We awake to dumping rain and 90 degree weather. We decide to walk to the big, old market called Dong Xuan and check out the “36 Streets” of the old quarter. We set out walking with umbrellas, locals looking at us as if we are insane. The market is a massive disappointment from a food perspective. If you’re looking for fabric, a cheap watch, or anything plastic and imported from China, this is your place. A foodie destination it is not. In fact, the only “food” I can find are stalls selling dried shrimp and dried mushrooms.
Dejected, we leave and decide on an early lunch of Bun Cha. This place came highly recommended by a friend, andby the hotel. Last night I had asked the guy at the front desk for restaurant recommendations. First he suggested the usual “safe” choices; Quon an Ngon (where we’d had lunch already) and Green Tangerine.
I said, “What about something less touristy, more local?”
He said, “You like Bun Cha? Go to this place, it’s famous for Bun Cha, right at the end of the street…”
We looked, and at first could not find it. Then we figured out it was closed. Fortunately for us, today it is open!
We go in and are ushered to a small room up a very narrow set of stairs. There’s no menu; we’re asked what we want to drink and then the food is brought to us. On the table already is a massive plate of greens and herbs, a plate heaped high with cooked rice noodles, and a bowl of sliced chilies and chopped garlic. They bring us each a bowl filled with grilled pork patties and sliced grilled pork, swimming in a sweet/sour vinegar sauce. There’s also a huge plate of Nem Cua Da (fried pork filled spring rolls).
One of the women there senses just the barest hesitation on our part and jumps in to show us how to eat everything. Some noodles in the empty bowl, top with a couple of spoon-fulls of pork and sauce from the other bowl. Add some garlic and chilies and a bit of greens. Mix it all up with chopsticks and enjoy! Later, we are relieved to know we’re not the only ones to receive such instruction; the Japanese couple who sits down next to us get the same. Lunch for two, with 2 sodas, 130,000 VND.
After a trip to the Hoa Lo Prison (aka “Hanoi Hilton”) and a complete drenching in the rain there and back to the hotel, we decide it’s time for a famous Vietnamese specialty, the iced coffee, also called Cafe Sua Da.
I asked at the hotel if they could recommend a “local” place and they came through, sending us to a corner where there are a number of cafes. We walked over, picked on, and settled down on tiny blue plastic chairs on the sidewalk.
They gave us a menu and I couldn’t find the iced coffee! So I said “Cafe Sua Da” and yes, the woman looked at me like I was nuts. But then the guy sitting next to me smoking a cigarette and looking irritated/bemused said “Cafe Sua Da!” and yes, she understood him.
Shortly, we had two dark iced coffees in front of us with a healthy dose of sweetened condensed milk in the bottom. They were tasty. In LA, when I’ve ordered iced coffee it’s come with the metal coffee filter still dripping coffee into the glass. Not here. We sat, in the rain (under the awning) and enjoyed watching the world go by for a while. I even managed to capture a picture of four guys on a motorbike! The coffee was 15,000 VND each.
Dinner was a simple and late. We chose a place at random for Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup) because I wasnt feeling that well. Again, it was served with no garnish, and this one, not even with any herbs. It was good though, and just what I needed. Two bowls of Pho Ga, one bottle Bia Hanoi, 65,000 VND.