NEWS: In the next three months, we will not be available to conduct tours at the following times:

March 27- April 4

May 7-16

August 22-October 1

The food available in Hanoi's narrow alleys and tree-lined boulevards is just as much a part of the city as its lakes and old world architecture. In fact, all of these elements combine with the indomitable spirit of the Vietnamese people to produce a lively culinary scene that is both diverse and confronting.

Over the past ten years, 'the god' (Van Cong Tu, author of the blog 'Vietnamese God') and myself (Mark Lowerson, otherwise known as 'Sticky' in the pages of this blog) have been traversing the streets of Vietnam's capital, as well as cutting a wider arc through other regions of Vietnam and beyond, wolfing down between us virtually everything on offer.

Tu is an accredited tour guide with more than 15 years experience in the tourism and hospitality industry. He is an expert on the cuisine of the south-central coast, having grown up in Nha Trang and frequent visits to Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc Island make him very well-versed in what people are feeding their faces with in the south, too. But Hanoi is where he dwells and its chaotic web of lanes and alleys are where he eats most. Tu knows the market vendors and they like him.

Mark has been resident in Hanoi since January 2002, eating on the streets here from day one. The blog 'Stickyrice' is one of the longest running foodblogs, with the first post dated May 2005. Named in The Times Online's 50 Best Foodblogs in 2009 (at #22), 'Stickyrice' has been featured on 'Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie' and as part of SBS's Featured Foodie series.

We specialise in Vietnam's streetfood and wet markets and have recently designed a series of itineraries for travellers and food enthusiaists. These tours have been carefully planned to give visitors to Vietnam an authentic taste of a country very attuned to the rhythms of food through the day and through the seasons. Together, we visit the street stalls and markets, sampling the produce and eating from their dishes and bowls, as well as cooking with the ingredients at home.
Our tours range from a one hour market familiarisation to a full-day eat-a-thon. The most popular tour is the 3 hour (9am-12pm) morning tour which kicks off at Hanoi's old East Gate, and includes a typical street market walk (Tu explains food practices, strange food items, some delicacies), a visit to ceremonial cake stalls, a special French dessert, the food sections of Hanoi's main Dong Xuan market, a streetfood alley for a noodle lunch, fruit stalls and coffee at an historic old quarter cafe.

A full day (9am-3pm) itinerary for foodie tragics (including more market visits and more street snacks and drinks) is also available. For those more in tune with the evenings (5pm-8pm), we also offer a tour of snacks, beers and street noodles, followed by streetside dessert. All tours are inclusive of all food/drinks and are conducted entirely on foot after Tu meets and greets at the hotel.

Tu and Mark can also customise tours for particular interests if given sufficient advance notice. For more information and/or to book a tour, email both Tu: tuvancong2003@gmail.com and Mark: lowiemark@yahoo.com.au


Monday, 11 November 2013

So you think you don't drink coffee...

the coconut
During our street food tours, we inevitably end up at one of Hanoi's local coffee shops. It's a mandatory part of all of our itineraries, morning, noon or night. As Mark wrote recently on stickyrice, in Hanoi, coffee can be sipped "against a century old ochre wall, in a memorabilia-lined passageway a metre wide, up a spiral staircase overlooking a lake. Even a standard Hanoi cafe is perfectly good for watching the frenetic passing parade." So the experience is very much about ambience and cultural immersion.

But occasionally we strike a client who self identifies as a 'non-coffee drinker'. While we try not to openly show pity, such admissions can be disheartening because the whole coffee experience in Hanoi - old-world atmosphere aside - is quite fascinating. So, to such clients, we assume the deviant role of 'drug pusher', enticing them with details that stray from the deleterious and addictive nature of coffee and caffeine, away from the side-effects of sleeplessness and anxiety, away from the notion of "I like the aroma of coffee but not the taste."

cafe nau da
We say words like sweetened condensed milk.

 yoghurt treats
We say words like homemade frozen yoghurt.

cafe trung
We say words like "imagine liquid tiramisu".

We don't even mention the word coffee. We say "just try it "or "take a sip". Consequently, we've had feedback emails from certain clients saying that their Hanoi coffee experience was transformative. It made them see coffee in a brand new light. They are now drinking coffee back home.

