With our dried mangos, taro chips, and chocolate coconut cakes in hand, we said goodbye to the Land of Smiles and made our way to the airport for Hanoi. Our first morning, we braved the 100 degree heat and strolled through the Old Quarter, making frequent stops for carrot passion fruit smoothies and iced coffee. The coffee in Vietnam is rich and black, just the way I like it, but they have interesting variations, too. We stumbled upon a beautiful cafe at the back of a silk shop, up a long flight of spiral stairs, overlooking Hoàn Kiếm Lake, where we enjoyed iced coffee with sour yogurt and took in the view. Later that day, we tried egg coffee — similar to a cappuccino, but made with egg yolk that’s whipped to a foam and drizzled with honey. Woah.
Many of the streets in the Old Quarter are named for the merchandise that was sold there 1,000 years ago. Our street was Hang Ga, chicken street, not to be confused with Hang Gai — silk street, which is still alive and well Hanoi. We practiced our bargaining skills over beautiful silk and linen textiles. At night, certain streets are closed off to cars, and people fill the streets drinking bia hoi (fresh beer) that’s brewed in the morning and expires at night. Men sit in deep squats in alleyways smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and playing Chinese checkers. Kids peer out from behind their grandma’s legs as they serve up steaming bowls of phở. Motorcycles speed through the chaos using a subtle honk as a blinker. It’s a bustling city at its finest.
I could write a whole book about the street food in Hanoi. The number of delicious options on every corner is overwhelming, from crab spring rolls piled with fresh herbs and peanuts to sweet coconut buns and su su cakes (Vietnamese donuts). In order to wrap our heads around it all, we signed up for a street food tour. Our tour guide, Moon, took us to 7 different hidden gems where we ate and drank like queens. Some of the store fronts we visited have been run by the same family for 100 years. My favorite dish was bún riêu cua — tamarind broth with vermicelli noodles, fried shallots, rice paddy crabs, and banana blossom.