A Gastronomic Tour of Hanoi

So I know I always write about food, but this time it is with good reason. Watching the Superbowl on Monday morning at the Hilton, I began speaking with a guy from Chicago who is working in Thailand as an executive chef at a four star hotel. He had also spent some time training in Vietnam.

After the game, we had similar plans–each of us needed to visit embassies to pick up visas. After obtaining our visas, we decided to explore the Old Quarter. Hanoi’s old quarter is a maze of streets that are named after the products and services you’ll find on them. There is a shoe street, a towel street, fruit street, etc. It’s a great place to get lost, explore and see the city at work as you try to keep yourself in one piece by dodging the motos that whiz by. There are said to be 4 million people in Hanoi and 2.5 million motos. I believe it. Making matters worse is that sidewalks are more accurately described as store fronts. There is little room for pedestrians.

But enough about traffic problems and onto the food. One particular street of interest for Adam and I was Cha ca street. Cha ca is a fish dish that consists of fresh rice noodles, dill, spring onion, scallions, coriander, peanuts, and mom tom–an incredibly smelly shrimp sauce. The fish is fried with turmeric root giving it a nice yellow color. According to Adam, the traditional way of eating Cha ca is to cook everything yourself in a pot of hot oil presented table side. Just 10 months ago, this is how he sampled Cha ca at the very restaurant we were sitting in. Back then the food stall had a dirt floor and simple wood tables; now it is an elegant restaurant catering to the growing tourist market and the waiter prepares the dish. Things are changing fast in Vietnam.

Prior to our Cha ca experience, we stopped for Bun cho (sp?), another dish employing fresh rice noodles. Instead of fish, marinated pork is grilled and then served in a bowl with other greens. At less than 75 cents, it proved once again that the best way to eat in Vietnam is on the street.

Touring the markets with a knowledgeable chef was a great way to get a sense of the food and culture. Once you know what something is you are much more inclined to try it. And I want to know what everything is in Vietnam. They eat dog on a fairly regular basis. I actually saw a dog get sold for this very purpose, but that is the less appealing side of Vietnam cuisine and I’ll save that story for another time.

We rounded of our day of eating with some excellent Vientnamese coffee at two different places. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but it is some of the strongest and best I’ve had. Looking back, a lackluster Superbowl Monday turned into a pretty good day, although I’m still bitter about the Pats. There is no way Rex Grossman never would have beaten Brady and company.

2 Responses to “A Gastronomic Tour of Hanoi”

  1. Joan Says:

    Great to see your new posting…. sounds like fun! And interesting too!

    Love you.
    Mom and Dad

  2. Neha Says:

    Ed! I love hearing about your amazing experiences. It makes me so jealous, especially when I am sitting in my boring law school classes šŸ˜¦

    My friends and I are doing a similar East Asia trip in August, I can’t wait to pick your brain about this! Have soo much fun, talk soon!

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