Chicken or beef; Apple or Android; Batman or Superman; straight or Canadian: the world is full of choices that amount to absolutes, and for me when the question was ‘Saigon or Hanoi?’ ‘South Vietnam or Vietnam?’ the choice was easy. Saigon is a city that truly does not sleep whilst Hanoi, well it sleeps, and it sleeps at midnight.
But, as Lonely Planet like to say, “scratch beneath the surface and you will find blah blah blah”. With my local friends in tow I was about to discover a whole new underside to nights out in Hanoi!
Fusion! Vietnamese-themed cocktails
38 Tong Duy Tan Street
Being invited out for drinks being paid for by someone else is like a red rag to a bull to me. When said bar is allegedly the best cocktail bar in Hanoi, I’m frankly sold. The bar itself is slap bang in the middle of the Old Quarter surrounded by more traditional street food, and in a bar so small you have to book a table. On entry I was given a menu specific for that night as they had a “guest” bartender in.
I had arrived in Hanoi Hipster Heaven, but it was to get better as my local friend insisted I order from the local “Vietnamese” influenced menu. I was pushed towards the “Pho” cocktail, an amazing affair that included peppers, cinnamon and limes.
We worked through a few of the drinks as the owner regaled us with the tale of his bar. Drinks here are $11 – not cheap by Vietnamese standards, but free if your mate pays for you.
Fusion 2! Street Hot Pot
After having my drinks purchased for me I offered to take my friends for dinner, feeling I should pay for something, so was obviously greatly happy when they suggested we go for street food and then hot pot. I live in China and hot pot is a big big deal there, but I also find it the most overrated food in China, and something I frankly have to overeat in the Middle Kingdom. That said, Hanoi hotpot was to prove a little unique.
Despite this blog entry I am not usually a fan of “fusion” food. In my experience, in the West “fusion” simply means bad noodles. In places that have been colonized like Vietnam, however, it means great food. That’s right, I went there. Colonialism: bad for human rights, great for food.
So we sit down for hotpot and are brought over some kimchi (great start). Then the cooker is put on, and we add BUTTER – yes, butter – something that is harder to get than crack in China! So we cooked meat, potato and vegetables cooked in butter and washed down with Hanoi beer on ice. If fusion food includes butter, it’s ok by me.
Fusion 3 – REAL drinks with classic BBQ
Central old quarter
Without doubt the Big Kahuna here! Street food with beers is a thing in Asia – from to China to East Timor you get street food with beers. But whilst the street food tends to be great, the beers are like having sex in a canoe (fucking close to water), or fiery fiery rice wine that tastes like vomit. So here’s what the Hanoi people did: they looked at the food and thought “yeah that’s OK, but how do we get Johnny Foreigner to stay put”? So they combined great food with REAL cocktails that are super cheap! Wanna try a mojito and street meat? Hanoi is the place for it.
So, whilst I might not be fully Hanoi over Saigon, when it comes to the Hanoi street food and drinks scene, I am sold.
Come join YPT on our next tour to Hanoi!