I'm not going to sugar coat it. I didn't like Hanoi. My first impressions were that it was an insanely crowded (granted we hardly ventured too far), motorcycle ridden city, with often fake personalities - at least among the interactions with hotel staff and vendors - and to top it off, the Vietnamese cuisine I had been dreaming about, drooling over, since early adolescence was substituted primarily by heavily Chinese influenced stir-fries of noodles, beef (I hope), boiled chicken and too-far-blanched vegetable combinations. (FYI on a whole I don't like Chinese food - but that of course also requires a serious food research trip to the country). I know this all sounds very negative Nancy, and it would be fair to give it another chance, more days, however, I overall had the feeling that Hanoi would never be my bag.
Additionally, despite my efforts to seek out amazing meals and high standard hole-in-the-wall joints, I repetitively failed at finding consistently delicious or memorable dishes. Antonio sympathized with my sentiments and happily sought out the bia hoi, outdoor draft beer saloon "amusement parks" (full of local happenings and the rare or maybe not so rare fist fight) and coffee houses to drowned our foodie sorrows.
That said, a few moments of glory managed to make themselves shown to us during our fog and drizzle laden five days in Ha Noi.
You´ll find coffee shops dotted along the motorbikes-parked-on-the-sidewalk oppressed streets serving customers from daybreak to sundown. To me this almost plaster of Paris consistency of coffee is caffeinated rocket fuel. Adding sweetened condensed milk in a ca phe sua, makes the medicine go down. With ice it's ca pha sua da, and with yogurt ca pha sua chua.
#2 Make your order. Ca phe trung. And walk up the windy cast iron staircase.
#3 Take in the view from the balcony. Continue climbing.
#4 Wait on the terrace, with views of the Hoan Kiem lake and roundabout traffic below, as the server delivers your egg coffee, ca phe trung, a sweetened egg meringue blended with strong Vietnamese drip coffee. Savor the moment.
Ca phe trung at Ca Phe Pho Co, Hanoi. Vietnam
Ca Phe Pho Co (also said to be the oldest café in Hanoi)
11 Hang Gai, Old Quarter
Crunchy peanuts, a hearty broth and your good ol' rice noodles at Bun Bo Nam Bo. Winning combination at a reasonable price and central location. Our first experience dining with locals - watch and learn.
Dry beef noodle dish at Bun Bo Nam Bo.
Bun Bo Nam Bo
67 Hang Dieu
Steamed Rice Flour Stuff.This was probably the fondest food memory of Hanoi. I have this fascination and obsession with the glutinous rice texture, and the stuffed thin rice flour crepes, banh cuon, of Banh Cuon Gia Truyen, did not disappoint. Filled with minced wild mushrooms, onions and pork, these make for happy bellies as well.
Iced Vietnamese green tea and sweet dipping sauce (plum?) compliment the meal at Banh Cuon Gia Truyen.
Banh Cuon in all its glory; loads of fresh cilantro, and crunchy fried shallots adorn the silky crepes for that famous Vietnamese ying-yang texture theme.
Banh Cuon Gia Truyen
14 Hang Ga, Old Quarter
A happy stumble-upon as we excited the post office and headed north of what appeared to be along the financial sector of town was Kem Trang Tien. At 1:30pm it was loaded with corporate workers and students fixing for a sweet bite after lunch hour, at night it's said to be jam-packed with young Hanoians on newly purchased Honda Waves.
Kem Com - rice popsicle, a lightly sweetened and milky green tinged bar with actual rice grains (my personal fave). 8,000 VND ($.40)
Kem Oc Que - apparently their most popular item (picture shown above), it's a coconut ice cream cone ready for take-away. 20,000 VND
Kem Trang Tien
35 Trang Tien