I arrived at one of Hanoi’s main bus stations at 5:30am in a deleriously tired state. The expected moto driver feeding frenzy ensued, and I ended up at the Real Darling Cafe on Pho Hang Quat just as the sun was coming up to get myself a bed in their dormitory.
I’ve been wandering about the city for the past few days on foot and a rented bicycle. Compared to Saigon, it feels like a small town. In the old quarter, where I’m staying, all of the streets are named after what kind of shops it has (or used to have). Pho Hang Quat, for example, is “Fan street.” There are dozens of streets featuring all sorts of crazy stuff from bamboo rafts to joss (paper replicas of money and valuable items for offerings). Here’s a nice history of the old quarter.
In addition to the merchandise streets, there are tons of streets outside of the old quarter that each specialize in a specific dish. Hanoi is famous throughout Vietnam for its great food and I can see why. The holy culinary masterpiece of pho was invented in Hanoi. Im in heaven.
The other day I was riding around on my bicycle, completely lost. I was in no hurry to try and find out where I was, but I was growing hungry. I spotted a street full of food stalls with identical signs. They were all barbequeing some kind of meat on a stick; it smelled delicious. I parked my bike next to a table, sat down and made the international gesture for “food please.” I recognized one word on the signs: “Ga,” which means chicken, so I figured thats what I would get.
In a minute, a plate of 6 giant barbequed chicken feet landed in front of me. They had large talons. I’ve had chicken feet before, in Hong Kong, but never barbequed like this. I don’t care for them done Chinese-style (boiled) so my expectations were low this time around. Chicken feet are quite a lot of work to eat considering how little meat you get from them. The best technique seems to be biting off a finger at a time and spitting out the small bones as you eat the cartilage and skin around them. The process is sort of like giving a pedicure with your mouth. To a chicken.
These chicken feet are absolutely delicious. The spicy-sweet sauce and crispy skin puts them in an entirely different category than the bland, rubbery chinese variety. It took me almost 30 minutes to eat all of them, but it was well worth it. I also managed to order a side of sweet-spicy toasted bread by pointing at another table. Another successful weirdmeat adventure! Hanoi also has a famous street of dog restaurants, which I’ll be visiting sometime soon.
Last night at the ever-popular “Bia Hoi Junction” (a busy intersection with bia hoi places on every corner) I met Hiep, a fellow world-traveler who currently lives in Hanoi. We stayed up talking and drinking until 3am. He is full of really good tips and advice about exploring Vietnam and inspired me to cancel the tour of Halong Bay that I had booked yesterday in favor of doing it by myself. Tomorrow I’ll take a local bus to Cat Ba, try to get onto a boat, do some kayaking and snorkeling for a few days, and then head back to Hanoi. Next weekend I’ll rent a motorcycle and go along with Hiep into the mountains in the north for a few days of serious adventuring.