Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hanoi Food Challenge - The Final Day

 photo HanoiFoodChallengeButton.pngIt's taken me a while to get around to writing this - sorry! Better late than never, right?

The final day of my Hanoi Food Challenge was pretty good! I started the day by riding my bike over to Commune, a small cafe not too far from my apartment with a fabulous rooftop overlooking Tay Ho (West Lake).

It's a bit hard to find, due to the fact that the same street seems to start over a few times, so there are at least three of the same address. The directions given on the New Hanoian website (see the link) helped me find it. If you're looking, it may help to know that it's next to a vegetarian restaurant.

I went up to sit on the balcony, at a bench looking straight out at the lake. I ordered lemon juice, tea, and baked eggs with roasted peppers, salami, and goat's cheese. It took a while, and I sat there in the warm sunshine (I actually got quite a tan on the sunny side of me that day!) and stared at the view, trying to ignore the Viet couple next to me who were obviously having some kind of issues!

When my food came, my eggs were not really baked at all, but seemed to have been scrambled in a pan, then put in the clay pot on top of the other ingredients. Maybe this is my fault, because I don't like egg yolks so I'd asked for the eggs to be mixed up, but they could've still baked them. They were pretty yummy, no matter how the eggs were cooked, but there were very few peppers in it, and they seemed to have been replaced by tomatoes. Luckily, I like tomatoes and it all still went together quite well.

I made a similar dish myself last weekend, but actually baked the eggs and it was yum!

After that I got back on my bike and rode around to the far side of the lake, exploring a few side roads that I hadn't been down before, and ended up at Love Chocolate Cafe. This place has been on my radar for a while but for some reason I just hadn't made it there!

By this time it was mid-afternoon on a GORGEOUS Saturday afternoon, and I didn't really feel like sitting inside a dark cafe, but I did anyway. I guess I'm the only one, because the place was completely empty! It has a cozy, sweetly decorated interior with comfy chairs and vintage decor, but would be much more atmospheric on one of those rainy, grey Hanoi days when you just don't want to be outside.

The menu is quite extensive, and has pictures so you really know exactly what you're getting. I spent a while with it! I asked for the warm chocolate cake, but the girl said they didn't have any. I hadn't made a second choice, so I asked what was fresh today and her response was, "Fresh?....No." I guess because they are closed on Sundays, they don't bother baking anything on Saturdays. Fair enough, but it was still disappointing. And why would a cafe in Hanoi be closed on SUNDAYS anyway?

I ordered the frozen chocolate pudding, which seemed like a safe bet when nothing baked would be fresh! It comes in a wine glass, and is very rich. It was almost like a glass full of chocolate ganache. I took a good long time for me to eat it, and I probably should've asked for a glass of milk to go with it. I did finish it, but spent the next few hours feeling slightly disgusted with myself for having eaten all of it!

That evening I once more convinced Sam and Ha to go eat with me. We went to Hanoi Panic, a Thai street food place that has been on my list of places to try since I first heard about it. It's only been open for a few months, down a little alley off Trang Thi and this little sign was the only signal so look carefully! When we arrived, there was no space for us to sit in the alley, so they carried the usual plastic table and three stools onto the street and we sat out there.

Have you ever seen two happier people than this?

And then Sam got silly trying to style his long hair...

...and sillier!

The server recommended two specials, a glass noodle salad with prawns, and chicken with ginger, so we ordered both of those as well as some fish cakes and mango with coconut sticky rice. As the food came out, we all devoured it immediately. It was absolutely delicious! The fish cakes were soft and tasty and served with a sweet chili sauce.

The glass noodle salad was fantastic with prawns that had been marinated in something that was outstanding, and the chicken with ginger was packed full of flavour and fresh veggies!

The mango and sticky rice was delicious, and I think Ha was in love.

It was all so good that we then ordered a beef salad as well, which Sam and Ha were fighting over. It had just about the most tender chunks of beef I've ever had. Yum!

Mon, the Thai-American owner and chef, said that he might try to move to an inside location soon, so if you miss trying his food before then, keep an eye out for Hanoi Panic. I'll be going back on a regular basis!

