When I was doing my research about the Hotel Elegance Ruby I noticed that they could book you into a street food tour that cost $25. When I arrived and had recovered from the trip down from Beijing, I asked the very friendly people at the front desk if I could go on the tour. They duly arranged it and asked me to come down to the front desk at 5:45 pm. I duly did so and met the guide who introduced herself as Chinh.
We walked together to another hotel a short distance away to collect an American couple who lived in New York but had lived in Atlanta. On the way over, Chinh asked me about any food issues such as allergies or preferences. I told her I was happy to eat anything.
One of the first things Chinh did was to give us a lesson in how to cross a street. You just have to step out and the traffic will weave around you. I used the principle of keeping as close to her as possible. You really have to be aware of what's going on all the time.
Chinn has numerous street food vendors that she knows serve very good food and she was greeted like an old friend everywhere she went.
This woman was preparing some thin rice based crepe thing called a rollover. I will be sending the link to this blog to Chinh asking her to correct any mistakes I have made. I did take notes but I presume I made some mistakes.
My sister Clare has eagle eyes and has probably noticed something.
This was the rollover with a pork sauce. Absolutely delicious but I had some trouble picking up the slippery rollover with my chopsticks. I could have happily wolfed down the lot but I held back knowing that there was a lot of food to come.
Chinh paid the vendor and off we went again.
We moved on to another restaurant. The mystery is revealed. They used to live in Athens, GA and this gentleman is a former student of one Richard T Watson, my brother in law. It was quite some time ago.
The little cups held some sort of rice based liquor and Chinh taught us how to skoll it down and shout 'Mot hai ba yo' with the 'yo' the loudest. You can read more about the toast here. Essentially it means one, two three, yo. Here is a Youtube video.
A coconut with some kind of liquid inside producing a coconut flavoured drink.
The rice based liquor can be infused with all different kinds of flowers, fruits, or even snake which you can see in the background. We did not get the snake version and Chinh said it had an odd medicinal flavour. That made me think of the medicinal liquor we tried in Germany. Chinh's father has been making his own infusions for years and has quite a collection.
Roof of the restaurant.
The main feature was cha ga with snake head fish. There was also a banana flower salad. Both were absolutely delicious.
Chinh said these were cumquats but the US lady said that they seemed to be closer to a Key Lime and I would say she was correct.
Next was a Bun Bo place, It's a vermicelli noodle with beef and there are Bun Bo places everywhere. Just look around for one with local customers, go in, sit down and soon a bowl will appear in front of you. The vendor sells just one thing but it has to be very good to survive. I did this the following night and it worked.
We next went to a vendor who sold a sugar cane drink made from freshly cut sugar cane.
It wasn't as sweet as I thought it might be and was very refreshing. Heavens knows what it did to my blood sugar level however.
Next was glass noodle and eel. When I am in Sydney I really must make the effort to find some of these noodles. many of the dishes received a topping of crushed peanuts. You took your chop sticks and mixed up the food in your bowl. A bowl like this is usually enough food for one for a meal so you can't eat all of it which is a pity because it all tastes so good.
The American couple had made the mistake of eating during the afternoon so they were not as hungry as I was. If you do the tour, don't eat lunch.
Chinh has a very busy day. She is up early to do a walking tour of Hanoi and then possibly another one. She also offers cooking classes where you go to the market, buy the ingredients and then cook them. Finally she might do one of these food tours that can end late.
She has a boyfriend who is studying in Melbourne. Obviously she would like to visit him but the airfare would be much too expensive.
We stopped by this fruit vendor and I could recognize various fruits that also are grown in Australia. The Americans had never eaten custard apple which are the green bumpy objects towards the right hand side of the photo about half way up. Chinh bought one to try and it was very good. I'm not sure the Americans were convinced by the flavour.
Next were some pillow cakes which were little fried dumplings filled with something sweet. They were ok but not my favourite. Too much fat after all the non fat noodles.
It seemed like half of Hanoi knew Chinh. There were always people saying hello to her as we walked down the street.
I don't have a photo of the bowl of Banh Trang Tron salad but here is a video of somebody making one which is wrapped in rice paper. I think this was my favourite dish of the evening. It was very spicy but incredibly delicious.
After the spice we went to a home made beer area. Just like the baggage and hifi areas, there is a location where there are quite a few vendors selling beer that the vendor has made. The beer was good and very refreshing and cost about 25 cents. We sat on the little tiny seats and let me just say that after the beer it was difficult to get up.
They also gave us a bowl of boiled peanuts which were more like the drier version served in Australia than the super slurpy version sold in the southern states of the US.
Chinh told us that she was the oldest child in the family and her father treated her more as a son than a daughter teaching her things that normally only a son would be taught. Her nickname is Chinh but her given name is Stephanie.
Our final stop was a desert place. We could have our choice of any of the deserts on the wall. I selected a bowl of lychees which was really refreshing.
By this time, the effects of the long day and the overnight train trip were making me feel tired. The American couple were planning to go to a spa. They had been climbing some very high mountain somewhere in Vietnam and their legs were very tired. It was not far to the spa so we walked there and said goodbye.
I was expecting to walk back to the hotel but Chinh could see I was tired and offered to take me there on her scooter. I decided that this could be quite an experience and so it proved to be. She had parked her scooter in a small alcove and she wheeled it out. She hopped on and I climbed onto the back and hung on to her. She went slowly and soon I got the feel of it and was intrigued to see how she maneuvered through the dense traffic. This was a Saturday night and Hanoi was in full swing. Chinh also teaches ballet and that is what Hanoi traffic is like. Everything just interweaves and somehow it works.
A photo of Chinh. She asked me to send her a copy of the photo which I did. She sent me a very nice reply including this sentence:
With me you are not only a tourist, butalso a friend, and a truly Uncle
I think the white beard makes me look like Santa Claus to many Asians.
If you ever come to Hanoi, let me know I will let you know how to get in touch with my new niece Chinh. It was a wonderful tour and the ride on the back of the scooter was unforgettable.