While sitting here at another airport, my mind is singularly focused on the first bowl of pho that I will consume when I arrive in one of my favorite cities in the world, Hanoi. If I close my eyes and ignore the man who is snoring loudly next to me and the child who is loosening his lungs in the farthest corner of this barren airport, I can almost feel the streets, hear the hoot and feel the frenetic energy of the city.
An image that I remember easily: me, sitting on a plastic stool, my face dipped in a smoking bowl of pho while I took my first ceremonial inspiration. The bouquet of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, green onion and story puffs up my tired travel soul with joy, comfort and a bit like a big hug from an old friend. After the passage of an additional flight, this image will be a reality.
I really like Hanoi: I like its cuisine, I love its vibrant animated streets, its hidden cafes, its cyclo drivers who imitate me to take a turn at every corner. I like plastic stools and French coffees. I like the smoke that escapes from the coffee shop. The remains of some animals are spread on a large cutting board so that customers know that it is fresh and therefore unmistakably delicious. I love women who wear high heels and tight cut suits, clinging to each other on a bowl of chicken paws, along with 333 plastic beers at the end of their long day’s work; I love children who fight for candies in the shape of cubes covered with sesame, but have a taste of tofu; and I love old men with their stained red teeth who are content to chew tea nuts all day and all night, in silent contemplation as the city storms around them.
I even like things that I can not bring myself to try (which is not a lot).
So where do I eat in Hanoi? Good question.
I should start by saying that I am a nostalgic person with a loyalty problem, so some of these restaurants have been addicted to my favoritism. Of course, I continue to explore and prepare my list, I check with my sources as soon as my feet touch the ground (the influx of trendy and trendy places to explore is a constant, because the pace of this city – and the country actually, continues to change), but I always take the time (and a little space in my lap) to frequent my old haunts. I always find some comfort, probably understandable, to see an old friend behind the spine of a familiar menu.
Here are some places that, in my opinion, are essential if you want to explore the city. Be fearless brave travelers! Pick up your chopsticks, get rid of your fears and let your taste buds be the judge!
THE OLD SCHOOL INSTITUTION
Cha Ca La Vong
Located in a narrow street of the old quarter, this restaurant takes its name from its marvel: Cha Ca La Vong! With a sea-green interior and a ladder disguised as a staircase leading to the main floor, this is a place where English is rarely heard and where you will not have to worry about what you want; instead, you receive what they have, which has remained the same for decades.
A frying pan of fresh river fish will arrive at your table with a personal charcoal cooker. It is accompanied by a bowl of fresh rice noodles, peanuts and fresh herbs. When the fish starts to heat up and the scents of turmeric and dill begin to bloom around you, add the herbs to the pan (I personally like to add the peanuts at that time, because I like them hot) . Once you are convinced that the herbs are cooked to your taste, take the fresh rice noodles and place them in your bowl, pour a little fish, herbs and flavored oil on top, add a little fish sauce and hot peppers to scent a little more fresh herbs if that’s your style and enjoy!
THE SOCIAL CLUB
After a satiated lunch at Cha Ca, I head to the old quarter for a cup of tea with lemongrass and ginger. I always walk to be able to digest a little and let the street scene get out of my head and immerse myself in the chaos that reigns every day in Hanoi. Located at 6 Ngõ Hội Vũ, Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, the social club of Hanoi is an institution for expatriates and the famous Xer of Vietnam.
Spread over three floors, the third of which is an outdoor terrace, the Hanoi Social Club has a wonderfully rustic atmosphere, with old aged wooden furniture and rooms slightly decorated with Vietnamese artwork. It’s a coffee that makes you feel a little lighter on entering, because it tends to inspire the feeling – at least at home – that in this space, you could very well compose a poem a little decent or, at all the least, read a book. decent poems and maybe even understand a few!
The menu is filled with fresh organic salads and Western-inspired light dishes, with just enough choice to satisfy your most difficult friend or family member. When I spend an afternoon here, I leave with a feeling a little more melancholy, a little more cultivated and a little closer to the best version of myself.
