Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hungry in Hanoi- Three Days in the Capital.

Nature fights back in Hanoi
Hungry in Hanoi
After *accidentally* spending the whole month of February in Thailand, Tom and I decided it was time to move on. Also, our visa ran out the exact day we left adding a little pressure to scoot.
So we bought flights from Bangkok to the northern capital of Vietnam, Hanoi.

Typical lane in Hanoi
We got off to a rocky start. We took the overnight train from Chang Mai to Bangkok to catch our flight. Somehow, in the craziness of last minute planning we completely forgot to get visas for Vietnam. Whoops. Super rookie mistake. You'd think that with almost nine months of travel under our belts we would know better.

Bangkok Sunrise
So we arrived in Bangkok at 6 am with our flight to Hanoi just a couple hours later with no visa at all. Unlike many other countries, Vietnam requires an application for any kind of visa, with a stamped letter of approval, various other documents, and photos for possible admittance in to the country. It normally takes about three days. We had three hours.

Fortunately, there are options for dummies like us. We paid about $70 to rush order the letter of approval. We'd heard horror stories that we would be held up at immigration for this "super urgent" visa for hours, even possibly denied. Of course, it went completely fine and took barely any time at all. Onto Hanoi.

Hanoi is loud with the sound of incessant beeping, wet, chilly, and not definitely the cleanest or most organised place.

Still, Tom and I love it. I love the way the traffic is a like river that flows around you as hold your breath and cross the street. I love the old buildings that tell secrets of the history, some mildewed, and broken with time. I love the way the sidewalk is simultaneously a coffee shop, a restaurant, a parking lot, a veggie market, and sometimes an extra street if need be. The feel of a hot soup on a cold misty day. I love the ginormous trees that tear up the pavements with their roots like they do in New Orleans. I love the French influences that show up in it's cafe culture and food. I drool over the tiramisu-like egg coffee. and the food. I love all the food.

Places we recommend so far:

Cafe Giang 
Down a tiny alley way and up the stairs you'll find a packed room full of locals and couple tourists all sipping the same drink and munching on sunflower seeds.

The website explains:

"Giang Café was founded by My Father ,Mr. Nguyen Giang in 1946, when he was working as a bartender for the famous five-star Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel. Although the café has been relocated twice, its egg coffee recipe is almost the same as in its early days, with its chief ingredients being chicken egg yolk, Vietnamese coffee powder, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cheese.
The coffee is brewed in a small cup with a filter before the addition of a well-whisked mixture of the yolk and other ingredients. The cup is placed in a bowl of hot water to keep its temperature.
My father developed the recipe in days when milk was scarce in Vietnam. He used egg yolks to replace milk."
It tastes like tiramisu with the texture of custard. I dream of it.

Bun Bo Nam Bo
This spot is another place that is a hit with locals with a couple tourists mixed in for a good measure. Their bun bo nam bo is spot on. The crispy onions, crunchy peanuts,  sweet lightly vinegary broth, oodles of noodles, and fresh herbs made it a dish I know I'll crave.

Dong Xuan Market
This massive covered market in the most northern part of the old town is a thrill. A little more off the main tourist beat, you'll find basically anything from hair bows to live eels to sacks of cinnamon taller than most Vietnamese people. It's great fun. If you venture out side of the market on the back streets you'll find all sorts of roadside sellers, restaurants, and shops. Much of Hanoi is organized into vendor streets. One street might sell exclusively silk , another pots and pans. Tom and I enjoyed a less touristy afternoon dodging overloaded motorbikes and taking in everyday life.

BBQ Chicken Street
Self explanatory. Just as you have a silk selling street, this street outside of the old town sells BBQ chicken. As we walked up we could smell the mouth-watering smells of 25 restaurants competing for  best bbq chicken.  This chicken was juicy smoky and served with sweet potatoes, honey grilled bread, and draft beer. We tried foot, leg, wing, honey bread, and sweet potatoes. My favorite was the juicy thigh and tom loved the wings.

The only picture I have from BBQ Chicken Street.
Le Soleil Bar
Ending up at the Le Soleil bar for their open mic night was consequence of a bunch happy accidents. We bumped into the same couple both at our obscure lunch and dinner locations a good 45 minute walk away from each other. We decided it was fate and shared BBQ chicken dinner and a wild night at the French run Le Soleil bar. The owners/bartenders were fun and made some delicious cocktails. The crowd was mostly young international expats. The open mic night performers were great including an epic beatbox battle. This bar is definitely somewhere we would frequent with friends at home.

Bun Cha
For our final lunch we hunted down another local favorite: Bun cha. This is a garlic grilled pork soup served with fresh herbs, noodles, fresh chillies, and Nem Ran, a type of egg roll. This has to be favorite meal yet. The grilled flavor of the pork went well with...everything. I can't explain the perfection of this dish. It was served on huge tray on a tiny stool while we sat on even tinier stools on the sidewalk. Fabulous.

 Thank you Hanoi for a couple wonderful misty 'winter' days. Next up we take the overnight train to Dong Hoi to visit the Phong Nha cave system.

you ever been to Hanoi? What did you think? DId you enjoy it as much as we did? Please message me if you want exact locations of these places.