Some would say what we're doing is evil.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Hanoi's Food Workers

bun cha griller

There's no doubt visitors to Hanoi - especially the food-centric ones - notice the constant presence of edible stuff on their strolls around the Old Quarter and further afield. Street-side meat, bicycles laden with fruit and vegetables, simmering pots of stock on doorsteps, boiling kettles, tipping teapots, sacks overflowing with rice - the streets are where the food action is at, not hidden indoors in gigantic supermarket halls nor protected behind glass windows or cabinetry. One can reach out and touch food up and down the length of any Hanoi street.

But where there is food there are people. Hanoi is definitely not a western supermarket aisle, where even shouting blue murder is unlikely to bring customer service assistance. Butchers here constantly cast a tending eye over their cuts of meat, keeping up their appeal, shooing the odd fly, ready and poised with a sharp blade at hand. Fruit vendors spend their days pushing bikes and re-arranging their specimens into perfectly conical formation, meticulously examining longans or lychees for flaws. The watermelon vendor, with baskets bending from her shoulder-poles, is weightlifting - all day!

The bun cha fanner needs recognition, too. In 80%+ humidity on a 35c day, she is sweating before she waves the fan once in anger. Crouched before a tin tray white hot with coals, one hand turns a fat-spitting wire griller filled with pork while the other is keeping the wind up to the fire. A kind of gym session in a smoky furnace - there is a reason why she looks on the verge of tears. It's bloody hard and hot work, obviously unhealthy.

rau can tay vendor

Maintaining Hanoi's image as one big bustling food shop relies on the physical toil of thousands of people, mostly women, all underpaid and under-appreciated.

Smile when you catch their eye.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Operation Nha Trang, February 2012

prawns on the coals
We are taking streetfood tour operations to the south central coast for the first two weeks of February. Nha Trang is a resort town a short flight from Saigon and very much on the standard tourist trail. While most visitors tend to spend their days on the beaches and their evenings at the bars - something we are not averse to ourselves - there is a fantastic street food scene in this town, one that we've been enjoying on a regular basis for the past ten years. In fact, in the case of Vietnamese God, his whole life as Nha Trang is his home town.
flower delivery
We'll be there over the Tet (lunar New Year) period, which adds a degree of colour and excitement to the atmosphere around town, as the locals hit the markets and shops in their preparations for Vietnam's biggest family occasion. But, that said, because Nha Trang is a southern coastal town, the feeling about town is still relaxed. Remember, there's always the beach.
Doc Let Beach
So, what does Nha Trang have to offer the food-obsessed?
bun ca
Seafood has to be the number one attraction. For breakfast, it could be in the form of fish noodle soup. In Hanoi, of course, it would be pho. In Nha Trang, expect lovely chunks of mackeral or tuna, along with fish cake slices with your threads.
cafe phin
After breakfast, coffee can be had street side or in a cafe by the sea. 

Street food eateries and restaurants alike are pandering to the hankerings of those who want to eat stuff from the sea morning, noon and night. Let's make the pictures do the talking.
grilled prawns oyster, spring onion
Some of our other favourites around town include banh mi with fish cakes, banh xeo (rice flour pancakes) with baby squid and the best spring roll in Vietnam, nem nuong.

If we've whetted your appetite, and you'll be in Nha Trang between February 2-13, drop us an email for further details of our itineraries/costs. (Mark: lowiemark@yahoo.com.au & Tu: tuvancong2003@yahoo.com)

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Scenes from a Street Food Tour

chicken vendor

The streets of Hanoi tend to be a very foreign place for most of our street food tour clients. There's a lot to take in. A lot might be said. It can be sensory overload. Indeed, if Hanoi is a person's first ever stop in Asia, it will most likely be bewildering and confronting. And there is no doubt that a street food tour can accentuate those feelings.

hi there fish face

While we don't want to protect or molly-coddle our clients, we do want them to have an enjoyable and relaxing experience rather than a stressful or confusing one. So we wander. And we see things and we eat and drink things.
At certain points, we explain things. But we don't talk from go to woe. Much of the experience of Hanoi is about allowing time for the brain to process the message from the eyes...or the nose...or the ears. If we yack too much, it interferes with that process.

But we do get a lot of questions.

Which we love answering.

banh com

Like, what is that bright green thing wrapped in plastic?

pomelo skins

Or what is that drying on the handlebars of that bicycle?

Do people really eat that? Um...and what is it?

And then later, when our customers are relaxing back at their hotel, we send them some information from here and there, which they can peruse at their leisure.

