Hanoi, the City of Pho(od)


After going, going, going for the past couple weeks, we decided to lounge in Hanoi, and plan out our upcoming trips. Long story short, we didn’t do a whole lot in Hanoi. We ate, did a cooking class, toured the Hanoi Hilton Prison and the Women’s Museum, and checked out the Old Quarter where we ate some more food (which was either Pho at Pho 10, or Mexican food). I personally discovered my love of Pho. I would have slurped the decadent noodle soup twice a day if we didn’t have to take a taxi to my favorite spot.

The Old Quarter is where most tourists stay, but living on the edge, we landed on an Airbnb about 10 minutes south. We had a kitchen, which was essentially the reason we booked it, so were able to put our new cooking skills to the test.

I’ll fast forward past the multiple Mexican food orders and the chilling and reading, to the cooking class with Chef Duyen. She picked us up from our place, along with a couple other travelers, and we made our way to the area she lives in. We all walked through the market (a street where they sell everything from mint leaves to chicken blood), and she walked us through how the locals make tofu, which vegetables and leaves belong in which meals, and we even had the luck of witnessing a pig being cut into a million pieces. They use every part of the pig, from the intestines to the head… As for the cutting boards used, the meat is being chopped up on the ground and sits there in the heat. Yummy. On the poultry side, the chickens were still alive in little cages, waiting to be pointed at and killed on the spot. We even saw a tub of chicken blood. I didn’t ask any details. It was interesting seeing their version of a grocery store. Chef Duyen let us know that most people go ‘grocery shopping’ on the street in the morning, at around 4:00am, and again in the evening, to prepare the daily meals.

Once we made it to her house, we put on our aprons and began chopping. We collectively made meals, splitting up who cuts the pork, garlic, banana leaves, etc. After about four hours, we made the best meal I’ve ever made. The menu was born from the food from her countryside village: we made caramelized pork with quail egg (the egg was so tiny and creamy), fried spring rolls with pork, banana flower salad with chicken, west lake prawn cakes, bun cha, and sweet coconut soup with taro. Like I said, a lot of food.

We learned a couple more cooking tricks, but haven’t been able to replicate any of these items yet.

Once our relaxing trip in Hanoi was over, we had a flight booked to leave Vietnam and jet off to Laos. However, we faced a somewhat sticky situation. At the airport (our flight left in an hour and a half), we tried to check in, but turns out that our visa had actually expired two days prior. Ooooops. Long story short, they were not happy with us, even though we were leaving their country, threatened that we would have to go to the embassy and buy a new updated visa, and then settled on a quite large fine that Chase worked down 50 percent. It all appeared rather scammy, especially since they dropped all the threats and the price of the fine drastically, but we did not want to miss our flight. While this lands on us for not checking our visa, there was a guy whose visa didn’t expire for another eight days, and they were threatening the same things.

Anyway, we made it to the absolutely beautiful, romantically quiet town of Luang Prabang, Laos, and adore it. The architecture is stunning, and the landscape is green and lush. But, more to come on Laos later!