Tuesday, March 15, 2016

2016 Asia Mega Tour - On To Hanoi

After our 'free and easy day' it was a day of travel - 4 hours by car, 3+ hours waiting in airport, 2 hours of flight, 1 hour to get to hotel, check in and pack.  It was around midnight before we finally got to sleep.

We had one more culinary adventure on our way back from Can Tho. Mr. A suggested we stop for lunch at a place where all the guides and drivers go. He liked it because they make the food fresh to order rather than have everything pre-made.

Our driver Mr. Wang taking a break
There are hundreds of open air restaurants and cafes in the south that have hammocks in them.
If you buy food or drink, use of the hammock is free, if not you pay a little bit.
 We had mud fish and eel cooked in a clay pot with a soy, fish sauce, sweet BBQ type sauce
There was also steamed mud fish in sour soup with vegetables

Not shown were stir fried greens, rice, and some grilled pork

Another day, another airport, another new airline

In our original schedule we were not going to visit Hanoi but it had been recommended that we try to get there so we managed to squeeze a day in. With only one day there, we were definitely rushed so we scheduled two private tours - one was a food tour and the other was a free tour with a student - the tour organization does it to promote better understanding and you can't even tip the guide.

Our hotel was right on the border between the Old Quarter and the French Quarter. Traffic here is just like we've seen elsewhere with the exception that there are a lot more cars. The food tour was all through the Old Quarter.

Leaving our hotel we come to one of Hanoi's many lakes with a bridge to a temple on an island on one end.

Then it is into the Old Quarter to find where the food tour starts

Success! We meet up with our guide who uses the Anglo name Sunny
First stop is for Bun Cha
Like so many dishes here it is a combination of a number of things that you customize for taste.
You start with a soup with meat.
Then add noodles and greens to taste

 Next up is Nom  Bo - Salad
This version is with dried beef, basically beef jerky with a sweet soy flavor
Sitting in the fine dining section
Reserved for those with some knee cartilage left
You may have picked this up in the many pictures posted but these tiny stools are ubiquitous throughout the country. People also squat here all the time. I don't know whey they are so much more flexible and don't have the joint issues we have.
At this point we had been talking with our guide about balut eggs and my still being a balut virgin. So while we were eating the salad, Sunny ran off and procured a couple. 
I ended up only eating one because it was very rich and we had a lot more food to eat.
It tasted all right, probably something that could grow and you and would be good with alcohol but not something that I think I will seek out again.

Next stop Rice Paper Cake
If you look at this you will remember the process from our visit to the Mekong Delta only here they are not dried but are wrapped around other food, in this case shrimp and they served with the ubiquitous accompaniments.
Now on to Spring Rolls in their multitude of variations
Here we have fresh ones, fried ones with wheat wrappers, and ones with various fillings.
The one on the bottom was called a sour spring roll for some reason even though it was savory with pork and pork cracklings. It was one of our favorites. The one on the very top was a sweet version with a sweet bean paste filling. Again the common practice is to wrap them in a lettuce leaf with various herbs.
Next we tried some sweets based on sticky rice.
There was coconut ice cream on sticky rice and sticky rice in a caramel sauce.
As much as I like so many things about Asian food, the desserts are not one of them and I wasn't crazy about either of these.
For some reason we went back to a savory dish, the familiar Bahn Mi but this time with eggs in it and the bun grilled.
We finished up with some fresh rice beer (no picture) that is served the day it is brewed and an egg coffee. That is exactly what it is - coffee with a sweetened egg yolk foam put on it like you'd put foamed milk. It was very rich and with the Vietnamese coffee, very good.
I don't think I've written about the coffee here but I will rank it as my favorite I've had in all my travels. Like European coffee it is much stronger than American coffee but it also has a richness and mouth feel that European coffee doesn't have.

Food Tour Over
Next up our tour with the Student Guide

This is Khue.
He is a student at Hanoi University studying Tourism (a major field of study here).
In addition to showing us around, we had long conversations about his life and family, what he was studying, how things were for young people in Vietnam, his career hopes, our family and children, the history between Vietnam and the US, travel, Vietnamese history, and more.

It was very stimulating.

We also got to see a lot of the French Quarter which is very different than the Old Quarter. As it was built by the French during the late 19th century it is very reminiscent of the cities in France I've seen whose major civic planning also dates to that period.

As we started our tour we passed by a school that was letting out. It was a very cute scene with a zillion parents with motor bikes waiting for their kids while each class was led out with each child already helmeted and ready to go.

Former Bank of Indochina now the State Bank

An event center for all kinds of things like trade shows and concerts.
The Hotel Metrople - Still active and place for all the high muckidy-mucks to go.
A not particularly good picture of the Opera House with globe saying Happy New Year (Vietnam celebrates the Lunar New Year Tet) in Vietnamese
The Prison which was infamous among US military during the American War for where pilots shot down were kept like John McCain.

A famous pagoda
The Trains Station
 And a school

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