So where next should I take you all next on this little culinary tour of my past. I guess since I mentioned our anniversary last time out, I should take you back to the honeymoon.
This could be a really long blog so I'll break down our 3-week tour of Vietnam into a couple of different posts over the coming weeks.
I'll start where our married life started and that was Hanoi. What an amazing place. It was our first time to an Asian country and the buzz is evident as soon as you step off the plane. The taxi ride from the airport into Hanoi was spent wide-mouthed, staring at the families of 5 with their shopping, that you and I would probably just about fit into a Volvo estate, all strategically straddling a little scooter like a motorbike display team pyramid. The scooters dart in and out of traffic and buzz around us. How they avoid contact I have no clue, but they do and we all arrive in one piece.
The wide-mouthedness didn't end there. Taking in the sights, sounds and smells of this amazing city is almost a sensory overload. But it's been a long day of travelling and a long week of finishing touches for the wedding, so we collapse for the night into the air-conditioned splendour of Hanoi Boutique Hotel 1.
The following day we set out on foot to take in as much of the city as we can. With just 3 nights here it'll be a bit of a whirlwind tour, but we're armed with some recommendations and the magic of TripAdvisor to guide us. We take in the war museum, which gallantly and proudly displays the battered wreckages of French and American military vehicles and planes. It's interesting to see the Vietnamese side of the story, as prior to this I only knew the Hollywood version that sees a Huey hovering over rain forests to a rock and roll soundtrack. The reality is a brutal hard fought battle of attrition that was won thanks to the grit and determination of the Vietnamese.
We head through town to an obviously more affluent area of Hanoi, that is home to an opera house and high class gold plated shopping centre and decide our first meal should be at the Hotel Sofitel Legend. With its beautiful French colonial architecture, and a history of rich and famous visitors (as well as my friends that recommended it for a look around at least). We sit in a bright and airy dining room that overlooks the gardens and the pool. Our waitress is beautifully presented, like she's been teleported from a Paris café. I order Bûm Bô and a local beer. Bûm Bô is a beef and rice noodle soup and is, as far as I can tell, a very traditional taste of Vietnam and typical of their cooking. Everything is fresh here, and the flavours show this. A combination of coriander, chilli, garlic, ginger and lemon grass with beef, noodles and stock. It's so simple, but full of flavour, a little heat, saltiness and a zing of citrus. Amazing!!
I'm going to fast forward to the following night now before I tell you about the market and cooking class we took during the day, as I ate exactly the same meal again. This time it was at a pavement café on Beer Corner, a hangout for locals and students, and a hidden gem of Hanoi. You'll find the local fresh beer, known as Bia Hoi, which is dispensed straight from the keg on the pavement. We sit on chairs that are far too small for my 6'2" frame, and the atmosphere is amazing. Plenty of buzz from the tourists, travellers and locals. No one here is being exploited or ripped off. The Bûm Bô is equally fresh and fantastic and there's change from £5 for both our meals and drinks. The Sofitel was 10x that.
We arranged another taxi that morning to drop us at the Hanoi Cooking Centre. We've done a few cooking classes on our trips and this is a great way of meeting other travellers and gaining an insight into local customs. As part of the class we were led through the market nearby by Marie the owner of the school. We followed her like a gaggle of school kids all eager to see and photograph everything. There were stalls of fresh vegetables, and others with bottled fish sauces and utensils and then through into the meat and fish market. With no refrigeration in the market everything is brought in and sold very quickly, which means lots of carcass laden scooters fresh from the slaughter house heading into the market throughout the day. Alternatively you can take one of the live fish, frogs or chickens that obviously need no refrigeration.
One of the highlights and a Vietnamese delicacy are the fertilised chicken eggs. These are kept in a net just in case they hatch during the day and try to make a break for it. Marie buys one after we all show an interest and cooks it up during the class. I gave it a try, but once was enough!!
We made several dishes over the next couple of hours, including beef in betel leaf, smokey BBQ'd aubergine salad and classic Nam Chuoc dressing. Sitting down to our homemade lunch, knowing the ingredients and where they came from was a fabulous experience.
That night ended in a really cool bar, near the Opera House aga
in, called Swing. We got the lift to the top floor and the doors opened into a large Phoenix Club (remember Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights?) style room. Instead of blue rinses and bingo, there was a show of talented singers performing Vietnamese and English songs. This was a great place to kick back after lots of walking around today, and spend a couple of hours with my new wife
enjoying each other, looking forward to the rest of our trip, and our lives together.
Next stop, Halong Bay!!