Street Food Scene
The way in which we all experience travel is evolving. ETG travellers are increasingly seeking out the authentic stories that lie behind the glossy brochure images, and which, we like to say, reveal the fabric of a destination. So, inspired by your own travel moments, we sought out some of the very human stories that lay behind them. We wanted to share them with you; to inspire you to start thinking about your next travel story and inspire like-minded friends and family members to do the same.
Plus ça change, Plus c'est la même chose
Hanoi’s rapid transformation from the old to the new is at an interesting crossroads when it comes to food culture. The Vietnamese are obsessed with simple, quick and immensely flavoursome food. Though posher restaurants are popping up everywhere, the street food scene is an unstoppable force embedded in the DNA of Hanoi and Vietnamese culture. Every which way you turn in Hanoi, this picture of Vietnam is both timeless and a reflection of the modern nation Vietnam has become.
Eating on the streets
As a visitor, can you get a piece of this flavoursome action? Of course! But for a start, get ready to be low on the ground – most likely on a low plastic stool. Like being back at school, but flimsier. There’s a reason they aren’t that comfortable. This is about speed: – you can’t be bedding yourself in for a long sociable dinner, because it’s all about a quick turnaround. It’s all part of the fun as you can visit lots of different places and just focus on one dish at a time. There will be a lot happening around you and it’s an amazing assault on the senses. You’ll need help, but that’s where we come in.
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We recommend experiencing it at night when it really comes alive. A quiet street you were walking along during the day suddenly becomes packed with pop up restaurants. The transition is an experience in itself – the staff will keep putting out more and more tables and the policeman will keep coming down to make sure they don’t spill out too much. It’s funny to watch and a great experience.
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It was a lovely sight to behold our four ‘grannies’ (so-called by one of our local representatives in Vietnam) soaking up the life in this street food scene. They told us they don’t go out much these days and really wanted to relive their youthful days around the Old Quarter. How much has changed since those days!
Meet Mrs Yen
Whilst we cannot promise you’ll meet Mrs Yen or her friends, you might meet Anh her nephew and one our guides. He’s from the boomer generation born just after the end of the ‘American War’ and represents a different face of Vietnam, though he is very respectful of his parents’ generation and the struggles they went through.
Mrs. Yen used to travel to Haiphong to buy French sunglasses and parker pens from the ships coming into port, but it had to be done in secret: the well disguised parcels would be dropped through people’s windows along the railway track as she journeyed back to Hanoi. She said that the train travelled really slowly so she could jump on and off – in her words, it was “scary but exhilarating”.
Mrs Yen met Madam Ty in the 1950’s as they owned shops very close to each other. Madam Ty came over from China and married a Vietnamese man, but when relations between the two countries were fraught in the late 1970’s, Madam Ty refused to run back to China. She lived with Mrs Yen, each supporting the other, during these testing times.
In the late 1990’s Vietnam was going through some rapid changes, so the ladies moved to an old French villa in the west lake area (now extremely sought after and one of THE places to live in Hanoi). This is where they met Mrs Truong Ty and Mrs Duc, who at the time owned a small garden centre. The ladies got on well, often visiting Tay Ho Pagoda, where they all prayed together. They’ve been good friends ever since.