I spent a few hours meandering the busy streets of Hanoi. Getting lost in the matrix of side roads. Women balancing their scales of ware on their strong shoulders or conversing over a hot bowl of noodles seemingly unaffected by the buzz and horns of the vehicles that chaotically swerve around them.
The streets dichotomously reflect both ease and fury. Kinda mirrors the inside of my brain to be honest. Maybe that’s why it feels so familiar.
Tonight I have signed up for a walking street food tour. I am estatic. There is myself and two other couples. Duy, all of 25, is our guide. He explains that he has chosen specific small cafes and food vendors that he believes offer what is true Vietnamese food-not as points out-what we may think it to be. “Here we eat everything..chicken all parts of it (yes) pork (yes) all seafood-fish,snails, eel (yes yes) snake (ummm hmm) and even cat (nope). Duy learned to cook from his father-he tells me -he would one day like to cook in another country. I see that familiar sparkle in his eyes as he explains just what he loves most about Vietnamese cooking. I feel confident that over the next three hours Duy will teach me things I came so far to learn.
And I wasn’t disappointed .. from pork Vietnamese pancake with green mango salad, bun cha, spring rolls with fish wrapped around pork and fried in rice paper lightly dusted with wheat, banh cuon tom, you name it we tried it. Always with sides of fresh coriander, mint, basil, Vietnamese dipping sauce (fish oil water vinegar chilli garlic) garlic slices marinated in rice vinegar, fresh chilies.
We stop so we can learn how to make rice paper -a paste of rice flour and water steamed over silk and delicately spun off with a chop stick .
At one point Duy pulls out a water bottle and untwists the cap for us to smell. With one wiff I cringe as it resembles tequila (which I shamefully associate with being 19 hunched over a Mexican toilet). “Happy water” he exclaims “homemade rice wine”. Well who can resist happy water? And on our little plastic stools we squat hunched over our hot bowls and raise our shot glasses…and carry on.
I am seeing Hanoi through Duys eyes. He guides us swiftly across the busy streets rerouting us between the labyrinth of buildings where, he tells us, multiple families sleep in one or two room homes. I am humbled.
I think of my experience yesterday of being surprised that my left overs would be sold and immediately I feel like an asshole for even leaving one noodle. We (please excuse the generalization) live in such unnecessary abundance never really knowing what it means to be with little. This abundance which we grip tightly to ironically becomes a gully of distance from what really matters. My gait begins to slow as I pass through these streets with a new lens.
We finish the evening at the Giang cafe for the original Vietnamese egg coffee. This in fact is where it was invented. Only the remaining family members hold the secret recipe. And omg..what a coffee it was. Rich silky slightly sweet to taste. It was indeed dessert.
Alas I am back at my tiny hotel. This time I rub my belly not so much out of fullness but rather pride-guts of steel:)
Tomorrow I head to Ha Long bay..