Thursday, November 15, 2018

Hanoi Revisits - Bún Chả, Bún Bò Nam Bộ and More

We had some favorite spots from our first trip to Hanoi last year, and we made a point of revisiting them on this trip.

Bún Chả is perhaps our single favorite dish in Hanoi, and we made it back to the spot we first had it (original post here) twice on this trip. Just as good as before.

Another favorite was Bún Bò Nam Bộ - we also hit this place up again two more times (original post here). Such a great dish.

We did a repeat visit for phở bò at Quán Phở Gia Truyền (original post here). It was good, but I think I'll be looking for a new go-to phở bò spot the next time we are in Hanoi

Bún Ngan Nhàn (original post here) was still going strong, with the duck noodle soup lady efficiently (if grumpily) feeding up a line of hungry customers for lunch each day.

We couldn't say no to BBQ pork on a stick (original post here). Spicy, lemon-grassy deliciousness.

And, of course, it wouldn't be a trip to Hanoi without Bia Hơi (original post here). We visited our favorite bia hơi lady on Mã Mây street, and also enjoyed an evening at a more local spot (where Nhà Hoa and Bát Đàn streets intersect at the west end of the Old Quarter).

Overall, Hanoi was very much as we left it a year ago. More cars on the roads, and the beginnings of encroachment by global fast food chains, but still very much a window into old Vietnam. Hopefully the pace of change will remain slow.

Hanoi - Bánh Mỳ Patê

We tried a few bánh mì shops on our first trip to Hanoi (the well-regarded Bánh Mì 25 among them) without much real success. This trip, we tried our luck again - at Bánh Mỳ Patê.

We tried the BBQ pork (pictured at the top of this post) and the sausage:

I think these were better than what we'd had previously, but they were still just ok. The bread was pretty good, but the meat was fatty, the veg was lackluster, and overall they were quite greasy.

We have yet to find a really good bánh mì in Hanoi.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Hanoi - Wonton Noodle Soup at Mỳ Vằn Thắn - Mỳ Sủi Cảo Tôm Tươi

Our hotel in Hanoi looked out over a busy intersection which made for pretty constant entertainment - who needs a TV when you have a window out on Hanoi.

The first morning we were there, we noticed that the shop across the way was packed with people slurping up bowls of some sort of soup. When we returned from a walk around noon and went over to check it out - crickets. Nobody was there. This is very much a typical thing in Vietnam - lots of foods are only available at certain times of day.

A few days later, we held back from eating too much at our hotel breakfast and headed over while they were still in full swing.

The soup turned out to have a light shrimp flavor, and was packed with stuff - a few whole shrimp, some small wontons, sliced pork, sliced liver, mushrooms, and a huge fried wonton. And, of course, noodles (thin, egg noodles - much like the type you get in Cantonese wonton soup).

The large wonton was also filled with minced pork.

Very tasty, and the broth just got better as the bits soaked in it while we ate.

Well worth strolling across the street for.

Hanoi - Food Tour with HanoiKids

HanoiKids is a great organization that pairs visitors up with local Hanoi University students for cultural and food tours. The visitors get a tour by knowledgeable local guides, and the students get a chance to practice their English and show off their beautiful city - everyone wins.

Our guides were Nga and Yen, and they took us on a fun, informative and delicious food tour in Hanoi's Old Quarter.

Our first dish was Xôi (sticky rice).

The stand was just down the street from our hotel, but we probably never would have stopped there without Nga and Yen's guidance. The rice is served either "hot" (Nóng) or "fried" (Rán).

We had the hot version - a bowl of sticky rice hot out of the steamer and flavored with savory stock before being stacked with a variety of tasty toppings. You can choose what kind of toppings you like. We had a bit of everything - egg (with a bit of fried coating on the outside), a few kinds of sliced pork, pork floss, pâté, Chinese-style sausage, and likely some other bits I'm missing. Every bite of it was really good. We ended up coming back here and having the exact same thing a few days later.

Next up was a stewed, "medicinal" chicken soup with noodles. The soup stock and the chicken were both black, and the flavor definitely had a bit of a medicinal quality. This was accentuated by the greens - mugwort - which were decidedly bitter, but enjoyable. The noodles were like a ramen and came as a block on top of the soup, quickly softening.

Our third stop was at a Chè ("sweet soup") shop. Our tastes run more to the savory, so this is something we probably would not have tried without the tour and we liked it more than we expected.

We tried three different kinds. The one pictured above was probably my favorite - a refreshing bowl of slightly sweet coconut jellies.

The one above on the left had black bean, mung bean, lotus seeds and jellies (and some other stuff). The one on the right was simpler - black rice and yogurt. The menu is below, but I'm currently at a loss to pick out which ones we had.

Our last stop was at a little shop for coconut coffee.

This was a soft, lightly flavored mountain of coconut ice resting in rich coffee. Spoonfuls of the ice dipped into the coffee made for a very refreshing way to end the evening.

We also tried another one - this time flavored with green sticky rice.

