Some of the most delicious food in Asia can be found on the streets of Vietnam. When our group learned we were staying somewhat far from the city center we felt some worry that it would be difficult to find dining options. We quickly found however, that Hanoi’s day-to-day street food scene offered up the tastiest and cheapest options in town. After spending three and a half weeks in Vietnam and trying a wide range of these local dishes I felt completely shocked that Vietnamese food isn’t more popular in the United States.
We also had one of the most spectacular dining experiences of our trip in Hanoi. President Ronald Thomas and his wife Mary visited us and hosted a fabulous seafood buffet at the Sofitel Metropole, Hanoi’s loveliest French-inspired hotel. We stuffed ourselves silly on fresh prawns and oysters, various salads and Vietnamese dishes and the most delectable deserts imaginable. It would have been a very nice treat anyway, but the fact that we had just come from China, the land of oily, heavy foods, made it all the more special.
Here is a schedule of a typical day of cheap eating in Hanoi:
I have three options for picking up breakfast on my way to Nationalism class with Professor Karl Fields. First, I can just stumble out of the dormitory gates and drop myself in a tiny plastic chair at one of three rice buffet stands. For one to two dollars I pick out several toppings to go over rice. These toppings range from sautéed vegetables and tofu, fried eggs, fish balls, pickled greens, chicken legs, potato and meat patties, and more. If I am in the mood for a lighter breakfast I will stop outside the classroom at a tiny stand and pay thirty cents for a freshly fried egg and baguette sandwich. The baguettes in Vietnam are made with rice flour so they are very light and airy, but still crispy and delicious. My last option is to walk a few minutes out of the way for a steaming bowl of pho, Vietnamese noodle soup. Pho is just about the only Vietnamese food I had heard of before traveling there and it is no wonder because this spicy soup is the most deliciously refreshing food I have encountered on Pac-Rim.
Pho can be served with beef, chicken, fish, or tofu. It is made up of very soft, flat noodles, lots of green onions and garlic, chili sauce, and lime juice. After trying several different stalls near our dorm we found one that served up great portions for less than a dollar. The people who ran the stand were incredibly friendly and every time we came there seemed to be more noodles in our bowls.
Many of us precede our breakfast with a Vietnamese coffee, which is sure to keep us awake through and beyond class. This extremely strong drink is made from very rich coffee brewed through a small press. The coffee tastes more along the lines of espresso than drip. As if the caffeine is not enough, the drink is topped off with a great big dollop of sweetened condensed milk. Over ice or hot, this coffee drink is dangerously delicious.
Anything that is eaten for breakfast goes for lunch as well. In addition, two lunchtime favorites are the pork kebab sandwiches sold at portable stands and bun cha, another kind of noodle soup. The kebab sandwiches are made with lean rotisserie pork, piled on a baguette or sesame flat bread. They are topped with cucumbers, purple cabbage, onions mayo, and spicy ketchup. Although this sandwich isn’t exactly traditional Vietnamese food it is very popular and prevalent throughout the major cities.
Bun cha, another pork dish, is prepared as a noodle soup in Hanoi, but as a dry noodle dish in Southern Vietnam. Ordering this dish around our campus means you are going to get a heaping stack of sticky noodles, a bowl of sweet fish sauce flavored broth, a big plate of fresh herbs; cilantro, basil, and mint, and a few minced and grilled pork balls. A few of my friends went wild for this dish and seemed to be ordering it at every meal.
Once again dinner can be breakfast or lunch. I would say the major difference is that dinner is often nicely accompanied by a cold Vietnamese beer. We also have more time at dinner to eat leisurely so sometimes we will head into the Old Quarter to eat at nicer restaurants or grab other ethnic cuisines (for some this includes Western food). Some students really liked a restaurant called Highway 4 where crickets, frog legs, ostrich burgers, and other interesting items highlighted the menu.
As for Vietnamese beer, the competitive tensions between North Vietnam and South Vietnam are exemplified in two of the country’s most popular beers, Bia Hanoi and Saigon. If you are feeling ballsy and don’t mind a nice headache you can always go for the 333, Vietnam’s beer famous for using copious amounts of formaldehyde in the brewing process.
Anyway you end up doing dinner make sure to save some room for the omnipresent Vietnamese desert: banana pancakes and fresh pineapple!
(Article by Jessica)