Flavours of Hanoi

As a typical Slovak girl I am used to eat a lot of potatoes, bread, dairy and desserts – all the products that are so rare in Vietnam. However, getting used to new flavors wasn´t difficult at all. Vietnamese cuisine is amazingly tasteful, fresh and cheap. The best food and drinks are sold in small stalls/tables/bikes on the streets, hence he general term “street food”. In the beginning I was a bit scared to order food from a guy on a bicycle that had a “small kitchen” attached to his bike and could prepare different types of sandwiches or other tasty food. But after a while I realized that the best food is the one that is sold from the stalls I would never even stop by in Slovakia…. Hygiene controls don´t exist here. Why would they? Rats in kitchen are pretty normal, running everywhere around or being fryed on the pan for dinner…

The biggest stereotype about Vietnam confirmed!! Vietnamese consume a lot of rice, and if I say a lot, it means that they eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They even have snacks made of rice! Rice is the main ingredient of many dishes, so whenever you are not sure what is the meal made of, the chance that it´s made of rice is 99%.I feel like a number of  ways to prepare rice is close to the number of motorbikes on the streets of Hanoi… Here are some of them: steamed rice, fried rice, burned rice, broken rice, young rice, beaten rice, sticky rice (different flavors of course – coconut, peanuts, beans, lemon…), rice cakes, rice flour, rice porridge, rice wine, rice paper – to prepare spring rolls, rice noodles eaten with many dishes, rice ice-cream…. And that is just the beginning of the list 😛

Don´t be surprised that most of the drinks are very sweet. Sugar is added everywhere – to milk, coffee, juices… Sometimes you can ask for a drink without sugar, but be aware of the fact that instead of sugar  they can just add salt or other yummy ingredient 😛

On the other hand, food in which you would normally expect sugar is usually salty. Most of the cakes contain meat and salt. Vietnamese are not sweet-tooths and don´t consume that many desserts as we do in Europe; they often eat fruit  for dessert.

All the food is very fresh, you can easily find vendors selling chicken, pigs, ducks or other animals that are still alive… They are willing to kill it for you right there, so u can bring it back home on your motorbike… Apart from fershly served meat you can buy various types of fresh tropical fruit.

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What should you try from Vietnamese cuisine? Here are some tips:

Must try:

Pho (bo/ga) – big bowl of soup with noodles, fresh spices and herbs, onion, lemon and chicken or beef

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Bun cha (Bun cha is served with grilled fatty pork over a plate of white rice noodle and herbs with a side dish of dipping sauce with green papaya and carrots)

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Hot pot – Lau (with a portion of vegetables, chicken/beef/frogs/fish/seafood, noodles and spices, ideal for winter :))

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Fish – usually cooked as the whole and eaten with chopsticks

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Banh my (vietnamese style sandwich with pate/egg/sausage)

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Nem/Spring rolls (fresh or fried)

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Traditional cakes – chung cake (typical for Tet holiday), moon cake (typical for mid-autumn festival)

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handmade chung cake. We had to preapare a fire in front of our house to cook chung cake for more than 8 hrs 🙂

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Sticky rice with meat or beans wrapped with leaves

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Raw meat wrapped in different types of leaves

Salads – papaya, mango chilli salad

Drinks: I am a coffee lover so my romance with Vietnamese coffee started immediately when i came here. It´s served with condensed milk (my favourite: Café sua da-iced or nong-hot :), or yoghurt (cafe sua chua). You have to definitely try a local specialities: Trung cafe (egg coffee – vietnamese coffee with whipped egg yolk and sugar), or weasel coffee (poop coffee ;), Other popular drinks are mia da (sugar cane juice), tra da (iced green tee), fresh soya milk, drinks made of beans, peas, sesame,icewine (we recommend homemade  flavoured one, e.g apricot). A must-try, not only for beer lovers but also for anybody coming to Hanoi, is a glass of Bia Hoi (fresh beer) in a local bar. The part of experience is not only drinking supercheap (5000 VND), fresh local beer while sitting on tiny plastic chairs, but also undescribable atmosphere. Either in suburbs of Hanoi, where you can enjoy tasty snacks, such as fresh peanuts (lac luoc), or such crazy snacks as chicken legs or blood soup. This is also a great opportunity to practise your Vietnamese, even if you know only a few words, as locals are very patient and talkative while they are drinking 😛 Another great place to enjoy Bia Hoi is Old quarter (Ma May street) with backpackers from all over the world that will surely give you inspiration for your future trips 🙂

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Desserts Vietnamese desserts are very different from the ones that we have in Europe. First of all, they are not sweet. Secondly, they mostly contain meat. And thirdly, there is no chocolate! . Despite all of that, we managed to fall in love with some Vietnamese desserts, such as: Kem dua (coconut icecream served in a coconut), Bo bia (coconut wrap) , Thao Phu (tofu delights)

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A bit extreme dishes:

Dogs/Cats/Horses/Rats/Frogs/Warms/Sparrows/Snakes & Cobra´s beating hearts/pig testicles/buffalo’s penis 🙂

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A normal street view in Hanoi – you can get dog meat (thit cho) anywhere….

Some pics from cobra dinner 😛

beating heart for the most couragous one :)

beating heart for the most courageous one 🙂

fresh blood and gall mixed with voda

fresh blood and gall from cobra mixed with voda

Ground bones with spices

Ground bones with spices

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Cobra´s meat taste like a chicken

Cobra chips made of skin

Cobra chips made of skin

Fresh blood soup with herbs and peanuts

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Balut (bird embryo served with different sauces or with hot pot)

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Bon Appetit!

Klara 🙂

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