Last time I was in Hanoi, it was for work and somebody else was picking up my tab. Apart from a few business lunches, I mostly just ate at my hotel, the fabulous Metropole. (It was French Cheese Week. Don't you judge me).
This time with the fam in tow and a long way from Cheese Week I was forced onto the streets. Most people seem to eat most of their meals on the footpath in Hanoi. As I mentioned last time, there seems to be little if no regulation of street level businesses – or more likely little to no observance of any regulation. Literally hundreds of thousands of punters simply open for business on the street out in front of the family home.
We had breakfast comped as part of our hotel deals pretty much everywhere we went, but that left us to forage for lunch and dinner. I ate well, but dropped a couple of belt notches, which I was happy about. Partly it was the 12-15kms of walking every day, but partly it was also eating like the locals. There's not a lot of muffin content in Vietnamese cuisine.
They do have bread, of course. The famous Banh Mi, adapted from the French baguettes of the colonial era. I had two worth a shout out. One at a Hanoi cafe called Banh Mi 25 in the northern reaches of the Old Quarter, which was nice but not a patch on the fiery pork roll I had at a place in Hoi An made famous by Anthony Bourdian in his Netflix gourmet travel series.
I'll fess to be being skeptical of Banh Mi Phuong. There was always a long line of tourists out the front—like always, every hour of the night and day—and they were there because Bourdain had been there. How could any business retain its mojo under that onslaught.
But it seems they have. Our last night in Hoi An we took advantage of a small drop off in custom to dive in and grab some rolls for dinner. I had a spicy pork banh mi that came generously slathered with Phuong's secret sauce. Repairing to the craft beer joint down the street, which invited you to wash your banh mi down with their beer, I was frankly fucking blown away by just how good a simple meat and salad roll could be. Good enough that it was lucky we waited until the last night to eat there, otherwise I might never have gone anywhere else and I'd have missed out on this lady's rice pancakes; cooked over a mobile grill in the Hoi An markets.
She ladled some mystery fish and a rainbow spread of spices, leaves and vegetables into the pancake before nuking it with bright chili sauce and yoghurt. Thomas and I knocked that one over while the ladies were off clothes shopping. (Every second shop in Hoi An is a tailor or shoe maker).
By the time we were done in Hanoi, we were inhaling all sorts of roadside food and I developed a taste for the little Vietnamese donuts that village women sell for a few cents each.
Developed a taste for cheap beer and cocktails too. Wine is super expensive and not easy to get compared to spirits and ales; perhaps a final fuck you to the French. I coped. We stumbled across Beer Street by accident, while out exploring the old quarter one evening. It was a bit of a zoo scene, full of western backpackers and I could imagine it getting very untidy.
But there was also a pretty sweet gin bar we found near the Cathedral. The Mad Botanist. Five flights of steps up above a bbq pork place. I wouldn't want to negotiate the climb down after a solid session, but for quiet visit at cocktail hour it was just about perfect.