Monday, June 23, 2008

Hanoi food paradise

A portable stall

Vietnam’s French colonial past is clearly evident in their food (think freshly baked baguettes and paté).

Vietnam street fare is full of choices and the pho is undoubtedly the best noodle soup I’ve eaten. Pho takes pride as the national dish of Vietnam. The best place to eat a bowl of hot steaming pho is, as I’ve discovered, to eat where the locals eat. That’s at makeshift stalls by the road where you sit on child-sized chairs. Thin rice noodle strips are served in a bowl of hot steaming soup topped with your choice of thinly sliced beef (bo) or chicken (ga). The soup for the noodles are flavourful due to the addition of spices.

My colleagues and I found a stall selling cuttlefish roasted on hot charcoal, literally. The cuttlefish is roasted on a small make-shift charcoal stove by the roadside and then pounded on the pavements. Then it’s wrapped and ready as food on the go!

Further down we found another stall selling homemade French fries. Potatoes were peeled and cut right on the street, then slathered with butter and fried. Hygiene may not necessarily be a priority at these stalls, but at times like this, it’s best to throw caution to the wind. The fries were delicious hot off the wok!

There are also many beer stops where one could down an ice-cold Bia Hanoi.

In the Old Quarter where we found shops that sell all types of preserved fruits. I found preserved strawberries, crab apples, apricots, ginger and lots more. I liked the preserved strawberries which was sweet and sour.

Banh Xeo

Prawn fritters

My favourite restaurant is the Quan An Ngon, an open-air restaurant with rustic stalls set around the perimeter of a large courtyard. The ambience is great and the best part is the variety of street food of every region in Vietnam is available here. It’s one of those places where we could have street fare in a hygienic environment. My Vietnamese colleague ordered some local delicacies which were utterly delicious. I’ve tried Vietnamese fare before back home but it is nothing compared to the ones here. I particularly liked the Banh Xeo which is a rice pancake with beansprouts from Ho Chi Minh down south and the squid salad with crackers. The crackers were great to soak up all the juices in the squid salad. The cha gio (fried springrolls) were crispy with minced meat fillings. The desserts were lovely too.

On the last day of my stay in Hanoi, I forgo breakfast at the hotel and set out early for the baguettes. I’ve seen folks buying these baguette sandwiches every morning and I very much wanted to try one. I found this little stall in front of the St. Joseph’s Cathedral and ordered a baguette with egg omelette, ham & paté. The freshly baked baguette was delicious, crisp outside, and fluffy inside and the paté was smooth. It proved to be a potent combination! It was so good I ordered another one for take-away!

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