Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Fooding Around Hanoi

Green Papaya Salad

Wandering around the Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem lake, we found this lady with her little stall selling what we thought were noodles. It wasn't until we had sat ourselves down on a teeny-weeny stools did we realise it was green papaya salad topped with fresh herbs, peanuts and bo kho (dried beef) served with lots of nuoc nam. Having never eaten green papaya salad before, I found it very light and refreshing eve if the dried beef was a little hard and chewy at times. Jo wasn't too keen on this dish as she's not a peanut fan (the woman was very generous in her portions and that's Jo scraping all her peanuts onto my plate - I love peanuts! :) There were extra bottles of chili sauce for those who wanted their salad spicy.

We sat by the woman for about 15 minutes and loads of locals stopped by for an afternoon snack. She had everything prepared and once someone sat down she'll grab a plate from a stack by her side and start piling on shredded papaya, cut the fresh herbs with a pair of scissors, load on the meat, sprinkle on the peanuts and splash on the sauce, kept handy by her side in a red carrier basket (seen in the bottom right of the above photo). Dish is served in no more than a minute or 2 of sitting down and all for less than US$0.80, brilliant!!

Fanny's Ice-Cream

I spotted a recommendation for this place in the guidebook and couldn't resist! Could you? Fanny's Ice Cream (lol) is located by Hoan Kiem lake and decorated with the air of a French cafe. There are loads of flavours to choose, from the usual suspects - chocolate, vanilla, strawberry to the more 'local' flavours of yam and mango. I went with chocolate chip (I'm still not quite sure why I went for such a boring flavour...) which was...well...boring, mango in the middle which was made with real mango and really yummy and last, the flavour at the other end of the bowl was com (young sticky rice). Having read about it I went to Fanny's hoping to try (as it's a season flavour) this strange, new flavour which was creamy, sweet and mellow. Quite delicious.


Who can resist a bit of cake? Especially chocolate cake? Another of the French colonial legacies in Vietnam - French style baked goods. Gluttons that we are (me more so than Jo...as the heat and humidity really wore her down), we indulged in a few bakery visits around the Old Quarter. Some were better than others but here's a particularly yummy chocolate mouse cake (more mousse than cake), which was light enough for our dinner filled bellies but chocolate-y enough to satiate our cravings.

Highlands Coffee

A local chain modelled after your usual American coffee shop (think Starbucks, CoffeeBean). A godsend in the oppressive afternoon heat! Jo and I were at the point of snapping at each other (yup, you'll know what I mean if you've ever spent everyday, every minute .. with another person, travelling) when we called a coffee break. Located in a building overlooking the Haon Kiem lake, we plonked ourselves on a couple of sofas by the windows which thankfully had a nice breeze coming through.

I'm a real sucker for ice-blended coffees - icy, creamily smooth..emm.. My guilty conscience usually tells (commands) me to say no to the cream but I happily lapped most of this mountain of creamy goodness (the waitress didn't ask if I wanted any, she piled it on all her own and I couldn't possibly have let her down LOL). The little brown specks on top of the cream are bits of ground coffee, which I usually dislike (why would anyone want to bite into hunky bits of coffee??I'm happy just to drink it, thank you!) but these bits were so fine, it passed right by my radar for bitter coffee bits.

Jo opted for a fruity slushy/smoothie. I think it was mango... it was nice and icy and really refreshing.

Cafe 69, 69 Ma May Street
Sadly, as average priced food went, Cafe 69 was probably the best we had while in Hanoi. Slightly downtrodden on our food choices so far, we headed to this restaurant just metres away from our hotel. With a bar downstairs and a restaurant up a flight of rickety stairs (yes, another of those, argh!), Cafe 69 is a restored Tonkin tube style house (according to a sign by the main entrance - though I have no idea what a Tonkin tube style house is - Google has let me down this time).

First up, some Bun Cha (yes, i know....what were we doing eating this in a restaurant when there's a stall selling this at nearly every street corner?looking back..I honestly don't know..) with vermicelli, grilled meat patties, spring rolls, greens and a dipping sauce of fish sauce, vinegar, sugar and chillies. I really quite enjoyed this but I'm guessing this was nowhere as good as those roadside stalls we passed with wafts of smoke from meat being char-grilled. The spring rolls made with rice paper wrappers were filled with minced pork, wood ear fungus and glass noodles were crispy and delicious.

While the spring roll that accompanied the bun cha were made with rice paper wrappers, these were made with flour-based wrappers - much to my disappointment. I love the other sort and was really hoping (rather greedily) for a full portion. The filling was similar and nothing to shout about. We also had some very yummy caramel pork - luscious chunks of pork belly braised in a dark caramel sauce with lots of garlic and chillies. The meat was melting tender and went beautifully with rice.

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