Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hanoi, Vietnam : Places to eat at... when you're feeling homesick!

I know the time gap between my posts seems to be getting longer and longer and they aren't any pictures but things can be a bit crazy sometime.

This article is especially for the expats or tourists visiting Hanoi, Vietnam and are craving food other than Vietnamese.

Food seems to bring about a great festivity to the people in Hanoi. Everywhere you look you see families eating breakfast, lunch or dinner together chattering away while sitting on their colorful plastic stools oblivious to the tourists or other people around them. To eat the true Vietnamese food you can stop at any of the million places on the road where families are eating noodles or rice out of their bowls (different variety of noodles are also sold in stalls on the road). Accompaniments to this can be a variety of fish, pork, beef, veggies. A staple of the Vietnamese cuisine also is the Pho bo (beef noodle soup) served with lots of fresh red chillies and lime and Congee again served with meat and an assortment of sauces - traditionally made with beef but you can get yours with chicken too. Breakfast every morning at the hotel seems more like lunch with either congee, miso soup or Pho ga (Chicken noodle soup) and is so filling that there is hardly any place for a full blown lunch. The more exotic and contemporary Vietnamese dishes - snails, clams, pork intestines with blood and all (yes, you did read it right),spring rolls filled with a variety of vegetables / pork / chicken or tofu cooked and then served with a matured duck egg sauce can be found at all the good fine dining places here. A common site here is that everywhere you go you can see women with balancing baskets of food on her shoulder slung over a bamboo pole. This can be as exotic as rice cakes or boiled sweet potato but after a while an average person staying here for more than 10 days does start to get a bit homesick.

I am not a fan of experimenting with my meat and stick to chicken and vegetables. Also, with a small baby around me my excitement to experiment is a bit diminished... so I am always looking for places which serve basic sandwiches and fries and bottled water and have an air-con so that I can feed my baby in a cool place.

The options for expats and tourists who are home-sick are quite a bit. You find a number of restaurants around Hoan Kiem Lake that cater to the palette of tourists and Vietnamese alike. The Little Hanoi (Every thing from Vietnamese food to Tandoori chicken baguettes can be got here and the food is really tasty. This is just at the entrance of the old quarter and you can watch the hustle bustle of the old quarter from the confines of a nice air-conditioned sit down place which makes you feel right in the middle of it but still gives you yours pace) ), Thai Express (over looking the lake for good thai fast food), KFC (for your burger and fries craving), Opera House Cafe (great place to lounge and enjoy that evening beer or Vietnamese cold coffee with condensed milk). There is a coffee shop at the Hotel Zephyr that looked very chic and modern and have been meaning to try it out but haven't had the chance to step in. The good old Indian food craving can be satisfied with a visit to Tandoor (at the old quarter) or Asia House (Indian and Indian Chinese near Hai Ba Trung ). And there is always the good old Highland's Cafe, Hanoi's answer to Starbucks that has multiple branches all over the city and is always full of families and people sipping on their cuppa, chatting or expats / tourists surfing the net (you can get everything from breakfast to a decent meal here with an assortment of cold and hot coffees and tea to accompany it).

Since I am currently living in a service apartment I have been cooking a lot and L's Place at Hai Ba Trung (near the Cuban Embassy) is a great place to stock up especially is you are looking for food for kids (all ages). They have kiddie food (<1 year and up), cereals, chocolates, veggies, fruits, even chicken (which seems hard to get around here) , toys and household items. A one stop shop for anything you need for the house.

There is much to discover in Hanoi and I have just started discovering every page of this rich, culturally enriched book but it can be a bit challenging with a baby. Museum and shopping updates are going to be to be up soon - so do watch this space if you are planning a trip to Hanoi or just want to read more about this gorgeous place.