Hanoi Food Part 3: Wake up for Pho!

It turns out in Hanoi, Pho is served from 6-9am on the street. We had not made it out of the hotel in that time period and we were on the last day there. We were leaving for the airport at 8:30pm. Here we realize we have about 14 hours left in Hanoi and have not eaten any of the stuff we wanted to! Basically we took it up on ourselves to fix this, creating one of our infamous walking tours to ensure that nothing was missed. We walked by a lot of cultural sites, waving hi as we ran to try the best chicken in town. But damn, that chicken was good!imgp3444

At 7am I shook B awake, guilt tripped him into getting out of bed and dragged him down the street for a bowl of pho. I tried to order beef but clearly ended up with chicken instead. But what chicken! I now understand the problems with pho in Seattle. It just isn’t the same. The flavors were so deep, so natural. They did not come from added spices, but from the (figurative, though possibly also literal) heart of the meat. The broth was rich, the meat tender and the noodles perfect. It was a transcendent bowl of pho. And, though B may argue, since he was still half asleep, totally worth waking up at 7am for.imgp3445Bun Cha. Here it is. This was a meal that Brett and I had both anointed the best of the trip–though the fish market meal to come is up there. Bun cha is grilled pork served in a room temperature broth/sauce along with noodles and herbs for dipping into the broth. This was another moment of friendliness of Vietnamese. each time we started to do something wrong, to eat it in a way that wasn’t right, a member of the family would rush over, despite the crowded busy restaurant, smile, and show us the proper way to eat it. What was so impressive was that it was clear they were not doing this because “oh, dumb americans” but because they truly wanted us to be able to get the most enjoyment out of our food. They doted over us, watching our reactions like a Grandma serving cookies to a child. It made for a wonderful experience.imgp3446The bun cha also came with these nem, the local spring roll. The best spring roll ever, quite possibly.imgp3448Here’s the store front. Mom dishes up noodles while sister fries spring rolls. Brother is tending the pork on the grill and you can’t see him, but dad is collecting the money.imgp3447Here’s the totally cool set up on which our pork is cooked.imgp3449After a long walk up to an alley that our map called “Delicious Area” We stopped for a rest coffee. No I don’t know why there is a Nike Swoosh on my coffee serving thing.imgp3450But man, can they make a delicious cup of coffee there at the delicious area!imgp3453We had just sat down at a restaurant on Chicken Street when a parade came down…carrying an ENTIRE PIG. Holy crap, it was my dream parade. But alas, it marched right by and I had to turn my attention to the chicken in front of me.imgp3455This man cooked our chicken. For some reason my pictures are not rotating, so flip the computer. Unless its a desktop. The chicken is equally delicious in all directions, I promise.
imgp3456Mmmm, yeah. This is a big giant pile of grilled chicken and it was beautiful. Served with a side salad or garnish of cucumbers, a few different hot sauces and one small, inadequate wet nap. We had been told that there was bread grilled with honey here too, along with sweet potatoes, but in fact we found those down a street.imgp3460As happens so often in other countries, we were treated to a little surprise when we bit into our bread.imgp3461Quail egg, meat, who knows what else. Oh well, still delicious!imgp3468We walked north, passing by Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, to a lake to begin what I call the pho series. This above is called rolled pho, or pho cuon. Why? I dunno. It does share many basic ingredients as regular pho, though I believe it is actually the noodle that gives it the name, since in eating this reminded me more of the fresh rolls than of the bowl of pho.imgp3470Our next bite came with an amazing appetizer. The freshest, coolest cucumbers ever known to man, combined with a pile of chile salt. And a beer. This was pretty much one of the simplest, best snacks I’d ever had. It far outshone the Pho Chien (below), called fried pho.imgp3471Mostly a stir-fry of beef and vegetables, it is served over deep fried pieces of noodle (the puffy squares in the picture). This was definitely the least good of the pho preparations–the sauce was gloppy, like it was thickened with cornstarch and the flavors were less clean. imgp3474Luckily on the way home we found this bahn mi, the Vietnamese sandwich that is so ubiquitous here in Seattle. Very different there though. The meat and pate dominated the flavor and the pickles and veg were afterthoughts–you can barely see them in this photo–and, oh the bread. So crunchy and crumbly, yet soft and absorbing the flavors of the meat. It was oh so good. Really makes a case for authenticizing food around here. Around now we realized we had about an hour left and just a little bit of money, so we went on a quest for food to spend it on in our short time left in Hanoi.imgp3476We started with a steamed version of the grilled stuffed bread we ate earlier. It was…well, pretty much the same. Also very much the same as version you can get in Seattle.imgp3480This was the set up of the next snack we had. It was impressive. You can’t see the sticky rice bucket to the side, but in the space of mere seconds, the woman poured us glasses of tea, served up two bowls of sticky rice and topped them with each of the ten or so different kinds of sausage and pate you see on her little station here. It came out looking like this:imgp3479And while it may not be the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, this was actually one of our favorite street foods. Each little bite of rice and sausage was different, but all of them were great flavors. This is definitely worth stopping for. I believe it was called xoi something. It was great.imgp3482And finally it was dessert? time. I’m not sure what this was. It was revolting. There was only one thing I could do with this that was appropriate. So as we left town, I passed it off to someone that would appreciate it a little bit more.imgp3486


One Response

  1. I swear to god, we ate bun cha at the exact same place. And I had the same revelation about pho as well.

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