Hitting The Hanoi Street-Food Stalls
You smell it the moment you hit the Hanoi sidewalks. It’s almost indescribable. The intoxicating fragrance of meat grilling and pungent spices and exotic herbs.
I’m not a foodie, but I found the aroma mouthwatering.
Hey, it beats the smells of most other cities. San Francisco, for instance.
Vietnam is famous for its street food, thanks in part to the late Anthony Bourdain who pronounced Hanoi’s street cuisine his favorite. He did at least one episode of “Parts Unknown” from Hanoi and I may have inadvertently borrowed some of his descriptions. It‘s been a while since I saw his show. Not plagiarizing. Honest!
Shoot, he even met President Barack Obama for a bowl of Bún chả in a noodle shop in 2016. That shop, by the way, has become a tourist attraction. We didn’t eat there but we were told that photos of the former president grace the walls.
To be fair, there are also pictures of Donald Trump around town on T-shirts, honoring his summit meeting last month in Hanoi with Kim Jung Un.
Two of our presidents are enormously popular here. Who knew?
Tourists who come to Hanoi sometimes go on “street food tours” with guides who take them to the very best places for different delicacies and help them avoid what I read in my “Lonely Planet” guide book are some dodgy cafes in back alleys.
We didn’t have time for a tour, so we found food joints using books, word of mouth and trial and error.
Only there weren’t any errors. We never had a bad meal in Vietnam. Some of the tastiest meals we consumed were on tiny stools in nondescript food stalls around Hanoi and Hoi An.
Maybe it’s the American in me, but I loved the bánh mì at several different places. Crusty bread filled with, well, I’m not sure. You get to pick your meat but beyond that, the cooks toss on herbs, vegetables and sauces to produce a complex, amazing sandwich. It’s sweet and savory and usually spiked with cilantro.
Phở is delicious everywhere. Lots of locals here seem to eat it for breakfast, but it’s available all day long. I need to find the best phở joint in Virginia Beach as soon as I get home.
We tried the thin Vietnamese pizzas which have no real resemblance to pizza other than the fact that they’re round. These favorites in Hoi An are grilled rice paper covered in veggies and folded into a triangle and eaten out of paper while walking.
The very best indulgence in Vietnam? The coffee. If a Vietnamese entrepreneur opened a chain of coffee shops in the US, he could put Starbucks out of business.
About to board a flight to Seoul and then Seattle and finally on to Dulles, so I’m writing this in a hurry from the back of a Hanoi taxi on Wednesday morning. Pardon my typos and broken English. It’s early!
Enjoy the pictures. Back tomorrow.
Bryn, with a bahn mi.