It’s Friday in Hanoi. Autumn has not yet come to Vietnam’s capital, and today was sunny and hot. Even though the weekend is on the city’s doorstep, it’s a weekend that’s sure to prove more stressful than other weekends here. Why? Because this is the final weekend (thankfully) of Hanoi’s 1000-year anniversary, a celebration stretching from the 1st through the 10th of October, which has resulted in some of the worst crowds and traffic I’ve ever seen in Vietnam. It’s so bad that I’m trying not to leave my neighborhood, especially in the evening, unless it’s absolutely necessary. So this blog post is one I’m doing of the immediate vicinity around my apartment.
If I squint, or better yet, if it’s a clear day, I can see Nguyen Buoi Street from my balcony. It’s one of the streets that peels off of Tran Vu Street, which circles around much of Truc Bach Lake. There are a couple of small eateries here I’ve come to frequent. One of them is a restaurant that specializes in goose (ngan). It’s not the best goose restaurant I’ve eaten at, but considering how close it is to where I live, I’m happy to come here on occasion. I’m partial to goose with mien noodles, so I always order that here. It comes topped with basil leaves, lemon leaves, bean sprouts, fried onions, and crushed peanuts, and, with a glass of iced tea, it’s a good deal for only 30,000 dong ($1.54) The people who run the restaurant are nice, too, and today I sat at a table with a friendly couple, one of whom was drinking beer and explained to me that beer makes his face turn red. In case I hadn’t understood, he pointed to the red sun-umbrella shading our tables, then pointed to his face, then pointed at his two empty beer bottles, and then laughed. And he was right. His face was red. It was a little scary, in fact.
After lunch I did a full walking loop around Truc Bach Lake, and, lucky me, soon found myself passing the corner of Truc Bach and Thanh Nien streets, which is chock full of ice cream businesses.
Café Số Một lured me with its promise of French ice cream – it certainly didn’t lure me with its architecture – and I stepped inside, seated myself on the second floor, then reseated myself on the third floor when I realized I could look out over the lake from there.
I ordered kem trái duà xiêm (39,000 dong / $2) – vanilla ice cream served in a young coconut and topped with crushed peanuts, candied fruit, dried coconut, and a cookie. It also comes with a complimentary glass of coconut juice, which is a nice touch.
For dinner we had some Japanese friends over. They were kind enough to bring a homemade dinner with them, and I provided refreshments: Tiger beer, Asahi beer, and two types of sake that I’d bought in Japan. I also got to use the sake cups I bought in Kanazawa, which was fun.
Upon returning to Vietnam two weeks ago I gave my Japanese friends some blowfish (fugu) eggs mixed with nukka (the brown husks of rice), and they brought this over, too.
The flavor was very strong and the texture surprising – on the whole, it was sort of like eating creamy blue cheese. But because the flavor was strong, the sake tasted that much better. I thought it might have a numbing effect, too, as fugu I’ve eaten before always has, but this one didn’t. In any case, my friend and I polished off about 1 1/2 bottles of sake, which I really didn’t feel, but I think he did because at one point he started yelling English obscenities from my balcony and at another point he began burning giant mosquito-like bugs on my couch with his cigarette lighter. (For the record, I condoned the former but not the latter…)
I’ve included two more photos, too, somewhat randomly. For anyone wondering what a sapuche is, it’s the fruit piled up in the basket in the photo below. In Vietnamese it’s often called hồng xiêm. Why do I use this name for my blog? Because I was half-addicted to this fruit when I lived in Bien Hoa 16 years ago and the name stuck in my mind. Somehow, though, I don't really like the fruit that much anymore...
Also, just in case people wonder if I ever eat American food in Vietnam, the answer is generally no…but not invariably no. Here’s a photo of two bacon cheeseburgers I made the other night.
Sometimes, I just have to have a good bacon cheeseburger (and these were good). Hey, am I alone in this? I didn't think so...