the phos and the buns
The above shot though is not a true representation of the shopping paradise in Hanoi. Unfortunately, I have no pictures at all of this shopping mecca - cos' there were too many beautiful things to reach out and touch, too many shopping bags to carry, and no hands left to flip out the camera and snap. The shopping is incredible, especially in the Old Quarter, with lots of beautiful lacquerware, embroidered and beaded bags, silkwear, linen, porcelain, pottery, etc. all at very reasonable prices that would certainly keep the womenfolk very busy and happy. For the non-shopping men, take a stroll instead through the city's teeming art galleries, or just enjoy the side-walk cafe culture. Just as an illustration, we were at Hang Gai one afternoon, and our very patient local guide wanted to bring us for coffee at this side-walk cafe no more than 100 metres away but we were so distracted by the many shops on both sides of the street that it took us about 2 hours to walk to that coffee-shop. Any husbands or boyfriends reading this - do beware!
On a day set aside specifically for shopping, womenfolk are usually quite impatient and thus meals must be the "fast-food" type, requiring cafes or food-stalls with following modus operandi = "minimum menu items" (no time to discuss or mull over the orders - just give us 6 bowls of whatever), "quick service" (just plonk those bowls onto the table double quick), "delicious" (to allow for slurping and wolfing down at great speed). Single dish street food are thus the best bets.
For breakfast, we highly recommend a bowl of Pho bo (beef noodle soup). A bowl of thin rice noodles (the flat type) topped with bean sprouts, slices of raw onion, lots of herb leaves, mint leaves and chopped coriander and spring onion, and thin slices of cooked and raw beef. What makes this dish incredibly 'slurp-worthy' is the beef broth (probably simmered for hours with beef bones and beef brisket, ginger, onions, star anise, cinnamon bark, salt and pepper). Coming home to Singapore, I have tried various pho bos served in a few Vietnamese eateries in town and have yet to find one that can truly replicate this wonderful tasting bowl that we had from this stall at 45b Bat Dan.
Bun Cha (pork grilled over hot charcoal stoves served with bun, rice vermicelli) from Dac Kim (1 Hang Manh Street) will do very nicely for lunch. The grilled minced pork balls (some appeared to have been rolled in wild betel leaves), and some grilled streaky pork belly are placed on top of rice vermicelli topped with fresh greens - a few spoonfuls of the fairly oily sauce is added onto the noodles and mixed with a few spoonfuls of the nuoc nam mixture (fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, lime juice) with slices of raw papaya (I think?) to help cut through the oiliness of the dish. As a side, we tried the fried spring roll (top right hand corner of pic) with minced pork. Both dishes are very meaty. Nice and tummy-filling.
If by tea-time, a certain gnawing pang is creeping up on you, Bun Bo (pic above) found at Bun Bo Nam Bo, 67 Hang Dieu Street (in the Old Quarter), is somewhat like a dry version of pho bo. Thin slices of beef are served on top of rice vermicelli topped with lots of fresh herbs, beansprouts (taugeh), fried garlic and chopped roasted peanuts. The whole bowl of ingredients is stirred with a tasty sauce mixture of fish sauce and vinegar (add their yellow sliced chili for volatile fire).
In the same stall, we also saw this green bundles of wrapped cooked glutinous rice packets, which we understood are eaten as a snack by the locals. More food for the shopper on the go!
And with tummies filled, hunger sated, energies rejuvenated, the onslaught of Hang Gai, Hang Bong, Hang Truong can continue unabated!