Hanoi – Simple Dishes
Ever since I landed in Bangkok I had been trying to figure out my travel plans. The one leg that was unanimously agreed upon by everyone I talked to was to fly to Hanoi as opposed to taking a bus. So of course I figured I’d take the bus just to see what it was all about. It’s cheap, $25 and only takes 30 hours, what a steal. Aside from the length of time, cockroaches, and seat/beds designed for people shorter than 5’8″ it wasn’t too bad. They actually had a television in there and I was lucky enough to start off the trip watching First Blood followed by Rambo II and III. Apparently they only had two women to do the dubbing so Stallone had a shrill Lao woman’s voice. Occasional stops give you a glimpse of the country-side, but there is little escape from that coffin until you reach Hanoi.
Once you do make it to Hanoi there are plenty of cafes to relax at and get an iced coffee: super strong with sweetened condensed milk on the bottom to stir in. Definitely one of my favorites I’l be sure to miss. With regards to food, everyone has their favorite and a lot of the “best” you find in an internet search are not the best or have long since closed/moved. I was lucky enough to meet a student here that pointed me in the direction for a few great spots.
In Hanoi the vast majority of pho is identical. There is little straying from the classic which for me never came with a huge array of herbs etc for me to doctor my dish with as I would see in the U.S. or as I hear it is done in southern Vietnam. There is a focus on the simplicity and use of minimal ingredients. Pho Suong does not stray far from this and in fact visually the only noticeable difference is the long leeks as opposed to sliced. What makes it actually different, however, is the beef and broth. Most places there is quite a chew to the beef. Here it’s super tender, shaved thin with a slicer and the broth is not as watery as most. It actually has a beefy punch to it and less allium. Other than that everything is the basics as usual.
Bun Cha is a new dish for me. It’s char-grilled pork belly and pork patties. When I say char I mean almost burned on the exterior. The meat is cooked directly over flames and although the meat is not over-cooked when the broth is poured over the meat, it lets off flaky carbon bits dirtying the broth. It’s not a mistake, it tastes great. It comes with chilled rice noodles, herbs and lettuces to dip in. Beneath the meat is pickled green papaya thinly shaved. Again with this location what makes it special is only a few subtle differences. The meat patties are wrapped in a small leaf (a type of shiso leaf) and there is pickled minced garlic on top. That’s all that separates it from everyone else and it makes a real difference.
Another dish worth trying is mien luon at Nhà Hàng Miến Lươn. It’s crunchy baby eels with glass noodles, bean sprouts, fried shallots and an eel broth. The eels are so dried and crunchy they maintain texture for quite a while in the broth. Great flavor – again subtle, but unique. An optional addition to the side are these puffed bread sticks for dipping in the broth.
Another place I would recommend for food is this place. They offer a variety of meats from sea to land with a variety of wrappings and all fried. All of them great, but my favorite is the crab spring roll. I could make a meal out of these.
There are markets all over and they run late until 10 at the very latest. If you’re out for a late night the bars close at midnight. After which you can buy beer from people on the sidewalk. The police come by in a canvas-topped military truck to make sure nobody is selling beer anymore. All the beer vendors shut their doors and hide the beer signs for the 30 seconds it takes for the truck to pass and then the doors roll back open and it’s business as usual.