Each morning in Hanoi I have been waking to the smell of the breakfast being cooked on the ground floor of the hotel. The smell of bacon wafts up the elevator shaft and sneaks under the door to room 303. About this time it must infiltrate my dreams because this coincides with the characters in my dream sporting five spring rolls on each hand (if that was the case I would be a chronic nail-biter). Downstairs breakfast isn’t exactly buffet but there are enough options to keep be sated until I reach the front door and find breakfast #2. Some noodles, eggs and whatever fruit is on offer does the trick. During my bia hoi initiation the two expats mentioned that I am staying up the road from some really nice places to eat but before finishing their sentence they had to add that there was a couple of places that serve dog which I should be aware. It wasn’t as if these vendors were trying to trick you into eating this, the whole animals are there for all to see. They look as if they got dizzy on a rotisserie spit. I don’t want to give the impression that this is a common occurrence, however from what I can ascertain it is more prevalent in the north of the country than the south. I had to take the photo from across the road as it would be a bit rude to take a photo up close and personal without having a bite of some mut. From the limited information gathering it is not like a fish shop where you can get a variety of fish, this seems to be one breed of dog. If you couldn’t eat it all, it gives new meaning to “doggy bag”.
I chose to look further afield for my nutrition on this occasion, as the idea of dog for any kind of meal was a tad stomach churning for me. Rather than that I found a place that does bun dau mam tom. Unlike the array of soups in Vietnam this only has a small amount of liquid but it packs a punch to the nostrils up there with the best left jabs in the world of boxing. Whilst not related to bun cha (of my song fame), this is similar in the fact that you assemble as you go. Rice noodles, pork sausage, deep fried tofu (gooey in the middle), cucumbers and a collection of herbs are there to eat with a dipping sauce of pungent fermented shrimp paste. At first I wasn’t given the shrimp paste because they thought that (possibly) being a tourist I would steer clear of something that smells like rotten seafood. But a point to the old man next to me and a shrug of the shoulders rectified that oversight. The odour did not translate into the taste (once mixed in with the lime juice) which I found relieving. Anytime I find something new I ask myself, would I eat this again and the resounding answer from the little man in my stomach was “hell yes!”
I was planning on writing a whole entry entitled “Anatomy of A Vietnamese Street” which would try to paint a picture of the things you would expect to see on a Vietnamese street but I don’t think the pictures I snapped would do it justice so instead here is the first of the random photos for your amusement.
It had been a while between pho(es) but with it been a northern Vietnam thing I thought I’d take hop back upon the bandwagon. Pho Thin was the location of this next one. Unsure of the “Thin” in the title because they serve their rendition with quay, a fried Chinese breadstick. I’d come across these in Hong Kong but not so far in my Vietnamese travels. This was everything a good pho should be – tasty, clean, filling and partially medicinal. The quay soaked up the broth which was covered in spring onion. The lady in front of me was ensuring that everything was nice and clean and with the world on the verge of a pandemic outbreak it was pleasing that those plates had her reflection staring back at her.
In Australia most of us have had the odd interaction with sticky rice, that exotic sweet mistress which ends a meal. However here the world is topsy turvy. Sticky rice can be on the breakfast menu because it is of the savoury variety. Sticky rice in this case is served with mung beans and your selection of meat, corn and with of without a splash of chicken fat for lubrication and flavour. Took a while deciding on spare ribs or chicken but the chicken vote won out. Chicken skin isn’t my most favourite thing in the world but this was delicious. If only I had discovered this earlier my life would be complete.
Between meals I discovered these murals which were so lifelike I was questioning my reality for a second or two.
Before I left the country I needed to try Bun Rieu. A crab and tomato soup which should have been a memorable meal but this one wasn’t the best example. Normally a crab noodle soup with heavy tomato flavours, this had a few intruders. Couldn’t find any crab but there was some pig’s blood floating there along with tofu, rock hard meatballs and unidentified sausage. There was probably two meals that I didn’t like while in Vietnam and this one is one of them. I am sure that we will slurp and make up in the near future and I am hoping that is us just bun rieu on a bad day?
Random photo #2. I have no idea what is sold behind these doors?
And I will leave you with the most warm, hug-from-your-Grandmother dish you could imagine. A chicken soup which used to be served in a small hidden location which now seems to have joined the rest of Hanoi on the streets. Chicken and noodles with chilli and lime. Here is the coronavirus vaccine in a bowl. Transfer this into a syringe and you could possibly save the world? Locals were sitting next to me offering advice on how much chilli to add. Then they just started laughing when I was too eager and burnt the seven layers of skin in my mouth in the rush to get this in my belly.
That’s my penultimate blog on this trip. The last will be an avalanche of food, entertainment and culture. Thanks for getting this far, the ride will be over shortly but don’t give up just yet…. in true soapy style there may be a cliffhanger?