Monday, May 9, 2011

Asia tripping - part VII: Hanoi (still)

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

Saint Joseph's Cathedral, French Quarter, Hanoi

There are little hidden temples all throughout the Old Quarter of Hanoi
- much fun to discover and
respectfully stumble in

Ca phe nau nong - hot milk coffee
One afternoon, weary from a day of walking we decided the join the locals at a street side coffee shop, strewn with discarded pumpkin seed shells, for an afternoon caffeine fix.

We somehow managed an order through the giggling shop girls, and landed ourselves with two cups of hot black coffee, and instructed to stir the condensed milk that gathered at the bottom of the cup. It was strong, warming and sweetly creamy - a sugar hit and caffeine hit in one.

Scooter traffic is insane - though not really deadly

Scooters, bikes, cars, people everywhere

No rules - just beep

Building containing Legends Beer
All the walking and eating through the day led us to a seat on the balcony of the third floor Legends Beer overlooking one of the busiest intersections around Hoan Kiem Lake. A German style microbrewery in the heart of Hanoi, it had a slight Contiki feel to it, but it must have just been the crowd.

Legends lager
Beers weren’t cheap compared to the local mass produced stuff (Bia Hanoi and even Bia Saigon), but to expected given the style of beer, and of course the view.

Memorable Hanoi traffic
I hadn’t expected vegetarian food to be difficult to find in Vietnam just generally, given the presence of Buddhism.

I suppose it wouldn’t be that hard to have a salad or noodle dish adjusted to be meat-free (probably not soup/stock though), but a couple of pescatarians I’d spoken to had trouble finding pure vegetarian food. One was even offered chicken when she enquired about “no meat” dishes.

Huc Bridge in Hoan Kiem Lake
We happily ascended the stairs of Green Gecko Restaurant on Ma May street after seeing a separate vegetarian menu out the front, to the level one dining area (with balcony seats) that much resembled a backpacker’s hostel lounge room.

Looking at the menu and around, it seemed most dishes had a westernised approach. But at least there was vegetarian food, including the curious faux meat kind of gluten.

Mango juice and lemon juice drinks at Green Gecko Restaurant, Ma May Street,
Old Quarter, Hanoi
The mango juice was arguably fresh – it was definitely the stringiest juice I’ve ever sampled, but true enough to taste. The lemon drink was the usual cordial-like beverage, this time served warm.

Sweet and sour gluten
The vegetarian sweet and sour gluten (see, I told you westernised) was a typically red combination of capsicum, pineapple and gluten, which I didn’t sample but was supposedly satisfactory.

Steamed fish
The steamed fillet of fish was a pretty sight but ultimately disappointing; bland and filled with small bones. Even the addition of soy sauce couldn’t really help its cause.

Seafood noodles
Slightly better were the seafood noodles – nothing special but at least registering some flavour on the palate.

Fruit stall at the night markets
We ended that night on a better flavour with fruit bought at the night markets. Guava and strawberries, sprinkled with a red spice mix that added zing to the already sweet fruit. So there we were, eating guava with toothpicks while haggling over undies and coats.

Trishaw rides - remember to bargain

Seafood on display
Our last lunch in Hanoi before rushing off to the airport was one to remember. Although I can be a bit cautious when it comes to seafood, especially when it’s just sitting there on the footpath, we took it as a good sign that there were several tables of locals in at a late lunch hour.

Cooked crab legs
It was also a good opportunity to use up the last of our Vietnamese dong in a seafood splurge. We were handed a laminated menu with English translated dishes, and easily ordered up a seafood storm.

We only later noticed that locals were given Vietnamese menus with about three times the amount of dishes available. Oh well.

Live prawns in a tank
Nonetheless, we were ecstatic with what we ordered, including live crabs and large prawns fished out from the nearby tank.

Bia Saigon at the seafood restaurant
Perhaps not regionally patriotic, my Bia Saigon went down extremely well despite the cool weather outside.

Cooking the crab
First up were the crabs, apparently the chef’s signature. Closely resembling blue swimmers (or indeed, actually blue swimmers), these reddened crustaceans were swimming in a spicy tamarind sauce, having come straight out of the chef’s street facing wok at the front of the store.

Cua ghe - crab in tamarind sauce
As always, they were a bit of work but the sweet/sour/hot combination of flavours from the sauce almost made licking the shells and our fingers more rewarding than trying to extract the flesh.

Muc nuong - grilled squid
The whole grilled squid was another tantalising treat, with char-blackened edges of the surprisingly tender rings. Garnished with a spicy fresh herb, the squid was utterly divine with a squeeze of kumquat juice.

Mi xao - fried noodles with seafood and vegetables
For carbs we had the seafood noodles, which turned out to be instant noodles in a sweet, spicy sauce. I find instant noodles quite comforting every now and then, especially when travelling (though certainly not everyday if it can be helped), so this steaming hot dish was wolfed down without complaint.

Tom nuong - grilled shrimp
Last to arrive were the grilled, jumbo-sized prawns which were swimming about in their tank next to us less than half an hour ago. Skewered straight then grilled, the prawns had a fantastic crunch (with and without their shells, though obviously more with) and were basted in yet another mildly spicy marinade that was finger-licking good.

With crabs and prawns, it was certainly a messy meal – and a relatively pricey one by local standards. But, nervously ready to head back to Noi Bai International, it was the best possible goodbye we could have had to Hanoi, its fabulous food and its friendly faces.

More Asia tripping posts to come, in Hong Kong and Malaysia.


Trisha said...

Those are some awesome Vietnam photos, Tina! One day I'll visit Vietnam too... and eat and eat and eat everything humanely possible. And then try and not cross the road :)

Phuoc'n Delicious said...

Ahhhh... crazy Vietnam traffic but I find it to be organised chaos! In the sense that you are at ease walking through the streets and not having to worry much about cars and scooters as they'll make their ways around you - unlike here!

Oh how I miss street food! :(

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Mr NQN is dying to visit Vietnam too. It's one of those places that we're both itching to visit!

OohLookBel said...

I love your travel photos, they're so vibrant. Of course, the food pics (especially those crab legs) are a bonus.

Corinne @ Gourmantic said...

How good is that crab! It's given me a craving now...

I haven't been to Vietnam but Mr G always talks about going there, especially on a foodie tour!

(PS Lovely to have met you last week Tina :) )

jenius said...

Awwww love this post! I totally miss Vietnam! I used to think it was strange that my parents always ate fruit with chilli salt but then realised everybody in Vietnam was doing it too, haha... and OMG, the cheap seafood, yum yum yum!

chopinandmysaucepan said...

Hi Tina

You're such a great story teller! The food looks really delicious and that photo of the traffic is hilarious, especially the one at night. It brings back fond memories of my trips to Vietnam. Thanks for sharing :)

Jayson James said...

Nice post!

Those scooters are painful to the eye. I bet it would also be a pain for police officers to maneuver with all of them when trying to chase someone. On the other hand, the food - totally divine!

Thanks for sharing!

Tina said...

Hi Trisha - You have to do all that - eat, eat and squeal while crossing the roads!

Hi Phuoc - Agree, after the initial shock you find that it just works - beeping and all!

Hi Lorraine - I'm itching to go back :)

Hi Corinne - Nice to meet you too. I sadly didn't get time for a foodie tour or cooking class...

Hi Jen - So cheap, we used our leftover notes on that last meal :D

Hi chopinandmysaucepan - Thanks :) I love my traffic photos :D

Hi Jayson - lol, I can't imagine a police chase on those roads...!


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