
|I LOVE HANOI’S FRIED SPRING ROLLS|
Gao De Restaurant [GPS MAP 21.035167, 105.851998] was our pick for our last meal in Vietnam. Being on a touristy part of town, their prices are a bit on the high side, but since we still have a lot of dong on hand, we decided to follow our tummy’s will. We asked for their cha gio (since we really, really liked this from last night), beef fried noodles and fried rice with pork.
|BEEF FRIED NOODLES, OR AS MY TONGUE PROCLAIMED; PANCIT CANTON|
Serving time was terribly long and our last order didn’t arrive at all. We decided not to pursue it since the noodles’ serving size was very generous. The fried spring rolls was very oily but was as good as the one we had the previous night. I suspected that the beef noodles, from looks alone, would taste similar to our very own pancit canton. I was right. Touristy lunch damage, VND110,000.00 (USD5.00).
|OUR SPOT ALONG TA HIEN’S CROSSROAD|
And to cap our Hanoi food adventure, we sat ourselves at Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen crossroads for our last hours in the city, watching passing motorcycles and pedestrians while enjoying our favorite beer this side of Vietnam, Bia Hanoi! Cheers!