No. 27: Mechanics: They’re everywhere, and every time you break down they’re on hand and able to fix your bike in minutes. Unless of course you’re still driving a shower.
No. 28: Getting Personal: You can pretend to get annoyed, but part of you lights up, doesn’t it, every time you’re asked your age? And you know why? Because you are always so young. Every year, younger and younger. And because everyone has an age, you ask right back. And then it turns out your new friend is also so young and you have something in common. There is sharing, there is smiling. And how about that husband you don’t have yet? Don’t worry, let’s talk about it. After all, it takes a village, you know? And though it is of course none of your business how much money I make, the fact that you feel comfortable asking is sweet. And the fact that I evade your question in a humorous way shows my sweetness too. We’re sweet, we’re smiling, we know small pieces of information about each other. It may be an inch that is taken for a mile, but think about how many people don’t even bother with the inch.
No. 29: Single Syllable Words: Uh. Vang. Roi. Uh. Vang. Vang. Di. Vang. Roi. Roi. Di Roi. Uh. Uh. Oi. Oi. Vui! Co? Khong! Sau? Dau? Day!
No. 30: The Tannoy: The speakers have been hanging from the same spot for the last 30 years, ejecting the clear and firm voice of the MC to all households in the neighbourhood for 30 minutes every day from 4.45pm. Today, we have news about a baby that was kidnapped and rescued. After the news, some important announcements arrive such as what time our houses will get a power cut, or a request for everyone to get out of the house and clean the street. Then come the songs, reminding us of Vietnam’s glorious past. The tannoys are a familiar part of life in Hanoi, a constant reminder of where and who we are.
No. 31: Tet: It’s expensive, it’s chaotic, it’s inconvenient and it makes you pile on the pounds. But what other time of the year can you see kumquat and peach blossom orchards? When else do you feel like you’re hurtling towards a New Year as people rush to make preparations for the complete shut down? And have you ever seen the Old Quarter quite so uncluttered and peaceful? It only happens during Tet, and for those of us who crave some respite from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, if you can avoid the temptation to leave, here it sits on your doorstep.
No. 32: City of Lights: Traditionally, this accolade belongs to Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s getting increasingly hard to tell. Hoan Kiem Lake is nightly ringed with a plethora of hues, from trees dripping with multi-coloured globes to LED panels fringing the lake itself. Elsewhere, heading down Dien Bien Phu, there are sheets of fairy lights directing the Sunday night cruiser down the avenue and inviting them to stop for a photo. Year on year, the nation’s capital is getting more and more sparkly — not in a garish, shiny, bling kind of way — but in a twinkling, Hanoian kind of way.
No. 33: Creative Recycling: Hanoi is a place where eco awareness is just starting to wake up and get out of bed. National support of green initiatives and sustainable development haven’t gotten fully dressed yet and the morning coffee of widespread conservation efforts is still brewing. However, recycling, in some form or another, has been up since dawn and is already making its third bird feeder out of a used soda can. From the buying and selling of paper, aluminium, cardboard and scraps of old machines that make up someone’s livelihood, to the creative second uses of bottles and cans for just about anything (paint brush holders, candlestick holders, berry fetching devices), in Hanoi people know the value of stuff and how to get the most out of it.
No. 34: Coffee Shops: We’ve gushed about coffee before. For example, when we dedicated an entire magazine to reviewing its history, its growing process, its impact on the current economy and culture of Hanoi, and the best places to get a cup (see May issue). Coffee’s permanent fixture in the city, the centrality of its presence and its power to bring people together, makes it a true marker of Hanoi. And as Hanoi contains multitudes, coffee drinkers in the city make up a group about as diverse as den da khong duong is to nau nong nhieu sua. And yet for all, the drips drop just as slowly.
No. 35: The VND5,000 Bus Fare to Go Anywhere in the City
No. 36: Nau Da
No. 37: Getting Physical: Laughing yoga in the square, aerobics by the lake, badminton on the pavement, tango in the park, hacky in the alley, chess on corners, skating, break-dancing, wiggling, gyrating, body-popping. And of course making yourself be a bridge between two park benches and then doing press-ups on them whilst being on tip-toes. You can easily feel ashamed of yourself for not exercising enough, especially when the activity starts at 5am every morning, and then again at night. Is there any other city in the world where old ladies get together and pretend to brush their teeth with giant invisible toothbrushes?
No. 38: The Botanical Gardens
No. 39: Pbservational Therapy: Everybody’s doing it, watching, because every street in Hanoi is never the same twice. Never exactly the same, that is. There may always be a bustle of bikes, bicycles and pedestrians, but never the same bustle. Whether watching confused tourists in the Old Quarter, or observing vendors in the market, you can be sure of finding something different every time. Then of course, there are the complete surprises. The dragons crashing into electricity pylons; the two neighbours fighting; the funeral procession; the near-miss traffic accidents; all recurring in different formations like a mad, ad lib-ed play.
No. 40: Sunday Nights: Heels? Check. Balloon? Check. High pony-tail and glittery nail varnish? Check. Sunday nights in Hanoi — it’s about seeing and being seen on the scene. It’s a weekly street party to mark the end of the week, and it’s the city at its busiest and most colourful. Get on a motorbike, get an ice cream and get moving (very slowly in a lot of traffic).
