The other day I was wandering the streets in Hanoi looking for a bite to eat. Passing each restaurant that was full of tourists (although I’m sure there was a reason they were packed) I was simply looking for some local eats with rich flavor and no English menu. There was a huge mob of locals sitting just inches off the ground on baby stools devouring whatever this woman was putting into the bowls. Sold! I waited for a stool to open up and within moments, a local stood and signaled for me to take their seat. I smiled gratefully, sat down and just held up one finger with a head nod. Seconds later I found myself drooling (or what felt like it) into the dish and loving every bite! It was gone before the camera even made a conscious thought in my head. Sorry folks.
With that said, lets take a walk through the streets and try some other food and drink that’s common around here!
If you’d like to start your day off with a coffee, you have the usual (boring) options or three different specialities of Hanoi. First up, the ever so popular Weasel Coffee.
Turns out, there was debate in regards to animal cruelty with the weasel being caged and force-fed. Since then, they’ve created an enzyme treatment that mimics the “original process” and produces a coffee as distinctive as the genuine, but without the use of the rodent. It’s been said to taste strong but not bitter, for me it was (fill in the blank with an “average” word – ok, good, decent, drinkable, etc.) but definitely not spectacular for the fancy price.
*Please note that I’m not a coffee connoisseur and opinions should be made by oneself.
Next up, a recipe that includes coffee, condensed milk and raw eggs. This little concoction we call, you guessed it… egg coffee! Described as full bodied, smooth and sweet I was excited to try it especially due to the specific cafe that used to be a hidden treasure. From the street you must go through an art gallery, down an alley, up several stairs, continue with a spiral set of stairs, all just to have a seat to enjoy your coffee. I will say, the view of the lake was nice and also made for a new handstand pic!
Back to the coffee. Luckily I was with my new kiwi friends because I was faced with an unexpected dilemma. As I opened the menu to point to the egg coffee, my eyes caught the word “yogurt” followed by “cocoa” and “coffee. What? A cold iced coffee with chocolate and plain yogurt… Yeh, I know.
They each ordered an egg coffee (one cold and one hot) and I got the yog-o-coffee (I made that term up, please don’t go and ask for it, they’ll have no clue what you’re talking about).
Group opinion says:
The cold egg coffee just tasted like thick creamy iced coffee.
The hot egg coffee is better than the iced one. In his words, “like a hot coffee that had a scoop of vanilla ice cream melted into it”.
The yog-o-coffee tastes exactly like you would imagine. Cold sweetened coffee poured over plain yogurt with powdered cocoa mixed in. I think my expectations were set too high to say this was amazing, however I’d probably get it again if I ever went back, just to double check my opinion.
Moving on to edible drinks. This is a warm soy tofu type of substance with palm syrup poured over the top. The flavor isn’t bad, but definitely not good enough to consume all of that sugar!
This tempting doozie was calling my name when I assumed it was fresh fruit and yogurt. Nope, fresh fruit with coconut milk and condensed sweetened milk topped off with ice. Sugary fruit thats soaked in sugar, topped off with a fat filled creamed sugar syrup. Sounds like Buddy the elf would love it (thank you Will Farrell).
I thought this was going to be a savory rice(ish) soup. Wrong again! It’s another sugar filled, warm gooey surprise! Considering I had no idea what it was or which “color” to pick, I just shrugged my shoulders and pointed at her then the mixture to suggest that I’d like to try her favorite.
I knew she understood me when the smile hit her face as she said “you go sit”. So there I sat waiting (on the tiny chair next to the tiny stool that this entire country uses for social dining). I dig it.
For lunch options, I kept my eyes down for anything that may look appetizing along the road side.
After struggling all day trying to find a dish that didn’t have tofu, pork, chicken or fried fish, I finally broke down and stepped inside of a restaurant. The hostel I’m staying at suggested Minh Thuy’s Family Restaurant and they were spot on! The momma cook is one of the female master chefs of Vietnam and has every right to boast of her ability. With her daughter eagerly serving tables while she prepares in the kitchen, this place felt like you were eating at a friends house. I ordered the fresh spring rolls planning to have half for lunch and the rest for dinner. Yeah right, I devoured the entire plate!
In addition to all of the above, you can find corners selling “fresh beer”, (which just means on tap) for $5000 dong. That’s about 0.25 cents in the US. So for a meal, a few beers and dessert if you choose, you can easily eat on the streets of Hanoi for $1.50.