In mid-September, following a wedding on beautiful Gili Trawangan, 310 hopped a plane to Hanoi.
Why Hanoi you ask?
Hanoi is such an incredibly vibrant and busy city, you could easily spend weeks, months, even years just wandering the crowded streets watching families selling their wares, industrious chefs firing up their charcoal burners, groups of friends gathering for beers and mysterious snacks wrapped in banana leaves like something out of a delicious lucky-dip, and the endless stream of scooters and motorbikes that flow through the capillaries of the old quarter.
We only had about 5 days in Hanoi, so we were determined to make the most, eating-wise, of our time there. Fenn and I visited Hanoi several years ago and fell in love with the city. We were absolutely blown away by the food, but at that time we were rather daunted by the street food and ate only in restaurants. For shame.
Food is so plentiful on the streets of Hanoi, and so beautifully fresh, it can be hard to decide where you want to eat your precious meals. (With 5 days, we figured we could eat at least 20 meals in that time, as long as we were able to fit in a second breakfast or post-lunch snack of some kind.)
We pretty quickly fell into a routine: wake up; convince the manager at our amazing hotel that we would try his complimentary breakfast tomorrow, we promise; wander until we found some pho; pile said pho with lime juice and chilli sauce and proceed to bliss out in soupy heaven; head to our regular coffee place a few metres from the hotel and sit on the footpath drinking our coffee thick with sweetened condensed milk and ice; explore the streets of Hanoi for long enough until we 'worked up an appetite' so we could justify eating again; share two banh mi between the five of us (didn't want to ruin our lunch, now); explore again for reasons previously stated; eat lunch at whatever place we happened to wander by that looked most exciting; waddle back to the hotel for afternoon nap; head out again for exploring then find a bia hoi; drink numerous 7 cent beers while nibbling on sunflower seeds; find some kind of awesome street food place and order twice as many dishes as we need; eat, eat, eat, eat, eat; stagger back to Ta Hien, where most of Hanoi's bars are located, and get back to the beer.
When it comes to street food, obviously the places that have huge crowds and people queueing up to be fed are a safe bet for a sensational meal. That said, we still wanted to do our research. We found pikelet & pie's gorgeous blog which was a great source of information, but we also tracked her down on twitter and asked her if she had any recommendations. She pointed us in the direction of this glorious treasure map, which I cannot recommend highly enough to anyone visiting Hanoi. A wonderfully detailed and, from our experience, extremely trustworthy map of street food compiled by Nonna Chong.
This wondrous map directed us to Hai San Thang Ngoc, an extremely popular place that specialises in shellfish. Mussels, pipis, cockles, all grilled over charcoal and topped with sweet and chewy fried shallots, fresh spring onions and the magical lime and chilli special crack sauce for dipping.
Following the unmistakable aroma of pork belly being grilled over charcoal is the best way to find yourself some great bun cha. Char-grilled pork in a fish sauce broth, served with silky rice noodles and a mountain of fresh herbs? Yes please.
There was one place we just kept hearing about, a mythical street that existed purely to purvey succulent barbecue chicken. They called it 'chicken street' and to chicken street we did go. It was no myth. You sit on the ubiquitous tiny blue stools where someone brings you a bowl of pickled zucchini. A cocky teenager swaggers over with a fistful of skewers, each piercing a different cut of chicken; wing, maryland, thigh, feet. Point at the ones you want and 5 minutes later you have a plate full of the stuff you WISH that Charcoal Chicken down the road from your parents' place could produce.
Oh Vietnam, we can't wait to see you again...