Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Asia tripping - part VI: Hanoi street food, Vietnam

This is the sixth of several brief posts of my recent trip to Asia: photos, food and a few thoughts.

Streets of the Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam
While it may have taken a few outings to get used to, I eventually found myself loving the streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter – for their character, efficiency of sorts, and the way things just work regardless of the hindrances in place.

Streetside fruit stall behind Dong Xuan markets
It felt like a people’s place, as opposed to a place for business or trade – perhaps with the exception of the Dong Xuan markets which were selling mostly cheap clothes.

Food alley next to Dong Xuan Markets
Following a quick tour of the said markets, we stumbled upon an alleyway filled with restaurants and open air stalls. People sat on small plastic chairs in the lane while motorbike and scooter traffic continued to drive through; past the diners and beeping through the pedestrians.

Minding the scooter traffic as you eat
There was lots of food on offer, from spring rolls and pho, to less commonly seen dishes and even a buffet style store. We managed to watchfully dodge and scoot our way to the end of the alley; a little unsure about protocol and cleanliness, but mostly hungry.

Making banh cuon
It was hard not to be enthralled by the fashionable young boy making banh cuon to order. He would speedily ladle and spread a thin, white batter on to a cloth stretched over a steamer pot and put the lid on for no more than half a minute.

Making banh cuon sheets
Lifting up a lid of steam, he would delicately peel the thin steamed rice noodle off the cloth, sprinkle a filling within, and have it rolled, chopped and on a plate in a matter of seconds, before getting on to making the next one.

Our banh cuon is served
We squeezed into our seats next to a bubbling pot and power outlet, and had banh cuon in front of us in moments. Topped with fried shallots and a dried seafood floss of some sort, we self-garnished from a big bowl of Vietnamese mint.

A mint garnish
The pieces were easily broken into bite sizes and dipped into nuoc cham; the silky texture savoured with the lumpy pork and woodear mushroom filling, as well as the sweetly tart sauce. It was our first enlightening meal in Vietnam.

Frying banh tom
After what was really a snack, we shifted down one stall to where the smell of deep-fry tempted. Banh tom, we were told, fritters of white sweet potato slivers with whole, unpeeled prawns; battered and fried into a cake.

Takeaway pickles and dipping sauce
An order is accompanied by a shared metal plate of fresh herbs and mixed lettuce leaves, and a bowl each of thinly sliced pickled vegetables, submerged in a dark brown dipping sauce.

One of the ladies at the stall fishes out the cooked banh tom from the woks of hot oil, roughly cuts them up with scissors, and plates them up for the customer. She even does a takeaway trade with a copious use of plastic bags.

Banh tom
The banh tom were expectedly crunchy and a bit oily, which was easily ignored after a dunk in the dipping sauce and wrapped with herbs in lettuce.

A tiny fried prawn
The best part was the prawns – heads, tails, legs and all fried to a crisp, however sparse they were.

Baguettes by bicycle, near Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam
The French influence in Hanoi can't be clearer than locals and their baguettes. Whether street side, on a bicycle or indeed, multiple 'stalls' along the highway on the way to Halong Bay, it seems a fresh baguette, or banh mi is simply a daily ritual.

Baguettes by the street side

Spring rolls by the street side
Baguettes aren't the only things on random street corners. Here, two young girls were making and deep frying two types of spring rolls, with passersby simply ordering and eating by the stall side, amid the usual traffic.

Heavy scooter traffic

One of the beef salad stores near the Hoan Kiem Lake
Later in the day, back towards the Hoan Kiem Lake area, we came across two street stalls across the road from each other – both packed with puffy-jacketed, seated diners munching on what looked like green papaya salads.

Dressing the salad
Watching the stallholders was entertainment itself – a handful of julienned green papaya, a sprinkle of thinly sliced beef, scissor-snipped dried liver (we think) and more snippings of fresh green herbs.

Dressing, much like nuoc cham, came from large soft drink bottles and was poured liberally over the salads, which were then ferried through the seated crowd from a guy who would take payment.

Nom thit bo kho
And with disposable chopsticks, we ate nom thit bo kho on the cold street with the locals, picking every last bit of papaya and every last morsel of beef. The crushed nuts and mint leaves as garnishes were a highlight of the salad.

And indeed, street food in Hanoi was an illness-free food highlight of the city and our trip overall. More Asia tripping posts to come on Vietnam, Hong Kong and Malaysia.


Anonymous said...

Street food rocks!

chocolatesuze said...

oh yum i could really eat a whole bucket of the deep fried prawns right about now

Tambourine said...

Ooh everything looks so YUMMY!!! I really want to teleport to Vietnam now!!

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

Gorgeous photos. I love all the street food action shots. Argh, I'd love to go back to Vietnam for some major feasting!

Dumpling Girl and Cheesecake Boy said...

I love banh cuon, but it all looks good. The amount of scooters on the street are crazy, lol.

Tina said...

Hi lateraleating - Sure does!

Hi suze - Yep, washed down with a beer!

Hi Tambourine - Take me back with you? :)

Hi Helen - I know I certainly would like to, all round Vietnam in fact :)

Hi Dumpling Girl and Cheesecake Boy - The banh cuon was insanely good, and SO fresh and soft!

chopinandmysaucepan said...

Street food safari is fantastic as you get to put in more calories as you work them off :)

Tina said...

Hi chopinandmysaucepan - I'm afraid we were putting in more than working off..!

Jenn Brigole said...

I love street food! It's always fun to visit foreign places and play "local" and experience what it's like to be one of them even for just a few hours, sitting somehow uncomfortably on something with people bumping elbows with each other. What joy! :)

thang @ noodlies said...

Wow, what a wonderful experience... makes me so homesick!

Tina said...

Hi Jen - Yep, eating out on the street was definitely one of the highlights of the trip :)

Hi thang - Makes me want to go back too!

Sandra said...

Oh my God, so that's what I missed out on, it looks fantastic! Gonna have to go back!


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