Nighttime in Hanoi is a happy part of the day. People relax, socialize, and get a break from the hot, punishing sun. Experiencing Hanoi at any time of day is priceless, but nighttime isn’t so hectic.
I’ve been suffering a bit from the intense daytime heat. It zaps my energy and makes it hard to concentrate and focus. Some days, I feel like a Blade Runner extra :o).
The street food tour wasn’t as intense as exploring Hanoi proper and visiting countryside craft villages. There were fewer things to remember and understand and no intimate meetings in close quarters with locals scrutinizing everything from your coif to toenail polish. Unfortunately, the heat robs your appetite, so Hoa and I ordered small portions of food and shared them.
While riding back and forth on the motorbike to restaurants, we took the long way around, stopping to admire Hanoi’s incredible night lights from Long Biên Bridge. I was in awe of the spectacular surroundings!
Long Biên is known as “Hanoi’s historical witness,” and the bridge is a great vantage point for viewing city lights.
In addition to the night lights, there was thunder and pink lightning in the distant sky, adding more drama to the vista. Since Banana Island has no electricity, the eerily dark, silent vegetation below the bridge was a stark contrast to the bright lights above.
Over the past several years, Hanoi has grown economically and become a fast-paced eclectic city with a mix of people of all ages and nationalities. That’s reflected in the highrises and skyscrapers that dot the skyline with stunning nighttime lights.
I clearly stand out as not being Vietnamese, so sometimes tourists stop me on the street to ask if I speak English and for directions – ha, ha, ha. Can’t imagine traveling without Google Maps, although it has led me astray in Hanoi several times. I get lost almost every day. Hanoi’s fascinating maze of alleys and sidestreets is almost as confusing as trying to find your way around places like Venice and Istanbul in the dark.
Hanoi’s street food restaurants are fun places to enjoy food on the fly. I prefer eating off the beaten path and find it difficult to enjoy food while sitting in close proximity to busy street traffic. That said, I thoroughly appreciate Hanoi’s unique street food scene and fun vibe, but will stick to more traditional inside restaurants.
I recently discovered Duong’s Restaurant near my apartment in Hoan Kiem. So far, it’s my favorite place to eat. I ordered their traditional Vietnamese grilled fish chả cá lã vọng, and the flavors were magnificent. I’ll definitely be returning to try more dishes on their menu, and you can sign up for cooking classes. I also enjoy Met Vietnamese Restaurant & Vegetarian Food and its super-friendly, laid-back atmosphere.
Back to the night street food tour. The restaurants we visited and what we ate there is described briefly below:
Bánh Mì 25
Our first stop was Bánh Mì 25. It was my favorite of all the street food we sampled. The restaurant was started by a young Vietnamese man named Phuong and his wife.
They named their restaurant after the street number of their home, which “marked the start of many first things in their life together”. Bánh Mì 25 is a popular and famous sandwich stall. It’s always teeming with people. I’ve been back since the tour :o).
At Bánh Cuốn we had delicious fresh spring rolls and bún chả, a Vietnamese specialty made from a “thin, wide sheet of fermented rice batter filled with a mixture of cooked seasoned pork patties grilled over charcoal with minced wood ear mushrooms and shallots”. Side dishes include “vercimelli noodles, sliced cucumber, chili peppers, lettuce, and bean sprouts, with a fish dipping sauce called nước chấm (nuoc mam)”. I’m not a big meat eater, so this dish wasn’t my favorite. It’s very popular with Vietnamese people, especially those from the north. Hoa absolutely loved it!
Some time ago, Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain visited Bánh Cuốn and dined there together. A picture of them is posted on the wall. They arrived via limo, so not sure exactly how much of the “real Hanoi” they actually experienced :).
It was a fun, memorable evening!