So that was my week of exploring new places in Hanoi! I'll follow up with a recap in the next day or two, so if you need a handy reference list of places I recommend from my eating adventures, it'll be here soon!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hanoi Food Challenge - Day 6

Friday was day 6 of my Hanoi Food Challenge...almost done!

 photo HanoiFoodChallengeButton.pngOn Friday I convinced Sam to go out for lunch with me, and to entice him I suggested the vegetarian restaurant just around the lake from work (that boy loves his vegetarian food). However, he said he didn't think it was very good, but he knew a different one a short walk down Kim Ma street, so we went there instead.

The inside of the restaurant had rather uncomfortable chairs that didn't fit under the tables, which was awkward. It also came with a little kid who wouldn't shut up.

This is one of those places that serves tofu and bean curd products made into meat-like substances. On the menu it's listed as "chicken" or "beef".
Sam convinced me to order this corn milk, which is thick, creamy, and sweet. I was skeptical but it's better than it sounds!

We also ordered these spring rolls but I'm not sure what was in them,

 this green vegetable, which I think was white basil leaves, fried with garlic,

 and this "beef" with lemongrass and chili.

It was all pretty tasty, as long as you didn't expect the "beef" to taste like beef. It was more like slightly crunchy/chewy fried tofu. Sam said it used to be different, and much better!

After work on Friday I went to Eté as usual, but resisted the urge to eat there (although I confess I stole more than a few of Ian's chips). Instead, I went with Sam and his new wife Ha to Jade Restaurant, just down the street.

Jade serves Singaporean food, and had been highly recommended both by other friends and on the New Hanoian website, so it was near the top of my list of places to try.

It's located in a big theatre on a very busy road, but is a bit set back from the street so the noise isn't too intrusive. There are tables and chairs outside on the patio, so although there's some street noise, it's a pretty decent environment.

The happy newlyweds!

A sample page of the menu.
 We ordered xu xu (chayote, pronounced su-su) greens fried with garlic, which is a vegetable that seems to be offered when they're out of whatever you ask for, but is probably the best green veg to have!

These clams in coconut sauce with chili were absolutely delicious!

We also ordered deep fried frog, which is a meat that somehow I'd never had before. It was very tender and white, and reminded me of fish more than chicken.

And we got Kung Poh Chicken, which was quite spicy but very very yummy!

I can see why Jade Restaurant comes so highly recommended. I'll definitely be going back!

I have one more day to report on, plus a recap of which places I'll definitely go back to, and which ones to skip!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hanoi Food Challenge - Day 5

 photo HanoiFoodChallengeButton.pngOn day 5 of my Hanoi Food Challenge (Thursday) I didn't have to be at work early so instead of my usual fruit, muesli, and yogurt at home, I stopped just outside of work and got a bánh mỳ trứng (egg sandwich).

This comes from a lady at a little stand she's set up on the side of the road, complete with little plastic stools and a tra da (iced tea) lady sitting next to her.

She thought it was rather odd that I wanted to take her picture, and ducked behind the stand as I did. She then tried asking me all kinds of questions in Vietnamese, which is difficult for me at the best of times but first thing in the morning is nearly impossible for me to manage, and I think she thought I was a student at RMIT, rather than a teacher. Oh well.

She did make me a delicious egg sandwich, stuffed full of omelet-style egg, carrot, cucumber, radish, and cilantro (coriander), and topped off with chili sauce. Yummy.

At lunchtime I wandered out by myself to find something new. After not finding anything too new or inspiring I ended up at a bún chả place. Unfortunately as per the rules of the challenge I could not go to our usual bún chả restaurant (known to us as "Celebrity" bún chả , for some reason unknown to me) and this place was ok but still made me realize why we never venture away from our favourite bún chả place!

The inside looking out.
 Bún chả usually has two kinds of meat - slices of pork and minced pork patties.

Bún chả with all the fixings.
This bún chả had both kinds of meat, but it was all less flavourful than usual and the sliced pork was too fatty and gristly to be eaten easily.