No. 41: Long Bien Island (Middle Warp): Stepping onto the muddy path that winds through the island, it feels as if you’ve escaped to the countryside, miles away from the city. Long Bien Island, or Middle Warp as it is also known, is a lump of fertile land, rising up through the Red River like the Adam’s Apple of a sleeping man. Snakes slide across the dusty paths, banana trees bend with the weight of their fruit, corn fields stand weary under the blazing hot sun, shoeless children play on the muddy banks and tired ponies sleep standing up. Long Bien Island is a place where naked men play football and swim together, it’s where a cluster of rusting houseboats bob together on the shores, and where stilt-houses are made from the plastic that was once deemed useless and thrown away. Long Bien Island has a jungle, it has grass, and it has peace. Hanoi’s own country park, it is one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
No. 42: Swan Boats
No. 43: Heels on Motorbikes
No. 44: Boy's Haircuts:
No. 45: Balloons
No. 46: Mao
No. 47: Bia Hoi:
No. 48: Kem Trang Tien:
No. 49: Street Food: We recently ran a poll on our website www.wordhanoi.com inviting readers to vote for their favourite thing about Hanoi. Well, it’s probably no surprise to discover that street food was the stand-out winner, attracting a startling 98.8 percent of the votes.
Hanoi’s concrete cuisine clearly needs no introduction, you’re already won over. But have you ever actually tried making it yourself? Door To My Kitchen food blogger Chi Anh Dao guides you through her own twist on a street food classic.
Bun Bo Nam Bo (Sauteed beef with vermicelli)
Long before I knew what the Hanoi food scene was like, I had already been enjoying this signature Hanoi street food dish at home as a kid. The name of this dish is quite ironic, because ‘Nam Bo’ means southern, and to my disappointment, I could never find this dish in Ho Chi Minh City!
My mom would often make this on weekends and let me participate in many steps of the preparation, from chopping fresh herbs to crushing peanuts (I have very vivid memories of crushing the peanuts with a bottle of mineral water as we did not have a pestle and mortar or a rolling pin). And when it came to the part of sautéing the beef, I would always be standing close beside her to try the first slice of juicy beef fresh off the skillet to see if it tasted ‘right’. Of course it always did.
Then came my favourite step: assembly. First into the bowl goes the bouncy vermicelli (the dried noodles are no comparison to the fresh ones you can get at the market), then the tender, juicy sautéed beef, together with fresh fragrant herbs, bean sprouts and crunchy peanuts. Finally, we top it all with the sweet and sour nuoc cham dressing (a concoction of vinegar, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and plenty of garlic). Then it’s mix and mash-up time, we coat every strain of vermicelli with the zingy dressing and distribute the herbs and peanuts to have every type of texture in one mouthful. One bowl is never enough!
Nowadays I occasionally enjoy Bun Bo Nam Bo on Hang Dieu (Bun Bo heaven), but nothing beats the fun and excitement of making Bun Bo fresh at home with your family or friends. It’s also great for entertaining guests at home if you don’t want to sweat over your meals and have everyone help with the preparation.
Ingredients / Serves four
400g stir-fry beef thinly sliced (choose lean and tender parts)
200g peanuts (unroasted, with skin on)
300g bean sprouts
1.2kg fresh rice noodles / vermicelli
12-15 bulbs shallots, thinly sliced, deep fried and drained on kitchen paper
Fresh herbs — one big bunch of coriander, one big bunch of shiso or other fragrant herb, chopped
Juice of a lime
5 cloves garlic to marinade beef, 3 cloves for the nuoc cham dressing, and 2 cloves to sauté with beef
Vegetable oil for sautéing
For Nuoc Cham dressing
Good quality Vietnamese fish sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the beef with crushed garlic and a teaspoon of vegetable oil, then add salt and pepper to taste. Let the beef marinate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients.
Add bean sprouts to the boiling water for ten seconds then put aside in a colander. On street food stalls you would probably eat raw bean sprouts but you can ask them to blanch them for hygienic purposes.
Roast the peanuts on a skillet under a low flame for about 15 minutes, until the skin is brown and fragrant. Remove the skin by rubbing over the peanuts with a sheet of newspaper. Finely crush the peanuts with a pestle & mortar or use a rolling pin to crush the peanuts on a chopping board.
Prepare the dressing (nuoc cham). Add about four rice bowls of drinking water into a big bowl, add the crushed garlic, then mix in half a bowl of fish sauce, two tablespoons of sugar, the juice of one lime and one teaspoon of vinegar. Stir and taste as you go, and adjust accordingly to taste (if too salty, add water; if too sour, add sugar; if too sweet, add lime juice). You should hit the right balance between sour, sweet and savoury. Don’t rush through this process because it is the deciding factor of a good, lip-smacking bowl of Bun Bo Nam Bo.
Heat a wok or sauté pan on high heat. When the oil is very hot (and starts to smoke), add the crushed garlic. Let it sizzle for a minute, then add the beef. Stir the beef quickly in the pan to make sure all pieces come into contact with the pan. Once the beef turns from pink to light brown (about two to three minutes later), remove from heat immediately. Speed is of the essence during this step as the meat toughens as it cooks on the heat.
Divide the rice noodles into the bowls. Spoon beef and its juice over the noodles, then garnish with herbs, bean sprouts, peanuts and fried shallots. Scoop a ladle of nuoc cham dressing over the bowl before serving. Make sure you serve while the beef is still hot for the best texture and flavour.