They say the third time is a charm. Well, this is my third visit (and perhaps last visit) to the famous French colonial city in the north of Vietnam, Hanoi. What is it about Hanoi? Food, buzzing night life, silk, friendly young people, crazy traffic, exquisite handicrafts, it all adds up to a few days on interesting meals and adventures.
I have a feeling we will be concentrating on the food. But the beer and coffee are also quite good here. But the food, yes, the influence of the French, the culturally bound food and traditions, the newer cuisine. It adds up to lots of eating and drinking.
We have already tried some of the better places in the city. It is time to check out the lesser known, and perhaps more innovative cuisine of this city.
Here is one of particular interest to me: KOTO, which stands for ‘Know One, Teach One’ is a cafe and all day dining restaurant that serves agreeable Vietnamese dishes and powerful Vietnamese coffee. Overlooking the Temple of Literature in the Ba Dinh area of Hanoi, the atmosphere is pleasant but the real reason this restaurant stands out is that it is part of a charitable endeavor offering street children the chance to learn a trade and earn a living by working in the restaurant. The serving staff really make KOTO the place it is, with genuine smiles and a willingness to provide the best possible experience. Try a Vietnamese Ice Coffee here and you’ll have renewed energy all day!
And of course, my weakness for good French food: Green Tangerine is a small but beautiful restaurant that serves some of the most creative cuisine in Hanoi. Definitely one for the gastronomists, the chef uses French cooking techniques and adds signature touches best seen in dishes such as king prawns cooked with mango and rum liquor served with carrot cake or marinated pigeon with coffee and cocoa served with beetroot, strawberries and mashed eggplant. The set lunch deal is amazingly good value and highly recommended for any budget!
They are renowned for artfully-presented dishes, such as duck breast carpaccio in red fruit dressing served with gizzard candied in ginger, sesame biscuits and mushroom (VND 148,000), roasted pigeon marinated in coffee, with mashed eggplants rolled in spinach leaves and broccoli (VND 400,000), and caramelized pork and stewed apples in Calvados, presented on a lotus seeds ‘mille-feuille’ cake made with mashed carrots, taro and cilantro.
Another is Quan An Ngon: This very successful restaurant opened its first branch in Saigon and the concept was jumped on by foreign visitors hungry to try the full range of Vietnamese cuisine in one restaurant. The Premise of Quan An Ngon is like a luxurious food court, with different food stations positioned around the periphery of the restaurant serving regional specialties from across Vietnam, all cooked fresh to order. Some complain that it lacks true authenticity with reduced flavors to appease the Western palate, but everything is very well prepared and the restaurant is beautifully designed in traditional Vietnamese style.
More my kind of place: Xuan Xuan Restaurant might not win any award for style, but if you want to eat like a local this Vietnamese BBQ is just about the best in town. Sit down on the ankle-high stools and order a selection of meats (from pork, beef and goat udders) and vegetables. Everything is brought on a large platter and you barbeque your own dinner over a small gas burning stove. It’s a fun experience, eating elbow to elbow with a diverse range of customers and the taste is truly delicious. Located in the heart of the Old Quarter, look for the crowds of happy diners spilling out onto the pavement.
La Verticale is a fantastic fine-dining restaurant housed in a colonial style mansion. The layout of the restaurant is special, with an open kitchen dominating attention, but the food doesn’t disappoint with a seasonal menu that reflects the herbs and spices of the region, produced using French techniques. Duck terrine, ratatouille, veal in tamarind, and Mekong fruits sorbet are all popular dishes here, while there is also a set menu with optional wine pairing. The wine list is excellent, the service diligent and the ambiance is suited to romance. There is also a roof terrace with excellent views across the city, best enjoyed after dinner with a nice cool drink.
Standout dishes include the duck terrine and rillettes with Hanoi 5 spices, ratatouille, Dalat artichoke leaves served with clams, Ha Long curry sauce, veal in tamarind, and Mekong fruits sorbet. Diners can also opt for the lunch or dinner set menus (with desserts and optional wine pairing), which are priced between VND 218,000 and VND 1,115 000. For drinks, La Verticale Hanoi’s extensive wine list features imported brands such as Figaro, Moulin de Gassac, and South West of France, which are priced at VND 74,000 by glass.
But like many large cities in SE Asia, the street food, and the little shops in alleys and back streets provide the real experience. They (local experts) try to steer us clear of the local places, and try to “influence” us to the fancy places. Not I. We shall go where we want, when we want. I have already charted a course!
So, in honor of the above info, we are headed out on a FIVE hour moto guided food tour this evening. Motos, and food, a great combination. I think the helmet will mess up what little hair I have left. More on that I the next tome.
We were inundated with young Vietnamese kids at the lake today. They asked if they could practice their English with us. They were thrilled, esp. at Mr. Mike. He got down on one knee, down to their level, and had a hundred kids around him. We finally had to leave the area after I told the kids he knew Labron!!!!