So a few days ago, maybe it was our first night in Ha Noi, we tried to go eat at a place called Quan An Ngon (oh and by the way, just because I’m using the names of these places, doesn’t mean that I know how to pronounce them…the language is a bit of an enigma) but were turned away at the door because it was too late. Restaurants close around 830 I guess. So instead we decided to go a smoky bar called May Pub across the street and turn to a liquid diet…I might have mentioned some of this before…
We almost didn’t even go in because we were pretty tired, but in we went. The place was pretty small…a dart board, a pool table, a few high tops, but this allowed us to meet the owner Phuong, and the manager Swan. We got to chatting a bit; their English was very good, and they offered to show us around a bit on Saturday night when we got back to Bai Tu long bay…a Facebook friend request sealed the deal.
Fast forward to last (Saturday) night. We had just gotten dropped off at our new hotel in Ha Noi, Art Hotel (which ha the rather cheesy tag line: “touching emotion”) at 630 and it was the first Internet connection we had in a few days. We had originally told out hosts to meet us around 7 and we really needed to push that back since we reeked of ocean and sweat. Somehow, probably through telepathy or noetics or something #danbrown, they showed up at the hotel magically right at the moment we were ready.
First stop was to get something to eat so they asked us a few questions about what we like and what we could or could not eat (vegetarian, etc) and also asked about where we had already gone. We actually told them about Quan An Ngon and they said that if we want to try actual (authentic!) Vietnamese food, then never eat there.
So we were off to eat Pho Cuon at a restaurant that I can only guess was also called Pho Cuon, or maybe the other way around…hell every restaurant on the corner was called Pho Cuon. But whatever, the four of us climbed into a cab and Phuong and Swan traveled by motorbike. Our cabby was instructed to follow them…I think.
Things got a bit sketchy at this point. After a few minutes in the cab the driver zigged when he should have zagged and we lost our leader. What ensued was, from what I can tell, probably one of the more frustrating experiences of our cabbies career as he asked for directions, got them, and still wound up at the wrong place no less than 4 or 5 times. At one point he asked a fellow driver where to go and the guy just laughed at him, then called his friend over and laughed some more with him. Needless to say we were in the wrong part of town. This went on for probably 20 minutes and we were actually about ready to pull the chute when we saw Phuong walking up the road looking for us.
Relieved, we got out of the cab and sat down for some Pho Cuon. Now I’m not exactly sure but the Cuon was either this beef wrapped noodle which was excellent or this square fried noodle which was EXCELLENat. Either way the meal was fantastic an we also had these killer spring rolls with it.
We ate out on the sidewalk on these little plastic stools, and these little plastic tables. It reminded me of “the kids table” at Thanksgiving. I mean they were tiny… The stools no more than 12″ square and 8″ off the ground…the tables only slightly larger to accommodate the chairs. This is the way most people, well this is the way most street restaurants are anyway… You should buy stock in tiny plastic chairs in Vietnam. We drank some beer to wash down the food and after getting over the comedy of VJ and I eating our knees in the stools we headed to a place that had “proper” sized seating. It was also raining a bit so we wanted some cover to let it pass. We met up with a few of Swan and Phuong’s friends and then went to the backpacker district of Ha Noi for some Bia Hoi.
Bia Hoi is fresh beer, made that day pretty much, and is meant to be consumed that day. It has no preservatives and is very fragrant. It is also super cheap, I want to say it cost a nickel per glass or something ridiculous. So we had a lot of those and after a couple the fact that we were back on the tiny stools didn’t seem to matter.
Phuong and Swan had been running a quick errand and when they returned they brought with them what I can only describe as Vietnam style late night munchies. We ate boiled peanuts, a crispy sesame rice bread thinger, some puffy shrimp crackers, and fried pig ear with chili sauce. It was all…edible, and I actually liked the pig ear. Deep fry anything and dip it in enough sauce I guess…
After a few more stops (insert unpublishable content here) we were ready to turn in so we said good bye, hopped a cab back to our hotel, and crashed.
We couldn’t have sale for a better last night. Our hosts were extremely gracious, friendly and wanted nothing more from us than smiles; they wanted us to have an authentic experience, they wanted to personally make sure we were taken care of. If I wasn’t completely won over by Vietnam and its people before, this night did the trick. I love you Ha Noi, I can’t wait to come back.