This was my kind of day. Lots of adventures, Fantastic street food, a foot/arm massage /paraffin foot wrap and mani/pedi ($24), a beguiling water puppet show and we did not get run over by a motorcycle, motorbike, bike, truck or car (seemingly defying the odds). As expected, Hanoi is a chaotic, exotic place, full of commotion and life and energy.
We appear to have the only room with a balcony at the sweet little Hotel Anise, just north of the market on the northern edge of the Old District and it is a kick to sit on it, looking down and out from the 7th floor at the rush of activity day and night on the streets.
We spent three hours on a fantastic street food tour with our guide, an Aussie expat named Mark who has lived here for 18 years and blogs about food. He knows his stuff (it was just the three of us) and he took us to six places, most tiny hole in the walls, literally, tucked away in small stalls ob the ground flood of long narrow buildings lining crowded back alleys. The food was incredible and such a treat to have some find it for us. Plus Mark knew all kinds of interesting details about Vietnamese food and diet, which is a window into culture and life here (and anywhere). .
And he even emailed me a long list of places to eat in the other cities we are visiting. His tour is called Hanoi Street Food Tour, run with a Vietnamese guy named Tu and not to be confused with a storefront copycat (I found out about Mark and Tu from glowing reviews in the NYTimes and Lonely Planet.). It was $95 per person and worth every single penny/dong.
I wish I could tell you where And what exactly we ate but most appeared to be from no name places, where we sat on little low plastic stools or at a table inside the stall, elbow to elbow with Vietnamese people. We also learned that the more trash (discarded napkins, bowls) the better — its a sign of the place’s popularity. he also said there is little to fear as far as food upset, that there is more risk of that in restaurants that don’t use as fresh ingredients. I was a little nervous about the ice, since no one drinks the tap water but we were also told that this is no longer an issue because everyone now uses factory produced pre made ice. So I drank several very refreshing glasses of green iced tea on the rocks – helped ease the heat of chiles in some dishes and the heat of the weather…so far so good.
We ate several noodle dishes (one with wide noodles stained brown by tea), lots of incredibly delicious fried food (a crispy fried batter cake containing a shell-on shrimp that you eat shell and all, egg creme coffee (too gooey for me, akin to less sweet sabayon but the hidden coffee house was very atmospheric) and an unusual salad made with strands of young papaya (so not sweet) and beef jerky or dried squid. Our guide wasn’t into introducing us to some of the weirder street food, although he did talk up one place with great snails.
After all that, I stumbled into one of the many, many massage/nail salons and found it full of very nice American tourists from Philly, Chicago and Tampa. I had some sort of foot treatment that was very involved – I soaked my feet in a bucket with brown powder I was told (by the Chicagoan) is cinnamon, then the woman started cutting and scrapping in a podiatrist-like fashion, and placed each foot in a vat of very hot paraffin wax and each waxed foot was wrapped in cellophane (to soften the skin.)
Onto the nearby water puppet show, a strange performance with puppets in a pool of deep water on stage. As various puppets (fishermen, farmers, water buffalo, fish, pigs) dove in and out of the water, musicians and singers in traditional dresser sang and played music. At the end, The puppeteers waded out in waist deep from behind the curtain on the watery stage. Loved it all.