Overall, we had a very nice and tasty evening. A big thank you to our guides Nga and Yen from HanoiKids!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Vietnamese Cocktail Fail

The stash of gin that we jetted halfway across the world with gave out in Hanoi. We really enjoy the local Hanoi beer scene, but sometimes you want something else. The only gin we found locally was was "Ginebra San Miguel Premium".

I was surprised to learn that San Miguel gin, distilled in the Philippines, is the most consumed gin in the world. It turns out that Filipinos really like their gin, and San Miguel pretty much has a lock on making the stuff.

So, we bought a bottle and gave it a try. Woof - not for me! It has juniper flavor, but also an odd, sweet overtone I really didn't like. This is probably because it is distilled from sugarcane - save that for my rum, please. Mixed with tonic, it really wasn't good.

We tried it with some other mixers, including what you see pictured above - an innocent-looking soda in a can with citrus fruits on the side. It turned out to be green and tasted like cream soda. Mixed with the San Miguel gin, it tasted better than it looked. But only marginally.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Taipei - Tonghua and Ningxia Night Markets

On our first night in Taipei, we headed out to the Tonghua / Linjiang Street Night Market. First up was stinky tofu ("chòudòufu"). We'd never had it before, and Taipei seemed like the right place to give it a try for the first time. Pictured above, we got an order of three blocks. They punch down the middle and fill it with a savory sauce. It comes with pickled cabbage and carrot on the side and some cilantro on top.

While the smell is definitely off-putting, we quite enjoyed the flavors. This version came from Ya Kou - one of the steak shops near the east end of Linjiang Street.

Just a bit farther east down Linjiang Street, we stopped in at a fried chicken stall specializing in huge chicken cutlets that have been pounded flat and that are battered and fried to order. Hot, juicy, and delicious, with a tasty seasoning that was salty, spicy and had a bit of a sweet seaweed flavor.

A few days later, we found ourselves at Ningxia Night Market. The main thing we wanted to try here were Taiwanese oyster omelettes ("háo jiān"). While most of the Ningxia market is comprised of temporary stalls, this place was in a permanent spot with seating inside.

The spot was popular, with a line out front - we didn't mind a bit of a wait, since you could watch this guy whipping up omelettes in a little kitchen at the entrance to the shop.

We were soon seated with oyster omelettes in front of us.

I have to say that neither of us was terribly keen on this dish. The oysters and eggs were fine, but I didn't really care for the sweet and slight tangy sauce. The biggest issue, though, was the sweet potato starch slurry that they use as the base of the omelette. When cooked, it turns into a chewy jelly - not our favorite thing.

We also got a little bowl of Lu Rou Fan (braised pork rice), which was really good.

Above is a dish we've seen in most of the Taipei night markets - a sort of crepe with shaved nut brittle and ice cream and...cilantro? We haven't tried it yet - maybe next time.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Taipei - Tonghua / Linjiang Street Day Market and Fried Pork Rib Soup

It was a rainy day in Taipei and we needed lunch, so we headed out to find a restaurant we had seen a few days before.

No idea what this place is called, but we saw it in a CupofTJ YouTube video. She didn't give the address, but we stumbled upon it when visiting the Tonghua / Linjiang Street Night Market. It is on the corner of Linjiang and Tongan streets.

This dish ("排骨酥湯") was the main event at the shop - braised pork ribs that seem to have been coated with a mixture of spices and then fried, before being returned to the broth and served with noodles and a chunk of daikon.

We also had a side of braised cabbage - soft and savory.

The ribs were super soft and buttery under the external fried coating. As the ribs sat in the soup, it began to take on more and more of the complex flavor from the rib spices. Delicious.

The place was doing a brisk business of people ducking in out of the rain into the warmly lit shop for a bowl of hot soup.

It turns out that the Tonghua / Linjiang Street area is not only a night market, but also a day market. After our lunch we enjoyed walking along the wet shiny streets amid a sea of umbrellas.

Coming out the other side, we found ourselves near the famous Taipei 101 skyscraper, so we headed over for a closer look.

We'd seen it lit up at night, but it seemed even more majestic disappearing into a swirl of cloud.

Taipei - A Quick Visit to the Original Din Tai Fung

The original Xinyi branch of the now-expansive Din Tai Fung chain was only a few blocks from our hotel, so it seemed wrong not to stop in. The wait can be really long here, but it was off-peak hours and raining and we were seated in less than 10 minutes.

As you walk in, you can see the signature open-window dumpling preparation room in all of its surgical glory.

The space comprises multiple floors, and has a very clean, modern design.

Because this was a pre-dinner stop, we kept our ordering in check. We had a small (5-piece) order of the pork soup dumplings ("xiaolongbao").

Small and delicate, these dumplings don't offer much in the way of sustenance, but they are undeniably tasty and fun to eat.

We also had an order of the House Special Spicy Shrimp and Pork Wontons - a favorite of ours from a meal we had at their Arcadia branch.

Loaded with shrimp and pork and tossed in the delicious spicy sauce, these didn't disappoint.

The "Vegetable and Ground Pork Buns", however, were terrible.

The green mixture inside had no pork flavor. In fact, it didn't really have any flavor at all. Completely bland.

And they were unphotogenic to boot. Oh well, you can't win them all. Despite the buns, we really enjoyed our snack at Din Tai Fung.