I love exploring the street food of the countries and cities I visit. The cuisine and ways of eating tells as much about a country and its people as sightseeing does. More so, perhaps, as it literally gives you the flavour of the land, and a peek into the soul of the people.
On a recent spur-of the-moment visit to Vietnam with the family, I had the chance to experience the vibrant street food of Hanoi. Yes, there were lots of lovely cafes and restaurants (more of that in another post), but it was the squashed food stalls crammed with steaming cauldrons, and packed with low plastic chairs and tables that held Vietnam’s culinary soul. There’s no aesthetics to speak of, and the scraps of food that litter the ground around tables are insightly, but if you have the cast iron stomach to ignore it, the food within is reward enough for your daring.
But with so many dotted on every street corner, which one would we go to? We asked our concierge at the Hotel Metropole Hanoi, a friendly young lady who recommended to us her personal favourite street hawker who specialised Bun Rieu Nam Bo, noodles in soup with pork or beef. She scribbled it on a piece of paper, and sent us on our merry way. My intrepid foodie of a brother-in-law had the foresight to bring along a small bottle of libation to pair with our meal.
Our destination was a hole-in-the-wall eaterie on 71 Lo Su Street in the Hoan Kiem District, a 10 minute walk from the hotel. It’s humble dining tables along the street were packed with young office workers catching a bite of dinner. For our group of 6, we were led into the only large table in the premises – a small space at the front of the shop, carved out of their living room where a child was watching TV in the darkness.
Despite the cramped conditions, blackened walls and the sight of the boss lady cracking ice on the floor next to a row of shoes, the meal here was one of our best in Hanoi. There were only two options – pork slices served with coarse rice noodles, coagulated pig’s blood and pork trotter, and beef with blood, and local Vietnamese ham. These came in large steaming bowls, with two plastic baskets of local herbs – spring onions, basil, mint, coriander, etc – for you to toss in as aromatics. If you do head there, the beef option was tastier by degrees. The broth was light yet flavourful, the noodles chewy and lively.
And for drinks? The brother in law had brought along the bottle of 18 year old Glenfiddich Scotch Whiskey. The lady bosses who ran this place were welcoming and good natured, and willingly brought out glasses and said chipped ice for our use.
And for the record, we slept peacefully that night. No stomach issues.