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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

30 November 2018

Eating Hanoi

We were suckered

We were suckered

24 November 2018

The banana witch was a particularly cheeky f*cker. She was one of those women walking along with a pair of panniers on her shoulder, and she stopped us to say “want banana?” and we kinda did because we’d got a bit peckish after a lot of walking around. So we paused, for like 2 seconds. She smiled and put the panniers on Maureen’s shoulder, and stuck the conical hat on her head too; “photo!” Well, no, maybe we just want some bana… nope, she actually took the camera from Maureen’s hand, switched it on and took a photo of Maureen before giving it back. Now she wanted 50,000 dong for a couple of tiny bananas and a photo! Oh gosh, and the face of misery/hurt/vexation/pity she made when I told her she could have 15,000 for the friggin’ bananas! We settled on 20,000 and parted company.

That’s 70p, by the way. But grrrr… the principle of it! : )

Typical street food eatery

Typical street food eatery

Bananas aside, we’ve been eating our way around Hanoi because the food is certainly the best part of the city. There’s certainly not much else to love. The handful of historic sites are generally (a) unimposing and (b) not very historic, most of them having rebuilt as recently as the second half of the 20th century as the French seem to have been very good at trashing stuff while they were in charge here. Otherwise you’re left with the most astonishing fury of hustle and bustle that coats your lungs and clothes while stripping your nerves and patience. So at least the food is good.

Today we found snail noodles for lunch. Bun Oc. The broth for this was absolutely delicious, and totally different again from the two dishes we tried yesterday; Bun Cha and Pho Bo. I can’t work out all of the tastes in it, but tomatoes and fish sauce and some kind of fruit were involved. And lots of snails. They seemed really pleased that we enjoyed it, and each dish was 30,000 dong.

Bun Oc

Bun Oc

For dinner we had Cha Ca, which is fillets of delicate white fish sizzling in butter along with dill and spring onion. This was yet another delicious dish served with noodles, peanuts, herbs and a sweet broth. It was a bit more expensive than the other meals, but mainly because we were sitting at proper chairs in a real restaurant. In Hanoi you pay for the surroundings as much as the food. Mind you, there were still interesting patches of black mildew blossoming over parts of the ceiling and loose wires trailing down one wall.

Bun Oc eatery

Bun Oc eatery

Yeah, a UK health inspector would have an absolute fit… well, no, just wouldn’t even know where to begin at most of Hanoi’s street eateries. We ate our snail noodles on a tiny metal counter facing filthy glass-fronted cabinets full of dusty old hats. We ate our Pho Bo on plastic kiddie stools on the pavement 3 feet from passing motorbikes. You either leave your squeamishness up in your hotel room and just trust that it’s all going to be okay, or you stick resolutely to hotel and tourist restaurants and thus miss out on the one part of Hanoi that’s actually special – the street food.

Other street food we’ve enjoyed includes Bun Ca, which combines some lovely crunchy fish rolls with a bowl of fish noodles in a slightly sweet and sour broth. Also Bun Tim, which is noodles with duck hearts. The broth for this was different again, no doubt being duck based but also having a delicate spice that I couldn’t put my finger on. We also grabbed a Banh Mi one morning; the classic crusty baguette with pate, pork/egg and veggies dressed with lime and fish sauce. This was great, and just served to make me feel grumpy about the couple of really bad attempts at banh mi I’ve been given in the UK.

Bun Ca

Bun Ca


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