Streetside Groceries

After finishing our bún cá and paying for the delicious dish, we continued our walking tour in the Old Quarter Hanoi. We decided to play it by ear and just turned on the next block to see what’s on the next street. The Old Quarter Hanoi consists of around 36 small streets, each street was named after a particular item that was sold at the stores on that street (e.g. Hàng Gà means Chicken Street, that’s where you could find people selling chickens, Hàng Giầy means Shoes Street, where you can find stores selling shoes, etc.). Today you can still find some of the specializations on the streets, though they may not necessarily match the original street name.

It was a weekend night, so all the stores were open. In front of the stores, there were many street vendors setting up their stands. This made the narrow streets felt even narrower. We pretty much walked close to the middle of the street as there was no sidewalk to walk on. Pedestrians shared the street with motorcycles. During the day, there were cars also going through these streets. At night, it’s pretty much impossible for the cars to go through there.

On one of the streets we noticed something that we didn’t expect to see. We were getting used to see streetside vendors selling snacks or some hot dishes. However, on one street, we saw vendors selling (fresh?) produce: vegetables, meat, etc. It’s kind of odd and out of place to see these on the side of a busy commercial street. I wonder who would be going out on a weekend night and while at it also buy fresh produce to take home… I also thought of contrasting this to how we buy produce in the grocery store in the US. In the US, we would watch for ‘sell by’ date to make sure we’re getting fresh items. In Hanoi, well, you have to know how to select your produce from the market and being able to determine if something is fresh; there is no such thing as ‘sell by’ or expiration date.

I took the photo below as we walked through one of the streets. Here you can see a lady selling (fresh) meat, right in front of a store that sells household goods, and next to the motorcycle parking. Does that look like a place you would get the meat for your dinner from? It was around 50 F temperature that night, so it’s almost like having natural refrigeration for the meat. Though I wasn’t sure how clean it was to have it out there with exhaus from traffic passing by in the air…

Fresh Meat

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The Old Man and the Fish Noodle Soup

Since our planned excursion with the Hanoi Kids was cancelled, Kristi and I had to figure out what to do instead. We decided to still go ahead and explore the Old Quarter Hanoi at night, even though we had to ‘play it by ear’ without a tour guide. We stopped by at the front desk of our hotel, and once again the helpful front desk lady provided us with a map of the Old Quarter streets, and told us that since it was Friday night, there was a street market that we should check out.

During the planning for the trip, I did some Internet research to find out what people had to say about the best street foods you can find in Hanoi. Of course each individual has his/her preference on the best place to go for a certain dish, so I decided to just gather a list of the places many people mentioned about ‘the best place to get …’ Most of the places are addresses in the Old Quarter Hanoi where you can find the street vendors. Many of these places didn’t necessary have name; so you pretty much treat it as ‘going to the place at the particular address where they serve a specific dish.’

Since we didn’t really have any particular plan for the night, we decided to look at the list of the street vendors and tried to locate the street name on our map. Once we found the street, we started to plot our walking route from the hotel to the streets, and we came up with a route that should pass several of these food vendors. We decided to make this our own ‘Vietnamese street food walking tour.’

The first place we located on the map was very close from our hotel; it was around the block, only about two minute walk. It’s a little food stand selling bún cá, a rice noodle soup dish with fried fish fillet and vegetables. When we got to the place, there were three tables and enough seating for less than eight people. There were a couple of people eating, and an old gentleman at the front preparing the dish. I don’t know if he understood English, I just use hand gesture to ask for one bowl of the bun ca (the only item on the menu). While the food itself was pretty cheap (about 15000 VND, around USD $0.75), we only ordered one to share so we could save some room for more things to try out later on that night. It was pretty tasty; a good way to start the night. At the end, again with hand gestures I asked the old man how much it was, and he used his hand gestures to indicate that it was 15,000 VND.

The photo below was taken from across the street of the small noodle store. You can see the kitchen set up in the front of the store with the old man working on the food behind the counter. The little table for two where we sat was the one on the front right near the bicycle.

Bun Ca Store

Good Morning, Vietnam

After the flight delay at the Siem Reap International Airport, we finally left on our flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. We arrived in Hanoi more than two hours after the scheduled arrival time. It was pretty late in the evening by then, so it did not take long for us to get through immigration and wait for our luggage. I had requested a pickup service through the hotel where we’re staying in the Old Quarter part of Hanoi. I was a little worried that because our flight was delayed we would miss the pickup. However, thankfully the driver actually patiently waited for us, and we were able to locate him when we exited the airport.

The drive from the Hanoi Noi Bai Airport to the Old Quarter took about twenty minutes or so. Hanoi seemed quite more modern than Phnom Penh, but not as developed as Bangkok. When we got closer to the Old Quarter we saw what we read in the guidebooks: narrow streets and very dense areas. It was weekend evening, so there were still quite a lot of activities out on the street.

When we arrived at our hotel, the Hanoi Serenity Hotel, we were welcomed by the young lady at the front desk that doubled up as the concierge and also a tour business. She gave us our room assignment, and it was on the fifth floor of the building. There was no elevator to go up, so she had one of the hotel staff members helped us with our luggage to go to our room. Originally we were planning on at least getting a dinner at a restaurant in Hanoi for that night. But it was close to 11 pm by the time we settled in our room, and since we’re not even familiar with the area near the hotel and we had a long day following, we decided to just call it a night.

In the morning, we got up pretty early, and we went down to the ground floor to a breakfast area at the back of the hotel. There they had complimentary breakfast made fresh to order. We looked at the menu, and I ordered scrambled eggs and bacon. The breakfast items were pretty much like what I expected, though it was served with a baguette. Similar to Cambodia, some of the French colony influences remained in the culture, including the use of baguette for sandwiches or as part of a meal. The baguette in Vietnam seemed to be lighter and more airy than the French baguette I had elsewhere.

Along with the meal, we could also make our own coffee serving. This became the favorite way to start the day for Kristi and me… making a nice cup of hot Vietnamese coffee mixed with condensed milk (cà phê sữa nóng). After the nice meal and coffee, we’re ready to start our day exploring Hanoi. Technically we were checking out from our room that morning as we would be going to Sapa that night, but the lady at the hotel front desk was nice enough to allow us to leave our luggages in our room, and she said they would bring those down to the ground floor and store them for us while we went out and about in the city, and we could just pick up the luggages before we leave in the evening.

Here was the nice breakfast I had that morning, the scrambled eggs, bacon, and baguette.

Breakfast