Hanoi Street Food Tour
With very limited time (only two half days, essentially just two dinners), Alex and I went on the Hanoi Street Food Walking Tour, just a few hours after arriving in Hanoi. First of all, Hanoi traffic is ridiculous! It’s a free-for-all between cars, a gazillion motorbikes, and pedestrians. I had read about how to cross the street in Hanoi (make eye contact with the oncoming traffic, walk confidently at a steady pace, trust that the traffic will go around you, and whatever you do, don’t backtrack or hesitate!), but it was still scary trying to cross the street. Even the sidewalks (which were already narrow) were just places to either set up a small restaurant (complete with tiny plastic tables and even tinier plastic stools) or to park your motorbike. Our adorable tour guide, Amy, was a true Hanoi local. The first thing she told us was to follow her instructions for crossing the street: whenever she yelled “sticky rice,” we had to stick together and slowly cross the street!
Our group consisted of Alex and me, Amy, a couple from Australia, and a couple currently living in Germany. Our first stop was a small restaurant serving bun cha, rice noodles with a soup/sauce of carrots and cabbage and grilled pork. We LOVED the basket of greens that we could add into our soup as well as the tangy sauces. We were each served a FULL portion. The next stop was stall selling beef noodle soup, pho, and again we were served FULL portions. By this time, I asked Amy how many more stops we were going to make, so that we could pace ourselves. She said we had six more stops! We didn’t want to waste any food, but figured it was better to do that than stuff ourselves silly.
We next walked to Hoan Kiem Lake, where we had green sticky rice ice cream bars. They tasted just like… rice, only a little sweet and surprisingly good! After that, we had banh cuon thit, steamed rice rolls with minced pork topped with fried onions (it sort of tasted like a dimsum dish). Next, we sat outside on the sidewalk, on impossibly tiny stools, and had assorted deep fried savory foods, like pillow cake (tastes like an Asian cal-zone), sea crab nem (deep fried spring rolls), and salty donut (they were all pretty tasty). By this point, I was getting really full and really had to pace myself. Amy didn’t like to waste food either, and kept on telling us to finish our dinner(s)! Luckily, our next stop was for nuoc mia, sugar cane juice (mixed with a little kumquat juice to bring down the sweetness) and sticky rice balls with bits of sugar cane inside. It was nice to sit and enjoy an ice cold drink to cool off. I enjoyed watching the guy put stalks of sugar cane through a mill-type machine to make the juice.
Our next stop was a woman with a grill on the street, making pork skewers. I saw an Australian couple bargaining with the lady for two skewers. And then I saw that our tour guide paid the same exact price for six skewers! It pays to go with a local! 🙂 The pork skewer was really tasty, especially after squirting on some chilli sauce (we ended up buying a few bottles of this sauce before we left Vietnam). And, our last stop was at Giang Cafe, one of the oldest coffee shops in Hanoi, known for the famous raw egg coffee, ca phe trung. Apparently the founder of Giang Cafe whipped raw egg yolk to add to the coffee because milk was too hard to come by, back in the 1940’s. (Interesting fact: Vietnam is the world’s second largest exporter of coffee, even though coffee was only introduced to Vietnam by the French in the 19th century!) We really enjoyed our iced coffees (pre-sweetened with canned condensed milk, in true Vietnamese fashion). Amy said that we may have noticed a few Starbucks in Hanoi, but that the locals really hate Starbucks. “You know what we call Starbucks? Very expensive water!” The Vietnamese love their coffee strong (a little too strong even for coffee lovers like Alex)!
Three hours after our walking tour started, we left, uncomfortably stuffed, and slightly more knowledgeable/adventurous about Vietnamese food. 😀