I suppose you would call it 'after sales service'.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Egg Coffee

Egg Coffee

Egg coffee??? It sounds fascinating and I have been wondering how they make it. After 10 years living in Hanoi, I finally tried egg coffee the other day with my clients from Australia.

Egg Coffee

After half a day walking around eating heaps of different street food, we walked into Cafe Pho Co in Hang Gai street and tried their signature drink and signature view over Hoan Kiem Lake. The egg coffee is made with normal black Vietnamese coffee and egg yolk whisked with milk and sugar. It tasted a bit like tiramisu on the top, very creamy and rich.
This is a good place to stop for an hour for a coffee , juices or a beer as it located right in the middle of the old quarter even though it is a bit dearer compared to other cafes in town.
Cafe Pho Co
11 Hang Gai Street
Hanoi

Saturday, 3 March 2012

A Sweet Stop

Wild Rice

Vietnamese cuisine, in fact Asian cuisine in general, is not particularly known out of the region for its sweets or desserts. The people who come on our tours are generally well-versed in the main features on Vietnam's plates; the range of herbs, rice and noodles, the use of fish sauce. But get them to name a dessert and they struggle.

So, on our wanders, not only do we eat savoury but we also seek out sweet.

Sua Chua Nep Cam

Just north of Hanoi's Old Quarter, we sit low to the pavement for a sugar fix. Out of a narrow alley comes a northern speciality known as sữa chua nếp cẩm, which translates roughly as yoghurt with fermented wild rice. This dessert house is a Hanoi institution run by some wily elders and a bunch of enthusiastic teenage boys.

The wild rice, predominately purple in colour, is cooked, covered and left to ferment for a period of days with the aid of men ngọt (sugar yeast/fungus), shorter in summer, longer in winter. Laid out in bamboo baskets on withered banana leaves, what eventuates is something akin to jam - minus the fruit, or with rice playing the role of fruit!

Sua Chua Nep Cam

Dolloped on top of sweetened yoghurt, it gets delivered to customers. In Hanoi's pulsating summer, a generous scoop of shaved ice adds another layer. All that is required of the customer is a rigorous stirring with the spoon.

And, the enjoyment of the flavours - a slight twist of sour alcohol from the fermentation, the milkiness from the yoghurt, sweetness - a true dessert and a Hanoi tradition to boot!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Street Food For Honeymoon

Kelly and Patrick210912 (76)

A couple of weeks ago, I led a tour for a "Just Married" couple from the US. They were not too concerned about an itinerary, just stating that they wanted me to surprise them.

DSC_0277

First off, we headed to West Lake for fish noodle soup which is a pretty standard breakfast noodle dish in Hanoi. This was followed by a morning visit to the Quan Thanh temple to explain about how Vietnam's people make offerings to the Gods and ancestors.

Cafe

At this point in the tour, coffee is generally a good idea and in Hanoi, there are quite a few choices about how you have your coffee. Sweetened condensed milk and even yoghurt are used in some coffee drinks. It's also common, because Hanoi is pretty hot most of the year, to have ice in coffee. Some of our clients worry about the ice but it is all commercially produced this days. Vietnam's hot so if you don't have ice in your drinks they won't be very refreshing.

Grape fruit seller

With caffiene in our systems, we headed to market which can be a challenging experience for westerners who are used to doing their food shopping in supermarkets. Vietnamese wet markets are a place where many processes occur, even the killing of animals like chickens, ducks, fish, even frogs. My client Patrick helped the vendor pull the skin off a frog, saying that he thought that if you are going to eat animals you should be prepared to kill them.

Bun Rieu Cha

After the market, the eating continued. We had Hanoi's most famous lunch dish Bun Cha which is served with Hanoi spring rolls. To celebrate their recent wedding, we had some beers too. And then cake...but not wedding cake. Instead, a traditional cake made from pounded rice, mung beans and sugar which is actually eaten at engagement parties in Vietnam.

Dong Xuan market

We stopped off in one of Hanoi's streets where ceremonial merchandise is sold, stuff for altars and festival occasions. In between, we took the paintings that Patrick and his wife, Kelly bought at the temple to my favorite framing place and it turned out super cheap for them.

Kelly and Patrick210912 (16)

We finished our day at Bia Hoi (draught beer) with grilled dried squid in the old quarter. I had a brilliant day with them and I guess it was a unique thing to do on a honeymoon.