Banh mi, or bread in Vietnamese, was developed in the 1950s as Vietnam’s own interpretation of baguette. It is a classic marriage between ingredients from both East and West – baguette, pate, and mayo from their French colonial times, and local ingredients such as pork, grilled chicken, or even cilantro.
If you find yourself at Hanoi like we did earlier this year, a freshly made banh mi makes for a great option as breakfast on-the-go.
Banh Mi by street vendor in Hanoi
This vendor selling scrambled egg banh mi set up her “stall” at the market just right outside the Ancient Lane hotel we stayed at Hanoi. We just had to give it a try after walking by and smelling the freshly made dish for the second day in a row.
The scrambled egg was prepared on the spot using her tiny frying pan with ingredients that undoubtedly involved fish sauce and pepper. The whole thing is then stuffed into this lovely baguette that was soft and yet crunchy on the outside, some thinly sliced cucumber, a bit of cilantro, a squeeze of chili sauce, and there you have it – one of the simplest form of banh mi.
Baguette with freshly cooked omelette
It turned out to be a lovely simple breakfast, and one that would go well with some local coffee for sure. Banh mi stalls can be found pretty much everywhere in Hanoi, give it a try, this version cost 15,000 VND if not mistaken.
Part of the charm of visiting a new city is to try some of the local dishes, and when it comes to Hanoi, there are plenty to choose from, with one of them being Bun Oc, or snail soup.
bun oc hawker by the streets of Hanoi
While this dish may sound a little weird at first, do remember that most of us readily eats all sorts of shellfish, clams, and even escargot, which isn’t at all too different from this Vietnamese offering.
We chanced upon this Bun Oc place by the streets at Old Quarter in Hanoi (you can find quite a number of these stalls) and decided to give it a try.
The snails are cooked and extracted out from its shells before being served in a sweetish soup base that’s packed with fresh vegetable and a hint of fish sauce (what else doesn’t have fish sauce in Vietnam?)
a warm bowl of snail soup, anyone?
The dish usually comes with vermicelli to make it a meal, we opted out of the carbs since we had just completed a full meal prior. The snail has a subtle taste with texture that isn’t unlike topshell or well cooked shellfish, which was quite pleasant. I
Vietnam probably has the most mature coffee culture in all of South East Asia, when we were in Hanoi earlier this year, we definitely took advantage of visiting some of the more quaint cafes in this capital city.
Hanoi House Cafe, Hanoi
Our second cafe stop was probably named by someone who’s not overly imaginative, calling it Hanoi House. The first cafe was Gardenista.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi
Well, it is located in Hanoi, but more specifically, right across from the beautiful St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which was constructed way back in 1886 as one of the first structures built by the French colonial government. The church was closed down after Viet Minh took over North Vietnam, and wasn’t reopened until closed down until Christmas Eve of 1990, which… is already almost 30 years ago… (how time flies!)
It is open for public and for mass, and we were lucky to get in and have a peek on a Sunday morning.
Vietnamese Coffee, thick and aromatic
The cafe itself is situated on the first floor of a shop lot which also happened to have some permanent inhabitants. Interior itself smells of antiquity, while also being rather cozy. If you’re lucky, grab a seat by the balcony and you’ll have a great not-quite bird-eye’s view of this small segment of the city.
a lovely place to unwind
We had the standard hot coffee with condensed milk (32,000 vnd, equal to RM 5.70 at time of writing), and like with many other places in Hanoi, they’re thick, aromatic, and has an effect of lifting your eyelids immediately. I love it.
If you want to live a little, they serve alcohol too, but I thought it was perhaps inappropriate with mom around, and the fact that it was 11 in the morning.
My style of travel usually involves minimal planning with a few points of interests we’d visit, and pretty much winging it rest of the way. After all, it’s always more exciting to have a bit of surprises and a sense of adventure while at a foreign land, isn’t it?
Mien Luon Dong Thinh, fancy some eel?
This method of traveling was precisely how we ended up at Mien Luon Dong Thinh, we were basically walking around Hanoi looking for a lunch spot and thought whatever that they have right at the stall in this restaurant looked peculiar enough to warrant further investigation.
As it turned out, we landed on a rather notable eel restaurant! Yessss!
There are several options to choose from at this place, and luckily the menu on the wall did have English subtitle for all the half a dozen choices – vermicelli blend, fried eel, clear vermicelli soup, fried vermicelli, eel soup, and eel porridge. Each will cost between 25,000 to 60,000 vnd.
crunchy deep fried eel with porridge turned out to be rather good
We ended up trying the fried eel with vermicelli and the eel porridge. The eels were crispy and quite tasty, a very different taste from the boiled eel soup I had in Ho Chi Minh City, much easier to eat and not entirely too different from Japanese shishamo, but with sweetness of eel.
Of course, the vermicelli salad comes with fresh greens, nuts, and a healthy dose of fish sauce, as you would expect. The porridge also would make a very good comfort food on a cold day.
I’d recommend anyone with at least a mild sense of adventure to try this while at Hanoi.
On our tour to Hanoi earlier this year, we booked a day trip to visit the more touristy area at Trang An and Bai Dinh Pagoda.
These day trips can be booked while you’re at Hanoi via various agencies, or you can do it online and have everything arranged ahead of time. We did the latter, and sure enough on the day of travel, our tour guide appeared at the lobby of our hotel at 7 in the morning to pick us up.
Bai Dinh Pagoda, with the biggest bell in Vietnam
The small tour bus then rounded up the rest of the visitors before heading to our first destination – Bai Dinh Pagoda. It was a journey of about 100 km that takes some two hours. The transportation infrastructure at Hanoi isn’t exactly superb, but at least it was paved roads all the way.
After stopping at the front gate, you have to purchase an “electric car” ticket to get to the actual pagoda/temple area, so we did just that, hopped on the extended cab golf cart, and went on our merry way.
Buddha statue wrapped in gold
The temple complex was huge. The main area houses some pretty impressive Buddha statues wrapped in gold, and there’s even a 22 meter giant bell tower that’s said to be the biggest in Vietnam. Unfortunately you don’t get to bang the bell though.
this is the longest corridor in Vietnam too, apparently
Additionally, there’s also this super long corridor (longest in Vietnam) that has various stone statues of Buddha’s students along the way.
All in all, this portion of the tour made for a good morning walk, and luckily the late winter temperature of 20 Celsius was quite conducive for such exercise.
this scene in Trang An looks a bit like from Kung Fu movie
After Bai Dinh, we stopped by for a somewhat forgettable buffet lunch before heading to the second half of the tour package – the river boat tour at Trang An.
While Halong Bay gets a lot of publicity and tourists for its beautiful scenery and rock formation, Trang An is often touted as the Halong Bay of land, so instead of out in the sea, you get a very similar view inland, and instead of big cruise ships, you get to be on a small boat.
goat on Kong Island
The advantage of being on a small boat is that you do get a lot closer to the nature than being on a cruise ship with way too many other tourists. The boats can take up to 4 person each, and usually paddled by a local lady, resulting in a very quiet and serene tour that I thought was very soothing. You’re also welcomed to help paddle the boat along.
my brother & mom, at Kong island
Other than the beautiful landscape, there’s also Kong’s island to check out, which is actually whatever that was left over of the movie set for Kong – Skull Island movie that was released in 2017. I thought it was quite cool actually, they even have some locals who play dressed up that you can take photos with, and nope, I did not participate in those kinda stuff.
hello fellow Malaysians on the same tour 😀
Overall it was a pretty decent day of tour, we got back to the city by evening, and I would recommend anyone who is planning a trip to Hanoi to check it out.