THE CONTEMPORARY & FAMILY FRIENDLY
No matter where I travel, there is always a day in a week when I need good pizzas. And I’m not talking about throwing melted cheese on dough and throwing it unconsciously into a fire! No, I’m talking about Pizza: a traditional Italian pizza that is usually found only in Italy. Fortunately, in my opinion, more and more people around the world are no longer content to present the poorer cousin to pizza, the international imitator, as I call it. Pizza 4p’s in Hanoi would make Naples proud of an old man with white hair and curly mustache.
Located at 24 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội., Pizza 4p makes its own cheese from dairy cows grazing in the highlands around Dalat. Focusing on the freshest local ingredients, each pizza tastes like it has been prepared with love and with the most care and attention to ratios. My favorite (if you’re looking for suggestions) is the Mayo Shrimp pizza at half and the four cheeses at the other. Then I take the spicy oil and pour it on my pizza (be careful, it’s quite spicy). I am with a sip of Chianti and this, my friends, I promise you, is a satisfying evening!
Located on the sixth floor and overlooking the Hoan Kiem Lake water oasis, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of Hanoi to Cau Go. Located in the old quarter, its interior exudes an eclectic and colonial French atmosphere without trying too hard . Lunch and dinner offer flavors and varied dishes from all parts of the country, including Hanoi, Saigon and central Vietnam, with a contemporary twist. Drinks, snacks and main courses are served daily from 10:00. If you can, ask for an outdoor table with a lovely view of the turtle tower patio and sparkling Hanoi Lake.
When I’m in the mood for a bit of fusion and romance, I head for the green tangerine. This restaurant offers a French-inspired menu and one of the most beautiful hidden courtyards in the old town. I’m having a glass of red outside in the early evening when the daylight is just starting to fade. This ritual is followed by a fusion meal of pasta with soba noodle seafood and a mesclun salad, followed by a French-made crème brûlée treat. I leave feeling so “full French”.
When I want pho, I also want what comes with pho. I want the shared tables and the loud crowd, the chopsticks on the tables and the bowls of hot peppers and limes and the fish sauce that came from an old family recipe handed down from generation to generation. I want to hear slurping, laughing and children, and I want my shoulders to be next to a local as we bend over and savor our bowls at once. I want to conspiratorially make eye contact with the old woman on the other side of the table while I carry the bowl to my mouth at the end of the noodles and drink the remaining broth. Located at 13 Lo Duc, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi 10000, Vietnam. Come here for the Pho and leave a person changed … or at least satiated!
Sometimes, the colonial atmosphere of the city is so strong that I am shot without choice towards the epicenter of it all – the Bamboo Bar Sofitel Metropole. For me, this bar summarizes the colonial elegance and gives me the impression that I am someone more important than me, a little more attractive, a little more worldly.
At the poolside, I usually order light tapas in the bar menu, which includes popcorn shrimp served with a spicy red pepper dip, crudités and a plate of French cheese enough to force me to follow my martini with a drink. I like this bar. I really like this bar.
THE WILD CARD – STYLE DE RUE
Quan An Ngon
My last insider tip will be a bit of a joker. Quan An Ngon is for me the best way to taste street food without being in the street. If you want to be in a place where you can try all kinds of delicious and wonderfully varied local dishes, then this is your place. Whenever I choose to go, I’m never disappointed.
I enter the great court-like atmosphere full of locals and curious little travelers and I slowly become aware of the scene to realize that now, after all these years of entering and leaving Vietnam, in a foreign country with a language that always seduces me and generates ingredients that, in my childhood, would look like a book by Dr. Seuss and at a pace that can seem both frenetic and elegant: it’s like being at home. To get closer or to all my feelings, head to Phan Boi Chau Street 18, Hoan Kiem District.
This elegant restaurant offers a variety of delicious and authentic Vietnamese dishes, as well as an excellent selection of wines. Whether you opt for the delicious roast duck, a noodle dish, fish or seafood, Grandma’s interpretations of Vietnamese classics are a memorable culinary experience in the capital.
Vietnamese concerts on Dan bau and Dan Nhi accompany your meal. Whether you are a large group or looking for an intimate dinner, enjoy the warmth of Vietnamese hospitality in this welcoming atmosphere.