By Thursday night I was feeling quite tired and didn't want to go too far for food. In fact, I really was tempted to just go home and cook myself something very simple, but I stuck it out, waited for my friend Ron to finish work, and convinced him to go out for dinner with me. He brought along Liam, and we all met up at a Spanish restaurant not too far from work.

We started off by ordering sangria, which automatically cheered us all up (as you can see from Ron's smile here!)

We followed that with a salad and I ordered stewed oxtail while the boys both had bò sốt vang (beef in red wine sauce).


The salad was ok but nothing special. My oxtail stew was tasty but a bit on the salty side, and had more fat and skin in it than meat (Is that how it's supposed to be? I really don't know!) and the boys seemed to enjoy their meal, but were disappointed that there was absolutely nothing in it besides meat and sauce.
But that was all ok, because by then the sangria started to take effect, and Ron started threatening Liam with a baguette!

After dinner we weren't ready to go home yet, so we went down the road a bit for a margarita.

These were pretty good margaritas for Hanoi, and pretty cheap too, I think!

 Of course one margarita turned into three, but despite that and the sangria I thankfully woke up feeling just fine the next day!

Reports on the last two days of my challenge are coming soon!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hanoi Food Challenge - Days 3&4

 photo HanoiFoodChallengeButton.pngIt's day 5 of my Hanoi Food Challenge  and I'm loving it! I've already found at least 4 places I'd easily (and will!) go back to, and I end up so happy when I find a gem that I didn't know about!

On Tuesday at lunchtime Jacqui asked if I wanted to go for lunch and it turned out she was up for finding somewhere new! We wandered down the street until we saw this unassuming little sign next to this alley.

We wandered down and found ourselves in a large, quiet courtyard, with another little alley leading off it and another small sign, leading to a little room with a woman selling bowls of a delicious broth loaded with noodles, tofu, greens, and a couple of different types of sausage.

                  This is how good it was:

On Tuesday nights I go with some friends to a lacquer painting class up on  Xuân Diệu so I convinced them to come with me for dinner beforehand. On Jacqui's suggestion we went to Linh & Ben, a French place that has a lot of delicious sandwiches and paninis, as well as a lot of deli meats and cheeses and homemade food products. I was in heaven!

The cute and charming interior

We sat outside on the patio, which is set well back from the street and thus quite lovely!

I ordered a Tartiflette Reblochon and bacon panini (potato, cheese, and bacon) and it was delicious!

Sam had a salmon, aubergine, and goat's cheese panini, and it was possibly even better than mine. I am in love with this place and I can't wait to go back! I also can't believe that Jacqui's been keeping it a secret from me all this time!

On Wednesday I was doing speaking exams over lunchtime, so I didn't have time for much, so I ordered a sandwich from The Deli so it would be waiting for me when I had a break. Of course the rule is that I had to try something new, so I went for the Middle Eastern Beef sandwich.

Although it wasn't any kind of beef I'd normally recognize, and it was in the form of sort of sausage patties that were quite mushy, the flavour of this was ok. It had hummus spread on the inside which added a nice touch, but honestly I don't think I'd order it again.

On Wednesday night I was at home again and this time that bowl of phở sounded good, so I went to the new phở place around the corner from me that I've been meaning to try.

My bowl of phở was pretty yummy, and came with all the usual condiments: chilies, chili sauce, garlicky vinegar sauce, and limes.

After that I was not quite full, and two doors down there's a chè place that I've also been meaning to try, so I went there for some dessert.

Chè is a Vietnamese dessert and there seems to be zillions of different kinds! Some are made with fruit, red or black or green bean, coconut milk, yogurt, and all kinds of little jellies or tapioca strings.

I was given this menu, and spent a good five minutes trying to decipher it.

I finally settled on the Chè đậu đỏ trân châu xoài  which I knew would come with red beans and mango and something else I didn't know!, which turned out to be a few different kinds of the jelly bits.

It came to me at room temperature, along with a bowl of ice which I just assumed I was supposed to put in!

Chè is delicious, if you can get used to the textures. After looking at that menu, I think I'll be going back to sample a few of the other kinds!

The chè maker let me take his picture!

There's still more to come, including bánh mỳ, bún chả, a Spanish restaurant, and margaritas!