Hanoi: Asia’s Next Best Food City
SUN STAR PAMPANGA
By : Ian Ocampo Flora
IF THERE was a competition to name the best food city in Asia through popular votes, I would, without any hint of doubt, rabidly and wholeheartedly campaign for Hanoi for such a worthy title.
Hanoi, capital of Vietnam and the country's second largest city, deserves the title for so many reasons. For one, the exchange rate (100 US dollars equals roughly 2,228,660.57) is so fabulous in Vietnam that you have enough purchasing power to dine even in the most posh restaurants and hotels in the city. Second, the food is so accessible and so readily available that dining is always a breeze. All you need to do is to step out of your hotel and there will surely be a food joint within a ten meter radius. The city is a virtual eating mecca!
Food outside Hanoi is even more cheaper, the people more friendlier, less tourists and the culture more intact but, for starters, it would be wise to start your gastronomic adventure at Hanoi’s Old Quarter and go off-the-beaten-path later in your trip.
My trip to Hanoi was a well-organized tour sponsored by those generous guys from Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp. Inc. (PMFTC). It was a prize tour for the recent 9th Brightleaf Journalism Awards where I won one of the top categories. I do not usually fancy organized tours and I would rather prefer spontaneous travel itineraries but no food enthusiast in his right mind would pass on a tour, not just of Hanoi’s historic places, but also of its gastronomic delights.
The PMFTC guys know how to dine well and in style. During almost a week’s stay we were chauffeured to the best restaurants and eating places in Hanoi. But the best and most memorable, to my mind, is the dinner at Wild Lotus Restaurant. Located just south of Hoan Kiem District, Wild Lotus exudes elegance and a sense of sophisticated dining. Here Vietnamese food is presented in the most delectable fashion. It’s Fresh Seafood Spring Roll, Fried Banana Served with Vanilla Ice Cream, and Lemongrass Chicken are fantastic. But if you have a more adventurous palate, you can hit the streets for some of Hanoi’s basic food fare of native local delicacies and mutations of French and Vietnamese cuisines. The history of Vietnamese gastronomy has close and somewhat bittersweet ties to its colonial French masters. In fact, Hanoi is considered as the center of Franco-Vietnamese cooking in Vietnam.
Eating publicly in Hanoi, like anywhere else in Vietnam, involves sitting on small plastic stools along small tables lined near the streets in front of food stalls. It is an ephemeral experience of dining with the city’s sights and sounds just cruising in around you. Scooters would regularly pass by along with street food hawkers, locals and tourists.
During my trip I made a mental note to not forget to try that quintessential Vietnamese equivalent to a monster burger- the bánh mì. It is a pure symphony of flavors wrapped inside a French baguette.
Imagine how the stuffing of pâté, mayonnaise, pickled carrots and daikon, jalapeños and gobs of cold cuts fit into one bread. Also, it was be nice to have a classic Vietnamese noodle soup pho to soften the palate while devouring the bánh mì.
Nighttime dining and drinking in Hanoi is fantastic with a wide selection of locally produced draft beer. Each beer sold at every stall or food front is unique. There is no single standard taste and the cost is fantastic at around $.75 cents per mug. There are also locally produced commercial beer brands but are rather expensive compared to the home-brewed ones.
On my last night in Hanoi, I spent the night away with a plate of bún cha, sizzling pork meat, and wasted myself with home-brewed Vietnamese beer musing on the fact that Vietnam is indeed one of the best food cities in Asia.
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