Here in Hanoi, time seems to work in multiple and sometimes paradoxical ways. On one hand, the city might seem to take a teeny-weeny catnap (at best, maybe late, late at night) but it never truly reaches R.E.M. Even Michael (a New Yorker) agreed that Hanoi has an energy that feels so palpable and virtually unceasing. On the other hand, the city seems to abide by unspoken rhythms--meal times served during certain times, the dizzying criss-crossing of rush hour traffic, folks sitting on plastic stools to enjoy a refreshing evening drink with friends--daily rituals that remind me of each day passing by.
Some of my favorite moments so far (sorry but I'm not sure how to type Vietnamese accents):
Not surprisingly, enjoying Vietnamese cuisine, which is perhaps my absolute favorite. While the Lonely Planet has been helpful in some ways for locating cultural sites, Michael and I have found that the best restaurants so far have been small places that LP didn't mention and ones that tend to specialize in one dish but seem largely overlooked by the tourists for some reason (does it have something to do with their location or seemingly less-inviting facade?). A few examples: Bun Cha on Duong Thanh (god help me, a bowl of this stuff is heroin for my belly...I'm already missing this place), Hanoi-style pho at Pho 49 on Bat Dan (large cuts of brisket hang from the counter and tonight the owner/employee smiled at Michael as she scribbled down the price in a wet puddle of broth on the table...fantastic, especially with a side of the bready things called "quay" that are shaped like dog bones). THE best pate EVER from a tiny shop on Ly Quoc Su...a slab of this pate on a fresh baguette keeps me a very happy carnivore and I noticed a healthy line of folks ordering fat slabs of it to take home. And then our latest find last night--Bun Bo right next door to our hotel on Hang Dieu Street (a bowl of vermicelli noodles with beef, bean sprouts, mint, lemongrass?, some broth, and sprinkled with peanuts). As Michael said blissfully after we ate this dish, "Bun bo will be the death of me." And of course, Vietnamese coffee and banh mi pate sandwiches from several vendors around the city(sometimes we carried two at a time from different vendors to eat later!).
Other dishes I've especially loved: banana flower salad at Koto, Banh Cuon on Hang Bo Street (banh cuon is made of steamed rice rolls filled with pork, mushroom, and shallots, served with a dipping sauce called nước chấm); Banh Xeo from a place on
Huy Chu; beignet-like donut things that we ordered with the bun bo; and from Quan An Ngon restaurant on Pahn Boi Chau Street, Banh hoi chao tom Cuon Banh Trang, a pounded shrimp hash fried on sugar cane served with rice vermicelli rice paper and vegetables.
Well, after last night's performance at the Hanoi Opera House (an incredible venue that's reached its 100th birthday this year) which showcased about a dozen musicians who performed from a range of musicAL genres, from classical compositions and Spanish ballads, to opera and jazz, Michael and I are hankering badly for more live music, so we're about to head over to Minh's Jazz Club where live jazz shows apparently take place every night.
I've also enjoyed the times we've had the chance to talk with the locals here, whether it be a group of Vietnamese college students taking a survey of what foods foreigners like most (we've been asked to participate in this survey twice now, at different places), or chatting with a guy at Pho 49. He was born and raised in Hanoi and he explained that many young adults in the region commute to Hanoi for work (which adds to the sense that Hanoi is a young city). I'm always amused to hear the impromptu guesses by folks about my ethnicity. A couple times now, people have expressed difficulty in reconciling my Asian-looking face with my American nationality. The results are in: I'm either Japanese (60%), Chinese (10%), Singaporean (5%), or other (5%). Don't folks know how many Korean telenovellas I've been exposed to over my life? :)
More soon (including non-food related)...hehe...