“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well.”
― Virginia Woolf
Learning about the food of each region, country, and people I have come across is one of my favorite parts of this trip. The food is distinctly different in each region even within the same country. The cuisine can teach you so much about the history and culture of a people. Hanoi is no different and it was fun to explore some of the local specialties.
Sandwiches to me are boring and I am just not a huge fan. They are more of a conduit for soup or other dishes. Previously, I would rarely order a sandwich and never would I suggest one as a dinner option. Bahn Mi has changed that for me. Bahn Mi is the Vietnamese word for bread but when eaten as a meal it is a baguette split lengthwise and filled with toppings. Generally, this is a meat, coriander leaf, cucumber, pickled carrots, and pickled daikon combined with the french condiment pâté, along with chili and mayonnaise. I am not a sandwich guy, but y’all!!! During the French War here in Vietnam lots of things came about. One of the best of those was the way in which the Vietnamese people took French bread making and made it their own. I can not seem to get enough of this particular dish and have it multiple times a week. Go with the mix (mixed meats) and get it spicy and you can thank me later.
There are zero metrics where someone would call me a coffee drinker. I do not like coffee at all. I had heard all about this magical Egg Coffee in Hanoi and well figured I had to try it. Egg coffee is a decadent blend of coffee, whipped egg, and butter. It came about in 1946 during the French War due to a milk shortage. Nguyen Van Giang was the creator of this now famous cup o’ joe. Chuck first took me to Cafe Pho Co. It is a very hidden little gem and a must-visit. Firstly, you enter through a silk shop. Crazy right?!? There will be people riding their motorbikes through the shop, do not panic. You will reach a courtyard where you place your order. Following this, you make your way to the 4th-floor rooftop. Here you get amazing views of the lake and it is a peaceful moment away from the hustle and bustle. My egg coffee was soon delivered and it was pretty great. I enjoyed it, this coming from someone who can not stand coffee. But can you really say you have had the full experience if you have not been to the original? A couple of days later we decided to make our way to the home of Egg Coffee, Cafe Giang. It is also pretty well hidden and you climb some tiny, sketchy stairs to arrive. I decided to go a little different on this particular day. I got the Egg Rum. It was espresso, rum, egg, chocolate, and butter. Holy Moses was it tasty. All in all my review of egg coffee is that it is definitely worth a try and lives up to the hype.
Finding the dish that originated in a place really tells you a lot about the people. I was told if it were a great combination of savory and fresh flavors I was looking for, I had to have the Hanoi born Bun Cha. Simply put it is vermicelli noodles (bun), a bowl of broth with grilled pork, and a basket of fresh greens. Nearly every dish comes with a specific noodle in Vietnam and it does not take long to pick dishes out by the type of noodles used. Bun Cha is no different. The pork in this dish comes ground and in almost a meatball form. Greens served on the side are usually fresh lettuce, Thai basil, cilantro, fish mint, banana flower, and coriander. The broth is a sweet and sour broth which is used more as a dipping sauce than a soup. It definitely had a unique flavor and I am glad that I had a chance to try it. It does not rank up there with my favorite dishes, but the importance of Bun Cha was not lost on me.
I had some yummy meals during my time in Hanoi. Bahn Mi though definitely was one of those that I know will always stick out in my mind.