For lunch today I decided to visit one of my favorite local cơm bình dân restaurants.
I placed a takeaway order of sautéed shrimp, sliced potatoes, a small omelet, mustard greens, and of course white rice.
Later in the afternoon I was feeling pretty tired – I think it’s this string of hot days that’s upon Hanoi: today’s high was 96, and for the next five days it’s supposed to hit 104, 106, 105, 103, and 101 – so I decided to visit a café I’ve driven by a few times but never entered. I was particularly curious about the café because of its name: Classic Motor Coffee.
I’m a fan of strong coffee myself, but I wondered if the coffee here actually did double-duty as some kind of motor enhancer or cleansing agent. With these thoughts in mind, I decided to pay a visit and drink a cup of whatever they sold.
In fact, the name of the café probably draws attention away from how charming the place really is. It seems to be a converted house, though by the looks of it the family still lives here and packs itself happily away in some small corner where customers won’t intrude on them. As soon as I parked my motorbike and went inside, I realized why the café was thus named – the interior is filled with classic motorbikes and photos of people (the owner, I presume) riding motorbikes in various locales (mostly Russia, I think).
The decorations are a bit eclectic, but the “motor” theme is pretty consistent throughout. Looking past this, the rest of the interior is quite nice. On the second and third floors, wooden doors and windows open onto tree-shaded balconies overlooking the street, the ceilings are high and airy, and the old wooden tables and chairs are quite comfortable.
The coffee is excellent, too. I ordered a nấu đá (literally "brown ice"), which came with a complimentary cup of tea, and I nursed both drinks while reading through the middle half of the Soseki novel I brought with me.
The café itself doesn’t serve food, though in the mornings, apparently, many customers order phở from across the street and have it delivered to their tables, where they’re already drinking coffee. I’ll definitely have to come back in the morning and give this a try.
Classic Motor Coffee is located at 13A Hàng Bún Street, just a few blocks behind Châu Long Market on Truc Bach Lake. They’re open from 7 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. every day.
Later in the afternoon I wanted some fruit. Thinking it might be a good time of the day to visit the local traditional market and get some photos, I made the long journey (about two or three minutes by foot from my apartment) with my camera dangling from my neck.
I’ve come here quite a few times over the last two months, often just to wander around, but sometimes to buy fish, shrimp, squid, beef, and various herbs and veggies. The market has pretty much everything one needs. Half the time, however, I don’t really know what I’m looking at, and the explanations I’m given often don’t enlighten me. Today I didn’t bother to buy anything, so there’s really not much of a story to share. Instead of rambling, then, I’ll just let the photos (and my captions) speak for themselves.
Outside the market is where all the fruit vendors gather. For some reason fruit never seems to be sold inside the market itself.
I didn’t have anything particular in mind, so I wandered around until I found a decent selection to choose from.
I ended up getting one mango, two custard apples, and a giant peach. I didn’t bother bargaining, so I ended up shelling out 40,000 dong ($2.06) – admittedly around 10,000 dong more than I should have paid.
From there I ventured to the opposite side of Truc Bach Lake from where I live and found the woman I often see selling bananas. I got her down in price by about one-third, and for five bananas I ended up paying 10,000 dong ($.52) – still a bit more than I should have paid. I also bought a papaya, and again half-heartedly bargained the woman down from 20,000 to 15,000 ($.77) – as usual, more than a Vietnamese person would have paid. But really, for 65,000 dong ($3.35), I did okay, I think – five bananas, one papaya, one giant peach, two custard apples, and one mango. Meh…
For dinner I went to what’s probably my favorite restaurant on Truc Bach Lake, though it’s admittedly a bit hit or miss, especially in the way of service. The place is called Hải Sản Vân Oanh and is located at 96A Tran Vu Street.
They specialize in seafood, with an emphasis on shellfish and crustaceans, and there’s never a time when they’re not jam-packed. I was in a party of two, and we headed there at around 8 p.m. Somehow this restaurant (like so many restaurants in Hanoi) uses public space for seating, and while this includes much of the paved space near the water, there wasn’t a seat open. We ended up sitting on the sidewalk, where a car promptly parked next to us and blocked any view we had of that particular side. We ordered a bowl of sò huyết (blood cockles), miên cua (stir-fried noodles with crab), and two thu hai (long-necked clams topped with fried onions).
The blood cockles came with a small basket full of herbs, and it took a bit of wrestling to get to them. After prying them open, and hoping their blood-colored juices wouldn't shoot all over us, we proceeded to suck the juices from the half of the shell without the meat and then dipped the meat into a mix of salt, pepper, lemon, and wasabi, and ate it with the herbs. Cold beer, in case you have guessed already, is a must with sò huyết.
The miên cua was very good; probably some of the best I’ve ever had. Of course, it helps to pour fried onions over the miên, add a dollop of chili sauce, and finally sprinkle everything with lemon juice. The crab was fresh and de-shelled by the kitchen staff, which was another plus. Crab shell, I’ll have you know, is my number one enemy.
But the highlight of dinner, as it is whenever I come here, was the long-necked clam, grilled in its shell and filled with crisp fried onions and a light sauce I haven’t quite figured out.
There’s no polite way to eat this, so it’s best just to suck the entire, finger-length clam straight from the shell and try to inhale, at the same time, as much of the fried onion as humanly possible. You'll undoubtedly get half of the fried onion on your shirt and pants, but the secret here is to pretend it’s cool to be covered in your own food. Again, beer helps. I might even say it’s indispensable.
For all of this, including beer, we shelled out 243,000 dong ($12.52), which is pretty reasonable for seafood shared by two people.
Afterward, as I walked home, I stopped for a 7000 dong ($.36) glass of mia đá, or sugarcane juice, remembering how in Bien Hoa in 1994 I could get the same for only 500 dong.
Times change, but at least the food gets better along the way…